Christopher Hitchens was one of the best people in the world.
I say that not because I agreed with him on so many topics, though I did. In fact, I disagreed with him strongly sometimes. But almost every time that happened, I could respect and understand his viewpoint. He was consistent. He didn't hold beliefs because they were what he wanted to believe; he held them because, to the best of his knowledge, that's where the evidence pointed. He understood that truth is more important than we are. It exists apart from us and our petty prejudices. Truth doesn't care what we think.
He was not only passionate about truth, but he showed clearly with his actions that he held it in greater esteem than politeness. This is a virtue which is inexcusably rare these days.
Christopher Hitchens didn't care if you liked him. He didn't care if you hated him. In fact, I'm sure the hatred of certain people gave him supreme satisfaction. If you misspoke around him, he would correct you. If you outright lied, he would crucify you. He had the courage to call a liar a liar, something that can't be said of virtually any other journalist I know of. If your viewpoint wasn't worthy of respect, he didn't give it any. If your beliefs contributed to human ignorance and suffering, he would tear them to bloody shreds. He understood that the comfort of a lie is not worth the hindrance of our species. He meant it when he said that religion poisons everything. Because the core of religion is the idea that it is acceptable, even virtuous, to ignore reality if you prefer a fantasy instead. He believed that this fundamental glorification of dishonesty was a cancer on human progress. I agree. Dishonesty is a toxic soil that nothing good can grow from. Nothing. If telling the truth about your illusions pissed you off, Hitchens didn't care. He cared more for the future of humanity than the feelings of individual men. I would call that heroic.
Hitchens drank and smoked and fought. He knew damn well his lifestyle would lead to an early grave, and he didn't care. He considered it a fair trade-off. The quality of his days mattered more to him than their total number. But in leaving us all here, after 62 short years, we're a poorer race without him. We needed him. The New Atheism needed him. It needs soft-spoken, intelligent persuaders like Dawkins and Harris too. Absolutely. But in order for people like them to discuss atheism openly, someone needed to get the conversation started in the first place. Throughout human history, the status quo has oppressed many groups of people. These people did not gain empowerment by politely asking for it. Someone had to have enough balls to stand up and demand it. Before any revolutionary idea can be discussed, first it must make itself heard. Hitchens knew how to scream his lungs out in a calm, soft, devastating voice. Love him or hate him, he got people talking.
If you agreed with him, he gave you new ideas, quotes to remember, and a renewed faith that the battle against ignorance is winnable. Even if you disagreed, he never made it easy on you. He forced you to think.
He made me a smarter person, just from listening to him. That's one of the highest compliments I can possibly give.
He was someone to aspire to. Watching him speak off the cuff on political and historical matters, I realized I was watching a man that I could never hope to be smarter than. And that was wonderful. I'm not saying we should all act like him. He was definitely a bit of a prick. But if we had his same undying passion for truth, his same refusal to give respect where none had been earned, his same relentlessness in confronting cruelty and dishonesty in any form... we would all be better off.
I hate this world a little more today, for the fact that it took Hitchens. It's because of people like him (and Carlin, and Zappa, and Hicks...) that I hope medical science will one day spit in the eye of death and find a way to keep people alive until they choose their own end in their own time.
Maybe (despite all the evidence in the world) the Christians are right, and Christopher Hitchens is standing in judgment before Almighty God right now.
If so, I have no doubt that Hitch will look him in the eye and curse him to his face, unafraid of the consequences.
Hitchens' life was a monument to defiance in the face of evil.
We should all be so fearless.
EDIT: I hate the goddamn world.
Christopher Hitchens dies, then two days later, Kim Jong Il kicks the bucket too. Two Days Later!!! Come on, universe! You couldn't have given Hitch TWO MORE FUCKING DAYS so he could have seen that and died happy!? He would have been on his deathbed, relieved that, if he had to go, at least one of the worst people in the world was no longer in it too. He could have slipped out of this life with a smile on his face. But, no.
Existence, you are a fucking DICK.
The only thing that would make me not hate you anymore is if somehow I find out later that you allowed Hitchens' ghost to murder that Asian midget psychopath. That'd be cool.