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Christopher Hitchens, the legal immigrant who loved and understood America better than so many of us born here, passed away Thursday from cancer.

As far as I have heard, he remained true to this word and most likely resisted the deathbed conversion, but I have no doubt that he is with the best of humanity who passed before him right now.

In a world filled with uninspiring prose and disposable bestsellers, his writings were some of the only of our times that expanded our knowledge, our vocabulary, and our thinking. “One of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen”; without him I never would have known of Amis, Rushdie, or the definition of a popinjay.

He could–and did–destroy the foreign policy of Ron Paul, the literary quality of Ayn Rand, and the claims by the Left that the Iraq War was unfounded with such elegance and totality that those who debated him quivered in their boots. He wasn’t afraid to embrace the controversial (read The Missionary Position to learn some lesser knowns facts about Mother Theresa), and perhaps became known to many Americans as he, over the past years, set his sites on arguing against the existence of God.

I first saw him in person when he held a rally in front of the embassy of Denmark decrying the throttling of free speech there after a cartoonist published images of Mohammed.

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It was a wonderful setting to experience his eloquence and humility, his devotion to freedom and transformation from Lefty to George Bush defender. “Solidarity for Denmark, death to Fascism,” was how he framed the fight and he was the first and best defender of freedom of the press there–and here.

You can read what seems to be his last piece, written for the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, and feel the weight of his illness bearing down on him. I wish in a way he hadn’t been so preoccupied with his “God Is Not Great” book tour and distracted so many of us from his  analysis and wit on so many other subjects, from poetry to alcoholism to his political transformation.

But in the end he strived to defend his answer to the question we all wonder, “Is there a God,” and did so with honesty and earnestness.

The clip below shows Hitchens at a particularly poignant moment, as his discusses his relationship with belief in God:

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It seems to be the number one proof against his argument was Hitchens’s own wit, for which there could be no explanation but a slightly bigger measure of gray matter than the rest of us meted out to him by his maker.

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