Saturday, 17 December 2011

The end of a life well lived.

Unless you've been living under a rock at the bottom of a lake, you know that yesterday Christopher Hitchens lost his long battle against esophageal cancer.

Better writers than I have paid tribute to the great man already, and many more words are to come.  All I will say is that although I disagreed with Hitch on some points, I respected him more than almost any other prominent atheist.  His intellect was remarkable, his wit unmatched, and in his final days his courage, humility and dignity were inspiring.  Hitch faced his approaching death as a simple, common and unavoidable side-effect of having been alive, and focused on making his last few months count for all he could. According to Vanity Fair, the day before his death he sat in a wheelchair in the intensive care unit, ferociously writing to provide 3,000 words for a deadline.

Hitch fans all over the world are raising a glass to him; it seems an appropriate salute, and I will be taking a moment this weekend to drink a glass of Johnnie Walker and find inspiration in the recollection of a life lived with more enthusiasm, more fire and more humour than most of us can hope even to aspire to.  In the meantime, I can think of nothing more fitting than this speech by the man himself with which to pay tribute to Hitch. He will be sadly missed, but such a truly rare human will not be forgotten.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Religion and the lack of introspection.

I'm sitting in an office this morning with two colleagues, one of whom is - by UK standards - a relatively devout Christian. In conversation the subject of Pakistan's recent shock announcement that it doesn't trust the USA came up, which led to a discussion about religious extremism.

The Christian colleague amused me with her comments about "fundamentalists" and people who take religion too far, mainly because  her definitions seemed to be so strange.  It's been established in the past that she thinks I'm a "fundamentalist" atheist (a strange title in itself; do I take disbelief in deities right back to first principles?!), which is odd to start with.  To earn the accolade "fundamentalist" a religious person must blow up a train, or shoot a doctor, or burn a clinic, or burn witches, or cut bits off other people... but a non-believer can apparently be branded "fundamentalist" just for being willing to talk about the problems with religion.

To make it clear, this is a woman who refused to attend the wedding of a mutual friend last year because he was marrying another man. People who hold religious beliefs are so strange.