Peter Hitchins, Allen & Unwin

Christopher Hitchens is probably the Western world’s best-known public intellectual and ‘contrarian’ (a term he doesn’t like, though he wrote a book titled Letters to a Young Contrarian). He describes himself as a “writer whose promiscuous mandate is to be interested in everything”.

He certainly has an “itch to scribble”  and writes at least 1,000 words for publication somewhere every day.

His best-seller God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything cemented his position as one of the five major advocates of the so-called New Atheism.

Time magazine’s reviewer of Hitch-22 suggests we toss this one (rather than skim or read it) largely because of Hitchens’ tendency to name-drop.

He does that — and I think he deserves to. The list of literary and political high-fliers he counts as friends (some of them spectacularly graduating to ex-friends) is astonishing. He also cultivates enemies. As one reviewer puts it: “Hitchens has made a career out of assailing big fish hook, line, and sinker including Bill Clinton, Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger, Noam Chomsky, and … God.”

Christopher Hitchens is your prototypical representative of the “Chattering Classes”. He’s very bright —  a polymath —  and something of a mumbler.

There are two tear-jerking episodes in the book. The first happens in 1973, when aged 24, he went to Athens where his mother (the only woman in the book he writes about with affection) had just committed suicide.

She had left Hitchens’ father to run away with a defrocked and mentally unstable Anglican priest. Police found that the hotel records showed repeated attempts to call Christopher’s London number, but she never got through

The other: his description of the funeral of a bright young American soldier who was persuaded to volunteer for Iraq ­— and died there — as a result of something Hitchens had written.

Would I toss this book? No, I found it provocative ands challenging — despite my disagreeing with just about everything Hitchens says about/against Christianity. Once or twice a month he has a public debate with someone about “god” (sic) — you can find some of them on YouTube.

His general approach reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s in Why I am Not a
Christian. He takes the least plausible explanation of some religious practice or biblical passage and assails it as if it were mainstream thinking on that subject.

Talk about demolishing straw men!

What generated such anti-religious animosity? One clue: he had to attend compulsory divine service at school every morning and evening for five years. Later, with a friend, he’d sit upright while everyone else knelt for prayers, and brought books to read during the sermons.

But I agree with just about everything he writes about modern international politics. That includes the modern phenomenon of Islamofascism (a term he is supposed to have invented).

This book appeals on many levels. For those of us who inhabited a Western university in the late 1960s we’ll reminisce with him about the toing and froing of student debates and dissent in those years. And the general iconoclasm, not only in politics, but also sexual morality, etc.

Hitchens learned from his mother that “the one unforgivable sin is to be boring”. He learned that well.

Rowland Croucher


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