Described as a writer "in the tradition of Hemingway and Orwell," atheist Christopher Hitchens' voice might arguably have been among the most significantly articulate for earth-spiritual people to hear and understand. His recent death, at age 62 to pneumonia as a complication to esophageal cancer, robs enlightened people everywhere of a powerful presence.
Does it seem contradictory that a man who tirelessly argued against mysticism and belief and superstition might be praiseworthy among people who, to some, might be among the most mystical and, on the face of it, superstitious in all religious communities? Pause and reflect.
In articulating how organized religion has become an abhorrent threat to thinking and free people the world over, and how religion arguably is the primary source for most hatred and violence in the world, Hitchens did more than petulantly thumbnose the icons of religious doctrines. Perhaps it was not so much that "God" was his enemy as it was what he described as the "theocratic fascists" of the world, those people whose alleged devotion to any variety of a Supreme Deity brought them down the path toward hurtfulness, hate, and control. His enemy was the institutionalization of faith and the violent discord, from any number of doctrines, that such organization seemed to inevitably let loose upon the world for centuries.
Judeo-Christian theologians, particularly fundamentalist Christian media pundits, loved attempting to take Hitchens to task. Consistently, they found themselves intellectually unarmed however, as Hitchens' humanistic genius found itself coupled with his inexhaustible literary experience as a journalist, critic, essayist, editor: an analyst of words and its power. But as they attempted to defend the merits of their beliefs, many of these same monotheist theologians seemed to miss a consistent underlying point within almost all of Hitchens' arguments: that it is the imposition of belief, not the individual presence of belief, that is a danger to society.
This is a point which, I desperately hope, all Pagan spiritual people can agree with.
Hitchens was not, as some of his detractors would have you think, entirely unawed by what some people might characterize as sacred. In one interview, he agreed that holding his infant children filled him with enough awe that he asked himself if it were possible that some supernatural comprehension could exist. Speaking during one of the many symposiums he gleefully participated in, he implied that any belief that could found itself on the empowerment of women might actually succeed in bringing more good than harm into the world. In both voice and written word, he reminded us, again and again and again, that any institutionalization that contributes to divisiveness, discord, and disharmony in any way whatsoever ultimately only contributes to anguish in the world.
No community of religious or spiritual people is entirely homogenous in its understanding and celebration of whatever it is it identifies as "sacredness." Even among One True believers, there really is no such thing as a one true belief, as the feral complexity of both the human spirit and imagination is simply too expansive. Hitchens himself, a militant atheist, did not acknowledge any sort of anthropomorphic personified divinities, and he happily ridiculed that any such personification could be acceptable to intelligent people. Most theists would cry out in angered frustration.
Yet many deists (and here, arguably, I could include pantheists, panentheists, and henotheists) can appreciate the broadness of scope that arguments like Hitchens' could contribute to spiritual discourse. Even if one were to completely disagree with Hitchens' atheism, the bedrock of his arguments nevertheless aid enlightened and thinking people into powerful directions of thought. These directions demand that everyone, spiritual or nonspiritual alike, fearlessly examine the nuances and messages and repercussions associated with whatever belief system we've chosen.
Ultimately, how can any compassionate person anywhere, participating in any community, not find merit and importance in reflecting upon that? We may find ourselves uncomfortably "doubting" foundations of belief, but then that would beg the question: is it wrong to "doubt" a belief that, upon critical observation, is fundamentally hurtful or hateful or divisive? When does a healthy message become superceded by an unhealthy method? And if the message itself can be found to be unhealthy, how long can it expect to be sustained, and what might it suggest about the people who would choose to so sustain it?