Tuesday, July 30, 2013
I've been on a role blogging everyday this month, sometimes twice a day. In fact, I've written more posts this month than I did in all of 2011 (36). That's because that year I was working a really stressful job over 60 hours a week and I was often working 6 days a week. I have so many ideas in my head that I want to commit to print. I want to write more about what secularism means in practical terms. I want to take on more criticism of atheism and non-belief and take on more arguments for theism. The problem is finding the time and the patience. Most of my free time now is spent blogging. It's highly addictive. I can sometimes stay up for hours at night finishing a nice blog. And once I get started, I sometimes just can't stop until I'm done. I don't like leaving unfinished business.
That being said, I just noticed that I never wrote about the time I met Christopher Hitchens. By the summer of 2010, I had become completely obsessed with Hitchens. I had watched all his debates, interviews, and appearances on YouTube and everyday I was looking him up to see when a new video had been unloaded. I went out and bought his best seller God is Not Great. Through my obsession with him he had a profound impact on my life. I wanted to be an intellectual like him. I wanted to be an antitheist like him. I wanted to drink whiskey and smoke and be cocky like him. I was already a smoker, and somewhat of a drinker (although not an alcoholic), and I was already into politics and intellectual discussions. I had a knack for being a natural debater but I wanted to be a full on polemicist, like Hitch was.
Then came the news that he had gotten cancer. I was on vacation in Asia at the time. At first I didn't realize how serious the cancer was, because people get cancer all the time and live. But then when I returned home the news of his cancer, esophageal cancer, was grim. Only 5 percent of those diagnosed with it survival when it's in stage 4, as was the case with Hitchens. So when a Google search of his name landed me on a page that said he was going to have a debate in town on whether Islam was a religion of peace, I ordered my ticket immediately. The debate eventually sold out quickly and I got lucky because had I been another day or two late, I wouldn't have made it. The thought had also occurred to be that this could be the only chance I get to ever see him, my intellectual hero.
I had told my friend who was also a fan of the Hitch to order tickets but they seemed to be sold out. The day of the debate, he came along hoping to get a ticket on standby, but to no avail. He gave me his copy of God is Not Great to get autographed. Sitting up in the nosebleed section, the debate went of without a hitch (pun intended). You can read my review of it here, and watch the debate for yourself below.
After the debate there was a book signing event. The line was long for Hitchens as almost everyone was there to see him. When I got to the front of the line, I was so nervous. I was standing right in front of my hero! I almost couldn't talk. I didn't know what to say and I really didn't want to say something stupid. So when I got to the table, I handed him the two copies of God is Not Great. Since my friend's copy was a different size, Hitch commented, "Oh they come in different sizes." I then thought of a joke. Pointing to my copy I said, "This is the King James version." Then Hitch let out a mild laugh and smile. Wow, I thought to myself, I made Hitch laugh! I made my hero laugh! Then I said to him that I'm a huge fan, and he said to me twice, "Don't be a fan." He meant that he doesn't want adoring fans. He doesn't want to be deified in the way we often do to those we highly admire. Perhaps he wanted critics instead. I'm not sure, and I'm not sure what I said back to him. All I can remember was that I was really nervous. So I got my picture taken with Hitch on my old blackberry by the guy standing behind me who messed it up so bad that it came out so blurry that it's not even worth reproducing here. I remember shaking his hand and saying goodbye.
And that was it. I felt great afterwards having been able to meet my hero in person. But his words are important. We should never think too highly of anyone. No one is free from critical reception. No one's words hold absolute authority. No one should be deified and put up on a pedestal. Hitch didn't want that. And while it is OK to admire those who are exceptional, becoming one's adoring fan can lead to the kind of herd mentality that religions so easily exploit. And so as atheists and as freethinkers, we must be extra-precautious of this natural human tendency.