Last night, Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, died at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. He was 62. To the bitter end, he refused the taunts of god-fearing critics that he should convert and pray before the final hour.
"I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking," he wrote in his still-sharp final column for Vanity Fair.
His memory is sure to weigh on the bunch of atheists who are getting together this weekend at the Sheraton Suites Cypress Creek Hotel for a series of meals, parties, and keynote speakers.
The conference is a regional meetup of the American Atheists group, with support from Florida groups Center for Inquiry and the Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists. You might have seen (or heard about) their billboard at Commercial Boulevard and I-95.
Will there be a last-minute memorial to Hitchens, who along with Richard Dawkins is the most talked-about atheist of the past decade? "We're working on that right now," says American Atheists President Dave Silverman. "It's definitely going to happen."
Ken Loukinen, the director of state and regional activity for the group, says he's working on putting together a slideshow in commemoration of Hitchens, and will provide more information when something is finalized.
One thing's for sure: They won't be praying for Hitchens' eternal soul. Starting with a fundraising dinner tonight, events will take a lighthearted tone, with a "de-baptism" ceremony, tributes to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the group's ninth annual Winter Solstice Party.
Keynote speakers throughout the weekend include local skeptic James "the Amazing" Randi and Mandisa Thomas, president of an Atlanta group of black atheists (a growing subculture that has recently gotten the New York Times treatment).
American Atheists encourages new nonbelievers to attend their conferences, and welcomes all. The fee for the whole weekend (including parties) is $99, and if you just want to come for the drinking, it's $15 for nonmembers. We'll hope the place is stocked with ample Johnnie Walker Black in Hitch's memory.
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