Godless in Tumourville: Christopher Hitchens interview


If you are as much of a Christopher Hitchens fan as I am, then I sure you will love the interview I found in the UK’s Telegraph (published 25th March). Mick Brown talked to him about his memoirs, Hitch-22, and his fight against cancer.

Its a long article, but well worth the read, and so here are a couple of small snippets to tempt you into reading it all.


‘I still make sure to go, at least once every year, to a country where things cannot be taken for granted, and where there is either too much law and order or too little.’

Hitchens was taken ill in New York and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. Thus did he acquire his visa to a place where nothing can be taken for granted. Hitchens has christened it ‘Tumourville’.

God Is Not Great changed all, making him a champion of the so-called New Atheism

Hitchens has faced his illness with great courage. There was, he says, ‘a very bad moment’ a couple of months ago …’I think I was quite close to checking out,’

Since the onset of his illness he has continued to write his magazine columns and has managed to keep up all his religious debates, although he admits to finding them ‘very draining’.

there is a very real ray of hope. A few weeks after his diagnosis he was asked if he would like to be a guinea pig in the new science of genome sequencing as a possible cure for cancer. Samples were taken from healthy tissue and from his tumour and on each of them six billion DNA matches were run, in order to catalogue any mutations found in the cancerous cells. He was warned to have no expectations. But in the New Year came the good news that there is a genetic mutation expressed by the tumour for which there already exists a drug.

As you might expect, well meaning religious folks approach him. To best get a handle on how to view this, he turns it around and describes it like this

‘It’s considered acceptable in our culture to approach perfect strangers, as often or not who may be in extremis, and evangelise. I don’t see why that’s considered a normal thing.’ His voice rises in indignation. ‘They’re allowed to roam the wards. They tried it on me.

I know people old and young who’ve been terrified by attentions of this kind.’

He has been thinking of making a short speech along precisely these lines, to the effect that he, Harris and Dawkins may set up a secular equivalent of hospital visitors. ‘We’d go round – “Hope you don’t mind, you said you were Catholic? Only three weeks to live? Well, listen, you don’t have to live them as a mental slave, you know; you could have three weeks of freedom from fear of the priest. Don’t be a mug all your life…” I don’t think it would be considered in very good taste.’

I don’t think it would be a kindness either, I say.

‘I think it would,’ Hitchens says. ‘Absolutely.’

He also talks about 9/11 …

Hitchens’s disgust was aimed equally at the terrorists and those on the Left whom he regarded as apologists for them. At a public meeting in New York a few weeks after the attacks, the filmmaker Oliver Stone referred to ‘the revolt of September 11’. ‘Excuse me,’ Hitchens shot back. ‘Revolt? It was state-supported mass murder, using civilians as missiles.’

And as for his thoughts on Islam …

He still sees Islamic fundamentalism as the embodiment of the two things he most loathes – a kind of nadir of the worst iniquities of religious belief and an ideology that is essentially fascist. We are engaged in ‘a fight to the death’, he says. But the good news is that ‘it’s impossible for them to win’.

‘An ideology of that sort has shown itself incapable of running even as low-level a society as Afghan­istan. They deny themselves the talents of half the population. They believe that things like diseases and earthquakes are punishments. They have no self-criticism, so when things go wrong they have to look for the source in a Jewish-Crusader conspiracy, which is why they export their surplus young people to take their violence elsewhere. That’s why they’re an immediate menace to us. Their state won’t just fail on its own; they have to share their failure. Once you’ve established that, they can’t possibly win, our victory is a sure thing.’

There is much much more. His past, his relationship with his parents, the timing of his book (God is Not Great) and the reactions to it, being a parent, and his thoughts on his own mortality. Go read it all, i highly recommend it. The link is here.

What one must avoid is despair”. He gives a slight smile. ‘It’s a mortal sin, of course.’ – Christopher Hitchens

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