Five years ago I remember sitting in my cubicle at my godawful former job in New Jersey and getting a text from a friend that read "My condolences." Within a minute I reasoned that this could only mean Christopher Hitchens has died. His health had taken a turn for the worst and in his last public appearance several months prior he had looked ghastly and frail; the chemotherapy taking its toll. So I Googled it and confirmed this suspicion: Hitch had died.
I had been hopeful along with many of his supporters that he would recover despite the odds, but they were just stacked too high against him. I remember commuting home on the PATH train back to Manhattan that night severely depressed, thinking life had no meaning for me anymore. My hero was dead. There was just no point to living anymore. Another friend of mine texted me asking if I wanted to hang out and drink with him, and I said I couldn't because someone I close to me had died.
Although he wasn't a friend, Hitchens became my obsession ever since I caught onto the New Atheist movement back in 2009. (Read here for my first ever post about him.) He stood out as its most interesting expositor. I loved his polemic style and his sense of humor in the way his jokes made subtle jabs at his intellectual opponents. I watched everything I could find about him on YouTube and I bought several of his books, including his god Is Not Great, which I devoured, and which I was lucky enough to have him personally sign after his debate with Tariq Ramadan on whether Islam was a religion of peace, just about a year before he died. And let me tell you, seeing Hitchens debate live is so much better than seeing him debate on YouTube because the energy from the audience's reaction to his wit is palpable.
When he died I moved on of course towards new intellectual heroes but Hitchens will always have a secure place in my prefrontal cortext. He had a huge impact on my life. He convinced me that mere secularism is not enough, and that the world needs some antitheists to make the case that religion has enjoyed its privilege for far too long and shouldn't be tolerated as something sacred that's beyond criticism. He made me want to be an intellectual, to be knowledgeable of worldly affairs, to care about reason and evidence and to despise ignorance in all its manifestations. Oh, and drink tons of whiskey, which I've been doing.
And so now I'm in the atheist community, dedicated towards fighting the good fight for defending atheism, science, and reason, retarding religion back to where it belongs (in the domain of myth), and for promoting secular humanist values to make the world a better place. And you can thank Hitch for that.