Ever since the recent death of the British writer Christopher Hitchens I have wanted to find the time and space to comment upon him for various reasons. Given that I am sitting here in my Mexico City hotel room provides me that opportunity. I had met Hitchens briefly in December 2001 during a Nation Magazine event that was an exercise in pure absurdity. Hitchens was one of the few people in attendance that wasn't a political parody though a propensity toward a kind of superior pomposity made him slightly puffed up. Though given that trait, I still liked him, his honest intellect refreshing especially when presented in a panel featuring the worse of political hubris. They were all smoking Cuban cigars but of course they weren't though still the stage was smoky from poorly ignited rhetoric.
The other reason is his book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" which I read on my Eastern European journey last March. I really enjoyed it though I feel he missed a couple obvious details. He never explained why the average anyone is or might be interested or compelled to discover why they are alive and just what might be controlling their existence or not. He also offered no alternative save there isn't one. All atheism appears to be is the denial that God or some kind of magical creative power or God-like entity made the world. It offers no alternative explanation. Science in this case is guesswork. We can discover new varieties of frogs but have no idea why a frog, why anything? That we are born from a mystery, exist in a mystery and then exit into mystery is clear. Where did Hitchens come from? And where did he go? He didn't know and I certainly don't. The book's true strenght, sharing the writer's known skills, was his vast compendium of knowledge upon the subjects of all things religious. To me that was Hitchens' greatest gift, his ability to be relentlessly thorough. Plus he held a great and workable vocabulary. This made him an impressive writer though the often accompanying praise as prose stylist is not totally warranted. More on that in a bit. To me what he was saying in his book is how stupid thinking poisons everything, including his own vast generalization concerning the human experience. He unfortunately ignores one of the most common of shared human experiences, that is of the metaphysical. A jaunt down the aisles of the great "Museo Nacional de Antropologia" tells you that ancient folks were trying to decipher our shared mystery thousands of years ago. That there appears to be a palpable invisible reality is something I noticed from age three. What it was then and is now I have no idea. Though something is definitely occurring. To me it is undeniable. I experience it in the taxi all of the time. It is the parallel with Hitchens' book. What in our world is going on? I will attempt to describe it "taxi-wise."
I have been telling my old taxi buddy Mark Z., who has joined me on this Mexican trip, about how often I get the "ride home" on my final fare of the night. I know I have mentioned it before and it is true. Literally 80-90 percent of the time I get pointed in the correct direction. It is something that is shared by other taxi drivers. Call it synchronicity or great luck or "God's guiding hand." Whatever it is it exists. You might call this truly our last and great frontier, the exploration of what we cannot see though definitely sense and experience. What Hitchens is talking about is false and incorrect definition. I agree with that. What I can't agree with is white-washing the entire concept. That doesn't make sense to me. How many times has the "fare that I have needed" arrived just before utter despair? More times than I can count. When these kinds of things occur they are tangible. They are real. The money in my wallet verifies it. Hitchens probably should have driven taxi for a spell. He just might have written a different tune.
And lastly, concerning his repetition as a great writer, I will say he was a very good writer, his only weakness being one of style. Maybe he was just too concerned in getting all of the information competently upon the page. I am sure that folks were at times intimidated by Hitchens which led to a wrong assessment. I will give you two examples of two great prose stylists, one American, one British who excelled with writing the most fluid fiction and non-fiction. The American is that native of Yahoo City, Mississippi, Willie Morris, who might be the American South's greatest writer. Pick up his novel, "Last of the Southern Girls" and in the beginning passages read his description of Washington DC. Wow is all I can say.
Virgina Wolff is my British nominee. She who can't be mentioned took a photograph of me in a bathtub on the island of Volcano reading"To the Lighthouse." Begin with that wonderful narrative. I will leave it at that. And I am getting hungry. Writing is hard work. But compared to taxi? I know the answer to that!