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Christopher Hitchens speaking at The Amaz!ng Meeting at the Riviera Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
|Born||Christopher Eric Hitchens|
13 April 1949
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
|Died||15 December 2011 (aged 62)|
Houston, Texas, United States
British and American (2007–2011)
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Subject||Politics, religion, history, biography, literature|
|Relatives||Peter Hitchens (brother)|
Christopher Hitchens speaking at The Amaz!ng Meeting at the Riviera Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada
|Born||Christopher Eric Hitchens|
13 April 1949
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
|Died||15 December 2011 (aged 62)|
Houston, Texas, United States
British and American (2007–2011)
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Subject||Politics, religion, history, biography, literature|
|Relatives||Peter Hitchens (brother)|
Christopher Eric Hitchens (13 April 1949 – 15 December 2011) was a British-American author, polemicist, debater, and journalist. He contributed to New Statesman, The Nation, The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement and Vanity Fair. Hitchens was the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of over thirty books, including five collections of essays, and concentrated on a range of subjects, including politics, literature and religion. A staple of talk shows and lecture circuits, his confrontational style of debate made him both a lauded and controversial figure. Known for his contrarian stance on a number of issues, Hitchens excoriated such public figures as Mother Teresa, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Pope Benedict XVI. He was the elder brother of author Peter Hitchens.
Long describing himself as a socialist and a Marxist, Hitchens began his break from the established political left after what he called the "tepid reaction" of the Western left to the Rushdie Affair, followed by the left's embrace of Bill Clinton, and the "anti-war" movement's opposition to intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina—though Hitchens did not leave his position writing for The Nation until post-9/11, stating that he felt the magazine had arrived at a position "that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden." The September 11 attacks "exhilarated" him, bringing into focus "a battle between everything I love and everything I hate," and strengthening his embrace of an interventionist foreign policy which challenged "fascism with an Islamic face". His numerous editorials in support of the Iraq War caused some to label him a neoconservative, although Hitchens insisted he was not "a conservative of any kind", and his friend Ian McEwan described him as representing the anti-totalitarian left. Indeed, in a 2010 BBC interview, he stated that he was "still a Marxist".
A noted critic of religion and an antitheist, he said that a person "could be an atheist and wish that belief in god were correct", but that "an antitheist, a term I'm trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion". According to Hitchens, the concept of a god or a supreme being is a totalitarian belief that destroys individual freedom, and that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and defining human civilisation. His anti-religion polemic, New York Times Bestseller, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, sold over 500,000 copies.
Hitchens died on 15 December 2011 from complications arising from oesophageal cancer, a disease that he acknowledged was more than likely due to his lifelong predilection for heavy smoking and drinking.
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire. His parents, Eric Ernest Hitchens (1909–87) and Yvonne Jean Hitchens (née Hickman; 1910–73), met in Scotland when both were serving in the Royal Navy during World War II. His mother was Jewish, and kept that fact a secret. It wasn't until late 1987 that Hitchens learned he was Jewish by birth (though he became a lifelong atheist). He said, "My initial reaction, apart from pleasure and interest, was the faint but definite feeling that I had somehow known all along." His mother was a "Wren" (a member of the Women's Royal Naval Service), and his father an officer aboard the cruiser HMS Jamaica, which helped sink Nazi Germany's battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape. His father's naval career required the family to move a number of times from base to base throughout Britain and its dependencies, including in Malta, where Christopher's brother Peter was born in Sliema in 1951.
Hitchens's mother, arguing "if there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it", sent him to Mount House School in Tavistock in Devon at the age of eight, followed by the independent Leys School in Cambridge, and finally Balliol College, Oxford, where he was tutored by Steven Lukes and read philosophy, politics, and economics. Hitchens was "bowled over" in his adolescence by Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, R. H. Tawney's critique on Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the works of George Orwell. In 1968, he took part in the TV quiz show University Challenge.
In the 1960s, Hitchens joined the political left, drawn by his anger over the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, racism, and oligarchy, including that of "the unaccountable corporation". He expressed affinity with the politically charged countercultural and protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. He deplored the recreational drug use of the time, which he described as hedonistic.
He joined the Labour Party in 1965, but along with the majority of the Labour students' organisation was expelled in 1967, because of what Hitchens called "Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam".[clarification needed] Under the influence of Peter Sedgwick, who translated the writings of Russian revolutionary and Soviet dissident Victor Serge, Hitchens forged an ideological interest in Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist socialism. Shortly after he joined "a small but growing post-Trotskyist Luxemburgist sect".
Hitchens began working as a correspondent for the magazine International Socialism, published by the International Socialists, the forerunners of today's British Socialist Workers Party. This group was broadly Trotskyist, but differed from more orthodox Trotskyist groups in its refusal to defend communist states as "workers' states". Their slogan was "Neither Washington nor Moscow but International Socialism".
Hitchens left Oxford with a third class degree. In 1971 he went to work at the Times Higher Education Supplement where he served as a social science correspondent. Hitchens admitted that he hated the position, and was later fired: he recalled, "I sometimes think if I'd been any good at that job, I might still be doing it." Next he was a researcher for ITV's Weekend World. In 1973 he went to work for the New Statesman, where he became friends with the authors Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, among others. At the New Statesman he acquired a reputation as a fierce left-winger, aggressively attacking targets such as Henry Kissinger, the Vietnam War, and the Roman Catholic Church.
In November 1973, Hitchens's mother committed suicide in Athens in a suicide pact with her lover, a former clergyman named Timothy Bryan. They overdosed on sleeping pills in adjoining hotel rooms, and Bryan slashed his wrists in the bathtub. Hitchens flew alone to Athens to recover his mother's body. Both her children were then independent adults. While in Greece, Hitchens reported on the constitutional crisis of the military junta. It became his first leading article for the New Statesman.
Hitchens went to the United States in 1981, as part of an editor exchange program between The New Statesman and The Nation. After joining The Nation, he penned vociferous critiques of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and American foreign policy in South and Central America. He became a contributing editor of Vanity Fair in 1992, writing ten columns a year. He left The Nation in 2002 after profoundly disagreeing with other contributors over the Iraq War. There is speculation that Hitchens was the inspiration for Tom Wolfe's character Peter Fallow in the 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, but others—including Hitchens (or he indicated as such while alive)—believe it to be Spy Magazine's "Ironman Nightlife Decathlete" Anthony Haden-Guest. In 1987, his father died from cancer of the esophagus; the same disease that would later claim his own life. In April 2007, Hitchens became a U.S. citizen. He became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution in September 2008.
Hitchens spent part of his early career in journalism as a foreign correspondent in Cyprus. Through his work there he met his first wife Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, with whom he had two children, Alexander and Sophia. His son, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, born in 1984, has worked as a policy researcher in London. Hitchens continued writing essay-style correspondence pieces from a variety of locales, including Chad, Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan. His work took him to over 60 countries. In 1991 he received a Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.
Hitchens met Carol Blue for the first time at the Los Angeles airport in 1989, and would marry her in 1991. Hitchens called it love at first sight. In 1999, as harsh critics of Clinton, Hitchens and Carol Blue submitted an affidavit to the trial managers of the Republican Party in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Therein they swore that their then-friend, Sidney Blumenthal, had described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. This allegation contradicted Blumenthal's own sworn deposition in the trial, and it resulted in a hostile exchange of opinion in the public sphere between Hitchens and Blumenthal. Following the publication of Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars, Hitchens wrote several pieces in which he accused Blumenthal of manipulating the facts. The incident ended their friendship and sparked a "personal crisis" for Hitchens who was stridently criticised by friends for a cynical and ultimately politically futile act.
Before Hitchens's political shift, the American author and polemicist Gore Vidal was apt to speak of Hitchens as his "Dauphin" or "heir". In 2010, Hitchens attacked Vidal in a Vanity Fair piece headlined "Vidal Loco", calling him a "crackpot" for his adoption of 9/11 conspiracy theories. Also, on the back of his book Hitch-22, among the praise from notable figures, Vidal's endorsement of Hitchens as his successor is crossed out in red and an annotated "NO, C.H." His strong advocacy of the war in Iraq had gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named one of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. An online poll ranked the 100 intellectuals, but the magazines noted that the rankings of Hitchens (5), Noam Chomsky (1), and Abdolkarim Soroush (15) were partly due to supporters publicising the vote.
In 2007 Hitchens's work for Vanity Fair won him the National Magazine Award in the category "Columns and Commentary". He was a finalist once more in the same category in 2008 for some of his columns in Slate but lost out to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. He won the National Magazine Award for Columns about Cancer in 2011. Hitchens also served on the Advisory Board of Secular Coalition for America and offered advice to Coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life. In December 2011, prior to his death, Asteroid 57901 Hitchens was named after him.
Hitchens wrote a monthly essay on books in The Atlantic and contributed occasionally to other literary journals. One of his books, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, is a collection of such works, and Love, Poverty and War contains a section devoted to literary essays. In Why Orwell Matters, he defends Orwell's writings against modern critics as relevant today and progressive for his time. In the 2008 book Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left, many literary critiques are included of essays and other books of writers, such as David Horowitz and Edward Said.
|My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass.|
|– Christopher Hitchens|
The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Hitchens as a "gadfly with gusto". In 2009, Hitchens was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the "25 most influential liberals in the U.S. media". The same article noted that he would "likely be aghast to find himself on this list", since it reduces his self-styled radicalism to mere liberalism. Hitchens's political perspective appears in his wide ranging writings, which include many of the political dialogues he published.
In 2010, Theodore Dalrymple wrote, "Christopher made an early commitment to Trotskyism, but it is difficult to take him very seriously as a revolutionary because he always has been too much of a hedonist. Indeed, he appears to me to have had roughly the same relationship to proletarians as Marie Antoinette had to sheep: They have walk-on parts in his personal drama. There is not much evidence of his having thought deeply, or even at all, about the fate, under a social system he vociferously advocated, of the pleasures he so clearly values, the liking for which I don't in the least blame him; nor is there evidence of any real reflection on what the world would have been like had his demands been met. Not permanent revolution but permanent adolescence has been his goal, and I think he has achieved it."
Hitchens became a socialist "largely [as] the outcome of a study of history, taking sides ... in the battles over industrialism and war and empire." In 2001, he told Rhys Southan of Reason magazine that he could no longer say "I am a socialist". Socialists, he claimed, had ceased to offer a positive alternative to the capitalist system. Capitalism had become the more revolutionary economic system, and he welcomed globalisation as "innovative and internationalist", but added, "I don't think that the contradictions, as we used to say, of the system, are by any means all resolved." He stated that he had a renewed interest in the freedom of the individual from the state, but that he still considered libertarianism "ahistorical" both on the world stage and in the work of creating a stable and functional society, adding that libertarians are "more worried about the over-mighty state than the unaccountable corporation" whereas "the present state of affairs ... combines the worst of bureaucracy with the worst of the insurance companies."
In 2006, in a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania debating the Jewish Tradition with Martin Amis, Hitchens commented on his political philosophy by stating, "I am no longer a socialist, but I still am a Marxist". In a June 2010 interview with The New York Times, he stated that "I still think like a Marxist in many ways. I think the materialist conception of history is valid. I consider myself a very conservative Marxist". In 2009, in an article for The Atlantic entitled "The Revenge of Karl Marx", Hitchens frames the late-2000s recession in terms of Marx's economic analysis and notes how much Marx admired the capitalist system that he called for the end of, but says that Marx ultimately failed to grasp how revolutionary capitalist innovation was. Hitchens was an admirer of Che Guevara, yet in an essay written in 1997, he distanced himself from Che, and referred to the mythos surrounding him as a "cult". In 2004 he resumed his positive view of Che, commenting that "[Che's] death meant a lot to me and countless like me at the time. He was a role model, albeit an impossible one for us bourgeois romantics insofar as he went and did what revolutionaries were meant to do—fought and died for his beliefs."
He continued to regard Leon Trotsky and Vladmir Lenin as great men, and the October Revolution as a necessary event in the modernisation of Russia. In 2005, Hitchens praised Lenin's creation of "secular Russia" and his discrediting of the Russian Orthodox Church, describing the church's power as "absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition".
In the years after the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie in response to his novel The Satanic Verses, Hitchens became increasingly critical of what he called "excuse making" on the left. At the same time, he was attracted to the foreign policy ideas of some on the Republican-right that promoted pro-liberalism intervention, especially the neoconservative group that included Paul Wolfowitz. Around this time, he befriended the Iraqi dissident and businessman Ahmed Chalabi. In 2004, Hitchens stated that neoconservative support for US intervention in Iraq convinced him that he was "on the same side as the neo-conservatives" when it came to contemporary foreign policy issues. Hitchens had also been known to refer to his association with "temporary neocon allies".
Following the 11 September attacks, Hitchens and Noam Chomsky debated the nature of radical Islam and the proper response to it. In October 2001, Hitchens wrote criticisms of Chomsky in The Nation. Chomsky responded and Hitchens issued a rebuttal to Chomsky to which Chomsky again responded. Approximately a year after the 11 September attacks and his exchanges with Chomsky, Hitchens left The Nation, claiming that its editors, readers and contributors considered John Ashcroft a bigger threat than Osama bin Laden, and that they were making excuses on behalf of Islamist terrorism; in the following months he wrote articles increasingly at odds with his colleagues.
Christopher Hitchens argued the case for the Iraq War in a 2003 collection of essays entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, and he held numerous public debates on the topic with George Galloway and Scott Ritter.
Prior to 11 September 2001, and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, Hitchens was highly critical of President George W. Bush's "non-interventionist" foreign policy. He also criticised Bush's support of intelligent design and capital punishment.
Although Hitchens defended Bush's post-11 September foreign policy, he criticised the actions of US troops in Abu Ghraib and Haditha, and the US government's use of waterboarding, which he unhesitatingly deemed as torture after he was invited by Vanity Fair to voluntarily undergo it. In January 2006, Hitchens joined with four other individuals and four organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace, as plaintiffs in a lawsuit, ACLU v. NSA, challenging Bush's warrantless domestic spying program; the lawsuit was filed by the ACLU.
Hitchens would elaborate on his political views and ideological shift in a discussion with Eric Alterman on Bloggingheads.tv. In this discussion Hitchens revealed himself to be a supporter of Ralph Nader in the 2000 US presidential election, who was disenchanted with the candidacy of both George W. Bush and Al Gore.
Hitchens made a brief return to The Nation just before the 2004 US presidential election and wrote that he was "slightly" for Bush; shortly afterwards, Slate polled its staff on their positions on the candidates and mistakenly printed Hitchens's vote as pro-John Kerry. Hitchens shifted his opinion to "neutral", saying: "It's absurd for liberals to talk as if Kristallnacht is impending with Bush, and it's unwise and indecent for Republicans to equate Kerry with capitulation. There's no one to whom he can surrender, is there? I think that the nature of the jihadist enemy will decide things in the end".
In the 2008 presidential election, Hitchens in an article for Slate stated, "I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilisation against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that 'issue' I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity." He was critical of both main party candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, but wrote that Obama would be the better choice. Hitchens went on to call McCain "senile", and his choice of running mate Sarah Palin "absurd", calling Palin a "pathological liar" and a "national disgrace". Hitchens also wrote that "Obama is greatly overrated" and that the Obama-Biden ticket "show[s] some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience".
A review of his autobiography Hitch-22 in the Jewish Daily Forward refers to Hitchens "at the time [that he had learned that his grandparents were Jews, he had been] a prominent anti-Zionist" and says that he viewed Zionism "as an injustice against the Palestinians". Others have commented on his anti-Zionism as well. At other times for example speaking at 2nd annual Memorial for Daniel Pearl, and in print in an article for The Atlantic he had made comments against the terrorism against Jews in the Middle East. Hitchens stated "But the Jews of the Arab lands were expelled again in revenge for the defeat of Palestinian nationalistic aspirations, in 1947–48, and now the absolute most evil and discredited fabrication of Jew-baiting Christian Europe—The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—is eagerly promulgated in the Hamas charter and on the group's Web site and recycled through a whole nexus of outlets that includes schools as well as state-run television stations".
In Slate magazine, Hitchens pondered the notion that, instead of curing antisemitism through the creation of a Jewish state, "Zionism has only replaced and repositioned" it, saying: "there are three groups of 6 million Jews. The first 6 million live in what the Zionist movement used to call Palestine. The second 6 million live in the United States. The third 6 million are distributed mainly among Russia, France, Britain, and Argentina. Only the first group lives daily in range of missiles that can be (and are) launched by people who hate Jews." Hitchens argued that instead of supporting Zionism, Jews should help "secularise and reform their own societies", believing that unless one is religious, "what the hell are you doing in the greater Jerusalem area in the first place?" Indeed, Hitchens goes so far as to claim that the only justification for Zionism given by Jews is a religious one.
In his 2006 debate with Martin Amis, Hitchens stated that "one must not insult or degrade or humiliate people" and that he "would be opposed to this maltreatment of the Palestinians if it took place on a remote island with no geopolitical implications". Hitchens described Zionism as "an ethno-nationalist quasi-religious ideology" and stated his desire that if possible, he would "re-wind the tape [to] stop Herzl from telling the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land".
He continued to say that Zionism "... nonetheless has founded a sort of democratic state which isn't any worse in its practice than many others with equally dubious origins." He stated that settlement in order to achieve security for Israel is "doomed to fail in the worst possible way", and the cessation of this "appallingly racist and messianic delusion" would "confront the internal clerical and chauvinist forces which want to instate a theocracy for Jews". Hitchens contended that the "solution of withdrawal would not satisfy the jihadists" and wondered "What did they imagine would be the response of the followers of the Prophet [Muhammad]?" Hitchens bemoaned the transference into religious terrorism of Arab secularism as a means of democratisation: "the most depressing and wretched spectacle of the past decade, for all those who care about democracy and secularism, has been the degeneration of Palestinian Arab nationalism into the theocratic and thanatocratic hell of Hamas and Islamic Jihad". He maintained that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a "trivial squabble" that has become "so dangerous to all of us" because of "the faith-based element."
Hitchens collaborated on this issue with prominent Palestinian advocate Edward Said, in 1988 publishing Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question.
Hitchens actively supported drug policy reform and called for the abolition of the "War on Drugs" which he described as an "authoritarian war" during a debate with William F. Buckley. He supported the legalisation of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes, citing it as a cure for glaucoma and as treatment for numerous side-effects induced by chemotherapy, including severe nausea, describing the prohibition of the drug as "sadistic".
Other issues on which Hitchens wrote included his support for the reunification of Ireland, abolition of the British monarchy, the establishment of a self-governing state for the Kurdish people and his condemnation of the war crimes of Slobodan Milošević in the Yugoslav Wars, and criticised Franjo Tuđman for colluding with Milošević on a partition of Bosnia and empowering Croatian war criminals.
Hitchens was known for his scathing critiques of public figures. Three figures—Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Mother Teresa—were the targets of three separate full length texts, No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, and The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Hitchens also wrote book-length biographical essays about Thomas Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson: Author of America), George Orwell (Why Orwell Matters), and Thomas Paine (Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man": A Biography).
The majority of Hitchens's critiques took the form of short opinion pieces, including critiques of: Jerry Falwell, George Galloway, Mel Gibson, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Michael Moore, Daniel Pipes, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, and Cindy Sheehan. When comedian Bob Hope died in 2003, Hitchens wrote an attack piece on him, calling Hope "a fool and nearly a clown, but he was never even remotely a comedian" and "Quick, then—what is your favorite Bob Hope gag? It wouldn't take you long if I challenged you on Milton Berle, or Woody Allen, or John Cleese, or even Lenny Bruce or Mort Sahl. By this time tomorrow, I bet you haven't come up with a real joke for which Hope could take credit." Critics argued that Hitchens focused solely on Hope's declining years and ignored his heyday in the 1940s.
Hitchens often spoke against the Abrahamic religions, what he called "the three great monotheisms" (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). When asked by readers of The Independent (London) what he considered to be the "axis of evil", Hitchens replied "Christianity, Judaism, Islam – the three leading monotheisms." In God Is Not Great, Hitchens expanded his criticism to include all religions, including those rarely criticised by Western secularists, such as Buddhism and neo-paganism; the book received mixed responses, from praise in The New York Times for his "logical flourishes and conundrums" to accusations of "intellectual and moral shabbiness" in the Financial Times. God Is Not Great was nominated for a National Book Award on 10 October 2007.
Hitchens said that organized religion is "the main source of hatred in the world", "[v]iolent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children", and that accordingly it "ought to have a great deal on its conscience". He often spoke about his efforts to champion the word 'antitheist' as he expressed his position that it was a relief that there is no evidence for a 'celestial North Korea'. Atheism was a word not strong enough to encompass his feelings about the immoral conundrum that the existence of a deity would necessarily imply. In God Is Not Great, Hitchens said that:
[A]bove all, we are in need of a renewed Enlightenment, which will base itself on the proposition that the proper study of mankind is man and woman [alluding to Alexander Pope]. This Enlightenment will not need to depend, like its predecessors, on the heroic breakthroughs of a few gifted and exceptionally courageous people. It is within the compass of the average person. The study of literature and poetry, both for its own sake and for the eternal ethical questions with which it deals, can now easily depose the scrutiny of sacred texts that have been found to be corrupt and confected. The pursuit of unfettered scientific inquiry, and the availability of new findings to masses of people by electronic means, will revolutionise our concepts of research and development. Very importantly, the divorce between the sexual life and fear, and the sexual life and disease, and the sexual life and tyranny, can now at last be attempted, on the sole condition that we banish all religions from the discourse. And all this and more is, for the first time in our history, within the reach if not the grasp of everyone.
God is Not Great, rendered Hitchens a major advocate of the "New Atheism" movement, and he also was made an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. Hitchens said he would accept an invitation from any religious leader who wished to debate with him. He also served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group for atheists and humanists in Washington, DC. In 2007, Hitchens began a series of written debates on the question "Is Christianity Good for the World?" with Christian theologian and pastor, Douglas Wilson, published in Christianity Today magazine. This exchange eventually became a book by the same title in 2008. During their book tour to promote the book, film producer Darren Doane sent a film crew to accompany them. Doane produced the film Collision: Is Christianity GOOD for the World?, which was released on 27 October 2009. On 4 April 2009 Hitchens debated William Lane Craig on the existence of God at Biola University.
On 26 November 2010, Hitchens appeared in Toronto, Canada at the Munk Debates, where he debated religion with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a convert to Roman Catholicism. Blair argued religion is a force for good, while Hitchens was against it. Preliminary results on the Munk website said 56 per cent of the votes backed the proposition (Hitchens's position) before hearing the debate, with 22 per cent against (Blair's position), and 21 per cent undecided, with the undecided voters leaning toward Hitchens, giving him a 68 per cent to 32 per cent victory over Blair, after the debate.
Hitchens was accused by William A. Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties of being particularly anti-Catholic. Hitchens responded "when religion is attacked in this country ... the Catholic Church comes in for a little more than its fair share". Hitchens had also been accused of anti-Catholic bigotry by others, including Brent Bozell, Tom Piatak in The American Conservative, and UCLA Law Professor Stephen Bainbridge. In an interview with Radar in 2007, Hitchens said that if the Christian right's agenda were implemented in the United States "It wouldn't last very long and would, I hope, lead to civil war, which they will lose, but for which it would be a great pleasure to take part." When Joe Scarborough on 12 March 2004 asked Hitchens whether he was "consumed with hatred for conservative Catholics", Hitchens responded that he was not and that he just thinks that "all religious belief is sinister and infantile". Piatak claimed that "A straightforward description of all Hitchens's anti-Catholic outbursts would fill every page in this magazine", noting particularly Hitchens's assertion that US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts should not be confirmed because of his faith.
Hitchens was raised nominally Christian, and went to Christian boarding schools but from an early age declined to participate in communal prayers. Later in life, Hitchens discovered that he was of Jewish descent on his mother's side. According to Hitchens, when his brother Peter took his fiancée to meet their maternal grandmother, who was then in her 90s, she said of his fiancée, "She's Jewish, isn't she?" and then announced: "Well, I've got something to tell you. So are you." Hitchens found out that his maternal grandmother, Dorothy née Levin, was Jewish (Dorothy's father and maternal grandfather were Jewish, and Dorothy's maternal grandmother—Hitchens's matrilineal great-great-grandmother—was a convert to Judaism). Hitchens's maternal grandfather converted to Judaism before marrying Dorothy Levin. Hitchens's Jewish-born ancestors were immigrants from Eastern Europe (including Poland). In an article in The Guardian on 14 April 2002, Hitchens stated that he could be considered Jewish because Jewish descent is traditionally traced matrilineally. In a 2010 interview at New York Public Library, Hitchens stated that he was against circumcision, a Jewish tradition, and that he believed "if anyone wants to saw off bits of their genitalia they should do it when they're grown up and have made the decision for themselves".
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Hitchens was married twice, first to Eleni Meleagrou, a Greek Cypriot, in a Greek Orthodox church in 1981; the couple had a son, Alexander, and a daughter, Sophia. They divorced in 1989. From February 1990, Hitchens's girlfriend was reported as being Carol Blue, a Californian screenwriter. In 1991 Hitchens married Blue in a ceremony held at the apartment of Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation. They had a daughter, Antonia.
Hitchens's father, Eric Hitchens, was a commander in the British Royal Navy. Hitchens often referred to his father as simply the 'Commander'. Hitchens's father was deployed on the HMS Jamaica which took part in the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst in the Battle of the North Cape on 26 December 1943. Christopher Hitchens would refer to his father's contribution to the war: 'Sending a Nazi convoy raider to the bottom is a better day's work than any I have ever done.' He also stated that 'the remark that most summed him [his father] up was the flat statement that the war of 1939 to 1945 had been "the only time when I really felt I knew what I was doing."'
Hitchens's mother, Yvonne, died in Athens in 1973 when, despite first reports in The Times that she had been murdered, it was later concluded that her death had been the result of an apparent suicide pact with her boyfriend, Reverend Timothy Bryan. Hitchens travelled to Athens to identify his mother's body. On the subject Hitchens later said: 'She probably thought things were getting sordid—he [Bryan] wasn't able to hold a job down, she couldn't go back, she was probably about the age I am now and perhaps there was that—she'd been very pretty—and things were never going to get any better, so why go through with it? She might not have been that hard to persuade, but I know that she did try to save herself because I have the photographs still. So that was sort of the end of family life really.'
In reference to writing about his mother in his memoir, Hitch-22, he said, 'It was painful to write about my mother, but not very because long ago I internally managed all that. 'I even went back to Greece and I went to the graveyard while I was writing the book and decided not to write about it. I thought that would be sentimental.'
Hitchens's younger brother by two-and-a-half years, Peter Hitchens, is a Christian and socially conservative journalist, although, like his brother, he had been a Trotskyist in the 1970s. The brothers had a protracted falling-out after Peter wrote that Christopher had once joked that he "didn't care if the Red Army watered its horses at Hendon" (a suburb of London). Christopher denied having said this and broke off contact with his brother. He then referred to his brother as "an idiot" in a letter to Commentary, and the dispute spilled into other publications as well. Christopher eventually expressed a willingness to reconcile and to meet his new nephew (born in 1999); shortly thereafter the brothers gave several interviews together in which they said that their personal disagreements had been resolved. They appeared together on 21 June 2007 edition of the BBC current affairs discussion show Question Time. The pair engaged in a formal televised debate for the first time on 3 April 2008, at Grand Valley State University, and at the Pew Forum on 12 October 2010.
Christopher Hitchens described him as "A very brilliant guy, very thoughtful, very good writer, with political views polar opposite of mine.".
The Sunday Times described Hitchens as "Usually armed with a glass of Scotch and an untipped Rothmans cigarette." In late 2007 he briefly gave up smoking, although resumed during the writing of his memoir and continued until his cancer diagnosis. Hitchens admitted to drinking heavily; in 2003 he wrote that his daily intake of alcohol was enough "to kill or stun the average mule", arguing that many great writers "did some of their finest work when blotto, smashed, polluted, shitfaced, squiffy, whiffled, and three sheets to the wind."
George Galloway notably accused Hitchens of being a "drink-sodden ex-Trotskyist popinjay", to which Hitchens replied, "only some of which is true." Hitchens later elaborated: "He says that I am an ex-Trotskyist (true), a 'popinjay' (true enough, since the word's original Webster's definition is a target for arrows and shots), and that I cannot hold a drink (here I must protest)." Hitchens's wife Carol Blue described him as "obviously an alcoholic, he functions at a really high level and he doesn't act like a drunk, so the only reason it's a bad thing is it's taking out his liver, presumably. It would be a drag for Henry Kissinger to live to a hundred and Christopher to keel over next year." His profile in The New Yorker described him as drinking "like a Hemingway character: continually and to no apparent effect."
Oliver Burkeman writes, "Since the parting of ways on Iraq ... Hitchens claims to have detected a new, personalised nastiness in the attacks on him, especially over his fabled consumption of alcohol. He welcomes being attacked as a drinker 'because I always think it's a sign of victory when they move on to the ad hominem.' He drank, he said, 'because it makes other people less boring. I have a great terror of being bored. But I can work with or without it. It takes quite a lot to get me to slur.'"
In his 2010 memoir Hitch-22, Hitchens wrote: "There was a time when I could reckon to outperform all but the most hardened imbibers, but I now drink relatively carefully." He described his then-current drinking routine on working-days as follows: "At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr. Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice. At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal. No 'after dinner drinks'—most especially nothing sweet and never, ever any brandy. 'Nightcaps' depend on how well the day went, but always the mixture as before. No mixing: no messing around with a gin here and a vodka there."
Reflecting on the lifestyle that supported his career as a writer he said:
I always knew there was a risk in the bohemian lifestyle ... I decided to take it because it helped my concentration, it stopped me being bored—it stopped other people being boring. It would make me want to prolong the conversation and enhance the moment. If you ask: would I do it again? I would probably say yes. But I would have quit earlier hoping to get away with the whole thing. I decided all of life is a wager and I'm going to wager on this bit ... In a strange way I don't regret it. It's just impossible for me to picture life without wine, and other things, fueling the company, keeping me reading, energising me. It worked for me. It really did.
In June 2010, Hitchens was on tour in New York promoting his memoirs Hitch-22 when he was taken into emergency care suffering from a severe pericardial effusion and then announced he was postponing his tour to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer. He announced that he was undergoing treatment in a Vanity Fair piece entitled "Topic of Cancer". Hitchens said that he recognised the long-term prognosis was far from positive, and that he would be a "very lucky person to live another five years".
During his illness, Hitchens was under the care of Francis Collins and was the subject of Collins's new cancer treatment, which maps out the human genome and selectively targets damaged DNA.
In April 2011, Hitchens was forced to cancel an appearance at the American Atheist Convention, and instead sent a letter that stated, "Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death." He closed with "And don't keep the faith." The letter also dismissed the notion of a possible deathbed conversion, in which he claimed that "redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before."
In accordance with his wishes, his body was donated to medical research.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "Christopher Hitchens was a complete one-off, an amazing mixture of writer, journalist, polemicist, and unique character. He was fearless in the pursuit of truth and any cause in which he believed. And there was no belief he held that he did not advocate with passion, commitment, and brilliance. He was an extraordinary, compelling and colourful human being whom it was a privilege to know."
Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford and a friend of Hitchens, said, "I think he was one of the greatest orators of all time. He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants including imaginary supernatural ones."
Lawrence Krauss, American theoretical physicist and cosmologist also a friend of Hitchens, said "Christopher was a beacon of knowledge and light in a world that constantly threatens to extinguish both. He had the courage to accept the world for just what it is and not what he wanted it to be. That's the highest praise, I believe, one can give to any intellect. He understood that the universe doesn't care about our existence or welfare and he epitomized the realization that our lives have meaning only to the extent that we give them meaning."
Bill Maher, American stand-up comedian and television host, on his show Real Time with Bill Maher paid tribute to Christopher Hitchens said "We lost a hero of mine, a friend, and one of the great talk show guests of all time."
|Year||Film, DVD, or TV Episode|
|1984||Opinions: "Greece to their Rome"|
|1993||Everything You Need to Know|
|1994||Tracking Down Maggie: The Unofficial Biography of Margaret Thatcher|
|1996||Where's Elvis This Week?|
|1996–2010||Charlie Rose (talk show) (13 episodes)|
|1998||Princess Diana: The Mourning After|
|1999–2001||Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher|
|1999–2002||Dennis Miller Live (TV show; 4 episodes)|
|2002||The Trials of Henry Kissinger|
|2003||Hidden in Plain Sight|
|2003–2009||Real Time with Bill Maher (TV show; 6 episodes)|
|2004||Mel Gibson: God's Lethal Weapon|
|2004–2006||Newsnight (TV show; 3 episodes)|
|2004–2010||The Daily Show (TV show; 4 episodes)|
|2005||Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (TV show; 1 episode, s03e05)|
|The Al Franken Show (Radio show; 1 episode)|
|Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope|
|Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism|
|2005–2008||Hardball with Chris Matthews (TV show; 3 episodes)|
|Question Time (TV series) (1 episode)|
|Your Mommy Kills Animals|
|In Pot We Trust|
|2008||Can Atheism Save Europe? (DVD; 9 August 2008 debate with John Lennox at the Edinburgh International Festival)|
|Discussions with Richard Dawkins: Episode 1: "The Four Horsemen" (DVD; 30 September 2007)|
|Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed|
|2009||Holy Hell (Chap. 5 in 6 Part Web Film on iTunes)|
|God on Trial (DVD; September 2008 debate with Dinesh D'Souza)|
|Collision: "Is Christianity GOOD for the World?" (DVD; Fall 2008 debates with Douglas Wilson)|
|Does God Exist? (DVD; 4 April 2009 debate with William Lane Craig)|
|2010||Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune|
|The God Debates, Part I: A Spirited Discussion (DVD; debate with Shmuley Boteach; Host: Mark Derry; Commentary: Miles Redfield)|
|2011||Is God Great? (DVD; 3 March 2009 debate with John Lennox at Samford University)|
|92Y: Christopher Hitchens (DVD; 8 June 2010 dialogue with Salman Rushdie at 92nd Street Y)|
|ABC Lateline (TV show, 2 episodes)|
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