Christopher Hitchens makes first speaking appearance in months
Atheist superstar and public intellectual Christopher Hitchens appeared in public for the first time in months tonight at the Texas Freethought Convention in Houston. Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and most recently of Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, was presented with the Richard Dawkins Freethinker of the Year Award by Dawkins himself. Dawkins is the bestselling author of The God Delusion and The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.
Though Hitchens suffers from esophageal cancer, he and Dawkins spoke and took questions for about an hour in front of a crowd of what appeared to be well over a thousand people.
In introducing Hitchens and presenting him with the award that bears his name, Dawkins said that the old religious line that there are “no atheists in foxholes” is disproven daily by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is dying and he knows it, but stares reality in the eye without blinking, Dawkins said.
Hitchens’ speech did not disappoint. He talked about his illness and noted that over the last year, he’d been coming to Houston regularly for treatment, presumably at MD Anderson Cancer Center. He was emphatic that he wouldn’t stop doing his best to shed light on the fraudulent claims made by religion, a line that brought the crowd to its feet.*
He took on all religions and their followers, from violent Islamic fundamentalists to Christians who want to impose their beliefs on Americans in violation of the country’s secular Constitution, to Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
An unapologetic supporter of the Iraq war, Hitchens urged Western foes of violent jihad to make common cause with moderate Muslims to combat Saudi influence, which he condemned as extremist, backward and violent.
He said that he appreciated the fact that Rick Perry is so open about his faith instead of lying about his desire to inject fundamentalism into public life.
In discussing Mitt Romney’s faith, Hitchens said that what he liked about about Mormonism is that it presents the rare opportunity to witness the creation of a new religion. The faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, Hitchens said, wanted to be remembered not as the Jesus of the new religion, but as its Mohamed, who, Smith believed, presented his followers with a choice: “either the Al-Koran or the sword.”
Though he was asked a variety of questions from the audience, none appeared to elicit more interest than the one asked by eight-year-old Mason Crumpacker, who wanted to know what books she should read. In response, Hitchens first asked where her mother was and the girl indicated that she was siting beside her. He then asked to see them once the presentation was over so that he could give her a list.
As the event drew to a close, Mason and her mom, Anne Crumpacker of Dallas, followed him out. Surrounded by attendees wanting a glance of the famed author, Hitchens sat on a table just outside of the ballroom and spent about 15 minutes recommending books to Mason.
Hitchens’ list of books and authors: Dawkins’ Magic of Reality, Greek and Roman myths, particularly those compiled by Robert Graves, anything satirical by Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (author of Infidel and Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations), PG Wodehouse (“for fun”), David Hume, and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
Richard Dawkins introduces Christopher Hitchens:
Video of Hitchens’ opening remarks:
I asked for his thoughts on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Robert Jeffress’ condemnation of Mormonism as a cult while endorsing Rick Perry. Hitchens’ response:
*Original content edited for clarification. The line that drew a standing ovation was: “I’m not going to quit until absolutely I have to.”