10 Timeless Hitchens Quotes

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Today, April 13th, would have perhaps marked Christopher Hitchens sixty-eighth birthday, had he not developed such a partiality for whiskey and cigarettes as he did in his younger years.

However woefully transient his life was, I am reminded of the quote oft-attributed to Banksy: “They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and the second, a bit later on, when somebody mentions your name for the last time.” I feel it will be a considerable while before Hitch’s second passing.

To mark the occasion, I decided to compile a short list of some of my favourite of his quotes, and after realising that almost anything he ever said or wrote could fit such a bill, I settled on no particular order.


1) That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.


Don’t be fooled, these words do not apply solely to their original, theistic context. If you ever found yourself in opposition to Christopher, this was the golden rule by which to play the game of conversation; if you’re going to present some claim, and do so with an implication of certainty, you’d better have some solid justification for doing so.


2) Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus.


In my limited experience, I find that when people are uncertain of themselves, it can be incredibly tempting for them to jump on the bandwagon of consensus, just to have something to say. Hitch recognised a necessity in thinking for oneself, and rejected any appeals to majority opinion — history is flooded with examples of misguided solidarity, and to attempt to defend a stance in such a way always comes at the sacrifice of critical thinking and individualism.


3) Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity . . . The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.


I think this quote sums up Christopher’s sense of urgency. He knew that there was no time to waste with customary censorship or unwarranted courtesy, and was a rare example of an individual who was brave enough to enact on such a principle. Find me the interview, debate or conversation in which Hitchens left something he had to say unheard, and I’ll eat my words immediately. Best of luck to you.


4) I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.


When has this ever been a more appropriate thing to say? For all of Hitchens’ steadfastness, he always seemed to have an extensive understanding of his oppositional contemporaries and their views. Hypocrisy is a hallmark of ignorance, and when it comes to politics and religion, everybody could do with taking a leaf out of his book here.


5) Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should remain.


Classic Hitch. When his characteristic wit is coupled with an disagreeable truth, many can find themselves laughing at their own expense.


6) Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.


This is perhaps the most common Hitchens quote I see on lists such as this, and a favourite among many. And who can blame us? The paradox of original sin is a wicked thing to propagate.


7) Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.


The (in)famous challenge. “You can’t do it!” Hitchens would say, before turning the dare on its head and asking, “Who now can name me an evil statement made or an evil action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer?” And you’ve already thought of one.


8) Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.


Christopher Hitchens was no scientist. He did, however, have a lust for scientific understanding nonetheless. Not only was nature to him as awe-inspiring and poetic as any ancient scripture, it was more so, and by a long chalk. Ethics, altruism, and decency have been around far longer than any organised faith. The process of evolution by means of natural selection is the true origin of these virtues, not some transcendental Middle Eastern patriarch.


9) If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.


I am certain that Hitchens here was not presenting an advocacy. I, too, am made uncomfortable by the suggestion of curtailing parental legal freedoms in the name of secularism (except in extreme cases), however it is an interesting thought experiment. Even the pious would likely admit to you that their religiosity is very often shaped more by their upbringing than their reason, but unfortunately, by the time a child of religious parents has matured their critical faculties, it can be too late for them to even recognise their chains, let alone attempt to break them. As Daniel Dennett put it, “There is simply no polite way to tell people they’ve dedicated their lives to an illusion.”


10) The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex, and picnics.


You can’t argue with that, folks.


Now I’m off to raise a glass of Scotch in celebration. Happy birthday, Hitch.

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17 comments

  1. Hitch is a GIANT! But I will fault him for over-simplifying theology. The below quote misunderstands the idea of original sin. There are numerous “Intentional Paradoxes within Religion” See (Christ as both Human and God, The Trinity, Hell (problem of Evil), etc).

    But these paradoxes aren’t to be taken so straightforwardly as Hitch does. Like Buddhist Koans, you’re supposed to grapple with Cosmic absurdity.

    “Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to be well.”

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  2. The reason I loved Hitchens not because he bashed religion for the harm it caused humanity over millennia (although the bashing was delightful) but the way he hated, from moral point of view, the idea of an entity who’s free of scrutiny running the universe. His moral stand was same as Mark Twain’s (recommend Twain’s ‘Letters from the Earth’).

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  3. I have to admit Christopher does like to tell it as it is without fear of hurting the feelings of others. He always exuded a charmful wit in his expression towards religious dogma and it was this rational, cool, calm manner that attracted me to his ideology. He managed to put into logic, and in simple words the confusion I felt about the basic tenets of religious belief. I did notice however, an extremely scornful disdain in his attack on Islam towards the latter years of his life which many claim turned him into a conservative, dogmatic and right- wing apologist. And this attitude lost many of his supporters. His dread of the privileged position being afforded Islam in the world did reveal at times a man possessed by hateful spite uncharacteristic of his earlier demeanor. Knowing that his commanding respect for Ayaan Hirsi Ali was unflagging, is there in your opinion a real threat posed by Islam on the world’s stage? or is it just another thorn in the side of humanity’s evolution and eventual discard of outdated dogma? A genuine question from a curious observer.

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    1. Hitchens was one of the people most responsible for propagating the scaremongering stereotype that Islam is a misogynistic death cult. It has become very popular with Western folks who need a way to oversimplify the complex social and political issues in the Middle East and give them a convenient target for their snide indifference and self-righteousness.

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  4. Oh, Hitch, you lovable, drunken, hypocritical, mendacious, misogynistic old war cheerleader you. People who know very little about philosophy and history still revere you as some sort of public intellectual. The truth is, you were really the same kind of petty, self-aggrandizing moralist that you claimed to despise in all your cheap polemics.

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    1. This is your second comment on hitchens. All his views were very valid. Yes, the majority of muslims are not killing people but they still sit back and say nothing. If a cathlolic sect were killing and bombing the bishops and the pope and all the religions public figures would be publicly condemning those acts, but muslims will not help or rarely even speak out against the extremists. So they can expect to get a bit of tar on them, until they speak out the tarring brush will remain pretty wide.

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      1. My point was that Hitch was a first-class hypocrite: he cried crocodile tears for the victims of religion, but then he turned around and supported the Iraq War, the legacy of which is still causing suffering for many millions. His brand of self-righteousness was just as phony and obnoxious as that of the religious people he and his disciples look down on.

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  5. Now that’s a bit unfair Steve. Christopher s attack on Islam was always in the context of religion in general. He had traveled to many of the countries in the Middle East and saw first hand what many of these countries have become and the social practices enforced on women, minority religions, transgressors and the like. Some may argue that there is a blurred line between culture,politics and religion but if you have a look at what goes on in Arabia ,and the archaic laws of so many of these countries practiced with the open sanctioning of Islamism you have to admit that there is something out there and with this religion that needs to be open minded and allow criticism to occur in a liberal, fair and honest public discussion. Christopher didn’t attack Muslims but the religion of Islam that needs to be open to a contemporary perspective and not take itself so seriously and allow open debate. Put it this way would you want Sharia Law imposed in your neck of the woods?l if you do then you are clueless and your idea of self righteousness is based on your romantic fantasy of freedom to practise religion and equality. Everyone uses Indonesia as the perfect example of liberal Islamism but groups there are now harnessing opposition with violent death threats on a Christian politician who dared to suggest that religion and politics should be separate. No Steve, if people can’t be vocal in their opposition for fear of being murdered then that religion and what it stands for should be scrutinized. Sure Chistopher did become almost obsessed with his vitriol on Islam but you have to agree that you can criticize an idea/religion and not the people who follow it fir whatever reason or circumstances.

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    1. “you have to agree that you can criticize an idea/religion and not the people who follow it”

      Okay, I agree. But the problem is that we’re not talking about political ideologies or aesthetic opinions here. We’re talking about beliefs that form the very foundation of many people’s personal and cultural identity, and yet we’re treating these beliefs like they’re opinions on ice cream flavors. The neo-atheist view that beliefs deserve to be mocked and ridiculed has reduced our discourse about the social construction of meaning to a booger-flicking exercise lacking either empathy or maturity.

      And I might be the only one who notices that we only ever tolerate scrutiny or ridicule of other people’s beliefs, never our own. Why don’t we spend more time analyzing and critiquing the way we nice educated Westerners see the world, and subject our ideas about history, wealth, inquiry, truth, and the common good to the harsh scrutiny we think is so necessary when we’re dealing with the beliefs of people we’ve decided are our enemies?

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  6. I’d recommend that you watch the 7 (approximately) hour compilation of Hitch’s arguments, interviews, and speeches. I can say with tremendous confidence that it is an inspiring video and a great watch.

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