This is not going to be another article eulogizing Christopher Hitchens – listing his various achievements and explaining how significant he was for modern society. What I want to do instead is tell a bit about why and how Hitchens became so important to me.
I first discovered Hitchens around 2005 when I heard him discuss the Iraq war. I admired his strong willed stance and found his arguments to be extremely persuasive. I myself had previously written a long essay about the reasons for going to war against the Saddam Hussein regime (a long and well researched essay that received a chilly C- grade from my Pakistani born college professor whom I was criticizing for claiming, in writing, that the Iraq war was part of a huge sinister plot by the nefarious Bush administration that had probably also orchestrated the 9-11 attacks). I kept on following Hitchens’ writings for a while until I came upon his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I admit this with a bit of shame, but as an Israeli-American, I was in no mood, at the time, for anyone or anything that sounded even slightly left of where my political views were. I might have offered some defense for this closed mindedness by explaining that having grown up in Israel and experiencing violence first hand, and now living in the Bay Area and experiencing, again first hand, some of the most venomous anti Israeli demonstrations I have ever seen; some going as far as praising Palestinian suicide bombers while equating Jews to Nazis, I felt that anyone who was not vehemently opposed to the Palestinians must have been either uninformed or plain evil. But the fact of the matter still remains – I was closed minded and had no patience for anything outside of my opinions on the subject. Since then, I will admit, my stance has become much less defensive and much more open minded, but the most important lesson I learned from Hitchens was that it really is ok to accept a person’s views on one topic, while maintaining a disagreement with him on another. Even now I still disagree with some of Hitchens’ expressed views on Israel, but this, in no way, diminishes my enormous admiration for him. Indeed, I think it would be quite one dimensional, not to mention boring, of me to automatically agree with every single word Hitchens has ever written or said. One of the most important principals Hitchens promoted was that people should unchain their minds and do their own thinking – a principle I try to live by.
I next rediscovered Hitchens sometime in 2009. At the time, I had recently gotten engaged to my now wife and was in the middle of a deep evaluation of what my Jewish religion meant to me in light of my plans to marry a wonderful non Jewish woman. Even though I had been raised in a completely secular Kibbutz in Northern Israel, and had an atheistic father and a mother who never cared much for religion, Judaism always seemed important to me; if only because I felt it contained a certain sanctimonious cultural identity that had been persecuted for so long, and that I felt pride having physically defended. I am tremendously grateful to my wife for indulging what I now know was a subjective, and quite nonsensical, attempt to ensure that our future children would come out Jewish. Till this day I still harbor a small yet persistent feeling of embarrassment, having dragged both of us through a procession of meetings with various rabbis; attempting to begin the ludicrous “conversion” process that would have eventuated with a small number of humans proclaiming that my fiancé was now somehow a different type of human from what she was before, and declaring that she is a Jew.
It was during this confusing stage that I began to invariably come across Hitchens’ writings and debates on the subject of religion. Like millions of other people, I too was swept up by his eloquence, passion, and articulate humor. But I found myself, again, slightly embarrassed, having had the apparent need for such potent anti religious medicine, administered by one of the world’s leading specialists, in order to rid me of such a mild Reform Jewish malady. I would have liked to believe that as an educated adult, I could have managed to pull back the veil of Oz on my own, and to uncover the fact that behind it there is nothing but bluff. But alas, I must admit that I did seem to need some help to shake me loose from my silly religious delusions – even the mild ones of the Reform Jewish sect. Now that my wife and I have been happily married for close to two years, and are expecting a baby boy any day now, I am eternally grateful for having been shown how to shake off the ludicrous religious chain that might have kept us from culling the living flowers of the happiest and most fulfilling time of our lives.
Since then I have tried to read as much of Hitchens’ writings as I can (quite a daunting task), and watch every single Hitchens debate and speech. Last year I had already purchased my ticket to see Hitchens speak at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, and was also ready to attend the San Francisco Hitch-22 book signing, when it was suddenly announced that his book tour had been canceled due to his falling ill. This February I somehow managed to get myself in to his last debate with Dinesh D’Souza, in Walnut Creek, and saw how a physically frail and soft spoken Hitchens still effortlessly eviscerated the ridiculous religious claims that were laid out by D’Souza. I feel extremely lucky to have seen him do this live, and celebrated this achievement by purchasing a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label on my way home and emptying a glass or two as I sat down to write. The deep influence that Hitchens had on my life was the chief reason I decided to write my own views on religion for the Examiner.
Hitchens will be sorely missed, and although there will never be another Hitch, it is now time for all of us to pick up where he left off and keep fighting the good fight against all types of tyranny, bullying and superstition – especially in their most common form of organized religion.