Christopher Hitchens: the unabashed sceptic who eloquently questioned religious totalitarianism

His idea that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and as a means of defining humanity, was and is something that clearly should be strongly considered in this age, where religious extremism and terrorism have become a norm

Two things happened this week that brought to my mind, a man called Christopher Hitchens. The first was his death anniversary on December 15 and the second was the upcoming canonization of a woman known as Mother Teresa.

The first is self explanatory but perhaps the second one requires explanation. Christopher Hitchens, or Hitch as his fans call him, was a vociferous and unflinching critic of Mother Teresa, long before it came out that she was not the person everyone thought she was.

Hitch was a whiskey drinking, cigarette smoking author and journalist who expounded so eloquently on religion and politics that one would wonder that such harsh words could be said in such a soft manner. He was unabashedly critical of organised religion and claimed to be an antitheist, saying that one "could be an atheist and wish that belief in God were correct," but that "an antitheist, a term I'm trying to get into circulation, is someone who is relieved that there's no evidence for such an assertion."

He was a sceptic and generally questioned unempirical knowledge or opinions and beliefs. He famously said in his book God is Not Great “One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge.” 

Throughout his life he maintained that the concept of god or supreme being was a totalitarian belief that negates or even destroys individual freedom. And for this opinion he even went as far as criticising Voltaire: “Thus, though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of god is the problem to begin with.”              

His idea that free expression and scientific discovery should replace religion as a means of teaching ethics and as a means of defining humanity, was and is something that clearly should be strongly considered in this age, where religious extremism and terrorism have become a norm. Think about where the human civilization would go if it started concentrating on something other than religious morality.

In terms of politics Hitch was a leftist, although he was a strong supporter of the Iraq war, which made people consider him a neoconservative.

I like Hitch and while I do not agree with all of his views, especially the political ones, I have always admired him. He died of cancer in 2011 but he left an indelible mark on the people who had read and heard him. And like them I want to remember him by quoting the following passage, which makes me happy because I consider myself a co-thinker.

“And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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