Christopher Hitchens was a world renowned and oft-controversial philosopher, journalist, novelist and debater that spent the majority of his life involved in debates with those whose views he disagreed with, providing lectures and appearing on talk shows regularly throughout his professional career. Born on April 13, 1949, his quick wit and seemingly endless philosophical knowledge helped to create his legacy that still remains to this day, even after his death on December 15, 2011.
Christopher Hitchens was born in Hampshire, England a few years after the war that brought his parents together. As his father was a soldier, he moved a variety of times throughout his childhood. From an early age, he was drawn to a myriad of different novels and essays, such as 'Crime and Punishment' and 'Religion and the Rise of Capitalism' by R.H. Tawney. It is here that the roots for his ideologies and beliefs began to grow, which was bolstered in the 1960's, when his political agenda was swayed to the left by his growing anger over a plethora of social issues prevalent at this time, primarily that of the Vietnam War. Soon thereafter, he began siding with many of the protests going on throughout the world and began to identify as a Trotskyist, which helped to form many of his anti-Marxist Socialist beliefs.
When hearing the name of Christopher Hitchens, many people begin to think of his controversial religious debates, lengthy essays and novels, as critiquing the basis of religion was one of the foremost aspects of his storied character. His views on religion stemmed from his early life as a member of Trotskyism, a sort of ideological movement that was founded by Leon Trotsky and centered around the core beliefs of Marxism. However, it wasn't merely Christianity in which he argued against, as he also focused his criticisms around what he referred to as the “three great Monotheisms, known as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These religious movements helped provide the content for a number of his essays and novels, as well as the many religious debates he had on the subject. He even sought to debate against his younger brother, Peter Hitchens, a christian and conservative journalist. This heated debate included novelist Ian McEwan, Billy Bragg and Salman Rushdie and was televised on C-span in 1999.
It was Hitchens belief that organized religion was the very basis of hatred in the world. His first wholly religious novel, God is Not Great, dealt specifically with these matters, deconstructing religion and replacing it with a more secular and scientific viewpoint on life. The 19 chapter, 336 page novel was published in 2007 and covered everything from the Abrahamic religions to Buddhism, using critical analysis to dispel the notion that religion is a force of good within the world, blaming it for being racist, bigoted, contemptuous towards women and irrational, among other slights. This novel catapulted to number two on the New York Times bestseller list for the first two weeks of its release and number one in the third week, proving that his controversial viewpoints, yet rational arguments in the defense of them, were becoming exceedingly popular throughout the world. While this novel was divisive among critics, readers have been relatively positive about the novel since its release. During the same year as God is Not Great, Hitchens also compiled a large amount of essays and writings centered around atheism and made it into a book titled The Portable Atheist, which included original work and essays by Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. Hitchens also wrote introductions to each of the essays he presented.
One of Hitchens' most notable religious debates came in 2010, only a year before his death, in which he debated with the former British PM Tony Blair, who himself had recently been converted to Roman Catholicism. This debate mirrored many of Hitchens viewpoints within God is Not Great, with him arguing once again that religion was not a form of good, an argument that Tony Blair disagreed with. While the polling before the debate demonstrated a similar percentage of voters siding with both debaters, voting following the conclusion of the debate placed Hitchens as the clear winner. While the Tony Blair debate is likely among the most popular of Hitchens religious debates, his ones against such political and religious figures as Al Sharpton, Dinesh D'Souza and Rabbi David Wolpe are also among his strongest.
Many regarded his debating technique so concise and fierce, it was given the tongue-in-cheek nickname: the ”Hitchslap“. The term is used on many videos of his debates posted on YouTube.
Hitchens' political views changed quite dramatically throughout his life, shaping around certain events at the time. In his early life, shortly before he received his first journalistic job with the International Socialism journal, Hitchens became attracted to the political beliefs and ideologies of Marxism and Socialism. At first, his beliefs were more radical, though they mellowed out a bit over the years. His views as a Socialist were derived from his hatred and great opposition of the Vietnam War. In fact, he wanted to leave and was later expelled from the Labour Students' Organization in 1967 because he did not like that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was in total support of the Vietnam War.
Throughout the entirety of his life, he viewed himself as a person of the liberal left, despite the fact that his views on certain wars and political figures sometimes flew in the face of this. In fact, he disliked both Barack Obama and John McCain before the 2008 presidential election, while also agreeing with President George W Bush's invasion of Iraq. However, he vehemently criticized the presidencies of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. As for domestic policies, Hitchens supported the Drug Policy Reform, as he believed that the War on Drugs by the United States was not in the least bit effective. His views centered around the illegality of Marijuana, which he fought to have legalized, due to its usefulness as a medical drug.
Hitchens also aligned his views in the Israel/Palestine conflict as anti-Zionist, and empathized with what he believed to be the plight of the Palestinians, though this was more because of the fact that he simply did not believe in Zionism. He expressed this viewpoint on many occasions and thought that the religious aspect of the conflict had turned what was a petty squabble into a dangerous matter for everyone.
It was Christopher Hitchens views on different wars that garnered nearly as much attention as his views on religion. For one, he was neither wholly opposed or wholly supportive of war, yet based his beliefs on the minutia surrounding each conflict. When it came to the Vietnam War, Hitchens was diametrically opposed to the war, for the sole purpose that he believed it an entirely unnecessary war against a regime that had neither invaded another country or committed a genocide against its own people or the people of any other nation. It was his belief that, as Vietnam had never committed any known atrocities on American or foreign soil and had never sheltered a fugitive from another nation, America did not have the right to fight a war against a country that simply had a communistic government in place. Hitchens argued that the war against Vietnam was solely entered into by John F. Kennedy due to his defeats within Berlin and Cuba. He also professed that the American soldiers committed greater violence against the people of Vietnam than their own government, which was, in short, why he opposed all action.
In comparison, he was a staunch supporter of the Iraq war and invasion in every way. After the attacks on September 11, Hitchens believed that the danger posed by radical Islam was too strong to ignore. As such, he supported the invasion when it was announced by George W. Bush, despite being a harsh critic of the president before the events of 9/11. Unlike the Vietnam War, Hitchens supported the Iraq War because he viewed Iraq and Afghanistan as direct opponents against the U.S. that struck first through bombings and other atrocities. He also thought that the regime of Saddam Hussein was committing genocide on his people and thus supported the intervention by the U.S. His views and support of the war never wavered, even towards the end of his life as many early supporters began to change their minds on the matter.
One of the key aspects of Christopher Hitchens' life was his approach to writing. While this largely took the form of articles and essays, the novels he wrote extended significantly on his philosophical approaches to life and his beliefs, or rather disbelief, about religion. Throughout his life, he was the sole author of 20 essay collections and novels, as well as a wide variety of contributed articles for newspapers and magazines. His first few books were a collection of essays he penned, which started in the late 1980's. While Hitchens as a debater and philosopher was already being invited to attend numerous talk shows and give a wealth of lectures, his scathing essay of Mother Teresa in the book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice was his first critical and commercial success, though one of the primary factors for this success was how controversial the subject matter contained within was.
One of the foremost reasons as to why Christopher Hitchens was able to bring his philosophies and ideologies to the public was due to his career as a journalist, which began in 1970 when he joined the British International Socialism Journal as a correspondent. As a Trotskyist and overall socialist, this magazine was the primary socialist magazine within the United Kingdom. While Hitchens worked there for but a year, it was the start of a long career as a journalist. Over the next few years, he joined a variety of publications in different roles, such as a correspondent for the Times Higher Education Supplement, a researcher at Weekend World and a correspondent for the New Statesman, in which he befriended author Ian McEwan, who later joined him in many religious and philosophical debates.
It was around this time that his views started to gain him a reputation of sorts, given his fiery opposition in many of his articles against the Roman Catholic Church and the Vietnam War. Over the next few years, Hitchens moved around a bit, first joining the Daily express for a few years and then returning to the New Statesman, in which he worked as a foreign correspondent and foreign editor respectively. While his reputation was beginning to foster and rise in popularity, it was his move to the U.S. in the early 80's as a writer at The Nation that cemented his popularity, due primarily to controversial criticisms aimed at many notable figures, particularly Ronald Reagan at that time. The 90's gave way to his becoming a contributing editor for the Vanity Fair while still holding a position at The Nation. His position as a journalist continued until his death in 2011, in which he won numerous awards in the years preceding, including the National Magazine Award in 2007 and the same award for Columns in Cancer in 2011.
While Christopher Hitchens devoted most of his criticisms towards political figures that he disagreed with, these criticisms extended to and involved a myriad of different famous people, from celebrities to other authors and philosophers. When looking at his many criticisms and scathing attacks of others, some of the most famous include that of Mel Gibson, Princess Diana, President Bill Clinton, Reverend Jerry Falwell, Bob Hope and Mother Teresa, as mentioned earlier. Out of the lot of these, his criticisms of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana were likely the most controversial, due primarily to the fact that they happened at a time when both of these figures were idolized by nearly everyone. In fact, his quotes on Princess Diana came very shortly after her untimely death, while the whole of Britain, and most of the world, were still in shock. However, that was largely the point of his criticisms in the first place. He believed that their sorrow was misplaced, calling it “contrived hysteria”. This was due, in part, to his thinking of Princess Diana as a “silly, trivial woman.”
His views on famous people were written down in the form of three novels, one on Henry Kissinger for his role in the Vietnam War, another on Mother Teresa, as mentioned previously, and one on Bill Clinton in the novel No One Left to Lie To, in which Hitchens lambasts the Clintons. Hitchens was one of the few liberals to do so at that time. In this book, Hitchens attempts to expose Clinton as a President who was completely controlled by his corporate interests. When looking at his critique on Mel Gibson, Hitchens wrote an article for the Vanity Fair titled “The Gospel According to Mel”, in which he vehemently attacked Mel Gibson's latest film “The Passion of the Christ”, calling it anti-Semitic and largely illogical. One of his most blistering articles was focused on Bob Hope, wherein Hitchens called the comedian unfunny, as well as a fool and a clown.
Even in his later years, Christopher Hitchens still kept his wit about him, shrewdly debating and writing articles until his death at the age of 62 on December 15, 2011. His death resulted from the same illness that killed his father, that of esophageal cancer, which was largely brought about because of his heavy drinking and smoking throughout the majority of his life. His illness was diagnosed in the summer of 2010 and brought to international attention upon writing an article for the Vanity Fair, titled “Topic of Cancer”. Following this diagnosis, Hitchens knew that it would be unlikely he would survive for more than five years. Despite this knowledge, he wanted to make sure that everyone understood that he would not become a stereotypical deathbed convert to some religion, as he became even more resolute in his beliefs that God did not exist. His death received mournful reactions from everyone from fellow debater Tony Blair to the esteemed biologist Richard Dawkins. Hitchens was also graced with one last award following his death, that of the LennonOno Grant for Peace, which was presented by Yoko Ono to Hitchens' wife Carol Blue.
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