Christopher Hitchens once said that you do not become an atheist. You just discover that you always have been. As on so many other issues, he has been absolutely right. And in honour of the giant, I relate my own experience, if I may. I was born in Northern Germany where people usually are no longer being baptised. But when I turned seven, my parents moved to Freiburg where I had to enter a public primary school, which, as is common in the Catholic parts of Southern Germany, still taught religion as a compulsory subject. I was then also ill with neurodermatitis, which is a skin disease that leaves an itching pain on virtually all the limbs. Worse still, it doesn't leave you until you grow up, if it leaves you at all. As an non-baptised child I was sent to the protestant class, which to this day I find telling. I was hence subjected to religious classes, in which a priest from a local parish would instruct us in the bible and Christianity. Being ill—and admittedly knowing nothing about the children starving in North Korea or Somalia—and being the social outfit of my class—children can be cruel to one another—I once challenged the priest. Asking him, why god had so apparently treated me differently from all the other children, I was told that it would turn out fine in the end, he would make it just in the end. I was startled and asked how it could ever turn out to be just, when it is not now. I was then further instructed by the priest that god certainly had a plan and that his ways of doing justice were beyond my or his grasp, in fact that the ways of his justice were incomprehensible. I was eight years old and something about the answer did not quite satisfy me, though I could not point my finger at it. Today I know that what was related to me disguised as justice was the very definition of injustice. Once the ways of how justice are being delivered are incomprehensible, there no longer is any justice of any sort. Equality, transparency are missing in god's justice just as much as they were missing and are being missed in places such as North Korea, where, as Hitchens pointed out, people live in exactly that: a theocracy—that is if the trinity of father, son and the holy spirit, in fact, ring a bell.
I was interested in history and politics long before I came across Hitchens' work. As a matter of fact, I have been an atheist my entire life, I came to develop a strong interest in foreign policy and defended the Iraq invasion long before I ever read a book authored by the Hitch. I had a fascination with Marxist historical thought ever since university and found all forms of totalitarianism disgusting. I despised the left for its willingness to abandon its anti-totalitarian legacy in favour of an awkward, ill-defined so called anti-imperialism. And out of the blue, two years ago, I came across a Christopher Hitchens interview on Uncommon Knowledge and found a voice who's been there all along and more importantly long before I had developed any interest in these sort of things. And a voice, who would articulate the thoughts I harboured and expressed so much better than I could ever hope to. I spent the last two years catching up on Hitchens' extended writings and found him the greatest source of inspiration I have come across in recent years. Christopher Hitchens died today, aged 62. And though I am sad that he lost the races against clock and cancer, I remember him saying once that even though Shakespeare is dead, one could always meet him in his writings. Since there Shakespeare would be immortal. Hitchens is immortal in his writings, but he has a greater legacy than that. In the face of totalitarian aggression, Hitch stated that one simply needs to take a stand. Well, he did that.