A vulture spreads the false rumor that Hitchens accepted God at the end

UPDATE: Because people have suggested that I wrote this entire piece without having read any of Taunton’s book, let me add that I read the six pages about Hitchens given on the Times site, and, after writing it, have read substantial sections of the book that someone sent me. I am now well versed in what Taunton said, and I stand 100% by what I wrote below. The man was clearly intending to suggest that Hitchens, toward the end of his life, was softening on Christianity, and was keeping “two sets of books”. (There is in fact a chapter called “Two Books”). An excerpt from that chapter:

These divisions—or some might say “contradictions”—necessitated a keeping of “two books”—a phrase Hitchens would use quite often to describe various aspects of himself, his beliefs, and his relationships with other people. The original meaning of the phrase “keeping two sets of books” refers to a fraudulent bookkeeping method in accounting, where one set of books is public and one is private; the public book is made to appear in accordance with the law, while the private book records all the shady financial dealings behind the scenes.

The implication, in using this phrase in regard to himself [“keeping two books], is that the discovery of his private set of books would reveal that his public set of books were somehow fraudulent. The public and private Christophers did not match. To know what was really going on, one must see the private books—or so the phrase would imply (and Christopher was notably meticulous in regard to precision in words).

The reader already knows where I am going. As I’ve already noted, my private dealings with Christopher revealed a much different man than the public Christopher, the confident, bombastic, circuit-riding atheist-pugilist. While I do not quite want to say that the public Christopher was a sham—perhaps an occasional actor might be a better description—he said and did things in my company that would lead one to conclude that this public manifestation of Christopher Hitchens was not the real one.

And that chapter opens with this quote:

“God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”

There’s no doubt, then, that Taunton claims that the Hitchens we saw and knew was not the real one—that only he knew the real Hitchens.

That’s malarkey, as of course it leaves out Hitchens’s editors, friends, colleagues, and wife, all of whom saw his private side, and none of whom agree with Taunton’s fairy tale.


Stories of deathbed conversions are always dubious, especially when they are recounted by the faithful, lack corroborating evidence, and involve a famous nonbeliever. Such was the case of Charles Darwin, an agnostic subject to widespread (and false) conversion stories. Creationists still propagate the lie that Darwin embraced God on his deathbed.

And such is now the case with the late Christopher Hitchens.

A “friend” of Hitchens, one Larry Alex Taunton, is profiting from rumors—rumors he revived—that Hitchens might have been turning to God after learning he had terminal cancer. Taunton is the founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, whose website states this:

The mission of Fixed Point Foundation is to defend and proclaim the Gospel in the secular marketplace and equip others to do the same. To that end, Larry Alex Taunton and the Fixed Point team have sponsored debates and symposia on topics ranging from atheism and Islam to gay marriage and the relationship between science and religion – bridging the sacred and the secular.

On April 12, Taunton released a book called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Famous Atheist Taunton clearly intended this book to imply that, at the end, Hitchens was getting soft on religion, and may have been embracing it. Here’s the Amazon summary:

Hitchens was a man of many contradictions:   a Marxist in youth who longed for acceptance among the social elites; a peacenik who revered the military; a champion of the Left who was nonetheless pro-life, pro-war-on-terror, and after 9/11 something of a neocon; and while he railed against God on stage, he maintained meaningful—though largely hidden from public view—friendships with evangelical Christians like Francis Collins, Douglas Wilson, and the author Larry Alex Taunton.

In The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, Taunton offers a very personal perspective of one of our most interesting and most misunderstood public figures.  Writing with genuine compassion and without compromise, Taunton traces Hitchens’s spiritual and intellectual development from his decision as a teenager to reject belief in God to his rise to prominence as one of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism.  While Hitchens was, in the minds of many Christians, Public Enemy Number One, away from the lights and the cameras a warm friendship flourished between Hitchens and the author; a friendship that culminated in not one, but two lengthy road trips where, after Hitchens’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer, they studied the Bible together.  The Faith of Christopher Hitchens gives us a candid glimpse into the inner life of this intriguing, sometimes maddening, and unexpectedly vulnerable man.

I haven’t read it (except for the six pages given by the Times [see update above: I’ve now read a lot more]), but I’ve corresponded with several people who have, and have read the reviews (both on Amazon and in the press), and my impression was verified. Taunton is apparently cagey about his intent, but reviewers and others have clearly read his book as showing that Hitchens was, at the end of his life, coming around to religion. The book’s title, too, clearly implies that the man had a “faith.” Well maybe he did, but it was in rationality, not religious malarkey.

One of the pieces about Taunton’s book was written by Mark Oppenheimer in Friday’s New York Times. Note the title, and click on the screenshot to go to the piece:

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.58.27 AM (Note too that Oppenheimer has previously gone after New Atheism.) That article describes how Taunton drove around with Hitchens in the fall of 2010 (Hitchens died on December 15, 2011), all the while discussing the Bible. You can read an excerpt here, and it doesn’t at all suggest that Hitchens was becoming religious.

The Times describes the book further:

Based principally on these conversations, Mr. Taunton concluded that Mr. Hitchens was seeking — and that he was, at least, open to — the possibility that Christianity was true. Perhaps, Mr. Taunton writes, Mr. Hitchens “used his position as a journalist as a kind of professional cover for a very personal inquiry” into the faith.

Several Christian magazines have trumpeted Mr. Taunton’s work. In the Christian journal Books & Culture, Douglas Wilson wrote that “fewer things are sadder than the death of a defiant atheist,” yet Mr. Taunton’s “simply outstanding” book offers just enough hope for Hitchens’s salvation to make it useful for the church. “Ministers will be strengthened and evangelists encouraged,” he wrote.

Secular publications have been kind, too, with Publishers Weekly noting Mr. Taunton’s “smooth and accessible prose.”

But in an article by the Religion News Service last month, friends of Mr. Hitchens took exception with the book’s conclusions.

Steve Wasserman, a literary agent and editor, and an executor of Mr. Hitchens’s estate, described the book as “a shabby business” in which “unverifiable conversations” are made to “contradict everything Christopher Hitchens ever said or stood for.”

Here’s a quote from the Books & Culture review, which also takes Taunton’s book as showing Hitchens’s increasing sympathy for religion:

No one is saved because we think it would be grand if they were. Good wishes and pious guesses cannot cleanse what only the blood of Christ can cleanse—and the blood of Christ does nothing for the unrepentant. But from my interactions with Christopher, I did know that it was quite possible I had an attentive audience. From Larry Taunton’s book I have received the additional encouragement of knowing that the audience was clearly more attentive than I knew.

And from a piece by Kimberly Winston in Religion News Service (click on the headline to go to the piece):

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 7.42.12 AM


Before his death at 62, Christopher Hitchens, the uber-atheist and best-selling author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” considered becoming a Christian.

That is the provocative claim of “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist,” a controversial new book winning both applause and scorn while underscoring, again, the divide between believers and atheists that Hitchens’ own life and work often displayed.

. . . Taunton writes that during the same time period, “Christopher had doubts … and those doubts led him to seek out Christians and contemplate, among other things, religious conversion.”

“At the end of his life, Christopher’s searches had brought him willingly, if secretly, to the altar,” Taunton writes at the end of the book. “Precisely what he did there, no one knows.”

After noting that some of Hitchens’s friends and colleagues poo-pooed this notion, Taunton defended himself:

Reached by phone at his home in Birmingham, Ala., Taunton stood firm in the face of such criticism. Asked about the fairness of publishing such claims about Hitchens after his death, he said: “The things that I relate, I think by and large I substantiate. What I am saying is this: If Christopher Hitchens is a lock, the tumblers don’t line up with the atheist key and that upsets a lot of atheists. They want Christopher Hitchens to be defined by his atheism, and he wasn’t.”

Well, pardon my French, but that’s pure bullshit. Who is claiming that Hitchens was defined by his atheism? And what does that even mean? Certainly Hitchens was a famous atheist, and was admired by many of us for his passionate defense of nonbelief, but that didn’t define him. He was a complex man, and other things that “defined” him were his liberal politics, his love of the Kurds, his hatred of dictatorship, his penchant for books, wine, and Mr. Walker’s amber restorative, as well as his many friendships and his belief in rationality. As for Taunton “substantiating” his claims, read the Times excerpt. Even if it’s genuine (and, of course, Taunton’s conversations with Hitch weren’t taped), it doesn’t show Hitchens drawing closer to Christianity. It shows him discussing the precepts of the faith. And, without a tape, how did Taunton remember so accurately what Hitchens said?

I was also surprised that one of the people who endorsed the book was Michael Shermer, whose words are on the Amazon page:

“If you really want to get to know someone intimately, go on a multi-day cross-country road trip, share fine food and expensive spirits, and have open and honest conversations about the most important issues in life. And then engage them in public debate before thousands of people on those very topics. In this engrossing narrative about his friendship with the atheist activist Christopher Hitchens, the evangelical Christian Larry Taunton shows us a side of the man very few of us knew. Apparent contradictions dissolve before Taunton’s penetrating insight into the psychology of man fiercely loyal to his friends and passionately devoted to leading a life of integrity. This book should be read by every atheist and theist passionate about the truth, and by anyone who really wants to understand Hitch, one of the greatest minds and literary geniuses of our time.” – Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of The Moral Arc.

More about Shermer in a minute. First, though, Taunton’s revelations will surprise those who closely followed Hitchens’s bout with cancer up to the end, watching interviews like those below and reading his book Mortality, which has no mention of impending conversion. Here, for instance, are two interviews he gave during his cancer treatment. (Hitchens never said explicitly that he had a terminal illness, but he surely knew it, for stage 4 esophageal cancer—which has metastasized—has about a 0% survival rate.)

First, Hitchens’s interview with Anderson Cooper. The part transcribed below, when he talks about circling vultures like Taunton, begins at 7:58:

Cooper: Even when you’re alone, and no one else is watching, there might be a moment when you want to hedge your bets.

Hitchens: If that comes it’ll be when I’m very ill; when I’m half demented by drugs or by pain. I won’t have control over what I say — I mention this in case you ever hear a rumour later on — because these things happen, and the faithful love to spread these rumours. They want this deathbed conversion  [mumbles]. I can’t say the entity that by then wouldn’t be me wouldn’t do such a pathetic thing, but I can tell you that, not while I’m lucid. No, I can be quite sure of that.

Cooper: So if there is some story that on your deathbed. . .?

Hitchens: Don’t believe it; don’t credit it.

Note that he predicted vultures like Taunton.

Here’s Hitchens’s interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. where the discussion of vultures begins at 2:45:

Finally, there are Hitchens’s last words. Even when he was in extremis, he said nothing about religion. Instead, he mentioned “capitalism” and “downfall.”

Why did Shermer endorse the book? As he says in a post on The Moral Arc:The real Christopher Hitchens,” at the time Shermer thought his endorsement was a fair appraisal, but changed his mind in light of a) the reaction of the public to the book, which clearly showed that it was intended to be, and taken as, a “deathbed Christianity tome”; and b) Taunton’s subsequent statements defending his position that Hitchens was contemplating becoming religious.

Shermer, who knew Hitchens, was especially incensed by Taunton’s claim that Hitchens “kept two sets of books”, a reference to a duplicitous accounting practice, and one that implies similar duplicity on Hitchens’s part. As Taunton said, “[Hitchens] had two real aspects of his personality and of his real beliefs that existed in real tension: one that he would reveal to the public and another that he revealed only to certain people.”

I don’t believe that for a minute, as it goes against all existing data, and by “data” I mean the public record of his talks, what Hitchens wrote, and the testimony of Hitchens’s close friends. Yes, you can claim that in all of these cases Hitchens was lying, but I’ll credit the public record any day over the hearsay reportage of Taunton, a man dedicated to spreading Christianity.

In his article, Shermer explains Hitchens’s engagement with religion, and then formally withdraws his endorsement of the book:

On his road trips with Taunton Hitch was merely doing what he often did with people who differed with him—spend personal time with them in order to penetrate the public façade and see what is inside the private thoughts.

. . . You can learn so much more about a person’s real motives and motivated reasoning by talking to them off stage and off print than you can by limiting yourself to debating them in public and reading their published works. Particularly effective is to dine and drink with them because after a time they open up and reveal what they’re really thinking and feeling. This is not at all “keeping two sets of books” in the two-faced manner that phrase may imply to some people. It is just being friendly and respectful to better understand someone’s inner self.

I believe that is what Hitch did in general, and in particular with Taunton. Naturally, because he’s an evangelical, Taunton hopes that perhaps, possibly, maybe—just maybe—Hitch inculcated the gospel message from their discussions about the book of John (among other related topics) so that Hitch is spared eternal damnation.

Shermer’s last bit:

P.S. I gave Larry Taunton a chance to clarify what, exactly, he means by the “two sets of books” phrase: public/private distinction we all make or intentional deception concealing his true beliefs from the public and his closest friends and revealing his true beliefs to Taunton. Taunton responded: “I stand by what I’ve written, Michael. A few—very few—of the hateful atheist crowd have read it, but almost none of the trolls. That is a quotation that I allowed to be used in an article.” I personally find that interpretation unbelievable. I hereby withdraw my endorsement of the book and request that my blurb be discontinued from use.

In the Times piece, Taunton backs off a bit, claiming, as do all authors in such cases, that he was misunderstood:

In an interview, Mr. Taunton said that his rather modest claims were being misunderstood.

“I wasn’t at his deathbed,” Mr. Taunton, 48, said. “I think on that first road trip Christopher was contemplating conversion. Do I think he had a conversion? No.” By the second road trip, he said, the moment seemed to have passed.

While The Christian Post declared that, according to the book, Mr. Hitchens “was contemplating conversion to evangelical Christianity,” Mr. Taunton said that was wrong: Even if Mr. Hitchens had come to some sort of belief, it is not clear what he would have believed in. Jesus Christ? An indescribable higher power? The Jews’ God (late in life, Mr. Hitchens learned his mother, and thus he, was Jewish)?

“Contemplating conversion and being close to Christ are two very different things,” Mr. Taunton said.

Well, there’s no evidence save Taunton’s wishful thinking that Hitchens was even contemplating conversion. And a book about Hitchens’s curiosity about religion certainly wouldn’t have sold at all. Further, if Hitchens didn’t accept God, why did Taunton call his book “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens“? I think he knew exactly what he was doing, and realized full well that his narrative would be taken by Christians as a sign that Hitchens was Seeing the Light. Christians just love stories about deathbed conversions of atheists, and Taunton played into that, all the while saying that he didn’t really intend that. I call duplicity.

Shermer agrees, and sent me this in an email, which I quote with permission:

Taunton is very slippery. If you suggest that he said anything strong in the way of Hitch converting, or leaning toward converting, he denies, dissembles and says “read the book.” But when you suggest that the “two books” metaphor means nothing more than public/private split we all have, Taunton replies that, no, Hitch was seriously considering Christianity. That’s why I pressed him for clarification and the most I could get back was “I stand by what I wrote.” Then he launches into the metaphor about the lock tumblers not lining up for Hitch as defining himself solely by his atheism. Different topic. Of course Hitch didn’t define himself by his atheism. He was political more than anything, but that’s a diversion from what I was asking! I think Taunton is the one with two books.

Now you may say that I’m writing so much about this because I’m an offended atheist trying to defend my “hero” against the possibility that he might have contemplated religion. Nope; not for a second. I’m writing this post because I’m 100% convinced that, after attaining maturity, Hitchens never thought about accepting God. Let Taunton or others who make such claims give us real evidence, not just undocumented statements about Hitchens’s interest in religious doctrine.

I’m also writing this to defend a man who cannot defend himself. Were he still here, and read Taunton’s screed and his post-book waffling, Hitchens would tell us in no uncertain terms that he does not credit superstition and entertained no thoughts of accepting God. And I’m writing to decry someone who knows that this ghoulish book will be read by believers as a triumph for Christianity. Taunton is simply a vulture, feeding and profiting on the death of a man who can’t respond.

As Hitchens said in his last public appearance, when he was but two months from death (transcript here):

I suppose I should close now because I’ve said all I wanted to say for myself… In the meantime we have the same job we always had, to say, as thinking people and as humans, that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says that if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss can be yours. We have to begin by repudiating all such claims – grand rabbis, chief ayatollahs, infallible popes, the peddlers of mutant quasi-political worship, the dear leader, great leader, we have no need of any of this. And looking at them and their record I realise it is they who are the grand imposters, and my own imposture this evening was mild by comparison.

Are those the words of a man keeping two sets of books?

Taunton, in fact, is the one who has given up his freedom of inquiry, embraced the Supreme Leader, and found his world of idiotic bliss. And Christians are enriching him for draping his own faith as a shroud over Hitchens.

h/t: Alexandra


  1. GBJames
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink


    • jimroberts
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink


  2. Davdi B
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Well, sitting at his desk in 2007, Jerry Falwell decided to reject god and converted to atheism. Then he had a heart attack and died. Works both ways.

    But then, I’d like to think that we’re more rational than that and wouldn’t make unsubstantiated claims. Y’know, like most religions people do (make unsubstantiated claims, that is…).

  3. gary
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe for a second that Hitchens was changing his mind. But even if he did, it would say nothing about god’s existence or the truth of religion.

    • EvolvedDutchie
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Quite right. I wonder what the religious try to achieve with these deathbed conversion stories.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted May 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Get money out of people who eat up this kind of thing.

        Deep down, religionists *know* that they are believing in nonsense, which is why they are so desperate for corroborating evidence; hence “scientific” creationism, visions of heaven in near-death experiences, visions of the cross or the virgin Mary on rust spots and tortillas (and other examples of pareidolia), and vultures of the OP variety. In doing so they ipso facto deny the validity of faith (defined as “believing things on the basis of insufficient evidence, or in the face of conflicting evidence”).

        We all know what they’d do if they were *really* interested in evidence.

        • EvolvedDutchie
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          I tend to agree with you, because most believers start to get a bit iffy when you ask them why they believe the stuff they profess to believe. But I also think we must be careful not to sound like Ken Ham, who is convinced that atheists do not exist and we’re all faking our unbelief. I guess these deathbed conversions in some way ‘confirm’ that ridiculous narrative.

    • Posted May 15, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Likewise with the old saw “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Even if true, which I doubt, it proves nothing except that people will cling to false hope if they are scared enough.

      • Posted May 15, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        The *only* people in foxholes are atheists; anyone who really had faith in their god would be out of the hole and charging the enemy, secure in the infinite capacity of their benevolent god to protect them from all harm.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          “The *only* people in foxholes are atheists”

          Or believers who are not sufficiently doolally to think their God will stop all the bullets. Which is, actually, most of them.


      • papalinton
        Posted May 15, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

        James Morrow, American author, the winner of the Nebula Award-winning short story collection “Bible Stories for Adults”, says it most eruditely:
        “‘There is no atheists in foxholes’ isn’t an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.”

        • papalinton
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

          Should be ‘writer’

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          If I may be permitted a small nitpick, Nebulas are awarded for individual stories, not collections. Morrow is a two-time winner for “Bible Stories for Adults, No. 17: The Deluge” and “City of Truth”.

          • papalinton
            Posted May 16, 2016 at 12:48 am | Permalink

            Nitpick all you want, Gregory. There’s something not all of us knew before. Thanks.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted May 16, 2016 at 6:34 am | Permalink

              If I may nit-pick, as well as reading more carefully, Shermer needs to learn the meaning of ‘inculcate’.

              • Diane G.
                Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

                Indeed. 🙂 If he was thinking of something that started with “in” he’d have been better off with “incorporated” or “internalized.”

  4. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    “a friendship that culminated in not one, but two lengthy road trips where, after Hitchens’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer, they studied the Bible together. ”

    Translation: Taunton tried Bible-bashing and Hitchens – who knew more about the Bible than 99% of Christians – refuted him.

    That’s my guess anyway.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      … and while I’m at it –
      “In The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, Taunton offers a very personal perspective of one of our most interesting and most misunderstood public figures.”

      That means nobody else can say it’s a lie because it’s like, personal.

      And of course everybody else misunderstands Hitch except, of course, Taunton.

      Excuse me while I barf.

      … possibly too cynical to live

  5. Randy Schenck
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Good show. Seems to me, a story claiming any such thing as that would need far more evidence than provided by this Taunton, and the only suckers to believe him also believe in some of his other ideas.

  6. Zado
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Silly Christians… it’s not that Hitchens doubted the veracity of your faith (although he did); more importantly, he thought its principles were downright immoral.

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Religious people: Hitch was ours. Go get your own heroes.

    I’m glad you included that quote from Hitch about not believing the death bed conversation stories after he dies because it always stuck with me when I watched that interview and it’s the first thing that I think of when I read this kind of dreck.

    • Posted May 16, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Yep, I was going to put it in a comment if Jerry hadn’t put in the post.

  8. Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Looks like Taunton is taunting us with white noise. Up with which we will not put.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      I keep thinking,

      “Your Taunton will freeze before the 4th maker.”

      “Then I’ll see you in hell!”

      • darrelle
        Posted May 16, 2016 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        “And I thought they smelled bad . . . on the outside!”

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 16, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink


  9. Scott Kaelen
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    The book by Taunton has just received a 1* review on Amazon from me. How dare he?

  10. Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    If it happened, it sounds like Hitch was being polite with Taunton. Atheists can’t win. If we are polite, our words are twisted. If we are blunt, we are militant.

    • Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Darwinwins – I think that this is a major part of the story. Hitchens and Collins became friends and as I once heard, Hitch was congenial and accepted Francis’ commitment to his faith, but certainly did not join in that faith as far as I know.

    • Posted May 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Not militant: Shrill and strident! 🙂

  11. Vaal
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    from the Books & Culture review:
    “Good wishes and pious guesses cannot cleanse what only the blood of Christ can cleanse—and the blood of Christ does nothing for the unrepentant.”

    That this debauched manner of thinking comes disguised as the most perfect form of morality has always been a scandal.

    Jerry wrote: Let Taunton or others who make such claims give us real evidence, not just undocumented statements about Hitchens’s interest in religious doctrine.

    But we know from Christian apologetics that orally transmitted history is so reliable, don’t we? Taunton wouldn’t risk public humiliation for propagating what he knew to be a lie, would he? Impossible!

    Really, the title of the book would tell me just about all I need to know about the aims of the author. Would there be any doubt, even without looking, that such a book was written by a Christian? Especially one known to debate atheists? Not because all Christians lie of course, but because those defending Christianity typically equivocate with the word “Faith” as necessary to imply equivalence where it does not exist.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 16, 2016 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      I think with many such Christians they are not intending, premeditatively, to deceive others or misrepresent someone. Rather it starts with them lying to themselves. They believe the lie a bit more each time they replay it in their minds eye until after a long enough period of time they can no longer reliably tell what was actually evident, what was speculation and what was fantasy.

      Of course this behavior is not limited to religious apologists. It seems to be fairly common for humans to rewrite reality in this way. But religion is custom tailored to take advantage of this weakness. Or perhaps a more accurate way to look at it is that religions are the end products of this kind of behavior given free rein for.

      • Posted May 16, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        [I]t starts with them lying to themselves. They believe the lie a bit more each time they replay it in their minds eye until after a long enough period of time they can no longer reliably tell what was actually evident, what was speculation and what was fantasy.


        And this also explains the GOP and Trump. As I always say about the GOP: Any lie will do!

  12. bric
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I have not the least doubt that if Hitch had shown the slightest signs of accepting Christianity his brother Peter (a noted God-botherer) would have been shouting it from the roof tops

  13. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Well, this can become a bit of a bother, as we have one more dubious claim from theists to deal with.
    There is nothing in this account, including the excerpt from the book, that supports the notion that the Hitch was moving in a theistic direction. The only indications are that he was simply talking about Christian belief as an academic exercise, and choosing at the time to not criticize Christianity b/c it was the polite thing to do when having final conversations about religion with a religious friend. When did not criticizing something mean that one endorses something? Now that ‘friend’ is conjuring up a reflection of their own wishes upon a person who can no longer comment. It actually pisses me off a bit.

  14. mfdempsey1946
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Best to focus on the lucidity and quiet bravery that Christopher Hitchens staunchly maintains in the two interview excerpts posted here even while sitting directly beneath his personal sword of Damocles.

    He and these traits utterly annihilate in advance this Taunton creature, his contemptible wish fulfillment fantasy of a “book,” and all the others, every single one of them benighted, who are seizing every opportunity to tout it.

  15. Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    “In private conversations with famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, Larry Taunton is said to have considered giving up his faith.”

  16. Rob
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that believers are often trying to hitch a free ride on the coattails of Dawkins, Hitchens, Hawking, etc.

  17. Nell Whiteside
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Sheer effrontery.

    And, christians claim the moral high ground?

  18. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    A tribute to Hitchens, no? Everybody want to share in that intellectual force.

  19. Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  20. dabertini
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Michael Shermer is beginning to annoy me. You would think the editor of the skeptic magazine would know better!! It is not the first time he has swallowed the hook and the bait whole. He also gave a resounding endorsement to Nina teicholz-she, the dubious author of big fat surprise!!

    • reasonshark
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I give him credit for realizing and correcting his mistake, at least.

  21. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Didn’t Christopher Hitchens write in Mortality: “If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”?[1]

    If Hitchens did consider conversion, he would only do so to roast Christianity one last time.

    [1] source: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/fighting_words/2012/08/christopher_hitchens_mortality_the_unpublished_jottings_of_the_late_great_writer_and_thinker_.html

  22. sshort
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Just reading the linked book excerpt with it’s unctuous, pedantic and condescending tone is enough for me. Being raised in the church, I’ve suffered through it more than I can bear.

    It’s the “wonder” of “faith and salvation” that slips queasily between a tone of utter simplicity, not to say imbecility (“See? It’s so clear. A child could understand it. God wants you to know!”) and the infinitely unknowable (“How dare you presume to question the eternal and ineffable God?!”).

    A dishonest, disingenuous rhetorical clusterf**k. Taunton is not credible. He is hoist on his own cross-shaped petard.

  23. Gabriel
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Snakes do write books, here’s an excerpt from it: “My private conversations with him revealed a man who was weighing the cost of conversion. His atheist friends and colleagues, sensing his flirtations with Christianity and fearing his all-out desertion to that hated enemy, rushed to keep him in the fold. To reassure them, Christopher, for his part, was more bombastic than ever. But the rhetoric was concealing the fact that even while he was railing against God from the rostrum, he was secretly negotiating with him. Fierce protestations of loyalty always precede a defection, and Christopher had to make them. At least he had to if he was to avoid the ridicule and ostracism he would surely suffer at the hands of the very same people who memorialized him. To cross the aisle politically was one thing. There was precedence for that. Churchill had very famously done it. But Christopher well knew that whatever criticisms and loss of friendships he had suffered then would pale in comparison to what would follow his religious conversion. Hatred of God was the central tenet of their faith, and there could be no redemption for those renouncing it.”
    (BTW, a little online searching can lead you to the book. I don’t know if it is ok to post the link here).

    • sshort
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      “Hatred of God was the central tenet of their faith.”

      Once more, Taunton shows his stigmatized hand. Atheists have no faith, there are no tenets, and how do we hate something that is not there?

      I do not hate Russell’s teapot, either.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        Nah, not hatred of God. Hatred of ‘Christians’ like Taunton, and that excerpt is why.


    • Vaal
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for that excerpt.

      What utter crap.

      I wonder if this characterizes the actual “evidence” in Taunton’s book, mere inference and interpretation by Taunton. Taunton’s words instead of Hitchens’ words. Or does Taunton provide any (purported) actual quotes
      from Hitchens to let the reader decide?

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

      Sounds positively libelous to me!

    • darrelle
      Posted May 16, 2016 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      Jesus Fucking Christ that is a thoroughly disgusting and despicable piece of work. In several ways. Both the words and the author. Christian moral superiority at its finest. It seems rather clear to me where the hate is actually coming from.

      Did Shermer read this book before endorsing it? How in the hell could he have interpreted this passage in such a way as to inspire him to give the book a glowing endorsement?

    • Posted May 16, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      The nerve!

      Only a very religious person would project that kind of crap onto Hitch. Pure projection and wish thinking.

  24. Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    “who was nonetheless pro-life”

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t recall Hitchens being pro-life in the sense it’s generally meant. I know he thought abortion was wrong, but wasn’t he pro-choice?

  25. Stonyground
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Does it never occur to the Godly that if they have to resort to such pathetic lies to prop up their faith, then their faith must be pretty much worthless?

    Interestingly, we have a much more sound case for claiming that Mother Theresa became an atheist late in life. Why do we not want to claim this highly revered saint as one of our own? Oh yes, it is because she was a revolting self centred sadist, that was it.

    • sshort
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink


  26. p. puk
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Why Christianity? Of all the options, why would he choose Jesus?

    With all of Hitch’s worldly experience, Occam’s razor says he would have chosen a religion far less inane than Christianity. If one could be found. Which it can’t. Ergo Occam’s razor says there was no conversion or even thought of it.


  27. Frank Bath
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    At least Christopher Hitchens’ friends didn’t get him buried in Westminster Abbey, like Darwin’s did.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

      I think Westminster Abbey, as possibly the most prestigious place in the country to be buried, is a high honour that outweighs religious considerations.

      Besides, it appeals to my sense of irony.


      • Posted May 16, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        After all, we’ve got the agnostic Darwin and the Arian Newton in there, no?

        (But *not* the [heterodox] Christian Faraday, but that was his own thing.)

  28. Scott Draper
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Taunton probably isn’t lying, as many of the comments suggest. Why are we so spring-loaded to accuse a theist of lying, when we all know how many psychological processes operate to ensure that they are mistaken quite often?

    I’m sure that many of us engage in theological discussions with believers; when we do, we are essentially granting them some of their assumptions merely in order to have a conversation. This does not mean that we believe their assumptions, although I could see how a believer might infer that we did.

    A theist friend of mine once gifted me with “Mere Christianity”, because he thought I “had questions.” I was horrified, first by his thinking that such a shallow, vapid book could answer any questions at all, and second by the idea that I had questions. He mistook my willingness to engage in discussions within his worldview as some sympathy towards that worldview. But I’m also willing to discuss Hulk vs. Superman contests….

    • sshort
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Maybe not consciously lying, but how about being deceitful and disingenuous? In the service of his faith, of course.

      It has been my experience with any holders of “absolute truth” that they tend to operate behind an impenetrable wall of self-regard (They, of course, refer to this the “peace of knowing god” or some-such). I call it giving up.

      Taunton appears to operate with the same blinkered, otherworldly calm. Not lying, perhaps. But in no way rigorously honest.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

        “deceitful and disingenuous?”

        Neither. A person who convinces himself that something is true is not being deceitful.

        • sshort
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

          I was referring to his book and treatment of Hitchens as being perhaps more than a little deceitful and disingenuous. Whether Taunton is ” open-eyed” or “closed-eye” about this presentation, I don’t know.

        • jimroberts
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          As Medawar said of The Phenomenon of Man,
          “its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself”.

          • sshort
            Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

            perfectly said. excellent point.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Friends don’t try to make a buck by trashing a deceased friend’s reputation. So if Taunton is claiming to be Hitchens’ friend, the book itself is evidence of his dishonesty.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        A theist does not view it as trashing someone to say that an atheist was reconsidering his atheism. If anything, it’s a compliment.

        • sshort
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          I agree with you there.

        • Taz
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

          To me the more significant part of Gregory’s comment is “make a buck”. Isn’t it convenient that Taunton’s self-delusion corresponds with what sells? I would be less cynical if he wasn’t trying to cash in on Hitch’s “conversion”.

          • Scott Draper
            Posted May 15, 2016 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

            True. I’m not ruling out motivated reasoning, nor am I ruling out blatant lying, I’m just pointing out that it shouldn’t be considered self-evident, as per “Hanlon’s Razor”.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted May 15, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

          A true friend of Hitchens would know that he would not want this “compliment”.

          • Scott Draper
            Posted May 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

            Whether Hitchens would receive it as a compliment or not is irrelevant to whether Taunton might perceive it as such. I know several believers that I consider borderline atheists, something that I’m sure would offend them, but I view as a positive.

            • GBJames
              Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

              A theist who mistakes his insult for a complement should be called on the error. It may be a (stupid) mistake and not intentionally offensive. But offensive it is. Pretending otherwise does not advance the conversation.

              • Scott Draper
                Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

                Taunton probably isn’t trying to have a conversation. His audience isn’t us and likely doesn’t care if we’re offended.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 15, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                My point is that he ought to care whether Hitchens would be offended. If he doesn’t, then he’s being dishonest in claiming Hitchens as a friend.

              • Scott Draper
                Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

                Worrying about whether a dead person would or would not be offended by something strikes me as a bit neurotic. I don’t live that way and I bet you don’t either.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

                You’d lose that bet then. I see nothing shameful or neurotic about treating my dead friends’ opinions with the same respect I had for them when they were alive.

              • GBJames
                Posted May 15, 2016 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

                Regardless, calling him out (in whatever forum) is appropriate. You’re asserting that his comments are meant as complements. If so, someone needs to tell him that he’s wrong. The opposite is true. (I realize he probably isn’t reading this thread.)

          • Vaal
            Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

            I agree Gregory. There are examples among the Christians Hitchens befriended who have shown much more respect after Hitchens’ death.

            Francis Collins wrote a very nice piece about his relationship with Hitch towards the end:


            An excerpt:

            “Through all of this, we became close friends. He knew I was praying for him, and welcomed that — though he was also quite sure that no one was listening. He never showed any sign of retreating from his own atheist position — in fact, he warned his followers early on that they should reject any suggestion that such weakening of resolve was occurring. But his views seemed to soften toward those of us caught up in what he considered to be a religious delusion, and the hard edge I had seen when we first met gave way to a bemused acceptance.”

            That strikes me as a much more credible and respectful characterization of the private Hitchens than Taunton is plying for his book.

            • Posted May 15, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

              Good point, and if Hitchens was wavering, why wouldn’t he talk to Collins–an evangelical Christian–as well?

              • Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

                He did. See comment above about manners. Also, being the head of NIH, Francis would have been able to explore possible treatments for such a deadly cancer, as well as offering prayers.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted May 15, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

              Now that (link) brought a tear to my eye. And while Francis Collins did not retreat from his own position, he showed due respect for Hitch’s. I cannot fault that.


              • Posted May 16, 2016 at 6:07 am | Permalink

                To show such disrespect for the dead as to try to manipulate the memory of them as finally having deathbed views never expressed by them in their lifetime, but congruent with one’s own stance, is both obscene and abhorrent.

                I have never known of any instant where anyone of atheistic persuasion ever claimed that some prominent religious figure had had a “deathbed conversion” to atheism – thereby showing in the atheist, a level of integrity somehow lacking in the religious.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted May 16, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink


                I trust you’re referring to Taunton there.


            • John Abbott
              Posted May 17, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

              Thanks for posting this comment by Francis Collins which rebut the book in a concrete way. Suggest you put it in an amazon review with the link.

  29. Larry Cook
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    If Christopher Hitchens had a late change of mind regarding his atheism or religion in general, he would have told the truth and admitted it. He wrote the truth as he saw it and he wanted his readers to know what he knew. He wrote until he couldn’t write anymore because he had a passion to get his thoughts to everyone who was interested, so the idea that he would leave out such major news that contradicted what he wrote and said for so many years is ridiculous. Where is the evidence that he hid anything he believed or kept two sets of books? Having never shown any inclination to hide his true thoughts and feelings, why would he suddenly become embarrassed about a change in his thinking? I’ll never buy the idea that Christopher Hitchens cared so much about his public image that he would start lying at such a late point in his life. If he had converted, he probably would have delighted in telling us. He would have had quite the scoop.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Writers like Taunton rely on the ignorance of their audience. The religious reader can be counted on to possess a monumental lack of self-awareness and a strong propensity to project their own emotional attachment to fuzzy thought onto others. As Scott mentioned above, their tendency to “gift” us with books that are beneath laughable reinforces how poorly they listen.

      • Larry Cook
        Posted May 20, 2016 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure you’re right and I’m sure his audience is ignorant enough to set aside the fact that Hitchens was a prolific writer who would certainly write about his own conversion. So it’s up to Taunton’s non-readers to inform his readers about Christopher Hitchens real character despite the fact that we know they’ll never believe us. It’s laughable that they think they can convince us of anything not based in reality.

      • GBJames
        Posted May 21, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink


        Books like this are not intended to convert atheists to the faith. Rather, their purpose is to blur the subject and lead the faithful to not bother looking into non-belief. After all, there’s no “real” non-believers anyway… Heck, even that hyper-atheist Christopher Hitchens (and Albert Einstein, too!) came to Jesus in the end. Move along, there’s nothing to see here.

        Lying for Jesus is one of the oldest and proudest of the faith traditions.

    • p. puk
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink


  30. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    We have been through a couple of these claims of death-bed conversions to Christianity. But have we ever done the same? That is, has any atheist written a tell-all about some theist celebrity supposedly having a falling out from their faith as they neared the end? I know about Mother Theresa, but she did that one herself. I cannot think of any examples of an atheist preying upon a dead theist.

  31. Vaal
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    This book is really the most unseemly betrayal of “friendship.” Hitchens’ reputation was that of personal integrity and forthrightness – saying what he thought to be true whatever the consequences or opinions held against him.

    Taunton is happy to undermine Hitchens’ character once Hitchens is dead. Hitchens wasn’t really brave, wasn’t telling the real truth about what he believes publicly – he was actually a coward who couldn’t tell the public what he really struggled with or believed.

    And, again, note how Taunton only produces these claims after Hitchens is dead and isn’t here to directly refute him. Taunton isn’t talking about death bed conversion, but
    claims about what Hitchens believed well before Hitchens was gone. If Tuanton were fair, or noble or an actual “friend” he could have brought this up publicly or to Hitchens to have Hitchens clarify or rebut Taunton’s characterization.

    But no, a “friend” waits until his pal is dead to undermine his character. Cripes.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 16, 2016 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      Taunton is trying to reimage Hitchens as the cliche Christian stereotype of an atheist. A confused, scared soul who doesn’t actually disbelieve in God but rather hates it. And who, with death approaching, is scared into reconciling their relationship with the big G in order to not really die and or to stay out of Hell.

  32. Tom
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Since many christians are used to lying about their religion, it is not surprising such a ridiculous claim is made.
    Unable to stomach the idea that anybody could die without their last thoughts being of god, heaven or hell they make things up.
    For instance, consider a 19th century christian harridan claiming that before Darwin died he was leafing through the bible, despite Emma Darwin publicly denying it ever happened.
    It is all terribly sad when delusional thinking imposes distorted beliefs on people who can no longer answer back.

  33. Jim Hubbard
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Is it any wonder that a religion founded on only those things that are not verifiable would seek to add yet another unverifiable claim tobits worthless arsenal?

  34. yiamcross
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    So, another christian apologists demostrates how they’re prepared to lie to get their hands into the pockets of the gullible. Anyone out there surprised? The only question I have is whether it was planned out beforehand or just an opportunist attack on a dead man’s integrity to rake off a few bucks from the mentally afflicted.

  35. Chris Lang
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    It’s strange that the name Douglas Wilson comes up in this controversy; it’s difficult to believe that Hitchens would regard him as a friend–Wilson is odious: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2009/07/22/old-south-slavery-defender-speak-conference-hosted-major-christian-right-leader

  36. Roo
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Hey hey hey hey hey now. Let’s leave vultures out of this. They happen to be one of my in-laws favorite birds, and they consider them an unfairly maligned taxa and a beautiful bird of prey. The vultures had nothing to do with this, and I’ve certainly never met one who promoted theism, even given their morbid occupation. So.

    That aside, I *kind of get the impulse to squeeze someone into your worldview and view it as an act of kindness. The “Oh, they don’t really mean that, they’re a great guy / gal at heart” reaction – and if you truly believe in Christianity, then that could certainly be a version of this. But it sounds like these guys are actually profiting from these claims, and that’s beyond the pale.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      I absolutely agree about the vultures. Much maligned creatures. Along with snakes (Gabriel above please note) and rats.

      Also Vandals, whose chief crime was to piss off the ‘civilised’ gladiating crucifying Goebbels-anticipating Romans.

      Unfortunately English has these metaphors so deeply imbedded in it that it’s hard to write a concise sentence without using them.


      • Roo
        Posted May 15, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        I was mostly kidding, but thank you for the vulture respect, much appreciated (they really are an in-laws favorite type of bird).

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      I love vultures!

      They do look a bit like stereotypical undertakers, though. 😉

    • Filippo
      Posted May 16, 2016 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      I’m reminded of Dawkins’s “fleas.”

      I should think that Hitchens had at least two if not more echelons of friends, the top tier including Amis, Rushdie, McEwan.

      (What’s the dividing line between friend and passing acquaintance? Facebook “friending” and someone fatuously alleging himself to have “a ton of friends” comes to mind.)

      A twelve-hour drive passes quickly enough (unless one is stuck in a car with and a slave to an obstreperous, odious relative).

      Would the honorable Mr. Taunton as easily accept (the writing of a book about) the proposition that he himself was considering coming around to Hitchens’s perspective on account of being willing to converse with Hitchens on a couple of road trips?

  37. Steve Pollard
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    As everyone has said, the man Taunton is at best a wishful thinker, and at worst a fantasist and a liar. I don’t think I would accept that he had even been on a road trip with Hitch without independent corroboration.

    None of us is convinced. So who will be? Who is Taunton’s story aimed at? Christians who have heard of Hitchens and want to be comforted that he might have recanted? The undecided? More likely, simply to take advantage of a man who cannot now speak for himself in order to poison the well.

    This man is just another in the long line of Liars for Jesus. He needs exposing and nailing now.

  38. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    “He needs exposing and nailing now.”

    I take it that was metaphorical? (In case it wasn’t I have a small bag of 6″ flatheads that I could donate)



  39. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    That was, of course, a reply to Steve Pollard.



  40. Posted May 15, 2016 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    When you show the world you know you need to lie for your faith you show the world you know your faith is a lie.

    But then what options to fundamentalists have when they know the truth isn’t on their side?

  41. keith cook + / -
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    This has all the hallmarks of a man preying on his own kind as he knows the faithful, will buy it and buy into it, hook, line and sinker.
    The rewards are worth the gamble. Taunton is sick and a prize arse.. some friends, you don’t need.
    Yep. What’s next? a fucking B grade movie on the wavering atheist on his death bed, with the closing scene dissolving into a sea of light…

    and then a voice: Taunton! turn off the damn light, I’m done!

  42. KD
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Not sure I understand the compulsion to falsely ascribe death bed religious conversions to notorious atheists. We might as well have a book “revealing” that Truman Capote decided he was straight in his last moments.

    If one made a deathbed conversion, having spent one’s entire life denying God, this would either be driven by fear of the unknown, or perhaps hope for some kind of future life. In other words, it strikes me as entirely driven by pathos, and not logos. Moreover, probably cowardice, not courage (although how can you judge the soul of another).

    My thought is that if Hitch *did* convert on his death bed, it would seem to undermine his own personal character more than it says anything positive about the rational case for religion (or whatever we are talking about . . . “spirituality”).

    On the contrary, Anthony Flew did become basically a deist late in life, and had IMHO an articulate philosophical rationale for his switch (as he pretty much did on every position he took throughout his career). Of course, he still rejected miracles, immorality, and anything like the incarnation, so he was hardly “religious” in the typical sense. But I can respect his views, because he articulated them publicly, and cogently.

  43. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 15, 2016 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    “Of course, he still rejected miracles, immorality, and anything like the incarnation,”

    Did that oughta say ‘immorTality’?

    Personally I’d welcome a bit of immorality, I just don’t seem to be able to manage it these days 😦


    • KD
      Posted May 16, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      Er. . . yes, immortality. What do they call it, a Freudian slit?

  44. SKrishna
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    This alleged conversion has been prevalent from the time of David Hume.
    1. Boswell’s interview with Hume (p 46-49) in “The Portable Atheist” edited by Hitchens, and, 2. the video “Bertrand Russell on God” from 2.30 minutes at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Il7Kxw9TDBc.
    S Krishna

    • Posted May 17, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Actually, there’s a sort of precursor in Socrates. The _Apology_, which is regarded as sort of historical, presents Socrates as agnostic as to what happens after death. In the _Phaedo_, he’s absolutely dead (ahem) certain that he’s going to the presence of god. Since the _Phaedo_ has a lot of *other* marks of fiction (including a remark that Plato was not present when Socrates died), one can for other reasons call this story into question.

      But note the parallel – the move to orthodoxy.

  45. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    It is precisely the evangelical belief that Christian faith is strictly and absolutely necessary for salvation that makes all deathbed conversion stories suspect and unreliable!!!

    The New York Times piece mentions the deathbed baptism of Oscar Wilde. But Wilde’s conversion was to a fairly eccentric form of Christianity that does not fit the mold of evangelical orthodoxy at all (and is consistent with the ethical tone of earlier writings of his), but even here the “vultures” will claim a victory.

    I realize that “pardon my French” is a euphemism, but for the record French for bullshit is either “connerie” or “foutaise”
    Rendered literally, “bullshit” would be “taureau merde”

  46. Posted May 16, 2016 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    Jerry – I have vented some spleen and used your quoted transcript at the end of your article – posted it to my fb page. You and Lawrence, probably Dawkins and numerous others with some high profile will make a better job of demolishing Taunton than I can. I am so angry on behalf of Hitchens. Grrr.

  47. Harold
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    You wrote this whole thing without even reading the book? Really? I stopped reading as soon as I read that sentence and so should anyone with half a brain.

    Read the book first, then write something. Or shut the heck up.

    • Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Nope. I read the Times excerpt (as suggested in my post) and then, after writing it based on that, read a substantial portion of the book that someone sent me. I stand 100% by what I wrote, and I’ve added that above.
      Now you get the hell out of here, rude Harold.

  48. Posted May 16, 2016 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    I’m sure this has been said here, but it doesn’t hurt to emphasize again, two completely sufficient facts for dismissing this. 1) It wasn’t taped, and 2) even if it weren’t a lie, it depends on this author’s very fallible memory. Actually, point 1 is sufficient in itself. I call bullshit.

  49. Kevin
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Mr. Taunton, protons do not lie and they get to live past each of our lives. You can test them endlessly for remnants of faith and you will never find any.

    Hitchens was to baryonic matter as carbon is to life.

  50. Vaal
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    “. . . Taunton writes that during the same time period, “Christopher had doubts … and those doubts led him to seek out Christians and contemplate, among other things, religious conversion.”

    Jerry, I’m wondering if Taunton supplies any evidence for this whatsoever. Does he even quote Christians saying anything like it?

    I note this: “Mr. Hitchens was seeking — and that he was, at least, open to — the possibility that Christianity was true. “

    But atheists say all the time we are seeking the truth and in that sense we are open to Christianity being true, as we’d be open to any truth about reality. But then we point out, as Hitchens did, we demand good evidence before believing it, which Christianity doesn’t provide.

  51. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 16, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Taunton is wrong about a lot of things, and one of them is what Hitchens meant in using the term “keeping two sets of books.” Hitchens used the two-books metaphor to describe his realization that he had been applying one set of standards to a friend or pet cause and another set for everyone else, nothing more convoluted than that.

    Hitchens was ripe for this type of conversion story for the same reason he tended to be believers’ favorite New Atheist — he struck them as the prototypical sinner. If there’s one thing that those who’ve been born-again cherish more than their fellow believers, it’s a sinner who might be brought around to the path of righteousness. Hitchens had most of the common vices and a glint in his eye that suggested to them the prodigal son who may yet return to the fold.

  52. Posted May 16, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    All I have to say is this. (All right, it’s quite a bit, but it’s what I have to say.)

    Hitch – The Very Last Interview


  53. Posted May 17, 2016 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    You’re a good man Jerry. Thank you for this eloquent defense of Hitch.

  54. John
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    So….if there’s any truth in this at all then Francis Collins and Douglas Wilson, being Hitch’s (perhaps) closest Christian chums will know all about it wouldn’t you think?

    Surely they will back up these claims.

    Nothing from either of them yet mind you!

  55. Patrick
    Posted May 19, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Well it’s like David Silverman says — there are only two types that embrace religion: liars and victims.

    Taunton clearly represents the former.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] lying for Jesus,” Dawkins wrote on his Twitter page on Wednesday, and linked to an article written by Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D, a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the […]

  2. […] you’re lying for Jesus,” Dawkins wrote on his Twitter page on Wednesday, and linked to an article written by Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D, a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the […]

  3. […] Taunton describes himself as a ‘friend’ of Christopher Hitchens which is a claim almost as dubious as the book’s main charge. Luckily, Jerry Coyne has done a fantastic job of wiping that particular toilet seat in a piece titled ‘A vulture spreads the false rumor that Hitchens accepted God at the end’. […]

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