The Guardian slams Larry Alex Taunton’s book on Hitchens’s “conversion”

I’ve now read most of Larry Alex Taunton’s odious book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Famous Atheistand I stand by my judgment that Taunton is a vulture, profiting from picking at the corpse of a man who can’t respond. As you surely know, Taunton’s book was written to suggest that, at the end of his life, Christopher Hitchens was flirting with becoming a Christian, or at least adopting a belief in God. Those who knew Hitchens—his friends, associates, colleagues, and relatives—have universally decried this thesis. Hitchens, they say as one, was a diehard nonbeliever, who was simply interested in learning about religion. He didn’t know Taunton well, or for long, and the book’s thesis rests of a couple of long road trips and discussions Taunton had with the cancer-stricken Hitchens. Taunton has clearly misinterpreted Hitchens’s interest in religion, and in his traveling companion, for a desire to find God. But most of us who have watched Hitchens’s career (and videos) have not seen an inkling of weakness toward faith. Indeed, several times during his last few months Hitchens said that if there were postmortem rumors of a deathbed conversion, they would be either lies or he would have been demented with pain or drugs.

Taunton, of course, is a devout Christian. His aim, though he denies it, is to profit from a rumor that Christians would love: that the world’s most famous atheist was flirting with God.

The Guardian now has a review of Taunton’s book by Matthew d’Ancona, “Christopher Hitchens and the Christian conversion that wasn’t.”  The title tells all, and a few excerpts from the review will suffice:

There is so much wrong with this book that one hardly knows where to start. But its fundamental error concerns the nature of intellectual inquiry itself. For Taunton, there is only one such pursuit, and it is unidirectional: if you are interested in morality, you are, axiomatically, interested in religion – which, for a southern evangelical, means the gospels. When Hitchens observes that a child and a piglet are morally different, Taunton says that “this was unambiguous theism, as he well knew”.

Of course, Hitchens knew no such thing. For him, as for any atheist, morality did not need the framework of religion. Philosophy did not depend upon the supernatural, and ethics did not require a godhead to be worth discussing – a discussion that can be traced back at least as far as Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro.

At the heart of the book is a series of conversations between Hitchens and the author, partly conducted on long car journeys across America. Hitchens, stricken with cancer, makes use of the time with Taunton to study the Gospel of John. Unfortunately, this entirely characteristic curiosity is misinterpreted by the author as the first stage of a glorious conversion.

. . . It is tempting to write off this book as no more than an outburst of epic self-deception. But its craven purpose – to claim Hitchens posthumously for evangelical Christianity – is to defame a man who was a champion of the Enlightenment and an enemy of all systems of thought that elevate one caste (priestly, or otherwise) above the rest. It is a shoddy tactic in the culture wars that began in America but are spreading in battles over theocracy, identity and social uniformity.

Far from being the double agent of the author’s addled imagination, Hitchens incarnated the pluralism in which he believed so passionately, revelling in the contradictions that are the hallmark of the authentically modern self.

He had no religion, other than friendship. Laughable in itself, Taunton’s Judas kiss serves notice yet again that the literalists of all faiths respect absolutely no limits in pursuit of their higher cause.


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I can’t recall any nonbelievers making the claim that a religious person gave up their faith on their deathbed. You may say that that scenario isn’t believable, but neither is the notion that Hitchens was flirting with Christianity.


  1. Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    As Hitch explains,“Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.”

  2. Vaal
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I’m glad you wrote about that review.
    That was a truly righteous take down of Taunton’s book.

    I had just listened to an interview with Taunton on the Christian “Unbelievable” podcast and found it infuriating. Here’s part of my comment on that site, since it seems relevant here:

    The part in the interview that killed me was when Taunton said: “I make no Lady Hope like claims regarding Christopher.”

    And then RIGHT AFTER that says:

    “I am claiming that Christopher was seriously contemplating conversion” (to Christianity).

    This is EXACTLY the idiom of the Lady Hope claim: the dying atheist contemplates conversion to Christianity. And just as in the Lady Hope situation where family members who attended Darwin at death said it was nonsense, we have Hitchens’ wife having to speak up to deny this “Christopher was contemplating conversion in the end” nonsense.

    Taunton even acknowledges Hitchens’ wife denied his claim, but instead of admitting she would know better than he would, he takes yet another disingenuous tactic: He says, sure she says that but that “Christopher kept two books, regarding his private and public life.” He had a public version and a private version.

    But what in the world are we supposed to take from this? Hitchens’ wife WAS part of Hitchens’ private life! Are we supposed to infer that Taunton, who spent hours with Hitchens, was more privy to Hitchens’ private life than Hitchens’ wife???? That seems ludicrous, and with no actual evidence for it. Or, even worse, is Hitchens’ wife just doing her part to present a false public persona of Hitchens, lying to cover for the fact Hitchens was seriously considering conversion? Again, this implication is egregious and totally without evidence.

    But Taunton works in this manner – tossing out terms that equivocate and obfuscate real differences – e.g. “faith” – and continually leaving implications and innuendo hanging in air, apparently hoping the faithful will be duped into grasping the straws he is providing.

    It’s one thing to come to an honest mistake, but reading and listening to Taunton’s interviews indicate to me he deserves every bit of drubbing he is getting for this book.

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Taunton really is a vile man, happy to foment this lie and make some money, despite the pain and distress he can see it’s inflicting on his friend’s nearest and dearest. *Who* would do that to a friend?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        Someone with dollar-signs in his eyes.

  3. Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I don’t want to read the book to find out, but why was Hitch taking “long car journeys across America” with this guy?

    • Vaal
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Taunton recounts an incident at a book signing where a fan asked exactly that question. Hitchens said because Taunton was a friend and the questioner was an idiot.

      ‘course…this is coming from Taunton.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      I don’t know, but in one of Jerry’s recent postings on this issue he quoted a good friend of Hitchens (can’t remember who) that wrote that Hitchens was paid to do so. The quote did not include any more details but I assume it was business of some sort. Was Hitchens working on a piece for some publication for which he was interviewing Taunton? Or vice versa?

      • Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        Interviews yeah, but a long road trip? I have some religious “friends”, and while I will engage a few meaning of life conversations with them, I would have to be paid very well to put up with them on a cross country car journey.

        • darrelle
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t been able to find many details yet. Apparently they were going to be debating each other and at least one of the two road trips was traveling to a debate venue. I’m guessing that was the paid part, that Hitchens was being paid to participate in the debate.

          The trip where they went through Yellowstone was not only Hitchens and Taunton. The entire staff of the Fixed Point Foundation, the organizer of the debate, were along for the ride.

          I have seen several comments in various places that Hitchens “was paid to debate and travel (with Taunton),” and I would really like to know more about the circumstances of these trips that Taunton bases his story on.

          It does not surprise me at all that Christopher Hitchens would be genuinely amiable and friendly with a believer like Taunton or take the time to travel with him and discuss the bible. This is not uncommon behavior for Christopher Hitchens.

          It also doesn’t surprise me that Taunton seems to be completely full of shit. Nor that he may be an unscrupulous dirtbag, i.e. he may be aware that he is misrepresenting Hitchens and others, and not feel the slightest bit of guilt since his behavior is in service to his god (or at least himself) At least in his mind.

          Taunton is the perfect, though cliche, example of what I feel to be the most heartbreaking cost of religious faith. As Stephen Weinberg said . . .

          “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

          Taunton is being an enormous asshole and he likely doesn’t even realize it because of his religious beliefs. He probably doesn’t even really understand the push back by non believers on this. It is likely that what he is saying about this issue is what he really believes to be the case. That is a travesty.

      • Kingasaurus
        Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        If Hitch could stand to go on a debating tour with the odious Douglas Wilson, I’m sure he could road-trip with anyone short of a serial killer without having his well-thought out opinions compromised by nonsense.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Why would he be doing it? The answer may be known to some. However, I would guess he at least was acting in good faith.

      Smells of a Flew-like stitch-up, though.
      British atheists approaching the end of their lives had better stop engaging with religious wing-nuts, without recording every word and without truly independent witnesses present.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      They weren’t *that* long. ‘Road trip’ implies several days, to me. In fact I think they were two, one-day, trips (I seem to recall reading that in some interview with Taunton where he was questioned about it).

      Doubtless it suits Taunton to be a little vague about the actual duration.


  4. Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Don’t shoot the kitten! I have no intention of wasting my time reading this book, let alone buying it. Thanks for reading this travesty so that I don’t have to. Greater love hath no man than this, to read so much trash to save a friend.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Jerry’s bluffing. The kitten’s perfectly safe. Can you imagine what the readership of tis site would do to Prof CC if he mistreated a kitteh?


  5. Vaal
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Jerry wrote: “Indeed, several times during his last few months Hitchens said that if there were postmortem rumors of a deathbed conversion, they would be either lies or he would have been demented with pain or drugs.”

    I don’t know what Taunton says specifically about that in his book, but in the interview I mentioned above, Taunton is asked about those comments from Hitchens.

    Taunton goes on to insinuate that Hitchens’ “don’t believe any deathbed conversion stories” were, instead, cover he was laying
    over his private interest in possible conversion to Christianity. Essentially, he says that since Christopher was having doubts about his atheism already, those comments were laying the groundwork so that Hitchens could simultaneously covert to Christianity at the end if he chose to, while publicly remaining a hero to atheists.


    • darrelle
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Damn. Sounds like Taunton is all in on this. He starts his defense by saying Hitchens was maybe just considering conversion to something to Freudian analyses of how Hitchens and his wife are lying to themselves and everyone else. A fine display of scumbaggery. This is the type of person you really want to avoid. I suggest that all his “friends” be ware.

      • Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        It sounds a lot like an example of what Bunge calls a _male fide_ ad hoc hypothesis – i.e., one that is not independently testable from the claim it is protecting ad hocly.

        • darrelle
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          I hadn’t heard of that before, but by your description it does seem to fit the bill.

  6. Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    The Times also had an article about this book, but, written by Melanie Philips, it’s so bad that shooting kittens would be more pleasant than reading it.

    Fortunately it’s behind a paywall, so likely you can’t read it anyhow, but link here if you really want to.

    • Vaal
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink


      What exactly was so unpleasant about that Times review? I presume they bought into Taunton’s claims or something?

      • Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

        Well here’s a quote from it (re the criticisms of Taunton):

        “The assumption is not only that Hitchens couldn’t possibly have been open to religious leanings, but that such a claim mustn’t even be made because atheism itself cannot be challenged. There is a word for such forbidden thinking. It is heresy. Atheism is the secular faith and the irony is that it’s these secularists who are behaving like fanatics.”

        • Vaal
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Ah, ok, thanks. One hard facepalm is all I need for today. Reading that review would be likely to cause damage to my face by the end.

        • yiamcross
          Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          There’s no asumption that Hitchens couldn’t have been open to religious leanings, only the fact of a lifetime’s expression in writing and speech, public and private, to prove beyond all doubt that he was so far beyond having any religious leanings that atheism was a speck in his rear view mirror and he was deep in antitheist territory. The totally unsubstantiated fabrications from Taunton demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that he is telling lies. Not mis speaking or misunderstanding Hirchens but deliberately telling lies with no viable intent other than to line their own pockets from a blatent assault on a dead man’s integrity. It’s no wonder he waited until Hitchens was dead, as I’m sure Taunton knows a dead man can’t sue for libel. The worst of it is that I’m sure Hitchen’s response to these malicious suggestions would have been magnificent in its devastating wit.

          To point out the nature of these defamatory claims has nothing to do with any forbidden thinking about challenges to atheism. If this woman had the slightest grasp of atheist ideas she would know that no reasoned question arising from evidence is off limits and no prominent atheist I know of forbids any question. Forbidding questions is the special talent of theists, many of whom take violent, often lethal, exception to toise who challenge the ideas and (lack of) facts supporting their beliefs. Something else atheists do not do even when faced with stupidity and calumny of this magnitude.

  7. Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I love how how Taunton keeps insisting “I’m not saying he considered conversion, but, he considered conversion”.

    Insert Tsoukalos meme here.

  8. Les
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    The kitten has zero chance of being shot because of me. Please do not feed the vulture.

  9. Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    “His aim, though he denies it, is to profit from a rumor that Christians would love”

    These people are like the Borg. Resistance is futile; you will be made into one of us, because there’s no other way to be. We’re right, and therefore everyone must believe what we believe. We’re very very desperate to be right.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Remember, even the Borg were beaten in the end by Captain Janeway.🙂

  10. Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on babelbricks and commented:
    How low does one have to stoop (or indeed, how lacking in basic empathic and human awareness) in order to resort to scoring party political points on the back of the deceased? It says very little for the strength of an ideology, if it needs to manufacture endorsement or participation from those who are not in a position to set the record straight, for example on account of being a child, being a third world citizen with more pressing concerns, or being dead.

    The article is absolutely on point, in the venerable tradition of the “hitchslap”, and respects Hitchens’ memory, in exposing Taunton’s reprehensible attempt to appropriate something that not only is not his to appropriate, but that he has spectacularly and singularly failed to understand.

  11. PatrickQ
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that Taunton’s desire to have these conversations with Hitchens are a clear indication that Taunton is contemplating deconversion. I expect him to renounce Christianity and all other superstition just before his death. Perhaps someone will write a book about it.

    • Hemet
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Also, Hitchens acknowledged a few homosexual trysts in his past, therefore Taunton’s desire to spend time with him are a clear indication that he was also contemplating converting his sexual orientation.

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. The road that travels east also travels west.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      “Taunton is contemplating deconversion.”
      Cripes no, don’t even think about it, we’ve already got Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mother Teresa to contend with, we don’t want Taunton as well.


  12. Tom
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    It’s likely that denying Mr Hitchens deathbed conversion will be viewed by the faithful as an attempt to cover up the truth; so what may have started as a misunderstanding is now elevated to the Christian version of the X Files and atheists are the lying conspirators

    • gluonspring
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Hey, lying has gotten Christianity this far. Why stop now?

  13. rickflick
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I’d lump this guy in with thugs like Lord Monckton, who testified for the tobacco industry long ago and more recently for the fossil fuel industry. He portrayed himself as an expert in both cases, but clearly was simply on the take using his title as a calling card with congressional committees. Some people have no scruples whatsoever.

  14. Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I own a copy of Hitch’s ‘Mortality’. The back cover in my edition is the same picture of Hitch, from his last months of life. It strikes me as particularly bad taste for Taunton to use the very same picture for his front cover. He must have been aware of this. Ugh.

    Even evangelicals cringe when they hear about the Mormon baptism of the dead–only they can’t see it’s just as bad when they do it. They really have no shame, or sense or self-awareness, or of irony, or anything.

    • Posted May 30, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      The Mormons also have ushered hoards of Jewish people into the Mormon faith long after they died without their family’s knowledge or approval. Can you imagine the feelings of the many Jewish family members whose relatives may have died in a concentration camp upon learning that the dead one has been Mormonized?

  15. Hemet
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Thankfully, Mr. Hitchens left of his opinion of Taunton’s enterprise (first 2 min):

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 3:44 am | Permalink

      Yes, “…wholly (holy?) contemptible”

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Taunton’s previous book “The Grace Effect” seems to also have vulture-like qualities, although it is about a real conversion of a young Ukrainian girl. He uses her (genuine) conversion to score lots of pot-shots against atheists, socialists, etc.

    The full title is “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief”

    Taunton is also big on the favorite Bible verse of evangelicals, John 3:16, which I regard as just about the most troubling verse in the New Testament outside of apocalyptic discourses.
    A love that requests belief in response is not a real love (as Ludwig Feuerbach astutely observed.) Theologians I like have tried to work around it, giving it an alternative reading, but none with complete success.

  17. Hemet
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Another pertinent clip of Christopher’s opinion of Taunton and his ilk, and what he would say to Taunton with his last dying breath:

    • rickflick
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      That link brings me great enjoyment. If you squint, you should be able to see a smile on my face.

  18. Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    “The Guardian now has a review of Taunton’s book by Matthew d’Ancona, “Christopher Hitchens and the Christian conversion that wasn’t.”

    This review says what I would want to say, but far better than I could have said it. Mr. Taunton has one-thought in his head and one-string on his violin. Christopher Hitchens had a world-class mind and education which he continued to enhance throughout his whole life. How likely is it that Christopher Hitchens would share beliefs with this know-nothing on a measly road-trip that he hadn’t shared with his family, friends or followers? Such guile and gall on the part of Taunton. Isn’t there a very toasty afterlife in store for liars?

    I will not only not buy this book, but will try to convince anyone I know not to buy it either.

    • Vaal
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Rowena.

      Taunton’s book would seem to be the predictably failed attempt of conveying a multi-track mind from the perspective of a one track mind.

    • Hemet
      Posted May 30, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      “Isn’t there a very toasty afterlife in store for liars?”

      Hitch’s answer (in response to Anderson Cooper’s inquiry if he thought Jerry Falwell was in heaven): “No, and it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.”

  19. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Taunton, of course, is a devout Christian. His aim, though he denies it, is to profit from a rumor that Christians would love: that the world’s most famous atheist was flirting with God.

    There is one thing worth remembering from this piece of unedifying post-mortem eye-ball plucking. This is a great example of a “Liar For Jesus”.
    Well, a despicable, repulsive example. but a really good, clear unambiguous one.

  20. Posted May 30, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I think Jesus gave up his faith on the cross, didn’t he?
    “Why hast thou forsaken me.”

  21. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:56 pm | Permalink


    Nice inverted allusion (and felid for canine swap) on the infamous “National Lampoon” cover.

  22. Posted May 31, 2016 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I see this as another intrusion by another xtian who thinks he sees deeper into people than the people themselves. Taunton is the Ken Ham of xtian publishing. Invent truth to support your invented world view and then make a living selling it back to people who are afraid that what you’ve invented isn’t real after all.

  23. Beau Quilter
    Posted June 9, 2016 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    David Frum has now published an excellent take-down of Taunton and his book in The Atlantic:

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 10, 2016 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      Excellent article. And condemns Taunton most thoroughly.


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