Taunton vs. Krauss on Hitchens’s “conversion”

Here’s the BBC’s Newsnight interviewing Larry Alex Taunton, author of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. As you recall, Taunton’s book claims that, near the end of his life, Hitchens was flirting with accepting God.

I have to say that the BBC interviewer (I don’t know his name) goes after Taunton properly and strongly, questioning him about how two long car rides with Hitchens would given him insights into the man that his own long-time friends wouldn’t have.

Krauss comes on after 4 minutes with fists raised, calling Taunton not a friend but a “paid associate.” And then he proceeds to discuss the views of Hitchens’s widow, Carol Blue, about Taunton’s book (“disgust”). Finally, Krauss recounts exactly why Hitchens was such a strong anti-theist.

Taunton doesn’t come off looking good.


  1. rationalmind
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The interviewer is James O’Brien who is not one of the regular presenters of Newsnight but he does it occasionally.

    • Posted May 20, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I hope he goes after politicians with the same vigour!


      • Steve Pollard
        Posted May 20, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        He does. He gave Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt a hard time over the junior doctors’ dispute; and he went for the Tory MP Daniel Kawcynski, a supporter of the Saudi Government, over arms sales (in the context of the Yemen conflict), to the extent that Kawcynski threatened to sue the BBC. (He didn’t).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 20, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

        That thought crossed my mind too. Most interviewers are just too ineffectual or too poorly briefed and many times I’ve been frustrated where an interviewee has transparently dodged the question and the interviewer has let them get away with it.

        It was a pleasure to see James O’Brien giving Taunton a hard time.

        And Taunton’s admission that one of the ‘road trips’ lasted *thirteen hours*. One day?

        Maybe his book should be titled “Two days spent with Hitch”. Gosh, I’ve known barmen better than that!


    • Posted May 20, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      He has a remarkably similar voice to Hitchens, incidentially.

  2. GBJames
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 12:53 pm | Permalink


    • jimroberts
      Posted May 20, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink


  3. Cole
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I almost feel badly for Taunton who probably did mistake parsimony for “intellectual sympathy.” But then to profit off of it. He could have named his book, “the Faith of an Atheist: A Book About Friendship And Not Atheist Conversion,” but he really didn’t go that direction, did he?

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    The first third of this discussion is marred by a confusion between a literal/dualistic concept of soul and a metaphorical/possibly-holistic concept of soul.
    Here are two definitions from Random House.

    1. the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body;


    4. the emotional part of human nature; the seat of the feelings or sentiments.

    Hitchens was interviewed in 2007 by Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell

    (http://www.pdxmonthly.com/articles/2009/12/17/christopher-hitchens )

    and he explained quite precisely what he meant when he said literature NOT Scripture nourishes the soul.

    Sewll: You write, “Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and the soul.” You use the word “soul” there as metaphor. What is a soul for you?

    Hitchens: It’s what you might call “the x-factor”—I don’t have a satisfactory term for it—it’s what I mean by the element of us that isn’t entirely materialistic: the numinous, the transcendent, the innocence of children (even though we know from Freud that childhood isn’t as innocent as all that), the existence of love (which is, likewise, unquantifiable but that anyone would be a fool who said it wasn’t a powerful force), and so forth. I don’t think the soul is immortal, or at least not immortal in individuals, but it may be immortal as an aspect of the human personality because when I talk about what literature nourishes, it would be silly of me or reductionist to say that it nourishes the brain.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted May 20, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      When an atheist refers to a soul, any idiot should know that it’s likely a metaphorical reference. Taunton’s gleeful glomming onto Hitchen’s use of the word suggests a general obliviousness of the mental life of a non-believer.

      That said, I don’t see that atheism and the belief in a soul are incompatible. Having a soul doesn’t mean there are any gods.

  5. Posted May 20, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Although I’ve lived in the UK for nearly 40 years I’ve never got quite used to the merciless way in which British interviewers absolutely go for the jugular when testing the veracity of their interviewee. In this case however it is an absolute joy to listen while Taunton gets the full treatment and then some.

  6. Posted May 20, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Hitch was an antitheist. He said that even if God existed, he would loathe living in a “celestial North Korea”. He said that there was nothing good in religion that could not already be produced by secular morals. He wrote this little book claiming that religion poisoned everything, and he meant it. He even went after Mother Theresa! Where does Taunton get off trying to pull this stunt?

    I guess if you have been lying to yourself for a lifetime about the existence of God because if comforts you, it is easy to just lie about others in service of the same goal?

  7. Posted May 20, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I stole this from elsewhere but I like it.

    “I heard Christopher Hitchens had a deathbed conversion. He asked for a priest and converted the priest to atheism.”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 21, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Ummm, straight between the posts!
      (I’m trying a sports reference – rugby – but the indoctrination didn’t take, so I may have got it wrong.)

      • Posted May 21, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Soccer is easier. As Alan Partridge would say: Back of the net!


  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    As Ron Weasley would say, “Bloody brilliant!”

    It may be true that Taunton believes he had some form of friendship with Hitchens basically because an evil atheist treated him civilly. However, you don’t seek to make money out of the death of a friend.

    • Posted May 20, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Pshaw! Making money off an evil atheist is easy especially since there appears to be nothing wrong with making money off your God after they hung him from a cross. Small step there.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted May 20, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Good point!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted May 21, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      However, you don’t seek to make money out of the death of a friend.

      Weeeelll … have you seen the price of second-hand kidneys these days?

  9. Posted May 20, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I strongly suspect that Taunton has been trying to capitalize on his association with Hitchens. He’s reached a new height of name-dropping; this has most likely been to gain notoriety, publicity and $$ in sales for his book, under the guise of a deep revelation. It’s pretty pathetic. I hope he’s roundly ignored.

  10. Dave
    Posted May 20, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone asked this guy what the point of writing this book was?

    • Posted May 21, 2016 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      Exactly the thought that crossed my mind. Seriously, what the hell was the point?

      • Posted May 21, 2016 at 6:13 am | Permalink

        I think the point is pretty clear. Noted Atheists, without exception, are highly educated, articulate, extremely rational and capable of putting forward exceptionally well constructed arguments that there actually is no god. I think this creates a subconscious “inferiority complex” combined with self-doubt among the religious. They feel stupid. Therefore a so called “deathbed conversion” constructed for such an atheist gives the somewhat reassuring message “maybe I’m not so stupid after all”.

        • Posted May 21, 2016 at 6:21 am | Permalink

          I doubt this book will receive a similar level of attention as when Habermas tried to do a ‘number’ on Flew.
          Perhaps Taunton will have the integrity to write an honest sequel?

          Road Trip Recollections with Hitch. How my conscience forced me to admit I am a disgusting nob

        • Dave
          Posted May 21, 2016 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          Yes, yes, we can all guess at something like that standard answer – keep them in the fold, protect the tribe, etc. I want to hear the author confronted with the question.

  11. Mike
    Posted May 21, 2016 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    James O Brien shouold get the Job permanently, nice to see a Presenter go after the Guests in a similar way to Paxman did , he made Newsnight unmissable !

    • Dave
      Posted May 21, 2016 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Paxman was superb. Also did a late life interview with Hitchens that I thought was excellent.

  12. troubleshooter125
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    No, Taunton does NOT come across well, because he’s trying to pull a fast one on those of us who admire Hitchens and value what he had to say on the topic of belief and religion. His book has about as much credibility to me as David Barton’s piece regarding Thomas Jefferson, and were I the publisher, I would give it the same treatment – WITHDRAWAL!

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