A bunch of people over at Reddit have made a living tribute to Christopher Hitchens, raising a glass to him for how he has inspired them:
I love this.
I mean, I don’t love that Hitchens is seriously ill. I love that people are taking the time to talk about how inspiring he has been to them while he’s still here. To not wait until he’s gone (hopefully a long, long way off in the future) to talk about the good that’s come from his life. To make sure that he damn well knows it.
As for me? Like so many others, I’ve always been challenged by Hitchens. When I agree with him, I’m moved and inspired by his bravery and eloquence. When I disagree with him, I’m discomfited by his intellect, forced to reconsider my own views and the justifications I have for them. I have never, ever heard him speak and been bored. I’ve never heard him speak and been unmoved by his passion, fierce intellect and ever-present humour. I’ve never heard him speak and not looked at the thing he spoke about differently afterwards.
In Hitchens, we have been obscenely fortunate to have one of the great intellectuals of our time be someone who has devoted himself to questioning what is right, what is just, and what is true. For his intelligence, for his bravery, for his forthrightness, for making us all sometimes a little uncomfortable in our own assumptions- I say thank you.
Lazy weekend mornings are the best for contemplating the meaning of life, don’t you think? I was just in the shower, listening to church bells playing Ave Maria a couple of roads over, and found myself singing along. I really do love hymns. I love that they are expressions of some of the best things about religion- that search for meaning and connection, for something greater than oneself. I love that many of them have been around for a long time, that I’m humming along to the existential longing of someone from centuries ago, that I can empathise and understand how they must have felt.
It’s a beautiful thing, that. Religion and spirituality would have been wonderfully creative and oh-so-human expressions of our common need to understand the world around us, to make explanations and connections, to make sense of our lives. It’s a pity that in many cases they can do the opposite. From outright rejection of science, to deliberate dehumanisation and Othering of those with even slightly different philosophical positions to oneself, to insisting that humanity itself is somehow different and separate from the rest of the world.
There’s an accusation often leveled at science, that it is a cold and emotionless tool for viewing and understanding the world. Scientific methods rely on documenting facts, not on human values and warmth. This is where salamanders come in. Blind cave salamanders, to be precise.
Last week I watched Hitchens debate Dembski on the existence of God. One thing that he mentioned stuck with me, about blind cave salamanders who have, over millions of years, lost their eyes, until all that’s left is little eye-shaped indentations on the front of their faces.
Think about that. There are blind cave salamanders who have little eye-shaped indentations where hundreds of millions of years ago, their ancestors had eyes. Eyes a little bit like the eyes that my ancestors had hundreds of millions of years ago. Like our common ancestors had, probably long before that. If you’re looking for connection with the rest of the world, for something bigger than yourself, for a sense of wonder, you could do far worse than the little indentations on a salamander’s face.