Christopher Hitchens, who died at the age of 62 last week, impacted many people with his provocative prose and sharp wit. But as a long-time resident of the Washington, D.C., area, and frequent contributor to The Washington Post, Hitchens left a particularly deep impact on many Post writers, who at times praised his brazen and straight-forward style, and at other times, sparred with him on his cemented beliefs.
Even while delivering a bit of criticism, Hitchens had an impressive command of the English language and literature, noted Anne Applebaum of PostPartisan:
“I see you were feeling eeyorish about Macedonia last week.” As far as I recall, those were the first words Christopher Hitchens ever said to me. They threw me completely. What was this new adjective, “eeyorish”? From which language did it derive?
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. And that was his genius. He had a profound knowledge of English literature, from A.A.Milne to Virginia Woolf. At the same time he had a profound experience of the world — he had been to Macedonia himself, several times — as well as a sense of humor so dry you could hear it crack.
Michael Gerson of PostPartisan also says he sparred a bit with Christopher Hitchens, though he is sure Hitchens had worthier opponents, and one larger battle:
Hitchens picked big fights, including a running rumble with God. He recognized that there is one argument worth having about religion: Is it true or false? The rest is sociology. Hitchens thought religion to be false and dangerous, but not trivial. This may help to explain the affinity of many believers for the world’s most articulate unbeliever. Hitchens took the largest questions seriously.
He also took human dignity seriously. Hitchens’s defining public trait was the offense he took at injustice. And he was usually offended on behalf of persecuted and forgotten people. I found this a moral example.
Likewise, Susan Jacoby of The Spirited Atheist found Hitchens’s columns from the last year of his life to be a great example, and a true voice to the subject of living with a mortal illness:
What I admire, as an atheist, about these columns is their unsparingly unsentimental examination of the process of fighting a disease that you know is going to consume you. Every well-known person who has ever challenged religious orthodoxy — Voltaire, Paine, Robert Ingersoll — has engendered an afterlife of lies in which believers assert that the “infidel” repented and accepted God on his deathbed. Christopher Hitchens made sure that would not happen to him, and in doing so he has left a model record of pain and reason, as opposed to the nonsense about eternal life that we get from religious people, who, mirabile dictu, fight just as hard as anyone else not to leave this vale of tears.
Columnist Gene Weingarten put his sentiments into a poem for Hitchens for ArtsPost:
Christopher Hitchens ceases to be;
A remarkable life he led.
He isn’t in heaven; he isn’t in hell —
He is simply, emphatically, dead.
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