Christopher Hitchens is dead. Despite never knowing him personally, indeed never coming within a thousand kilometers of him, it does make me a little sad to know he is gone. He was atheism's rabid dog, the crazy, impassioned debater and writer who was willing to fly across the world any time to debate religion with anybody. I read his most famous book on religion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and blogged about it, comparing Hitchens to a salesman while comparing Dawkins and Stenger to a mad scientist and a force of nature respectively. Hitchens was hilarious to watch or read because he was so talented at writing eloquently and forcefully but he would never be accused of being the most meticulous debater in the world; he often ignored his opponent's arguments, dismissing them as ridiculous, and simply charged ahead in his inimitable way. He was the sort you would set on someone you wanted to confuse and demoralize because he refused to engage on any but his own terms and was savage and dangerous in his prose.
I read some of his later written works in Vanity Fair talking about his illness and the various reactions to it. He talked about how some religious people suggested that his cancer of the esophagus was a direct punishment from God for his blasphemous statements, to which he replied that he was surprised that God had not struck him in other body parts which he used to sin very regularly. One might also question why God waited so long to punish him and why God chose a method that could so easily be predicted by lifestyle and circumstance... Hitchens even talked about how he hoped that he would not become so weak and confused that he repented his atheism at the end and insisted that if by some chance he did that everyone ignore it as the person that did so was not really Christopher Hitchens. Of course other folks simply said that they were not praying for Hitchens because he wouldn't want them to, or that they were praying for him even though he wouldn't want them to. I wonder if it is enjoyable or terrible to have so many people so interested in one's own imminent death.
Of course although his body is gone Hitchens is not vanished forever. His debates, his books and his cutting remarks stay with us and as such a big part of what Hitchens was will live a very long time indeed. This is true for anyone, and the memories of us and the way we change the world is the only real immortality we have. Though some may find it terrifying or insufficient I see it as a far greater form of immortality than the fictional kind. Awareness is a wonderful thing but the knowledge that even though I will someday be gone my thoughts and actions will continue to echo across the world is a more wonderful thing yet.