Christopher Hitchens on God, war, waterboarding and more

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

Christopher Hitchens, the outspoken author, writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor, died on Thursday from complications related to esophageal cancer. He was 62. Below, some of his opinionated prose.

Hitchens on God and atheism:

Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather then sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Twelve Books

On the War in Iraq:

It is perfectly true that most Americans were somewhat indifferent to the outside world as it was before September 11, and also highly ignorant of it—a point on which the self-blaming faction insists. While attention was elsewhere, a deadly and irreconcilable enemy was laying plans and training recruits. This enemy—unless we are to flatter him by crediting his own propaganda—cares no more for the wretched of the West Bank than did Saddam Hussein when he announced that the road to Palestine and Jerusalem led through Kuwait and Kurdistan. But a lethal and remorseless foe is a troubling thing in more than one way. Not only may he wish you harm; he may force you to think and to act. And these responsibilities—because thinking and acting are responsibilities—may be disconcerting.

"Stranger in a Strange Land"
December 2001
The Atlantic

On waterboarding:

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it "simulates" the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The "board" is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered.

"Believe Me, It's Torture"
Vanity Fair
August 2008

On women:

Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh. Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life. If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift.

"Why Women Aren't Funny"
Vanity Fair
January 2007

On Mel Gibson:

Every time Mel Gibson unburdens himself of a tirade against Jews or "n______s" or uncooperative females, there are commentators on hand to create a mystery where none exists. When he produced The Passion of the Christ, which lovingly and in detail recycled the bloody myth that all Jews are historically and collectively responsible for the murder of Jesus, it was argued by many mainstream Christians that his zeal for the faith might be a touch lurid but that the film itself was mainly devotional. When he was arrested on the Malibu freeway and screamed abuse at a police officer to the effect that Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, pundits convened on page and screen to speculate whether our Mel had too much to drink that evening. Not long ago, I watched him go completely bug-eyed on television at a Jewish interviewer who asked him about the latter incident. "You've got a dog in this fight, haven't you?" he hissed. And now, in the wake of a Niagara of cloacal abuse directed at the mother of his youngest child, in which we were spared nothing by way of obscenity and menace and nothing by way of paranoid and sexualized racism, there have been those who diagnose Gibson's problem as a lack of anger management skills, combined perhaps with a touch of narcissistic personality disorder.

This is extraordinary.

"Mel Gibson Isn't Just an Angry Narcissist"
July 2010

On language:

"F--- you" or "Go f--- yourself"—the popular American form—lacks this transitive/intransitive element to some degree. At points, it even seems to confuse the act of sexual intercourse with an act of aggression: a regrettable overlap to be sure.

"A Very, Very Dirty Word"
July 2004

On dogs and cats:

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 realize that, if you provide them with food and water and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are god.

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer
Da Capo Press

On the beatification of Mother Theresa:

We witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.

"Mommie Dearest"
October 2003

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