Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inspirational Person for the Month, Christopher Hitchens

It it time for my once a month inspirational person entry. Last month I discussed the late David Rakoff and this month it will be the late Christopher Hitchens aka Hitch. He was best known as an essayist, non fiction book writer and debater. He had an incredibly bright, sharp mind but what always made him special was the sense of humor that could save him in any situation, no matter how confrontational. He could defuse just about any tense situation with a humorous twist which absolutely upended everything. He was also the bravest of friends because he took up personal danger in the cause of friendship. His friend Salman Rushdie was under death threat for writing the book The Satanic Verses but Hitch put him up in his own home during this as his most avid supporter.

One of my favorite things Hitch did that always brings an inward chuckle is that he challenged the sainthood of Mother Theresa. He wrote a book about her, challenging the public persona she embodied, making his case for her being scornful of the downtrodden while consorting with royalty. What really got my attention is that when the Catholic Church was hearing outside testimony for why she should not be canonized as a saint, Hitch accepted the Church's invitation to make his case against her. An absolutely indefatigable debater since his Oxford undergrad days, Hitch leaped into the fray, appearing at the Church's offices where he presented his case in full. He didn't prevail on this issue but I had to give him credit for following a cause right down to the grittiest final detail.

Another favorite of mine was watching him on his televised debates. Shown left, Hitch and his good friend Stephen Fry who were sharing the con position in a televised debate against the sexual tenets of the Catholic Church, especially the no use of condoms in Africa by HIV infected persons.  Most of Hitch's debates were about organized religion which Hitch was against. He just loved these debates and was absolutely wonderful at leading the charge for his cause. Sometimes you could catch these on C-Span and if you've seen C-Span tv, you know how unusual it is to see an electrifying speaker on it. More typically it will put you to sleep it is so boring.

Hitch was also the one who convinced me to read all of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster stories. I became as big a fan as he was of those two and their antics. I even tried out the audio versions and loved those as well at his behest.

Vanity Fair magazine sent Hitch on assignment one year to check out the spa, healthy eating and exercise scene. At that point, Hitch was hardly known for his athleticism. No, he enjoyed smoking one cigarette after another plus relished good whiskey, wine, cognac or most other drinks.  His subsequent articles and pictures at these places was truly hilarious and made me feel much better about myself. He threw himself into this assignment but with full intentional hilarity. He even endured a very painful body hair wax removal.

He also radically shifted political sides after 9/11, believing we were in terrible danger from Islamic fundamentalists. Thus, he was in favor of the war we waged after that even though he had always been on the left before. As part of this new belief of his, he let himself be water boarded as a guinea pig so the public could see exactly what it was like as a torture device. At the time of his death, he was still opposed to the Islamic fundamentalists but now was back into a moderate political position and probably heading left again.

He wrote tons of books. Every one of them is terrific. My favorites are shown left. His essays Arguably are a good place to start if you are wholly unfamiliar with his work. Sadly, his last book, which I read, Mortality, was about his dying of the esophageal cancer which eventually killed him. This is an excellent memoir of going through the the last stages of death and dying. Two other excellent books of his are Hitch 22, a memoir of his life, and God is Not Great, his position on religion ruining everything in people's lives.

I certainly did not agree with his views on everything but I sure liked reading and listening to his arguments about everything. No one has stepped in to take his place and I'm not really expecting to see anyone able to do so in what remains of my lifetime.


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