As you may know, on December the 15th, 2011, at the age of 62, the great Christopher Hitchens shuffled off the mortal coil.
While hardly unexpected, I still find myself more than a bit saddened by our collective loss. You see, if it weren't for Hitch, I wouldn't be writing this post.
I've never really believed in gods and I was always rather apathetic about the whole subject. It didn't really matter much to me what other folks believed, and in general, for about 30 years, I pursued a "live and let live" kind of attitude. So Hitch didn't bring me to atheism.
But about year or two ago, I stumbled across the world of the "New Atheists". The author of a webcomic that I read had posted a link to Jen McCreight's blog and I followed it. I don't recall what the post was actually about. But I browsed her site for a bit and was intrigued (admittedly, I was initially interested in Boobquake for less than purely ideological reasons). Here was someone doing something that I had never considered before. Jen was passionate about science and reason. She was vocal about her atheism and the injustices committed in the name of religion.
And from Jen's site, I found PZ Myers' Pharyngula. Jen had been thoughtful and funny and playful. PZ seemed to be none of those things. He was harsh. He was acerbic. He was irreverent. And from either PZ or Jen, I learned of The Friendly Atheist.
At this point, I would likely have just lost interest in the whole "atheist activism" thing. I mean, sure, it was amusing and different, but not really my cup of tea. I had seen something new, enjoyed it a bit, and now it was time to go back to business as usual.
And then someone linked to a "Hitchslap" video. And I watched more and more.
More than anyone else that I had been reading, Christopher Hitchens spoke to me. His passion and his conviction. Watching those videos, my perspective shifted, and everything looked different. I saw that religion fostered injustice and prejudice and promoted irrational thoughts and behaviors.
And so I didn't lose interest. I didn't just go back to "the way things were". I read PZ, Jen, Hemant, Greta Christina, Digital Cuttlefish and JT almost every day. And when I had the chance, I always read Hitchens. I owe him a debt for changing my world.
He was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I disagreed with many of his political views. He could be a misogynist jackass. But when he was on a roll, it was something special.
He was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I first heard of him. I never got to see him speak and had always hoped that I would.
So I've shed a few tears today. For the people who knew him and loved him. And for the people who didn't even know of him. But really, mostly for myself.