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.
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 a claim, especially with any implication of certainty, you’d better have a 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.
Christopher’s sense of urgency was one of his defining traits. He knew that time was too precious to waste on customary reticence or forced courtesy, and was a rare example of an individual who was brave enough to act accordingly.
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.
Characteristic wit coupled with a disagreeable truth; a classic Hitch technique that can leave many 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 quote is oft-attributed to Christopher’s own poeticism, however it is in fact derived from Fulke Greville’s Seventeenth-Century tragedy, Mustapha:
Oh wearisome Condition of Humanity!
Born under one law, to another bound:
Vainly begot and yet forbidden vanity,
Created sick, commanded to be sound
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.
Christopher’s most (in)famous challenge. “You can’t do it!” he 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.
To Hitch, not only was the majesty of nature as awe-inspiring and poetic as any ancient scripture, it was more so. Ethics, altruism, and decency have been around far longer than any imagined deities. The process of evolution by means of natural selection is the true origin of these virtues, without the intercession of any 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 Christopher here was not advocating for this to happen. I, too, am made uncomfortable by any suggestion to curtail parental and religious freedoms in the name of secularism (except in extreme cases), however it is an interesting thought experiment. Even the pious routinely admit 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, confirmation bias often prevents them from fully utilising them. As Daniel Dennett succinctly summarised, “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.
I might well raise a glass of whiskey in Christopher’s honour tonight. I don’t even much like whiskey. Happy birthday, Hitch.
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.”
But isn’t reducing religions to philosophical points on the human condition over-simplified by itself?
You sound lime an appologist. Grapple with cosmic absurdity my arse.
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’).
If there is an all-powerful entity who wouldn’t allow you to scrutinize them, you wouldn’t be able to scrutinize them now. Yet, you are able to scrutinize them now. Therefore, if there is an all-powerful entity, that entity has, is, and potentially will allow you to scrutinize them. If this entity created all things and yet allows those they have created to become their enemies, then that being would be acting mercifully toward their enemies.
R.I.P Hitch. Was and always will be an inspiration.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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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I don’t understand why you think one should hold special regards towards religion because of the amount of people forming their life by it. Do you regard religious people as less capable? Fragile? Religious people have held the stage for thousands of years, demanding people to view the world their way,, and killing those not conforming. Its a bit rich, asking atheists to keep it down. Weather you view religious people as less capable as human beings or even worse, deserving of special treatment for, what? Being Devine by proxy?
Great collection of quotes. I enjoyed that.
Very eloquently put. Bravo.
Lol My birthday is on April 13th, on Hitchen’s Birthday, so happy now xD
Say what you will about Hitch as a person, but his razor wit stands alone.
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.
Reblogged this on think&thrive.
On that last quote, I shall echo Stephen Fry in saying three out of four ain’t bad, Christopher.
As always, I appreciate your work. You should continue this! 365 daily devotional haha I for one one would buy and read it.
Except gays would presumably argue that anal sex is not overrated.
What I most admire in Hitchens is the stoic way he died. He was serious, self-controlled till the end.
I think #7 misses the main message and teaching of Christianity. Christianity typically teaches that the the moral standard of right and wrong is established by God’s nature, not our own. Moreover, it often teaches that no one can do right in thought or deed because our desires and motivations are self-centered. The difference is that Christians believe that they have and continue to do wrong, but believe that Jesus has willingly paid their just penalty by dieing in their place, and this isn’t because of anything morally good or superior about the Christian. Rather it is a gift; something freely given out of love. The moment the Christian truly believes this is true, they natural regard Jesus with honor and begin to naturally desire to fight against desires that effectively spit in the face of this gift. The motivation and desire of the Christian is now fundamentally different than non-Christians, because they don’t have to have good thoughts or do good deeds to please anyone or convince themselves, but rather pursue moral progress (as revealed in God’s nature) because they delight in God himself as evidenced in the historical accounts and teachings of Jesus. This perspective results in increased humility since it’s ultimately an undeserved gift, and removes any need to claim things mentioned in #7. In my humble opinion haha