Christopher Hitchens’ Final Interview: Hear the Newly-Released Uncut Conversation with Richard Dawkins

Nev­er was there such an exhil­a­rat­ing time and place to be inter­est­ed in athe­ism than the inter­net of ten or fif­teen years ago. “Peo­ple com­piled end­less lists of argu­ments and coun­ter­ar­gu­ments for or against athe­ism,” remem­bers blog­ger Scott Alexan­der. One athe­ist news­group “cre­at­ed a Dewey-Dec­i­mal-sys­tem-esque index of almost a thou­sand cre­ation­ist argu­ments” and “painstak­ing­ly debunked all of them.” In turn, their cre­ation­ist arch-ene­mies “went through and debunked all of their debunk­ings.” Read­ers could enjoy a host of athe­ism-themed web comics and “the now-infa­mous r/atheism sub­red­dit, which at the time was one of Reddit’s high­est-ranked, beat­ing top­ics like ‘news,’ ‘humor,’ and — some­how — ‘sex.’ At the time, this seemed per­fect­ly nor­mal.”

This was the cul­ture in which Richard Dawkins pub­lished The God Delu­sion, in 2006, and Christo­pher Hitchens pub­lished his God Is Not Great: How Reli­gion Poi­sons Every­thing in 2007. “I’m not just doing what pub­lish­ers like and com­ing up with a provoca­tive sub­ti­tle,” Alexan­der quotes Hitchens as say­ing.  “I mean to say it infects us in our most basic integri­ty. It says we can’t be moral with­out ‘Big Broth­er,’ with­out a total­i­tar­i­an per­mis­sion, means we can’t be good to one anoth­er with­out this, we must be afraid, we must also be forced to love some­one whom we fear — the essence of sado­masochism, the essence of abjec­tion, the essence of the mas­ter-slave rela­tion­ship and that knows that death is com­ing and can’t wait to bring it on.”

Dawkins and Hitchens became known as two of the “Four Horse­men of the Non-Apoc­a­lypse,” a group of pub­lic intel­lec­tu­als that also includ­ed Sam Har­ris and Daniel Den­nett. The label stuck after all of them sat down for a two-hour con­ver­sa­tion on video in the fall 2007, dur­ing which each man laid out his cri­tique of the reli­gious world­view. Four years lat­er, Dawkins and Hitchens sat down for anoth­er record­ed con­ver­sa­tion, this time one-on-one and with a much dif­fer­ent tone. Hav­ing suf­fered from can­cer for more than a year, Hitchens seemed not to be long for this world, and indeed, he would be dead in just two months. But his con­di­tion hard­ly stopped him from speak­ing with his usu­al inci­sive­ness on top­ics of great inter­est, and espe­cial­ly his and Dawkins’ shared bête noire of fun­da­men­tal­ist reli­gion.

Dawkins, a biol­o­gist, sees in the pow­er grant­ed to reli­gion a threat to hard-won sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge about the nature of real­i­ty; Hitchens, a writer and thinker in the tra­di­tion of George Orwell, saw it as one of the many forms of total­i­tar­i­an­ism that has ever threat­ened the intel­lec­tu­al and bod­i­ly free­dom of humankind. In this, Hitchens’ final inter­view (which was print­ed in Hitchens’ Last Inter­view book and whose uncut audio record­ing came avail­able only this year), Dawkins express­es some con­cern that he’s become a “bore” with his usu­al anti-reli­gious defense of sci­ence. Non­sense, Hitchens says: an hon­est sci­en­tist risks being called a bore just as an hon­est jour­nal­ist risks being called stri­dent, but nev­er­the­less, “you’ve got to bang on.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Does God Exist? Christo­pher Hitchens Debates Chris­t­ian Philoso­pher William Lane Craig (2009)

Is There an After­life? Christo­pher Hitchens Spec­u­lates in an Ani­mat­ed Video

Christo­pher Hitchens: No Deathbed Con­ver­sion for Me, Thanks, But it was Good of You to Ask

Mas­ter Cura­tor Paul Hold­en­gräber Inter­views Hitchens, Her­zog, Goure­vitch & Oth­er Lead­ing Thinkers

The Last Inter­view Book Series Fea­tures the Final Words of Cul­tur­al Icons: Borges to Bowie, Philip K. Dick to Fri­da Kahlo

Richard Dawkins on Why We Should Believe in Sci­ence: “It Works … Bitch­es”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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