We’ve pretty well established that Larry Alex Taunton’s book on Christopher Hitchens, based on two long road-trip conversations he had with the man, twisted Hitchens’s interest in religion into a misguided speculation that he was pondering becoming a Christian after diagnosed with terminal cancer. And Taunton’s views are completely different from those of Hitchens’s friends and loved ones, who knew the man far better than he did. (See here for the evidence.)
So it may be superfluous for me to call your attention to a new piece in The Atlantic by David Frum, “Betraying the faith of Christopher Hitchens“. While it adds to the chorus of opprobrium heaped on the hapless Taunton, it does so in damning detail—the most comprehensive takedown to date—and also proffers some juicy new tidbits. These include revealing why Mark Oppenheimer wrote a New York Times piece about Taunton’s book with the headline below (click on it to see the piece), as well as giving a number of quotes from the book in which Taunton seriously denigrates Hitchens’s character.
Frum also tells a moving anecdote about Hitchens’s generosity. Finally, Frum interviewed Taunton and got some pretty damning admissions.
I’ve read most of Taunton’s book, but I didn’t pay to do it. After reading Frum’s piece, which, by the way, is also very well written, I doubt that any of you will want to read the book. I’ll give just one excerpt, but do read the whole longish piece, as it gives you a thorough analysis of Taunton’s mendacity—or else the world’s most blatant case of cluelessness. He begins by quoting Taunton:
“My private conversations with him revealed a man who was weighing the costs 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 about 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.
And it is here that his courage failed him. In the end, however contrary our natures might be, there are always a few people whose approbation we desire and to whose standards we conform.”
What evidence does Taunton have for this claim that Christopher Hitchens believed one thing and said another in order to make money and to avoid “ridicule and ostracism”?
What evidence that Hitchens remained an atheist only because he “weighed the costs of conversion” and preferred to conform to the standards of others?
What evidence that Hitchens “was altering his opinions, while often pretending to himself and others that he was not doing so”?
What evidence is there that Hitchens’ was “secretly negotiating with God” but that in the end “his courage failed him?”
The answer to those questions is even more breathtaking than the accusation itself—and should have been glaringly apparent to anyone who gave Taunton’s book more than the most cursory skim.
Taunton has nothing.