That is what his friends and colleagues called him.
Powerful polemicist, activist, a liberal-turned-political conservative, savvy and engaging writer, likewise speaker, intellectual giant in the public sphere, a “lion” whose roar could not have been mistaken for anything other than a roar.
And proud, fierce atheist.
You may wondering why I, an evangelical Christian, have chosen to write about “Hitch,” but I think there are some things that we Christians can take from Hitchens’ public actions, of which I have the intention to share.
Some qualities that we should pick up from Mr. Hitchens:
1) A sense of confidence. Not in a sinful sense but in the sense that we are unabashed about what we believe. We are not ashamed or embarrassed to be Christians, particularly of the conservative ilk. Over and over again, in interviews and debates, Hitchens not only would express his views but made a point to state that he was unashamed about believing a particular way, whether it was deemed offensive by a minority or the mob majority or what have you. Despite pressure to believe a certain way politically, Hitchens once responded to a rowdy cafe crowd, that he would stand in the face of (political) tyranny and (Islamic) fascism even if he had to do so alone (speaking on post-9/11 attacks and after we entered Iraq and dethroned Saddam Hussein)… then he proceeded to tell them, with some choice language, what they could do with their discontentment… [we obviously shouldn’t do the latter in the manner he did]. Nevertheless, Hitchens took great pride in his views and in standing up for what he believed. As we stand for Christ, we could be a little more courageous in espousing our views and in our interactions with others, especially those who disagree with us.
2) Bravery/Courage. I touched on it in the last point, as I see it interconnected with confidence, but to continue: Not shying from defending the faith, but because of our assurance of the gospel, we could be and should be brave in saying what we believe, and in defending our Lord’s gospel no matter who questions it, but that doesn’t require us to be arrogant or inhospitable. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says we are to give an answer for the hope that we have but to do so with gentleness and respect. Unlike Hitchens’ fellow “horsemen,” Richard Dawkins, Hitchens never backed down from opposition of any persuasion, whether it be Christian, Muslim, liberal, feminist, etc. He went toe-to-toe with anyone and everyone over an array of subjects. He was no respecter of rank or status. It didn’t matter whether you were a heavyweight mathematician like Dr. John Lennox or a no-name journalist writing for a periodical being produced out of a basement: Hitchens brought his A-game. This isn’t to say that I agree with the content of his game plan, but I do respect that he was an equal opportunity polemicist. Dawkins, on the otherhand, will “only” debate licensed/ordained clergy, which is why he says he won’t debate William Lane Craig, arguably Christianity’s most respected apologist across the board (whom Dawkins also belittles by acting as if he hasn’t even heard of WLC), but yet debates journalists and non-philosophic/theological/ministerial types like journalists and boasts about massacring them. No, Hitchens accepted the challenge of wrestling with the philosophical-theological titan that is William Lane Craig ((so has Daniel Dennett, another “horseman of the new atheism” but yet Dawkins has never heard of him.. sounds cowardly, which is why many “new atheists” are disowning Dawkins)), and Hitchens gave Craig all he could muster to give. And though Craig handily defeated Hitchens in their debate, Hitchens gave it an extremely respectable go.
3) Use of media: writing/interviews- He wrote for many newspapers, and periodicals such as the New Statesman, Slate, Salon, The Atlantic, Daily Express, Vanity Fair, etc. He took every opportunity, it seems, to voice his views on both liberal and conservative shows. He spoke wherever, whenever, against whoever. From Al Sharpton to Imams, it didn’t matter. He took advantage of all forms of journalism, and those endeavors proved to be fruitful for him.
4) Use of language: Hitchens was a “wordsmith,” to borrow from Pastor Douglas Wilson, who too engaged Hitchens in a series of debates, which were complied into a movie called Collision. Witty, charming, good use of body language — oft cool-headed and spoke fiercely, sometimes in an over-anticipatory way (the Turek debate where he was so angry he took off his microphone). Hitchens understood the necessity of having a broad vocabulary, the power of word choice, and the project that is word order. Words functioned as a tool for Hitchens. I find many of his anti-theist, anti-Christian arguments to be extremely weak, however, they sound like plausible arguments in part due to his ability to wield a strong vocabulary.
5) Outside the interview room, debate hall, classroom, tv set, he was likeable. Wilson admitted this: can be seen in Collision. He enjoyed Hitchens’ company. In just watching interviews with Hitchens and he with his friends, Christopher Hitchens comes across the screen as a likeable fellow except, of course, when in the midst of a fiery debate.
Conclusions: There is a lot that Christians can learn from Christopher Hitchens such as being confident in what one believes, his courage to make his beliefs known to others whether they were popular or not, his use of the English language, and his willingness to engage controversial topics. As Christians, there are also things we learn not to do: For example, follow his anti-theism rhetoric, and be condescending to those who disagree with us.
May we pray for people like Christopher Hitchens and engage non-believers as they seek truth, and may we, as Christians, strive to be intelligent, unashamed witnesses for Christ.