Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011): A Career in Quotes

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Stephen Voss / Redux

Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens in his home in Washington on April 23, 2010.

After an arduous fight with esophageal cancer, Christopher Hitchens — journalist, writer, intellectual and prominent atheist — died Thursday at the age of 62.

The exact cause of death was from pneumonia, itself a complication of his cancer, and he passed at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. The news was announced by Vanity Fair, where he’d written since 1992. He’s survived by his wife, Carol Blue, and his three children and, of course, his innumerable fans, colleagues and friends. Though his death was not unexpected — Hitchens was open about his illness, which he first learned about while on a publicity tour in 2010 for his memoir, Hitch-22 — it’s naturally been met with great sadness, as the British-born thinker is remembered by the many friends and admirers he made in the media and publishing world throughout his long and prominent career. Of course, as respected as he was, the often scathing writer was not without his critics, as he’d filled his career with critiques of many prominent figures such as President George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa (yes, really!), to name just a few.

(LIST: Hitchens in TIME’s Top 10 British Invasions)

We decided to take a look back at some of the most memorable, notable, shocking and, in spite of it all, thought-provoking statements from the prolific polemicist.

“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”

–From God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007

“Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did.”

–From God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, 2007

“Will an Iraq war make our Al Qaeda problem worse? Not likely.”

– From, A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq, 2003

“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”

–From “Mommie Dearest”, 2003

“Judaism has some advantages over Christianity in that, for example, it does not proselytise — except among Jews — and it does not make the cretinous mistake of saying that the Messiah has already made his appearance. However, along with Islam and Christianity, it does insist that some turgid and contradictory and sometimes evil and mad texts, obviously written by fairly unexceptional humans, are in fact the word of god. I think that the indispensable condition of any intellectual liberty is the realisation that there is no such thing.”

– From Letter to a Young Contrarian, 2001

“Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print,’ it says. It’s been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it’s as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know I still have a pulse. You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my lifespan.”

– From Letter to a Young Contrarian, 2001

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

–From The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-believer, 2007

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