Noted writer and essayist Christopher Hitchensjust died after battling with throat cancer. Here are ten things I've learned from him:
1. Anybody who is willing to be waterboarded to test his own beliefs, and then able to change his beliefs afterwards, is to be respected.
2. Atheism is a real hot-button issue, so if you are going to be an outspoken atheist, you might as well go hard. Calling Mother Teresa a "fraudulent fanatic" or a "quack medicine man" is definitely one way to do that.
3. You should be able to debate your beliefs with anybody, on any side of the political spectrum. Christopher Hitchens never shied away from debates with the right or the left.
4. When you are British, you sound smarter. It's true. It helps if you have gone to Oxford.
5. It is a remarkable thing to support the re-election of George Bush and the war in Iraq when you have such strong socialist and left-leaning roots.
6. Writers drink a lot. I don't know why that is. Maybe it's just part of keeping up the image of the rugged and dangerous adventurer. Maybe it's just because you spend a lot of time writing in bars.
7. Basically between Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, 16 per cent of Britain is now atheist. That is a huge cultural shift. Of course, before those guys came along that percentage just watched Coronation Street and ate eccles cakes, but still...impressive nonetheless.
8. Even when you disagree with someone, they have a right to your respect. It is important to debate issues, and not resort to ad hominem attacks. Christopher Hitchens used some pretty inflammatory language, but I believe that it generally stemmed from what people believed or claimed to believe. It was intellectual, not personal.
9. Free speech is vital, whether or not you agree with what is being spoken.
10. When Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer, he could have turned to religion or God. He could have renounced his atheism to find comfort or solace in the notion of heaven or forgiveness. That he maintained his commitment to atheism during a period of such personal struggle shows a remarkable intellectual rigour. He will be missed.
Josh blogs about the many things he has learned and continues to learn at tenthingsivelearned.com.