I often follow what Christopher Hitchens writes and says because I have been a long time admirer of the man’s thought processes, long before he came out as an avowed atheist. He is a heroic character in some ways, inasmuch as he has faced down dictators with a pen and resisted being easily pressed into a political categories by those who agree and disagree with him. These are a few of the many reasons I am saddened by his critical illness and the potential loss of his incisive and unrelenting voice.
That being said, I think Hitchens is also a tragic figure, one who in many respects is his own worst enemy. As he now struggles to survive there is much to be learned from his him about the emptiness of a life without God. I was particularly reminded of this in a recent interview in which he describes the choices that led to his illness:
HITCHENS: So to answer your question, of course, I always knew that there’s a risk in the bohemian lifestyle and I decided to take it because whether it’s an illusion or not, I don’t think it is, it helped my concentration, it stopped me being bored, stopped other people being boring, to some extent, it would keep me awake, it would make me want the evening to go on longer, to prolong the conversation, to enhance the moment. If I was asked, would I do it again, the answer is probably yes, I’d have quit earlier, possibly, hoping to get away with the whole thing.
Easy for me to say, not very nice for my children to hear. It sounds irresponsible if I say yes, I’d do all that again to you. But the truth is it would be hypocritical of me to say no, I’d never touch the stuff if I’d known, because I did know, everyone knows. And I decided all of life is a wager, I’m going to wager on this bit. And I can’t make it come out any other way. It’s strange; I almost don’t even regret it, though I should. Because it’s just impossible for me to picture life without wine and other things fueling the company. And keeping me reading and traveling and energizing me. It worked for me. It really did.
LAMB: What over the years has bored you? You use that word more than once in your writing.
HITCHENS: Yes, well, it’s a vice, of course. Acedia, I think it’s actually one of the deadly sins. Boredom was the anteroom to despair. Sort of the feeling that anime (ph), that nothings interesting, nothings worth – I am too prone to it. I get easily tired of – I don’t know, committee meetings or – not that I have to do many of those. Or waiting in line. I’m a very, very impatient person.
So, I’m very happy by myself, I’m lucky in that way. If I’ve got enough to read and something to write about and a bit of alcohol for me to add an edge, not to dull it.
It’s been a formula.
In many ways this claim is almost impossible to believe for the average person. Christopher Hitchens has led anything but a boring life. He had a first class education; he has traveled the world, entertaining and being entertained by the wealthy and famous as well as the infamous. He has kept from himself no pleasure he desired, male or female, and he is widely received and hailed as a phenomenal author, speaker, and thinker. He has managed the achievements of several lifetimes.
And yet he felt compelled to lubricate it all with vociferous amounts of alcohol and tobacco, to his own detriment – to stave off the boredom and despair which crouched at the edges of his existence.
In many ways this isn’t so hard to understand – even at a young age I realized how rapidly human existence grows boring. There is, as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Nothing new under the sun“. Having been freed of the shackles of parental supervision as a young teen and having a precocious need to experience the world, by the time I hit college I had already indulged my desires in ways many people often don’t experience until much later, if ever. I was deeply familiar with how such emptiness begs for the numbing effects of alcohol. It was in part this realization that began to open my heart and mind the reality of God, and the necessity of Christ for completeness. If anything is to be learned from Hitchens’ choices, I think it is the reality that a life without God is not sufficient for contentment or real joy.
For myself I can honestly say I have not felt one moment of despair since making that decision, or any extended periods of boredom. And as a result I haven’t felt the need to stave off such things with alcohol and stimulants. It is sad to think that Christopher Hitchens may never know such a life.