Christopher Hitchens on life, death and lobster
- 16 December 2011
- From the section UK
Christopher Hitchens - essayist, drinker, smoker, atheist and freedom of speech campaigner - has died.
He led a picaresque, bohemian life of intellectual enquiry, literary criticism and many long lunches and late nights.
Contrariness and controversy were never far away.
He began his journalistic career firmly on the left but in later life was attacked by former comrades for becoming a strong supporter of President George W Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For Hitchens there was no contradiction - his new target was "Islamo-fascism" a term he is thought to have coined.
But as well as his essays, he will be remembered as much for his pithy aphorisms, wise reflections and wounding one-liners.
"(The New Testament) is a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events, and full of improvised attempts to make things come out right."
"Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did."
"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."
"To terrify children with the image of Hell, to consider women an inferior creation - is that good for the world?"
"One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human pre-history where nobody - not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms - had the smallest idea what was going on."
"Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of 'the flock'."
"Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are God. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realise that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods."
When a Christian claimed that God had given him "throat" cancer to punish the "one part of his body he used for blasphemy", he replied: "My so-far uncancerous throat... is not at all the only organ with which I have blasphemed."
Describing heaven: "Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation and abjection of self; a celestial North Korea."
On drinking and other vices:
"The best blended Scotch in the history of the world - which was also the favourite drink of the Iraqi Baath Party, as it still is of the Palestinian Authority and the Libyan dictatorship and large branches of the Saudi Arabian royal family - is Johnnie Walker Black. Breakfast of champions, accept no substitute."
"At about half past midday, a decent slug of Mr Walker's amber restorative, cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice. At luncheon, perhaps half a bottle of red wine: not always more but never less. Then back to the desk, and ready to repeat the treatment at the evening meal. No 'after-dinner drinks' - most especially nothing sweet and never, ever any brandy. 'Nightcaps' depend on how well the day went..."
"The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics."
"Nothing optional - from homosexuality to adultery - is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting (and exact the fierce punishments) have a repressed desire to participate."
"The one unforgivable sin is to be boring." (A favourite saying of his mother's that he often quoted.)
On politicians and royalty:
"Reagan is doing to the country what he can no longer do to his wife."
"(George W Bush) is lucky to be governor of Texas. He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things."
He described Bill Clinton as a "habitual and professional liar."
On Sarah Palin: "I think she's a completely straightforward cynic and opportunist and I think she's cashing out... She's made a fortune and she'll make another. But she's not actually going to do the hard work of trying to lead or build a movement."
On David Cameron: "People ask: 'What do you think of him?' and my answer is: 'He doesn't make me think.'"
"Prince Charles, subjected to a regime of fierce paternal harangues and penitential cold-shower boarding schools, withdrew into himself, was eventually talked into a calamitous marriage with someone he didn't love or respect, and is now the morose, balding, New Age crank and licensed busybody that we flinch from today."
On the royal wedding: "I suppose this must be the monarchical 'magic' of which we hear so much: by some mystic alchemy, the breeding imperatives for a dynasty become the stuff of romance, even 'fairytale'."
Advice to Kate Middleton: "If you really love him, honey, get him out of there, and yourself, too. Many of us don't want or need another sacrificial lamb to water the dried bones and veins of a dessicated system. Do yourself a favour and save what you can: leave the throne to the awful next incumbent that the hereditary principle has mandated for it."
On Iraq and Afghanistan:
"Will an Iraq war make our al-Qaeda problem worse? Not likely."
"The death toll is not nearly high enough... too many [jihadists] have escaped."
"Cluster bombs are perhaps not good in themselves, but when they are dropped on identifiable concentrations of Taliban troops, they do have a heartening effect."
(On Afghanistan) "I will venture a prediction. The Taliban/al-Qaeda riffraff, as we know them, will never come back to power."
"If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."
George Orwell and other heroes:
"North Korea is a country that still might give us a lot of trouble and it is, believe me, it is exactly like a 1984 state, it is as if it was modelled on 1984, rather than 1984 on it. It is extraordinary, the leader worship, the terror, the uniformity, the misery, the squalor. And in Zimbabwe recently, the opposition press reprinted Animal Farm as a satire on Mugabe and that's also, that for us in this country it's not a small example, it's an important one."
"He (Orwell) was in a certain way, incorruptible, a lot of people are honest in one way, say intellectually, then they get a little bit shady on the other and it compromises them... the idea of him becoming... a sell out... runs counter to everything we know about him as a person and a writer."
"Who are your favourite heroines in real life? The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model."
Reflections on life:
"History is more of a tragedy than it is a morality tale."
"A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humour, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called 'meaningless' except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one's everyday life as if this were so."
"Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay."
"Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the 'transcendent' and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don't be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."
"Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and - since there is no other metaphor - also the soul."
On cancer and dying:
"I burned the candle at both ends and it often gave a lovely light."
"Sobering in one way and exhilarating in another... it has given me a more vivid idea of what makes life worth living, and defending."
On living with cancer: "It's a malady like any other and it will yield to reason and science. (Battling cancer) is a subversion of the pathetic fallacy. I rather think it's battling me, it's much more what it feels like. I have to sit passively every few weeks and have a huge dose of kill-or-cure venom put straight into my veins... It doesn't feel like fighting at all, possibly resisting. You feel as if you're drowning in passivity... I prefer resistance to battling."
"My main fear is of being incapacitated or imbecilic at the end. It's not something to be afraid of, it's something to be terrified of."