Controversy, Conversion and Christopher Hitchens

When I began Atheist Living last year, I approached it with a positive attitude. It was not an attempt to stir up controversy or convince others to give up their own religious beliefs. Rather, I wanted to connect with other like-minded people, discuss non-religious philosophies and do my part to show that atheists come from all walks of life and have varied points of view.

While I am comfortable with my atheistic viewpoint, my desire to avoid controversy or offense has made me question whether to continue this blog. And then, yesterday, Christopher Hitchens died.

A Timely Reminder

I was about to put down my laptop and go to bed when my news feed announced Christopher Hitchens' death. The news shook me more than I expected. Hitchens had been sick for a long time, and had spoken many times about his impending death (generally when answering offensive questions about a possible deathbed conversion).

Instead of sleeping, I took to Twitter where my timeline was filling with news of his death. It was strangely comforting to see pages of other people expressing their shared sadness and sense of loss. And, I'll admit, there was a dark glee in seeing that "God is Not Great" was trending worldwide. Even in the act of dying, Hitchens had managed to be provocative.

On a personal level, Hitchens' death has also renewed my desire to continue this site. Over the past few months, I've half-written several posts, but stopped short of finishing them. I know what I want to say, but I worry about offending family, friends and strangers. I worry about having to defend my point of view or that voicing my thoughts might be considered arrogant or rude. Who am I to sound off on religion, philosophy or morality? 

Yet, how could I be simultaneously afraid to share my opinions and depressed about the fact that atheists and humanists had just lost a strong voice of reason? Rewatching clips of past Hitchens' interviews and debates remind me that there is value in speaking up, even when your ideas go against the mainstream mentality. Perhaps, particularly when your ideas differ from mainstream messages.

Controversy and Conversion

There are many times when I see other people's religious beliefs as a source of comfort (to them). Those are the instances when I would rather keep my atheism to myself. Life is difficult, and I have no interest in causing a crisis of faith for those who are comforted by their beliefs. If they keep those beliefs to themselves (out of legislation, public schools, etc.) then I'm glad they've found a sense of comfort and happiness.

However, there are many religious people who do not extend me the same courtesy. They read this site or otherwise learn that I am an atheist and quickly attempt to debate or convert me. I've known people to question their former good opinion of me, worry that there is something "wrong" with me, or simply disassociate from me, distancing themselves from my godless ways.

As a rather non-confrontational person, that kind of response can be exhausting. Yet, it doesn't change my mind or make me feel ashamed of my point of view. I have a right to my opinions and this site, my own site, gives me an opportunity to express myself.

But if I don't believe in god or religion, why do I bother to talk about it? That's a common question vocal atheists face, and one that Christopher Hitchens answers very well in the following video:

Christopher Hitchens will be missed by many. However, I'm also grateful to be re-inspired through his past writings, interviews and debates. I hope those who haven't previously discovered Hitchens will look him up and be similarly inspired.


  1. Last year a Phd candidate that was studying the New Atheists got a hold of me and asked about the atheist blogosphere. I told him that, at least to me, the atheist blogosphere peeked about two years ago (less active blogs going on), therefore 'we' must have also peeked. Unfortunately, I don't know the results.

    Hitch was by far my most most favorite of my favorite of the four Horsemen. I'll never be a brainiac like him, what "little" I can do is keep blogging. ..and have a drinkie in his name.


  2. Kriss,

    Of the four, Hitchens is my favorite as well. Well spoken, reasonable and honest. I've heard him say that he's conscious of the line between saying something to make a point and saying something to simply be provocative, and -- while he does phrase his arguments to be memorable and effective -- he tries not to say things just for effect or to get attention (or sell books). I respect that about him as much as I respect his stinging hitchslap. :-)

    I'll join you in raising a glass to him. Though, as Hitch has said about Shakespeare and other influential writers, he will live on in the works he left behind.


  3. "I've half-written several posts, but stopped short of finishing them. I know what I want to say, but I worry about offending family, friends and strangers. I worry about having to defend my point of view or that voicing my thoughts might be considered arrogant or rude."

    You are a good writer...I think you will be able to find the right words to convey these thoughts and feelings with grace and tact. It may take a long time to settle on the right phrasing, but that's the best part of the process (for me at least). It also will give you time to make peace with your own feelings on the subject. If you lose friends for your feelings or beliefs, you have to consider whether they were truly your friends to begin with. I'm reminded that Jefferson said "I never consider a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Of course, that's just my opinion and I might be wrong.