I greatly admire Christopher Hitchens as a writer of superior talent and vigor, even as I shake my head in wonder at his anti-Mother Theresa obsession. I have not met Hitchens—although I have been entertained by stories told about him by mutual acquaintances. And while I have read many of his essays that involve the theism issue, I generally watch the atheism wars from the bemused sidelines, and thus plan to miss God Is Not Great.
With that caveat in mind, Ross Douthat’s latest offering in the NYT, describing Hitchens as a political romantic rather than a warrior for scientism, seems squarely hit. From “God and the Political Romantic:”
Hitchens is never more himself (for better or worse) than when he’s railing against the supposed cruelties of Benedict XVI, or comparing God to Kim Jong-Il. In this sense, he’s really less of an atheist than an anti-theist: Whereas Dawkins and co. are appalled by the belief in God, Hitchens is far more appalled by the idea that anyone would want to obey Him. Every true romantic needs a great foe, a worthy adversary, a villain to whose destruction he can consecrate himself. Never one for half measures, Hitchens just decided to go all the way to the top.
I am reminded of Woody Allen’s genius film, Manhattan. Toward the end, the Allen character confronts his friend Yale, who has left his wife to live with Diane Keaton. “You think you’re God!” Yale yells. “Well, I have to pattern myself after someone,” Allen replies. Interesting. Allen fights off the darkness of his atheism with biting comedy, Hitchens, nostril flaring, with prose thunderbolts.