Monday, September 20, 2010
On the Bookshelves
I've been doing a fair amount of reading lately, though not a great deal of it has been for something other than school.
When I do have time, I've been thoroughly enjoying Christopher Hitchens' best-selling memoir: "Hitch-22". As intelligent and informed as Noam Chomsky and as gifted in the sharp-edged nature of the English language as Gore Vidal, Hitchens is a thrill to read. It's been enthralling to hear directly about the things that shaped him early-on.
For those who don't know, Christopher Hitchens is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Slate Magazine and others, and he has written a few best-sellers of the non-fiction variety, including a defense of George Orwell, and condemnations of Henry Kissinger and Mother Theresa.
If that's not enough to turn your crank, consider that he is also, at least prior to that recent Steven Hawking interview, the world's most renowned atheist, or, as he would prefer: "Anti-theist". His two recent volumes on the subject The Portable Athiest: Essential Readings for the Non-believer, and God is NOT Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, having huge impacts after following in the wake of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion a few years back.
I realize that for some people, the mere fact that Hitchens would offer-up an attack on Mother Theresa's motivations is enough to write him off. I guess that's your choice. I haven't yet read that volume, but it's on the list.
Anyway, consider this an endorsement, such as it is, of a brilliant mind and essayist. It's recommended reading for the faithful and secularists alike, though I do understand that the likelihood of a good percentage of the faithful picking-up Christopher Hitchens at Chapters is about as likely as me scanning the aisles for the latest from Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter.
This isn't to say that I am an easy convert - I too attended and was confirmed in the United Church of Canada in my youth - but I STILL don't, as you might say "believe blindly in everything I read", contrary to the particularly glib opinion of a semi-recent house guest who attempted to "out" me as I engaged in a very cordial conversation with a friend and follower of the Bahai faith. Upon seeing Hitchens lining my bookshelves, it was hard for him to understand how I could, after reading such pointed criticism of faith, be fair-minded enough to engage in conversation with a believer? It would surprise you. Perhaps the intent was to dissolve our conversation, or at least dilute it into a pathetic end. I was pleased to learn that, once said house guest had left for the evening, my rather enlightening exchange with a friend continued in good humour much through the night and well into the next morning over breakfast. Such friendships are capable of appreciating - if not conceding to - each other's points of view.
Anyway, without motive or assumption that it will lead to monumental shifts in your view of the world (though it might), I can safely say that reading Hitchens in-depth will at the very least challenge you. That seems to be what he's here for - if you believe in that sort of thing. If you couldn't be bothered picking-up one of his books, I would recommend at least checking out this link for one of his recent interviews before you move on to any debate. I have seen many, and I have yet to see him concede a point. As his colleague once remarked through experience: "If you are invited to debate Christopher Hitchens, decline."
Sadly, Christopher Hitchens is dying of cancer of the esophagus as I write this. Though he recently quit smoking and heavy drinking, years of excess caught-up with him, and here he is, canceling some legs of book tours and having to decline debates - likely for the first time in his life.
What's really disturbing about this, but not a surprise, is the fact that there are more than a few Christian groups throughout the Western World who are praying that Mr. Hitchens suffers a horrible worldly death for his lack of faith. To be fair, there are also those who are praying for either Hitchen's recovery, his deathbed conversion to accepting Jesus as his personal saviour, or both. These latter two, Hitchens himself looks-upon kindly. Still, the well-wishers seem to be greatly outnumbered these days (or at least over-shouted) by the masses who see Hitchen's cancer as God's good work - apparently ignoring the mistakes made when God also allowed cousin so-and-so and great aunt whatsername to also contract the big C. Mysterious ways.
Anyway, despite the barbed titles of his books, you will not find a writer on the subject who is more well-informed or compassionate about the human race he suffers along-side. Though I'm guessing that 90% of the people who read this won't ever bother picking-up one of his books, I still maintain that you might be glad you did. Regardless, he likely won't be around much longer and his is a voice of reason whose influence will be missed in these increasingly troubled times.