Monday, April 27, 2009

Confessing Hitchens & Camus


Brian Lamb, from C-Span, interviewed Christopher Hitchens last night on the television program, Q&A. I generally watch this discussion every Sunday evening; I enjoy Mr. Lamb's demeanor, the personality of his interviews, and the fact that he does not practice, "gotcha journalism." 

Mr. Hitchens, of course, is the iconoclast journalist who usually succeeds in making everyone angry before the interview or article concludes. His latest book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, places him at the forefront -- along with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris -- of the new atheism. 

Interestingly enough, Mr. Lamb did not get much into the book until Mr. Hitchens seemed to force the issue. Instead, the discussion was more about the author's life and his various biographical signposts, for example the reason he decided to become an American citizen, or his willingness to be "water-boarded" to see what it was like.

I have a confession to make. I love to read Christopher Hitchens' prose. His book, Love, Poverty And War, offer several examples of pure polemic writing that both infuriates and evokes steep admiration (jealousy?) in his ability to turn a phrase. The New York Times review said he "is happiest when he has an enemy, and least happiest when he is most content." I think this is true.

My favorite of his writings, the little book, Letters To A Young Contrarian, offer his advice to those who would swim against the stream and find their own way. This book shows us his way of seeing the world, a unique view, I think, and one worthy of our attention. Which means, even if you find yourself in total disagreement with Mr. Hitchen's ideas, he is a worthy adivsary and a joy to read.


Mr. Hitchens confesses as an influence  Albert Camus, one who also challenges and provokes our thoughts with prose that is both dense and heavy. Like many, my introduction to Camus came through his fiction, namely, The Stranger, and was followed later by his non-fiction work, especially, The Myth of Sisyphus.  What Hitchens and Camus' writings offer the Christian believer, besides a guide to excellent prose, is the distain for hypocrisy. If there is any distance between what we say and what we do, these authors can smell it, and they love nothing more than to expose it and exploit our failings. Said another way, we always learn more from our enemies than we do from our friends.