1. By now you’ve no doubt heard that legendary journalist/polemicist/personality/Atheist Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. Hitchens was always my favorite of the New Atheists, and not just because he was the funniest. Alone of his colleagues (and I’m sure he hated being lumped in with anyone!), he seemed to object to the Gospel itself, rather than the normal hangups about the Bible or the Church. He found the idea of Grace to be repulsive and morally reprehensible. “Vicarious redemption” is what he called it, insisting that the notion that a person could be forgiven by someone other than the one they had wronged was deeply unethical and dangerous. In other words, he took issue with the Main Thing. Perhaps the boldest epitaph thus far is the one from Andrew Sullivan, who called him “the greatest advertisement for the existential courage of the atheist I have ever known.”

The Times obit is here. His debate partner Douglas Wilson offers some thoughtful reflections on their back-and-forth on Christianity Today. But if you only have time for one, I’d recommend friend and colleague Christopher Buckley’s loving profile/obit in the New Yorker. Or just read Hitchens’ classic series in Vanity Fair on “The Limits of Self-Improvement”.

2. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Gizmodo reports that “Facebook Is Making Us Miserable”, highlighting in particular its function as a 24/7 “den of comparison,” i.e. a non-stop, free-floating and therefore doubly cruel iteration of the Law of Who You Must Be, ht JD:

Since our Facebook profiles are self-curated, users have a strong bias toward sharing positive milestones and avoid mentioning the more humdrum, negative parts of their lives. Accomplishments like, “Hey, I just got promoted!” or “Take a look at my new sports car,” trump sharing the intricacies of our daily commute or a life-shattering divorce. This creates an online culture of competition and comparison. One interviewee even remarked, “I’m pretty competitive by nature, so when my close friends post good news, I always try and one-up them.”

Comparing ourselves to others is a key driver of unhappiness. Tom DeLong, author of Flying Without a Net, even describes a “Comparing Trap.” He writes, “No matter how successful we are and how many goals we achieve, this trap causes us to recalibrate our accomplishments and reset the bar for how we define success.” And as we judge the entirety of our own lives against the top 1% of our friends’ lives, we’re setting impossible standards for ourselves, making us more miserable than ever.

3. In the Atlantic, new research shows that 8-Month Old Babies Can Tell Right From Wrong.

4. An interesting post over at Curlew River about “The Conversion of W.H. Auden.” I was most struck by Auden’s assessment of Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith.” He apparently concluded that “such leaps are made in all spheres of life”. As he put it:

When the ground crumbles under their feet, [people] have to leap even into uncertainty if they are to avoid certain destruction.

5. In Movies, Mbird fave Brad Bird’s live-action debut hits theaters today, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and it sounds like he’s given us reason aplenty to put our Cruise-aphobia aside. Salon calls it the “best action flick of the year.” And The A/V Club says:

As [Tom] Cruise clings to the side of the building using malfunctioning equipment, and a sandstorm looms in the distance, the question shifts from whether Bird can direct an action film to whether there’s anyone out there who can top him.

Elsewhere, in its review of the new Jason Reitman-Diablo Cody collaboration, Young Adult, The Atlantic makes some interesting observations about how Hollywood portrays identity crises, claiming that Young Adult is the rare film where an unlikeable character stays unlikeable. And while I can think of plenty of films with unredemptive character development arcs (an ever increasing number!), it’s still an interesting comment on our collective obsession with personal growth:

Where most of its counterparts opt for cohesive, sentimental storytelling arcs, Cody’s script hews closer to real life. At its core, there’s a depressing yet inescapable truth: People don’t fundamentally change.

That’s a radical idea, at least by Hollywood’s standards. In its disregard for what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature,” Young Adult rejects the usual mandate to produce movies with the widest possible appeal. It’s also what makes this such a fascinating, if flawed, enterprise, an exercise in a new form of nihilistic horror.

6. In music, color me impressed: as a follow-up to our recent Advent post on Paul Westerberg, some Replacements’ writing has been sent our way and it is fantastic! I had long been contemplating a post that would attempt to rehabilitate their excellent but much-maligned Don’t Tell a Soul album. But it’s already been done! ht CM.

7. I get the sense I’m coming to the party late, but Brain Pickings may be my favorite new blog. The Atlantic recently highlighted their review of Joanna Burke’s What It Means to Be Human – very much worth your time – and it turns out the rest of the site is just as good. For example, the super cool “Vintage Science Ads from the 1950-60s” or “Edward Gorey’s Animated Into for PBS’s Mystery.”

8. In their Sports Year in Review, The Onion reports, “Tim Tebow Becomes First Christian to Play in NFL.”