March 15, 2012

Did Christopher Hitchens exist?

I am writing this the day that Christopher Hitchens passed on to eternity. He "now knows the truth of it", as Pat Archbold wrote. When you're calling for prayer for someone's soul, currency is good. When you're using someone's death as the inspiration for a polemic, maybe a tape-delay is in order. Three months later, here we go...

During his life, Mr. Hitchens wrote numerous journal and newspaper articles. He wrote and edited books. He gave interviews and entered debates. In just a few hundred years, will there be proof that he said and did specific things? Did the New York Times really stop the presses the day he passed on, or is that just a poetic exaggeration?

What proof will there be that he said or did any particular thing?
  • His book? Put together by a collection of British atheists writing in his name.
  • Videotape of him? Lost to degrading of the recording and backup media.
  • Videotape meticulously preserved? Doctored.
  • People that knew him? Long dead.
  • People that knew people that knew him? Patsies of the conspiracy to claim that he said and did those things.
Of course that’s ridiculous. The books he left behind, the articles by and about him, and the people that will pass on his legacy do demonstrate that he said and did certain things.

I have never met Christopher Hitchens, but I know he existed because of what people have written, recorded, and talked about.

In a few thousand years, maybe my distant descendants will find themselves researching in the library of the Sts. Archbold shrine. They'll find an article from Dec 15, 2011 and be able to say that Christopher Hitchens' contemporaries - even his opponents - wrote about and quoted him. They'll know what he said and did because of the written record and the stories passed down by others, if history judges those things important enough to preserve through the generations. If they find many copies of his books and numerous articles about him, even if the majority are from his fellow atheists, that will provide even stronger evidence than if they find only one or two passing references. If they find specific place names and dates, that will provide stronger evidence than just a reference to "the past".

History has a curious way of preserving things. It's worth meditating on. If Christopher Hitchens has left an indelible mark on the "new atheism" that lasts for thousands of years, what would the evidence of his words and actions look like in 4011?

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