December 20, 2011

Hitchens and the Christian Reactions to His Death

HitchensI had not planned on writing the seemingly obligatory post about Hitchens that nearly every other atheist blogger has written. I never met Christopher Hitchens, and I won't pretend that he influenced me in some meaningful way simply because he's dead. What could I possibly say about him that hadn't already been said many times over. That being the case, I'm writing this post in response to a couple questions I've received. I hope to accomplish two things by writing it. First, I'm sharing the main lesson I take away from Hitchens. Second, I am explaining why I have not been surprised by many of the venomous reactions to his death by some Christians.

The Message I Take From Hitchens

I am not one who has devoured everything Hitchens has written, nor do I plan to. I enjoyed Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It was the first book of his I had read, and I appreciated the style he brought to his writing. This was a big part of what made his book stand out among those by Dawkins, Harris, and others. While I tend to prefer more scientific or philosophical approaches simply because those are what I am used to reading, it was nice to have an alternative. And without a positive reaction to God is Not Great, I might not have read The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever, a book that would quickly become one of my favorites.

What was more interesting to me about Hitchens than his writing was his manner of discourse. His persona was that of an asshole, and he wore it proudly. Society has far too few professional provocateurs, and this was precisely what was so appealing about Hitchens. What made his sharp wit so striking was that he was willing to eviscerate opponents with style. He did not seem to hold back, nor did he appear overly concerned about what others might think of him for speaking his mind.

When some of my fellow atheists harp about how we need to be nicer, I remind them that mockery can be quite effective. Now I'll simply point to Hitchens and ask whether they really think he would have been more influential or had a greater impact if he had held back and not been true to himself.

Christian Reactions to Hitchens' Death

I'm not going to post screen shots of the hateful tweets from Christians celebrating Hitchens' death. You've seen them. I have been puzzled about why some atheists seem surprised by them. I'm starting to think some atheists are genuinely in denial about the depths of the hate some Christians hold for us. I'm under no such illusions. Maybe that's one of the perks of living in Mississippi.

But there is something else we have to remember. These Christians probably saw Hitchens in much the same way we see Pat Robertson or saw Jerry Falwell. And I certainly remember seeing atheists celebrating Falwell's death all over Twitter. Lots of atheists really seemed to hate the man.

So why wouldn't some Christians find joy in the loss of one of the more potent atheist voices? I think it may be time for us to stop expecting Christians to practice the love they are fond of preaching. Many certainly do, but many others are under no such constraints.

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