Christopher Hitchens never took to Twitter, a medium that that would have been perfect for his biting brand of bon mots. Today, however, the micro-blogging platform has seen an outpouring of tributes to the writer, who passed away yesterday after a lengthy battle with esophageal cancer. Salman Rushdie was among the first of Hitchens’s friends to share his grief on the social media site, saying, “Goodbye, my beloved friend. A great voice falls silent. A great heart stops.” Hitchens’s comrade in anti-theism, Richard Dawkins, also summed up his thoughts in under 140 characters: “Christopher Hitchens, finest orator of our time, fellow horseman, valiant fighter against all tyrants including God.”
#GodIsNotGreat, the title of one of Hitchens’s many books, even became a trending hashtag in tribute to the iconoclastic spokesman of all things anti-religion—though there were (seemingly unconfirmed) reports that it was taken down from the site because of threats of violence towards those using it—an irony that, if true, Hitchens surely would have appreciated.
The Onion, meanwhile, described what it feels like to try to eulogize one of the sharpest rhetoricians of our day via a blog post: “BREAKING: Fumbling, Inarticulate Obituary Writer Somehow Losing Debate to Christopher Hitchens.”
Today on Slate’s Twitter feed, we shared our favorite Slate Hitchens columns of all-time along with the hashtag #hitchreads. Almost immediately our account was flooded with the Twitter world’s favorite quotes, columns, and anecdotes about one of this generation’s leading public intellectuals. Hitchens’s 2001 book, Letters to a Young Contrarian, was probably mentioned the most, but other favorites included his 2008 self-waterboarding experiment, his flogging of Mel Gibson, and his final Vanity Fair essay in which he reflects on death and all that is wrong with our usual thoughts on the subject (this was shared by Roger Ebert, among others). As a tribute to Hitchens’s renowned contrarianism, Eva Holland shared her least-favorite Hitchens essay—his 2007 diatribe “Why Women Aren’t Funny.”
Slate readers have been especially vocal in expressing their feelings about the contentious writer and bon vivant, posting hundreds of comments on our Facebook wall and on old Slate essays. Here are a few of our favorite reader tributes:
Chanda Briggs: “The cure for poverty has a name, in fact. It’s called the empowerment of women. If you give women some control over the rate at which they reproduce, if you give them some say, take them off the animal cycle of reproduction to which nature and some religious doctrine condemns them, and then if you throw in a handful of seeds, the floor of everything in that village, not just poverty, but health and education, will increase.” Christopher Hitchens.
Bryan Jensen: As a Believer I really liked Hitchens’ relentless iconoclastic scraping against issues of injustice and the strongholds of non-self-critical traditions, while exposing us to the folly of his own vulnerabilities to the same. He could still be gracious even as he was vulnerably human.
Mark Spence: Only agreed with about 60% of what he wrote… enjoyed reading 100% of what he wrote!
Matt Seuss: When you agreed with him, there were few things more enjoyable than to hear the man advance your argument. After suffering the slings and arrows of the debate, knowing you had this brain in your corner could salve some very deep wounds. But as a believer, to face his contradiction was something far deeper. After all, if you call yourself a person of faith, but will not face dispute of that faith, I’m afraid you really aren’t clear about WHAT you believe.