It must be human nature to love our liberators. Such adoration is a gentle, fervent emotion marked by gratitude and respect. Their liberators feel something for them for they seek no power over them. They want nothing from the captive, only to offer them deliverance. They may be pitied and even loathed, but solidarity is enough to bridge the chasms of language, culture, race, and religious devotions.
But nothing gets one into a fevered, zealous devotion like a bag of flesh and bone poised at a pulpit or on a soap box, promising emancipation to a crowd of people thinking too hard, working too little, and taking as much as they can. Be it loosing the bands of tyranny, economic oppression, imprisonment, slavery, sin, or that old foe death. Such promises are always coincident with explanations of the requirements against the to-be-delivered’s dignity, material resources, absolute abdication of will to the leader, and even their very life must be placed on an altar. The deliverer’s promises cost him or her—though let’s not pretend the female of our species has so often been guilty as the male—a great deal of breath, exposed themself to scrutinies to be vehemently defended against by acolytes, and even some moments where they must show miracles to the doubting or openly antagonistic. They need not fear. Their followers, once initiated, will do this great work for them. Miraculous conceptions and births, discoveries that can only be explained as great revelations uniquely appointed to the leader by deity, delivery from death at the hands of detractors, and acts of compassion the likes of which mere disciples could not muster against gentillic outsiders, may be created ex post facto for the building up of the leader to those already devoted and those teetering on the edge of reason unto faith.
Once, I thought I knew who my deliverer was. A deity that took upon himself mortality to save me from, well, everything! Including and most importantly, myself. Fallen and despicable as I was, certainly less that the dust of the earth, I was in need of this savior. I was the creation of either himself or his even grander father, depending on who you ask in western civilization, born in a fallen state, incapable of goodness without their approval, and doomed to suffer misery for the duration of mortality and on into the horizonless expanse of eternity. I was taught that tears meant truth; that benevolent God spoke to old men for my sake; that I could be saved from eternal torture if I confessed my sins that were the product of weaknesses granted me by my loving father-in-heaven in the first place. If I could despise myself enough to cow to the delightsome, white, and glorious deity’s every command, I might finally be able to love myself enough to endure mortality. This man I’d never known and who had been dead (though he did rise again) for two millenia, had died for me after all.
Perhaps the only thing I really learned from my time in a mainstream cult, came when I was finally able to see it from the outside. That lesson: Worthiness, is a four-letter word.
My liberators? Friends that challenged my binary beliefs about reality. They gave me the doubt I needed regarding my solipsism. A self-centeredness carefully cultivated from before I could understand the denotations of language. Forging manacles in my impressionable mind, I became bound to a narrow world view shared by thousands! We must be right! Look how good we are! Look how quickly our ranks are swelling with recruits! How can one doubt! There are thousands of us, I tell you! Thousands!
While the world population drew near seven billion, yet our tiny sect was the right one. What my friends showed me was a devotion to their own tribal upbringing. They, too, had miracles that confirmed their faith. And that was just a small number of Christians in a small city in the southern U.S., a city once shaken by a man who stated “I have come to peace with myself, my God and my cause.” I found faith universal in it’s respectability and relative in it’s expressions of moral action. My understanding of a universal, unchanging god developed a crack as in a dam. A roller coaster ride of several years with peaks of stomach tingling, enlightened faith and valleys of darkened, nauseating doubt ended when I made a choice. I got off the roller coaster when I accepted that my doubt did not make me broken or without value. I said a final prayer, truly open to the idea and reality of God. No longer needing to feel but still willing to do so…I was utterly alone. In that moment, I learned what had escaped me in the eschatological sewage of religion, I did not need to be told by an evidence-less deity that I was valuable because he said I was. My value was for me to decide. But most important, my mind became my own that day.
The first book I read after embracing doubt was The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I mention this as a bridge to my most influential deliverer. But, therein, I found a well-spring of reason and evidence-based argument, the likes of which I had never before been allowed to experience. And I came to it with an open mind for the first time in my life. No walls went up around my fragile, faith-plagued mind. Professor Dawkins’ example of Jewish school children either supporting or opposing systematic slaughter of men, women, and children based on the context of the story nearly made me vomit. For I had been like them at one time! Justifying the divinely ordered genocide of children!
The connection to Christopher Hitchens came when I googled Richard Dawkins. Within a couple of Youtube videos, I discovered Hitch and other contemporaries of Professor Dawkins. This was in 2014, nearly three years after Mr. Hitchens had already passed away. Perhaps I shall write a longer essay on the specifics of my admiration for Christopher Hitchens and the role he played in my deliverance. Suffice it to say, here I found a man who expressed so eloquently the thoughts I was now having. He spurned euphemism and flowery language—a staple of biannual, cult indoctrination conferences—for plain and harsh indictments. His scathing rebukes and calm, crowd-playing style in debates were the refreshing antithesis of carefully selected language meant to obfuscate abuses of power and diminish immoral behavior of the ordained to the point of pitying the offender over the offended.
Much to his chagrin I am sure, I feel a curious sense of loss for a man I never knew of in life. Those closest to me feel I have been taken in by a false prophet in Christopher Hitchens. Curiously, if these same friends and family who ardently proclaim a living prophet in their Russel M. Nelson would ever listen to Hitchens, they would find his own stern objection to such a characterization. He had no desire to be anyone’s prophet let-alone savior. The only devotion he asked from fans, another relationship he felt might have bordered on indecent, was for them to buy his books. He did not ask for their minds or their wills or their tithes. He did not expect conformity and instead ruthlessly ridiculed the credulous and irrational.
I have become a student of Christopher Hitchens in the last several years. I own many of his books and collections of essays even if I have read only a small portion of what I possess. I have sought out his favorite authors and books. Some I have loved, like Orwell, Jefferson, Paine, Owen, Kipling, and Larkin. Some I have not. Others I have not tried yet. With a few, like Dostoyevsky, I am putting in a good faith effort to appreciate. I will not call him my hero, for I believe he would reject the title. Perhaps he may serve as a Socrates to me as I pursue the development of my own morality and intellectual ideas. Still, and as strange as it is, despite the wealth of text and audio and video of which he is principle, I miss him.
When I play the simple, childish game of favorite this or that, if I had the choice to have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be? I have heard others tell of enjoying epic, eight hour meals with Hitch, discussing various topics in depth. Humor flowed as liberally as libations. And insight seemed to garnish every moment. Regardless of the time spent, in-spite-of the old advice to avoid meeting your heroes, my choice for a dinner partner would certainly be Christopher Hitchens. And if I was lucky enough to spend eight hours with the man, I’m have no doubt the experience would leave me far from satiated.