Reporter: Why did you decide it was important to ask a question of Hitchens?
Mason Crumpacker: Because I had just found out that he was dying, and he’s a brilliant man. And I felt that his knowledge of the world shouldn’t be wasted, and that someone should continue what he started. (Dallas Morning News)
The inspiration for SocraticMama began with our impromptu meeting with Christopher Hitchens sparked by Mason’s question, “What books should I read?” It is a feeble attempt to continue what Christopher Hitchens started—teaching us to use both our hearts and our minds to live this one life we have to our limits. To be nothing less than fully human.
I attended the Christopher Hitchens/ William Dempski debate in Dallas. Hitch’s closing remarks were not only startlingly brilliant and inspirational, but were all the more poignant since we knew that he was facing his own poisoned chalice—esophageal cancer. Publicly sober as to his prognosis, Hitchens had no intention to go gentle into that good night.
I estimate there were about fifty atheists in the pews that morning. We had all relished Hitch’s performance, but were shocked and saddened by his outward signs of his illness. Speaking only for myself, but I strongly suspect my pewmates would agree, Hitch’s closing remarks that morning transcend the Dembski debate. They were closing remarks to a life’s work and a charge to continue what he had started. Today, in remembrance, please them along to the people you love.
I want to answer Bill’s (Dembski) implied question… Why don’t you accept this wonderful offer (of eternal life in heaven) ? Why wouldn’t you like to meet Shakespeare, for example? I don’t know if you really think that when you die you can be corporeally reassembled and have conversations with authors from previous epochs. It’s not necessary that you believe that in Christian theology and I have to say that it sounds like a complete fairytale to me. The only reason I want to meet Shakespeare, or might even want to, is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works he’s left behind. If you’ve read those then meeting the author would almost certainly be a disappointment. But when Socrates was sentenced to death, for his philosophical investigations and for blasphemy for challenging the gods of the city, and he accepted his death he did say, “Well, if we are lucky perhaps I will be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers and philosophers and doubters, too.” In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know. But, I do know that it is the conversation I want to have while I am still alive. Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having. I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet… that I haven’t understood enough… that I can’t know enough… that I am always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’d urge you to look at those who tell you, those people who tell you at your age, that you are dead until you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children. …and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way. Thank you.
Here is the now famous Christopher Hitchens reading list. If you feel a need for a tribute perhaps you could give a child you know one of these books. You local school library may accept donations, too.
Richard Dawkins- The Magic of Reality, Greek and Roman myths, particularly those compiled by Robert Graves, Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (especially the beginning of Infidel where she speaks of growing up, PG Wodehouse (“for fun”), David Hume, and Charles Dickens.