Christopher Hitchens: I'm Not as I Was

I’m not going to quit until I absolutely have to, Christopher Hitchens said to a cheering crowd on Saturday, continuing even “in the foxhole” to affirm his atheist beliefs, as Richard Dawkins put it.

Reappearing in the public eye after months of absence, the much weakened and gaunt Hitchens, who currently suffers from esophageal cancer, accepted the “Richard Dawkins Freethinker of the Year” award over the past weekend in Houston at the annual convention of the Atheist Alliance of America and Texas Freethought.

The 62-year-old author, who had at one point temporarily lost his voice due to his sickness, was able to stand up and speak again before the young crowd of atheists, countering in his usual manner the “spread of delusion” and championing “freedom of inquiry.”

Receiving the award directly from Dawkins, fellow atheist and member of the “Four Horsemen of the Counter-Apocalypse,” Hitchens felt honored but a little embarrassed to be receiving the award, he previously told The New York Times.

“I think being an atheist is something you are, not something you do,” he shared.

“I’m not sure we need to be honored. We don’t need positive reinforcement. On the other hand, we do need to stick up for ourselves, especially in a place like Texas, where they have laws, I think, that if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ you can’t run for sheriff.”

During the convention, Dawkins praised Hitchens for his continuance of atheism even in the face of death and for proving that there were indeed, “atheists in foxholes,” according to The Daily Mail UK.

Coughing at times during his acceptance speech, the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Is Christianity Good for the World? acknowledged his weakened state and numbered days to the crowd, quoting the words of a Roman poet, “I’m not as I was.”

“And though as I know as well as you do, there’s no point in arguing about the actual date, or time of departure, because I would like to think there would be no good time.”

“I feel very envious of someone who’s young and actually starting out in this argument,” he candidly expressed. “Just think of the extraordinary things that are happening to us, go for example to the Smithsonian Museum... to the new hall of human origins, magnificently curated.”

“What a wonderful thing to be starting out in this tremendous new field of endeavor.”

Hitchens, who had announced his battle with cancer in 2010, continued to advocate and hold on to his beliefs about science and reason throughout his sickness, despite beliefs by some that he would relent and turn to God.

“We have the same job we always had,” he told the crowd, “to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.”

Shunning “grand rabbis... infallible popes, mutant quasi political religion and worship,” Hitchens affirmed, “We have no need of any of this and looking at them and their record and the pathos of their supporters, I realize it is they who are the grand imposters...”

Sticking to what he called the “beautiful, rare, wonderful, and miraculous reality” he knew and loved, Hitchens, still writing for Slate, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair, continues to keep busy, having just released last month Arguably, a collection of essays on everything from politics to his favorite literary figures.

Despite his sickness, he told the Times he had a pretty good year, winning a National Magazine Award, debating Tony Blair, and traveling to two more states within the United States.

“I lack only the Dakotas and Nebraska,” he shared, “though I may not get there unless someone comes up with some ethanol-based cancer treatment in Omaha.”

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