Christopher Hitchens is dead - long live his memory and ideas. A freethinker of the highest order, he was a champion of reason and a debunker of frauds, among them the sainted but truly dreadful Mother Theresa. Rather than being a friend of the poor, as admirers of her charities believe, she was, wrote Hitchens, a friend of poverty who saw suffering as a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.
Hitchens considered himself an antitheist. He viewed organized religion as the main source of hatred and tyranny in the world. Faith is a virus, he argued. Faith is the surrender of the mind; it's the surrender of reason, it's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It's our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.
In Hitchens honor, I think I will reread his masterwork God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
Hitchens was only 62.His death, as with any death, reminds us of our own mortality. We're here and gone in the blink of an eye in a cosmic sense, so try to welcome every breath. Today, when we are thinking about the death of a man, take a moment to ponder the end of all men, women and earth itself - by tipping whatever might pass for your hat to a tiny spacecraft called Voyager 1, which will outlast everything we know.
Sometime about five billion years from now, when our life-giving sun begins to die, it will enlarge and engulf the Earth. Everything will be gone without a trace, save for the metallic fossil we called Voyager 1 and its companion Voyager 2.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 (and 2) have explored Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn's moon Titan, Uranus and Neptune. Now Voyager 1 is exiting the solar system, embarked on an interstellar mission, the first man-made object to reach interstellar space. Voyager is leaving the heliosphere, the region of our galaxy ruled by the sun, our ultimate energy source. We're get signals from Voyager until 2025, when it will need a battery change - no chance of that.
In an essay in the Wall Street Journal entitled, Voyager Heads for the Stars (Opinion, December 10, 2011), Lawrence Krauss puts space time in perspective: In 40,000 years, Voyager will travel within 1.6 light years of another star...In about 300,000 years, it will pass within four light years or so of Sirius, the brightest star that can be seen from Earth...it could continue to travel for billions of years, circling the galaxy much as our sun does on its 200-million-year orbit around the galactic center.
Hitchens is gone, we're all lined up for exits right behind him and, in time, this good earth and the solar system it inhabits will be gone, too. Voyager, however, will still be out there, silent in the vast unknowable realm of wonder. It will last for many billions of additional years, easily.
Perhaps, before Voyager eventually decomposes at some time-era nearly unimaginable, the visual images, music and data packed into it by long-gone humans will be discovered. by intelligent life forms. Perhaps these treasures will provide these beings with small clues about a people from a planet in a solar system no longer existing that was once inhabited by Christopher Hitchens and you and I. Perhaps, as Krauss mused, these materials will give an impression that we knew we were lucky to exist for a brief time on this cosmic speck, instead of suffering under the solipsistic notion that we somehow reigned supreme in a universe created for us.
Thank you Christopher Hitchens. Thank you engineers, poets and all who had the vision, wisdom, eloquence and determination to design, load and send the Voyagers on their way to eternity, of a sort.