As usual, I'll share my bias up front. I think Chris Hitchens is a lousy writer. He's insulting, patronizing and rude. He is incapable of speaking respectfully about something he disagrees with and his arguments are based on little more that "this is what I think and therefore it's right". Despite this infantile approach, his book is a best seller and he is a well known personality whie the three books in which I appear, The Curse of Garnel Ironheart, The Ashes of Alladag and We, the Living, books with a stirring plot and compelling characters languish in obscurity.
With that introduction, I would like to dissect the latest piece of annoyance he has produced, an attack on Chanukah published in Slate. He starts off with a paragraph that would not be out of place in an elementary school yard:
But at this time of year, any holy foolishness is permitted. And so we have a semiofficial celebration of Hanukkah, complete with menorah, to celebrate not the ignition of a light but the imposition of theocratic darkness.
The article, naturally, goes downhill from there. From such beautiful pieces of English as:
I quote Rabbi Michael Lerner, an allegedly liberal spokesman for Judaism
I doubt anyone would question Lerner's liberal credentials although I understand the Rabbi part is in doubt according to some. Yet this is typical of Hitchens. If you disagree with him at all, even if you're a liberal, you're worthy of nothing but scorn.
Now remember that, above all else, Hitchens is inconsistent and selective in his viewpoints. One can easily make the case that atheism, in the form of Fascism and Communism, is the single most murderous social movement in history. No religion over the last 3000 years has come close to producing the body count those two groups caused in only one part of the 20th century. Yet Hitchens continues on his anti-religious crusade undeterred. If Fascism and Communism were evil, he holds, it's because they began to act like religions. Understand that? If atheists are bad it's because they're being religious about it. What idiot does not see through such simplistic fooolishness?
His next point fails to convince either:
His excuse for preferring fundamentalist thuggery to secularism and philosophy is that Hellenism was "imperialistic," but the Hasmonean regime that resulted from the Maccabean revolt soon became exorbitantly corrupt, vicious, and divided, and encouraged the Roman annexation of Judea.
Well yes, that is essentially true but desciptions are all in the eye of the narrator. His fundamentalist thuggery is my reiomposition of national religious law which had been the rule of the land before being displaced by foreign cultural imperialists. His secularism and philosophy is my hedonistic, immoral and purposeless lifestyle. Who says his view is right and mine is wrong? Well, Hitchens does, of course. And the unassailable proof that he's right and I'm wrong? He says that's the way it is. Nothing deeper than that.
From there, of course, he runs to the conclusion as to why Chanukah must fall around X-mas time:
Thus, to celebrate Hanukkah is to celebrate not just the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness but also the accidental birth of Judaism's bastard child in the shape of Christianity. You might think that masochism could do no more.
Yes, it's our fault, of course that another world religion he really hates (actually, let's be fair, he hates them all) got its spiritual start from our military victory and therefore Christianity is our fault. Like we ever wanted them to get a start up and hog the shopping at this time of year! Not only that, but Islam is also apparently our fault, simply because we survived the Seluecid attempt at cultural genocide (which, in Hitchen's eyes is quite okay).
When the fanatics of Palestine won that victory, and when Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.
In the end, Hitchens is simply a chronic, miserable whiner. He is not someone I would like to encounter at a party as he would probably spend the entire time complaining about every facet of the party and the hosts throwing it, just in case I were inclined to relax and enjoy myself. My advice to those who see his name in a byline is quite simple: turn the page and enjoy some other columnist. Self-absorbed egotists like him crave attention and the simplest way to annoy them is to deny what they so desperately desire.