My grandchildren lecture me on my vocabulary. There are certain words their mother — my daughter — has banned that Grandpa still keeps in the active file.
Take the word “stupid.” I cannot use it in their presence without being sternly informed it is not a gentleman’s word.
Yet, among us adults, I will defend “stupid” as a good and helpful word in describing what goes on in our little world today.
Lost amid the celebration of last Christmas, Christopher Hitchens died at the age of 62. Hitchens was a misanthropic polemicist. The guy hated just about everyone, including Mother Teresa, whom he called “one of the few untouchables in the mental universe of the mediocre and the credulous.”
With his satchel of hatred for most of humanity, he was the kind of Englishman whose effete arrogance defined why the Irish so loathe the English.
Hitchens was best known among the general public for his fervent embrace of atheism. He was a leader of the New Atheists, writing the atheist bible, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”
But what got me going were some of the eulogies in his honor. Writing in Newsweek, Simon Schama gushed about Hitchens’ brave atheism that he held unto death.
“The well-meaning strangers who ventured that when faced with the end he might reconsider his atheism (Hitchens) treated as a lower species of insurance salesmen, pitiable in their delusions, insulting in their presumption,” he wrote.
But then Schama concluded his essay with the wish for the “immortality of the unbelievers” where Hitchens would be greeted in death by the atheist Tom Paine, who would stretch “out one hand to pull him in” and another to offer him his favorite scotch.
That’s just stupid. Don’t have the gall to eulogize his atheism by wishing him a fond afterlife that Hitchens spent his pilgrimage denying.
Hitchens’ beliefs defined death as an eternity of nothingness. It’s hypocritical — and stupid — to celebrate his atheism while having have him sipping scotch in a secular Valhalla.
Stupid is as stupid does, Forrest Gump was warned by his mother. So it is not surprising that the following week a Newsweek letter writer proceeds to wax poetic about Hitchens as a “real man” that “rejected the veiled threats (bribes) of organized religions to repent.” Then he writes: “Sleep in peace, my literary friend, until we meet one day in the Resurrection.”
That’s just stupid, and I’m wondering if I’m missing a joke here. Hitchens believed in an aggressive atheism. He hated his allegedly nonexistent God, hated faith, hated the faithful.
But the simple answer to this stupidity may be a clue to understanding the New Atheists. So often I have wondered if their atheism smacks of pseudo-intellectual affectation. When the rubber hits the road, I think in their little heart of hearts they believe in that scotch-sipping Valhalla of Unbelievers.
I sympathize. It’s hard to be a nonbeliever because it flies in the face of human experience. Faith in God is an embrace of all that defines our humanity, that makes us infinitely more than skin and bone and muscle.
The next freethinker in Newsweek responded to the Schama essay by noting a picture of Hitchens where he was holding a glass of scotch and about to light a cigarette.
The writer complained about Hitchens tolerating “his own ignorance” by smoking and drinking. He didn’t have a problem with his atheism that denied eons of universal human experience. Instead, he excoriated the dead Hitchens over his intemperate personal habits.
And that, grandkids, is stupid. No matter what your mom says.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.