Christopher Hitchens died yesterday of cancer. He was a learned and caustic cultural critic who wrote for the popular press and who was at his best when eviscerating the hypocrisy and pretense of people in power. He famously hated organized religion. It’s easy to imagine that, had Hitchens ever trained his talents on Colorado politics, he might have reserved his best stuff for the small-town Christian moralizing and persecutorial grandstanding that erupts in regular intervals from certain corners of the state capitol.
We would have benefited from Hitch’s take, for example, on the Colorado lawmakers who in the distinguished chambers propose babies be allowed to contract AIDs as a way to discourage women from drug use and promiscuity; who equate gay people with murderers and quote ancient Leviticus authors who recommended gay people be put to death for the grave sin of same-sex attraction; who discount anti-gay discrimination as fabricated because no such discrimination has been experienced by them; and who attempt to impeach judges for recognizing the parental rights of gay people.
In writing on the “wide stance” that ended the career of U.S. Senator Larry Craig, Republican from Idaho, Hitchens described the telltale “extreme conservative postures” adopted in public by a certain kind of lawmaker, the shiny “breastplates of righteousness” that cry out for close inspection. Hitchens was borrowing from
British American sociologist Laud Humphreys, who wrote about the “tearoom trade” in gay bathroom sex.
Here’s how Hitchens concluded his piece on men got up in breastplates of righteousness:
Next time you hear some particularly moralizing speech, set your watch. You won’t have to wait long before the man who made it is found, crouched awkwardly yet ecstatically while the cistern drips and the roar of the flush maddens him like wine.
Here is Hitchens on the grotesqueries of the contemporary U.S. politics of influence and personal enrichment, featuring the Clintons and Henry Kissinger:
It was apt in a small way that the first endorser of Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state should have been Henry Kissinger. The last time he was nominated for any position of responsibility—the chairmanship of the 9/11 commission—he accepted with many florid words about the great honor and responsibility, and then he withdrew when it became clear that he would have to disclose the client list of Kissinger Associates.
Here is Hitchens on Pope Benedict, or Joseph Ratzinger, as he insisted on referring to him, who in the post-9/11 era speechified against Islamic violence, quoting in a 2006 speech in Germany an alleged exchange between 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II and an unnamed Persian to make his point:
‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ (On the face of it, not a very open-ended inquiry.) But, warming to his own theme, the purple-clad monarch of Constantinople allegedly added that ‘to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.’
Now, you do not have to be a Muslim to think that for the bishop of Rome to cite this is the most perfect hypocrisy. There would have been no established Byzantine or Roman Christianity if the faith had not been spread and maintained and enforced by every kind of violence and cruelty and coercion.
Here he is on the Church-of-Rome/Church-of-Hollywood phenomenon that is Mel Gibson:
We live in a culture where the terms fascist and racist are thrown about, if anything, too easily and too frequently. Yet here is a man whose every word and deed is easily explicable once you know the single essential thing about him: He is a member of a fascist splinter group that believes it is the salvation of the Catholic Church.
This schismatic crackpot sect is headed by Mel Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, a nutty autodidact with a sideline in Holocaust denial.
A staunch supporter of the George W Bush invasion of Iraq, Hitchens later undermined the national security pretensions that led the U.S. to embrace torture by himself submitting to waterboarding, a feat none of the lawmakers pushing torture while quibbling over whether it was torture ever suggested they could match and never will. Hitchens wrote about the experience for Vanity Fair under the title “Believe me, it’s torture.”