Benjamin McNutt: Remembering Hitchens, a round-up

Christopher Hitchens did a great service to the Christians he infuriated. He forced them to pay attention.

Christopher Hitchens was no saint. He lacked the grace to suffer fools, particularly we fools for Christ. He celebrated his vices with a gratuity that undid him, in the end. He was a Hamlet of dissent in that way.

Yet he did a great service to the many Christians he infuriated: he forced them to pay attention. His prose made you sit up straight, lean forward, tilt your head in suspended contempt; you had to listen because he was going to keep hold of your (clerical) collar until you did. That the occasional spit landed in your eye was a by-product of his quality of style, devastating wit and relentless ability to consider something afresh. Combined, those talents made Christians do some real work, even when he was wrong. If we are said to love our enemies, that alone is reason to love this one, who has gone the way of all flesh, leaving behind a legacy of words soaked in scotch and singed by the butts of Rothmans that both fueled and defeated him.

Here is a sampling of literary eulogies:

James K.A. Smith: “Let us not do Hitchens the injustice of wishing him eternal peace. Let's be honest and honor his memory by recognizing he didn't want it.”

Anne Applebaum (and others at Slate): “Then the penny dropped. Of course: The word ‘Eeyorish’ comes from ‘Eeyore,’ the eternally pessimistic donkey in Winnie the Pooh. Only Hitchens would have used this neologism in casual conversation, and only Hitchens would have put it in the context of Balkan conflict.”

John Cook: “It must not be forgotten in mourning him that he got the single most consequential decision in his life horrifically, petulantly wrong.”

Ross Douthat: “In the world of journalism, among his peers and competitors and sparring partners, it was nearly impossible to find a religious person who didn’t have a soft spot for a man who famously accused faith of poisoning absolutely everything.”

Terry Eagleton: “[He] could not write a dull sentence if he tried.”

Michael Lind: “Christopher Hitchens wanted to be remembered as his generation’s George Orwell. But he was only its Henry Fairlie.”

Jane Mayer: “Then I noticed that during the time that I was using his illness as an excuse to procrastinate, he had himself authored a handful of brilliant pieces. I couldn’t work, but he couldn’t stop working.”

James Martin: “If he finally makes it to heaven, I hope he gets a chance to get to know the prodigal love of God, which eluded him on earth. After that, I hope he gets to know Mother Teresa a little better than he did on earth.”

Peter Hitchens: “The word ‘courage’ is often misused today. People sometimes tell me that I have been ‘courageous’ to say something moderately controversial in a public place. Not a bit of it. This is not courage. Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to. My brother possessed this virtue to the very end, and if I often disagreed with the purposes for which he used it, I never doubted the quality or ceased to admire it.”

Christopher Buckley: “Yes, everything he said was brilliant. It was a feast of reason and a flow of soul, and, if the author of “God Is Not Great” did not himself believe in the concept of soul, he sure had one, and it was a great soul.”

Benjamin McNutt is the editor of Call & Response. You can follow him on Twitter at @benjaminmcnutt.