Christopher Hitchens, 1949 – 2011

2022 Columbia Road NW
Apartment 702
Washington DC

That’s an address I’ve had for 5 years or so. It’s where Hitchens lived, or so I’m told. And I’ve been to DC every year, sometimes twice per year – but never got around to visiting, even before the esophageal cancer diagnosis. This, despite Hitch apparently welcoming these visits. I’ve heard many stories from colleagues in the atheist community of how they dropped by his brownstone, or knew someone who had done so, and how Hitchens welcomed them in for a drink. Of course, these stories might be¬†apocryphal. But I wish I could say I tried to find out whether they were true.

I am trying to express, in words, the value of Hitchens’ ideas and words in my, and many other people’s lives. But words were his domain – he treated them as a puppeteer does, and it’s daunting to even begin to try and say something about him. And the sadness weighs heavy also – that mass somewhere in my chest, those tears close to the surface. I don’t like the confessional mode, but this is a sadness than can be confessed.

In April next year, I’ll be attending the Global Atheist convention in Melbourne. All 4 of the so-called ‘horsemen’ were scheduled to speak, and I think everyone knew that Hitchens was unlikely to make it. But we hoped he would, even though he’d already defeated the typical 6-months that¬†esophageal cancer gives you. I’ve met the others, but never met him. The conference will be a sad event, and he’ll be missed.

2011 can go. There’s been enough death. There’s been enough dishonesty. There has been enough opportunism in politics, both locally and abroad, with callous or blindly selfish puppeteers playing not with words, but with our lives. Hitch left so much writing, that I doubt anyone has read it all. If you haven’t, or if you’ve read little or not in a while, do so. He faced death bravely, and life also. He faced everything with a bravery that one could respect, even where you didn’t agree with him.

More of us need to be so brave. More of us need to expose ourselves to the criticism that comes from those who don’t like – or don’t want to hear – uncomfortable truths about the convenient fictions that religions and governments tell us.

We’ll miss you, Hitch. But may your death inspire us, just as your life did.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.