The Final HitchSlap
Yesterday, one of the world’s greatest contemporary public intellectuals left us after a long and painful battle with throat cancer. Christopher Hitchens died at age 62, but this is not an eulogy for the great man, who fearlessly fought against the all-too-human traits of stupidity and ignorance. There are plenty of those around the web already. Nor is this a diatribe about the “way Hitchens changed my life”, although it is true that he did give me the courage to come forward as an “active atheist”.
No this is something else, something more important than the death of the great man, (yes it is possible) and something I hope nobody will ever forget.
On announcement of his passing, outpourings of anguish at his death flooded Twitter. I literally had upwards of fifteen tweets in a row about Hitchens at any one time, and as is the nature of such things, the hashtags started such as #RIPHitch, #RIPChristopherHitchens, and the one that caused a stir, from the title of his best-selling book, #GodIsNOTGreat.
At first I was awestruck that the hashtag #GodIsNOTGreat was the TOP Trending Topic on Twitter, then I dug a little deeper. The tweets were about 80% from Christians who were indignant that this was the top trending topic, the rest were people commenting on the death itself. Most of these tweets are now long gone, but most were people professing how great God is, and, unsurprisingly, many threats against those who were using the tag to commiserate Hitchens’ death were dealt. Most were unaware of Hitchens’ existence in the first place, and even less were aware that “God Is Not Great” was the title of a book. What is astounding is the disproportionate level of anger being spouted by people who saw this as an attack on their god, as if the creator of the universe is not powerful enough to stand up for itself. One could almost see it as a reaction against a personal attack on these people, which is very interesting. Is faith so fragile that if even a small suggestion that the person who believes might be wrong, that the immediate reaction is “Death to the infidel”? History has shown this to be the case, and the present shows that this trend is not waning.
Here are some of the reactions to the #GodIsNotGreat hashtag courtesy of twitter user @jes3ica:
I’ll leave it to you to work out the irony of the situation, but to see so many people up in arms over a simple hashtag on Twitter was quite a sight indeed! But the icing on the cake is the amount of people, including “friends” of Christopher Hitchens’, like Rick Warren, who are claiming that either Hitch now “knows the truth”, or worse making claims that Hitch “converted on his deathbed”. The stupidity abounds, and the presumptuousness of these people, claiming to know makes me feel ill to the stomach. Like vultures to a carcass, the cretins homed in on the news, and like a disturbed ant’s nest the god-botherers have crawled out of the ground to spout their inanities.
If Hitch were alive today to see this furor he would probably point and say “See what religion does to people?” It’s sad to see him go, but the inevitability of his death was known to all of us, especially to Hitch himself. The final “HitchSlap” was dealt posthumously, and in such a way that those who felt the impact were unaware that they had even been slapped. The indignation of those offended was proof that in fact religion is a propagator of ignorance which feeds on the apathy of the masses, as those who were offended couldn’t be bothered to find out why the topic was trending before spouting their anger. I received several threats for my use of the tag, and many saw the death threats that resulted from it.
To the memory of Christopher Hitchens. He was a great example of unflinching reasoning, of rationality and logic, unafraid of the tyranny of the world including religious, political and social. The world is better for having known him, and he leaves a hole in society that will be difficult, if not impossible to fill.
“The search for nirvana, like the search for utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous one. It involves, if it does not necessitate, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from anxiety and struggle.” – Christopher Hitchens Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, 2004