“In fact, if we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that religion can be a powerful tool to shake a culture or people out of ignorance and injustice. The prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) was a revolutionary who rescued the Meccans from a cycle of economic exploitation. Jesus, whether you believe in his divinity, or his prophethood, or neither, planted his feet between the Roman Empire and a small, remote nation of people called the Jews, and his lessons in pacifism and honesty before the unjust behemoth are still redeeming people today. Moses crippled the whip-cracking pharaoh and led his people out of Egypt, away from centuries of slavery. Liberation theologians, social activists, and abolitionists alike have found in his struggle with and on behalf of his people a mission statement.”
“I suspect that very few of you young doubters reading this have ever confronted a religious leader directly with your doubts. And why would you have? Even if you’d had the chance, what could be more intimidating? Having now lived on both sides of belief, however, it’s something that I would recommend. Even if you don’t find the answer you’re looking for, I can promise that it’ll at least lead to some surprising stories.”
“I was watered, as a young weed, by pretty language. A major early distraction of mine was marveling at others’ clever stylings in speech. It was not difficult to get an idea into my head, provided that idea was wrapped and bowed in eloquent, musical prose.
How unlucky I was, in light of this, to have stumbled upon Christopher Hitchens, the reigning king of rhetoric, still reigning from beyond the grave. Never has someone so confused me. Never have I been so incensed, so disgusted by the bile and bigotry that came from a man’s mouth while simultaneously, grudgingly in love with how he managed to put it into spoken and written word. What a magnificent, dangerous mind. If I’d had any remaining hesitations in my disdain for religion as a young man, it was hearing Hitchens that removed them. Not through reason, or historical accuracy, but through rousing, commanding, beautiful, devastating language. My relationship with him and his work remains, to this day, complicated—even as a member of a religion for which he reserved particularly hot blood.
Hitchens’ history of idol-smashing extends further back than the publication of his bestselling book God Is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything. He began his writing career a Marxist (specifically, a Trotskyist) before switching loyalties late in life to an odd mix of Jeffersonian conservatism and Cheney-flavored imperialism. What seems to have remained constant, however, is a defiant streak that bordered on a chronic inability to respect any kind of authority. He was a passionately independent man until his last breath. In his words: “My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time.”