Letter from Christopher Hitchens to American Atheists

Last April Christopher was unable to attend the American Atheists conference, so he wrote them a letter instead … here it is. You might have already read it, but I find it well worth pondering over and reading again, Why? Well, believers will often retort at the end of some discussion they have just lost that we will be on our death bed one day and will most probably turn to god in that last hour. Here are some words of courage from a man in just such a place where he is facing, in his own words, … “a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument“. It exposes all such claims as nonsense. There is no despair or desperation here, instead we find a man reaching out and encouraging others to continue the struggle for reason after he is gone. Here now is indeed a true hero for our age. It is both simple and yet also powerful, eloquent and ultimately, life-affirming, not only the letter below, but also the man himself. I am delighted to have been contemporaneous with Christopher Hitchens.

Dear fellow-unbelievers,

Nothing would have kept me from joining you except the loss of my voice (at least my speaking voice) which in turn is due to a long argument I am currently having with the specter of death. Nobody ever wins this argument, though there are some solid points to be made while the discussion goes on. I have found, as the enemy becomes more familiar, that all the special pleading for salvation, redemption and supernatural deliverance appears even more hollow and artificial to me than it did before. I hope to help defend and pass on the lessons of this for many years to come, but for now I have found my trust better placed in two things: the skill and principle of advanced medical science, and the comradeship of innumerable friends and family, all of them immune to the false consolations of religion. It is these forces among others which will speed the day when humanity emancipates itself from the mind-forged manacles of servility and superstitition. It is our innate solidarity, and not some despotism of the sky, which is the source of our morality and our sense of decency.

That essential sense of decency is outraged every day. Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.

Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.

As the heirs of a secular revolution, American atheists have a special responsibility to defend and uphold the Constitution that patrols the boundary between Church and State. This, too, is an honor and a privilege. Believe me when I say that I am present with you, even if not corporeally (and only metaphorically in spirit…) Resolve to build up Mr Jefferson’s wall of separation. And don’t keep the faith.


Christopher Hitchens

He is gone now, and so in the end, this has indeed become his eulogy, and I suspect he knew it would be so, for at the time of writing he explained that his cancer was stage 4 and that there was no stage 5. It is appropriate that it should be him, for I can think of no one better to write his eulogy then the man of letters himself.

After posting this, I’m off to fill a glass and quietly think fond memories of the man as I salute him and all he has accomplished.

Leave a Reply