Christopher Hitchens’s Opiate: Not Religion, But Alcohol

Marx was right. Religion is an opiate.

But Sophocles was right as well.

In the furnace of this world, it’s understandable if, Oedipus-like, a person avoids too naked and persistent a confrontation with the world by plucking out her eyes.

Alcohol was the manner in which Christopher Hitchens plucked out his eyes. He bravely spoke truth to political and religious power, and took persistent risks with his life to do so, but his intellectual ocular was set on high all the time. He was unusually lucid. He saw through too much. He needed relief.

Christopher Hitchens got that relief from alcohol.

In our accolades to Christopher Hitchens on his death, it is well to remember that he was not a god of unalloyed bravery. His courage was extraordinary. His intelligence and truth-telling were refreshing. But he was human. He declined religion as the instrument for putting out his eyes. He rejected the solace that the universe, against all appearances, has some (yet to be disclosed) meaning. But he needed something. He didn’t turn to Jesus, Yahweh, or Allah. But he did turn to the intoxicating god—the god of wine—Dionysus. In Euripides’s Bakkhai are the following lines concerning this god:

To mortals the vine . . . stops all suffering.

And if wine were to exist no longer, then

Neither would the goddess Aphrodite,

Nor anything of pleasure to mortals.

Christopher Hitchens was a great man. He was Oedipus.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Christopher Hitchens’s Opiate: Not Religion, But Alcohol

  1. colinhutton says:

    And a nice follow-up, thanks.

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