This post is not well-considered on my part, and is meant to just document my feelings on Christopher Hitchens and his latest appearance. Had I known he was to be in attendance, I'd have found a way to make it to Texas this weekend past. Alas, I didn't, and I cannot reverse time. So, the very next best thing to being there is to have snippets of this powerful speech on video. I don't aim to say that it's powerful in the way that Hitchens always is, though it is that. I am put in mind of Ancient Greece, and I do hope my readers will indulge me for what may very well turnout to be a somewhat strangled association here. But in the Roman Senate, debates were undoubtedly worth seeing. I've always enjoyed debate.
But as I sat here watching for the third time his recent delivery, and how he struggled to retain his presence and fight against a bitter cough, the fatigue of cancer and its treatment, and to strain against what I imagine is mental cloudiness wrought at the hands of both strong pain killers and 'chemo brain', I was put in mind of the waning moments of a Senatorial debate. These debates raged up until nightfall on matters of great importance, and their legacy has echoed throughout the ages. It is up to one's imagination to decide what the chamber would look like in the waning hours of a waxing debate among the Senators. Senators of the era were generally elder members of the civilization (indeed, the word is derived from 'old man').
In modern times, Hitchens isn't elderly, but given the rigors of his condition, the currency he's expending to remain standing and speaking on matters of social importance roughly balance the equities in my imagination. The tragedy of these erstwhile debates is that they ended at nightfall. Darkness being a common metaphor for death, and the nightfall being the end of the debate puts Hitchens to my mind as a consul (or proconsul depending on how one views the matter I suppose) prolonging the debate on a matter of passion and duty. He knows the nightfall is looming, the alpenglow sounds the ominous approach of the end. Beautiful to behold, but unmistakably serious, and finite.
Hitchens knows he's staring that in the face, and yet knowing what it presages he doesn't for a moment fail to appreciate its beauty, majesty or pressing reminder that whatever work one needs to get done requires prompt and disciplined attention. Not for a moment losing the feeling of rapture at the privilege of seeing the sunset before him, he basks in its glow, faces it straight on, and dutifully attends his duties and concerns without a whimper of 'repine' for his situation.
What is more poetic than that to my mind is that he knows as the few remaining grains of sand cascade through the glass, this is a debate he's lost. Nevertheless there's still some time to press the argument until he must 'absolutely' stop - that is until the day is spent and with it his place on the floor. He does this with a solemn dignity, poise, and style that is his most powerful Hitchslap yet: to both the religious who cry that we turn to Jesus on our deathbeds, and to the 'spectre of death' itself - you may kill me, you may make me cease to be, but you not will silence my arguments. Like the tales of the Roman Senate, his thoughts and words will also echo through the ages because the work he's done in this world cannot be canceled out.
It is my sincerest hope that sometime soon I will get to see Christopher Hitchens live, in person. Barring some tremendous breakthrough in the human understanding of this strange world, he knows as well as you and I know that there are very few occasions left. And I naturally wanted to take a moment to disagree with him on a single point of note.
Last year, Hitchens debated William Dembski. During the debate, Hitchens pointed out to the audience that the theme park of the afterlife is a poisoned chalice to be pushed away. He goes on to explain that he wouldn't want to meet Shakespeare because he already can in the books he's left behind; that to meet the author would almost certainly be a disappointment. While it might be true that meeting Shakespeare would be a disappointment, the Cicero of the atheist movement? Not a chance.