Eric Metaxas in WSJ: Atheists hate Taunton book because they’re afraid of God

There’s a certain kind of person who, when they say something extraordinarily stupid online, see the inevitable pushback as evidence that they were right: that they had “hit a nerve” or uncovered some deep and unpleasant aspect of the human psyche. Chris Mooney was like this when writing about accommodationism, and John Horgan is like that about everything. None of these people ever consider the more parsimonious view: that they’ve just written something really dumb and are being called out for it.

Now we have Eric Metaxas, writing at the Wall Street Journal, who claims that the atheist rancor toward Larry Alex Taunton’s book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (see earlier post today), reflects atheists’ own fears that God might in fact exist. Metaxas:

Avenging anti-God hordes have crashed the book’s Amazon page, fulminating with one-star reviews that the book is “tripe!” and “dishonest” and “morally reprehensible,” and accusing Mr. Taunton of riding the beloved Hitch’s coattails “to make a fast buck.” It is pretty obvious that none of these Amazon “reviewers” has actually read the book. But why haven’t they, and why are they so outraged? [JAC: I’ve now read the book, and it’s just as bad as you’d think.]

Do they fear that Mr. Taunton is some Bible-believing Svengali whose nefarious power over their ailing colleague was sheerest opportunism? And are they afraid that actually engaging with Mr. Taunton and his ideas would put them in the same danger as the man they so admired?

How can people so vocal about the importance of “evidence” and “reason” behave like this? Yet there they are, posting their angry one-star reviews, “liking” all other one-star reviews on the page to try to discourage book buyers, and then indignantly clicking away.

But one must wonder: Could it be that, in the friendship between the two men, they detect the possible existence of something they deny but secretly fear might be real? Is God a subject too scary to seriously consider with facts and reason?

The idea that Hitchens was curious about faith and engaged with it intellectually apparently would amount to an intolerable betrayal in the minds of some atheists, so they simply pretend that it never happened, despite the clear evidence to the contrary.

Well, we already know that Hitchens was intellectually engaged with faith: he was curious about it and, like all subjects, he wanted to learn about something before he passed judgement and, like religion or Mother Teresa, brought it to its knees. And speaking of “clear evidence,” what about Hitchens’s own statements that if he ever seemed to be embracing God, he would have been either in his last throes of dying dementia or addled by drugs? And what about the testimony of those who knew him best: his friends, his colleagues and his wife, all of whom assert that Hitchens was certainly not flirting with Christianity? All of these people knew Hitchens better than Metaxas did. None of these data are mentioned by Metaxas. Instead, he ends like this;

If atheist activists want to be taken seriously, they must be willing to engage the facts. The fact is that Mr. Taunton has simply said that Hitchens late in life was “not certain” of his atheism. Unable to tolerate this crack in the atheist facade, Mr. Taunton’s critics reacted hysterically. The response lent credence to what many of us suspect—that atheists really do fear some facts, and, more than that, fear where those facts might lead.

We surely can’t take Metaxas seriously because he won’t absorb the facts stated above. There is not the slightest evidence that Hitchens was uncertain of his disbelief, save the unsupported speculations of Taunton.

If we are angry, it’s not because we are scared that God might exist. I’m surely not; I don’t worry about God at all! We’re angry because a man who many of us thought of as a sort-of-friend, so sympatico was he with our views, is being maligned. We are angry that man who was an intellectual and rhetorical hero of many, who showed not the slightest sign of leaning toward a deity, is being coopted by the faithful to make a quick buck—confirming how badly religion can make you behave. And, above all, we are angry because atheists, at least in principle, respect the truth; and both Metaxas and Taunton have bent the truth to shore up their own weakness for superstition.

 

47 Comments

  1. ploubere
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    These religious opportunists are beneath contempt, and not worth engaging with. Their logic is juvenile, and their morals dissipated by their hypocrisy.

  2. Posted June 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The Hitch made quite plain that, as far as he could see, the Bible’s YHWH was the worst imaginable “celestial dictator” and Heaven an eternal North Korea. He also made it plain that he considered it purest nonsense, the ravings of ancient barely-literate Bronze- and Iron-age goatherders with genocidal aspirations.

    Were it truly the case that he was starting to take seriously the proposition that it was not fantastic, he would not have been embracing the possibility, but rather have been busy girding his loins to fight Jesus with everything he could possibly muster.

    And he also made it plain that about the only way that he could come to love Jesus would be in the same way that Winston came to love Big Brother at the end of 1984.

    How Taunton and his ilk manage to get from that plain-as-day state of affairs to poor Christopher secretly singing, “Jesus Love Me,” in his final days…well, it would be utterly beyond me were I granting them the assumption of honest motives. But, alas, their perfidy is perfectly plain.

    It also demonstrates just how little faith they themselves have in their own position, that they feel such strong compulsion to lie so blatantly in its support. Is it not enough for them to dismiss Hitches as a misguided fool, if that’s what they think of his conclusions? What do they really hope to gain by posthumously enlisting him, against what would be his most enthusiastic protestations, to their cause?

    Cheers,

    b&

  3. GBJames
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    sub

    • rickflick
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      sub2

  4. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    In other news, concerned about the fallout from this brou-ha-ha, David Klinghoffer has revised & rewritten his secret not-to-published-till-Jerry-Coyne’s-death book to merely argue that JAC towards the end of his life considered owning a d-g. 🙂

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Well, his view of Cyrus seems to have softened of late.

  5. noncarborundum
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Do they fear that Mr. Taunton is some Bible-believing Svengali whose nefarious power over their ailing colleague was sheerest opportunism?

    No.

    And are they afraid that actually engaging with Mr. Taunton and his ideas would put them in the same danger as the man they so admired?

    And no.

    Could it be that, in the friendship between the two men, they detect the possible existence of something they deny but secretly fear might be real?

    No.

    Is God a subject too scary to seriously consider with facts and reason?

    No.

    Well, that was easy.

    • Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Is God a subject too scary to seriously consider with facts and reason?

      Well, no. It’s precisely because we don’t consider God to be a scary subject, and have serious considered the subject with facts and reason, that most of us are (gnu) atheists!

      /@

  6. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    The fact is that Mr. Taunton has simply said that Hitchens late in life was “not certain” of his atheism.

    Nobody “fears” the fact that Taunton said that. What’s in dispute is the veracity of his unsupported claim.

  7. Charles McCullough
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the Murdoch media influence inspired the Metaxas rubbish. Look for something similar on Fox News. (Maybe it has already aired-I don’t watch it.)

  8. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I feel a mix of anger and exhaustion. This happens all the time, as if a deathbed conversion would somehow invalidate someone’s criticism of Christianity. Or perhaps, more sinister, the Christians spreading these rumors want to believe that ultimately Christianity will always emerge victorious over non-belief. And if that happens to Christianity’s most ardent critics, it’s twice the victory.

    It’s probably among the worst and most disrespectful Christian traditions I know of.

    • Xuuths
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      That, and terrorizing children with lies, guilt, and rape.

    • eric
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      The Mormons’ practice of converting dead people was pretty disrespectful.

      Jerry, I suggest you write a letter making your position about such ghoulishness clear. Give it to a close friend, with instructions to open it and publicize the contents in the event that somebody claims you considered converting to Christianity toward the end of your life.

      • Carl W
        Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        I don’t have a problem with the Mormons on this issue. Basically, they’re performing missionary work to dead people, which seems pretty stupid but is far less harmful than trying to convert living people. (They don’t actually claim that the dead people did convert, or anything.)

        Also, their genealogy database is a significant, useful (well, to genealogists) public service; I know that my mother and sister (the amateur genealogists in my family) have used Mormon records.

        • GBJames
          Posted June 4, 2016 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          An unintended negative side affect (for genealogists) of this Mormon practice is that in Ireland the Church became less cooperative for all genealogists once it became known that the Mormons were “poaching” their ancestral souls.

          Inanity all around.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      And another reason for the deathbed-claiming is the creeping realisation that all Christians will also undergo a deathbed conversion – to merely dead matter.

  9. C. Morano
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    We know that Hitch disdained faith as a virtue so if his non-belief system was weakened it was either due to (a) some scientific proof that the supernatural exists or (b) he was delirious due to medication. B is quite believable. He also famously predicted that someone would announce his conversion post mortem.

  10. Steve Pollard
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry, for getting angry on our behalf at this excellent example of “Lying for Jehovah”. That frees up the rest of us to treat it with the ridicule, mockery and contempt it deserves. The only drawback is that few of us would be capable of the sort of withering put-down that the Hitch himself would have produced.

    There used to be (maybe still is) a quite-good Greek brandy named Metaxas. I guess this branch of the family specialises in Kool-Aid.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 2:35 am | Permalink

      My feelings too.

      In the spirit of Dead Parrot (I hope):

      What a clueless dork this guy is. He wouldn’t know a clue if it bit him on the bum. He is a one-man clue-free zone. If you gave him a clue it would die of loneliness. He couldn’t get a clue if you gave him a stiff shot of whisky, stuffed his pockets with ten-dollar bills, and pushed him out of a taxi at ten o’clock on Saturday night in the middle of clue red light zone.

      [/rant], in case anyone hadn’t guessed.

      cr

  11. Heather Hastie
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    What if this had happened the other way around. How would Christians feel if it was Taunton who’d died and on the strength of a couple of car journeys he’d been paid to take with Hitchens, Hitchens had written a book about Taunton losing his faith. That the evidence of those who were with Taunton in his last days from his wife and those closest to him, was dismissed because he’d had conversations with an atheist.

    Would. Not. Happen. Because Hitchens was intellectually honest and could tell the difference between curiosity about ideas and taking them on.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I’ve now watched the Brian Dalton video and see he says this. Sorry for the seemingly unoriginal thought.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        It’s no shame to be a Leibniz.

        • Filippo
          Posted June 3, 2016 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          Is that with reference to Newton?

          • Scott Draper
            Posted June 3, 2016 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            Yep

    • Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      To be fair…that’s not all that far off from what Hitchens actually did with respect to, as he called her, the Bitch of Calcutta, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, aka “Saint” “Mother” Teresa. The difference, of course, is that Hitchens had solid evidence, in the form of her own diaries in which she confessed to no longer believe but felt compelled to continue going through the motions as if she did anyway. And, of course, there’s also ample documentation of the horrific and neglected squalor of the hellholes she oversaw along with the private jets she flew to receive her own most-advanced medical care.

      I daresay that, had Taunton expressed to Hitchens, not in a priori confidence and in a manner independently verifiable, that he had serious reservations about his faith, Hitchens would not have a problem reporting such information if he felt there was some public good to be had from publishing a report.

      But that’s not even the mirror of what Taunton is doing. By Taunton’s own words, Hitchens was interested in the literary merits of the Gospel — something we all knew full well. And we knew that Hitchens off the podium was most personally affable and approachable, even to those for whom he spared no quarter in public debate. Taunton is attempting to juxtapose those two uncontroversial facts in a way that is supposed to demonstrate that The Hitch was a finger’s breadth from joining him in the Sinner’s Prayer — a proposition that would be hilariously idiotic were it not so insultingly offensive.

      Cheers,

      b&

      >

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        I don’t have a problem with what he wrote about the ghastly Mother Teresa simply because, as you say, he had evidence to back what he said and didn’t go beyond that. Also, as you say, everyone knows Hitchens was interested in religion, good writing, what made people think the way they do, and that he enjoyed a good conversation. To twist those things to evidence of potential religiosity doesn’t work in Hitchens case.

        I’m probably being naïve, but I think Taunton was hoping for what he thinks would be the best for Hitchens. However, writing a book about it is the lowest of the low.

        • Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

          Indeed, that’s exactly the problem.

          If we go over the top to grant Taunton the most generous explanation, that he sincerely mourns for what he fears is the present and future of Christoper’s immortal soul, and is expressing his hopes for how Christopher might have managed to defy the odds and achieved salvation…

          …even then, this book is not the way to do that. Invent a fantasy of Christoper at St. Peter’s gates, draw inspiration for Christopher’s side of the dialogue from the road trip discussions, publish that. People would think it silly but only mildly offensive, and would mostly just dismiss it as idle fantasy with made-up characters who bear little semblance to real-world figures.

          But what he’s done here is to lie about Christopher’s mortal one-and-only life, to claim that he was that which he hated most. Even if that lie is innocent or of good intentions…well, I would therefore suggest that the road from Hell must equally be paved with good intentions, and declare Taunton to be precisely the Satan he would have us believe is his most feared and hated enemy — the Devil in a saint’s clothes.

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted June 3, 2016 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

            Your suggestion would be a good one, and maybe he could use it to go down the theological question – who deserves heaven more a good atheist or a bad Christian. What is good and bad? Who decides? Etcetera.

    • Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      + 1

  12. grad
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps they’d like a taste of their own medicine. Whenever a famous religionist dies, the interwebs should be flooded with deconversion stories and deathbed accounts of admitting atheism is correct. Nettlesome, indeed, and by their logic, we’d be “hitting a nerve.”

  13. kelskye
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, it’s got nothing to do with the long history of religious people claiming deathbed conversions of famous apostates, and everything to do with our own personal fears that God might exist…

    Funnily enough, Hitch could have had a full deathbed conversion and my reasons for being an atheist would remain the same – God taken literally is false, and God moved to metaphor is incoherent. Whether Hitch saw the light is irrelevant to that.

  14. S Krishna
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I read Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” more than 40 years ago and became an atheist. But I shall not become a theist if I find that Russell started believing in God. I would not believe in God if many I admire like you, Dawkins, Hitchens etc also started, or allegedly started, believing in God. Metaxas seems to think all the atheists ape one another with no original thought regarding religion.

  15. keith cook + / -
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Is every ‘two bit’ trying to get yardage out of this mans death, WTF.
    He could have added disgust with the anger only not for the reasons he purports and at the very least he would have got something right.

  16. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    This writer uses the old trick of advancing baseless speculations as a series of loaded questions. One can say anything that way.

  17. Roger
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Eric is just scared that Cthulhu might eat all his cheese puffs.

    • Wunold
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      That was exactly what I thought reading this: Believers don’t get that atheist don’t fear their specific deity like they don’t fear all the other deities in human history and the present.

      (I was going to write “in history and fiction”, but then I realized that to atheists, *all* deities are fictional, only some of them are being said to be non-fictional and the others are not.)

      • Wunold
        Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        With “they” I meant the Believers. 😉

  18. Roger
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Eric says:

    Avenging anti-God hordes have crashed the book’s Amazon page, fulminating with one-star reviews that the book is “tripe!” and “dishonest” and “morally reprehensible,” and accusing Mr. Taunton of riding the beloved Hitch’s coattails “to make a fast buck.” It is pretty obvious that none of these Amazon “reviewers” has actually read the book.

    So yeah then I guess the reason why the crappy book has an average of four stars is because everyone except for the one star people read the book.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Metaxas’s deceit is that a blanket dismissal wouldn’t suffice, when this is a cottage industry of the religious. We would need extraordinary evidence to break out an individual datum and put it in an extraordinary category, and Metaxas provide none.

    In fact, as Jerry describes so well, in this case we have plenty of extraordinary data showing the opposite due to the extraordinary nature of the individual.

    Could it be that, in the friendship between the two men, they detect the possible existence of something they deny but secretly fear might be real? Is God a subject too scary to seriously consider with facts and reason?

    Keith Dalton already dealt best with Metaxas’s implied death bed thinking of atheists. [ https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/mr-deity-on-hitch-the-apostate/ ]

    “This whole notion that atheists converting on their deathbeds is a slander filled with so much bigotry I can barely stand it.

    It assumes that atheists like myself are all tough talkers so long as there is no imminent threat. *But*, should the lights begin to flicker we would all become little [Star Wars] taun-tauns in our own right, sniveling little cowards bending down to the genocidal war criminal to whom believers in the god of Abraham bend their knee.

    Fuck you, Larry!

    The fact is that if anything, it is the other way around.

    There are atheists in foxholes, But there are absolutely no believers at a funeral. Watch the way they wail and mourn, hearts broken, spirits trampled. If they bought this heaven bullshit for *two seconds*, they’d be thrilled about the passing of their loved ones, celebrating long into the night.

    They don’t, my friends!”

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      “This whole notion that atheists converting on their deathbeds” – “This whole notion of atheists converting on their deathbeds”.

      I plead lack of coffee.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 4, 2016 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        Not to worry. I’m suffering from my own chemical imbalance. I missed the typo.

  20. Posted June 4, 2016 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    It seems that there is a mythology that everyone who is near death, or fears their impending demise absolutely MUST, as a matter of course, convert to Christianity.

    Hitch himself insisted he would not convert on his deathbed while he had his faculties. There are atheists in foxholes, and to deny that dishonors them. These accounts from others that they really *did* accept Jesus in their last moments are nothing more than feel-good fiction at best, or outright lies put out there to promote Christianity.

    This belies the nonsense they put out that it’s “Truth”. Truth NEVER has to be backed up with lies!

    • Wunold
      Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      The deathbed-conversion crowd don’t get that even *if* most atheists would convert to [insert your favourite faith here], it would only indicate that humans facing certain death tend to become irrational.

  21. jrhs
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Perhaps there is a reason that Taunton didn’t conjure/write up Hitchens’ doubts about atheism before his death. The dead don’t talk back.

  22. jeffery
    Posted June 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    “We surely can’t take Metaxas seriously because he won’t absorb the facts stated above.”- “absorbing facts” is NOT a strong point with these people…..

  23. Posted June 5, 2016 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Perhaps, before they die, prominent atheists need to list all the theists they know and what to say in reply if any of the theists claim, because of their close association with the deceased, that, underneath all that atheist bluster, the infidel were, you know, Christian/Muslim/Hindu/John Frummist really.

    • Wunold
      Posted June 5, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Or they could record their denial of any spot of conversion daily on their last days. But I assume even then the deathbed-conversion crowd would say they might have converted in their very last moment.

      Off camera is off guard. (Freeze Frame, 2004)


%d bloggers like this: