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 Atheist, and 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.
IF YOU BUY THIS BOOK I’LL SHOOT THE KITTEN
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.