Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Religion

New Book About Hitchens Claims Too Much

Here in Birmingham, there’s a writer and Christian apologist named Larry Taunton who has a new book called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. I know. Just the title itself is enough to get your blood boiling.

Taunton actually knew Hitchens personally, as the two engaged in a series of debates. And according to Taunton, this interaction produced an unlikely friendship. In a recent interview (which is definitely worth reading or listening to), Taunton said:

I discovered the public manifestation of Christopher was everything… was everything people thought that he was. He was, at least until 9/11, he was the leftist, sympathetic Marxist, fire-breathing atheist. But something went off in Christopher after 9/11… He broke with the left at a political level and said, look, I can no longer go along the knee-jerk, leftist position that America deserved 9/11 and is responsible for all the evil things in the world.

There’s definitely some truth to the claim that Hitchens’s political views concerning foreign policy underwent some major changes after 9/11. He consistently sided with the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, though he never considered himself “any kind of conservative” (Anthony, The Guardian, “The Big Showdown”). Of course, his hatred of Islamic terrorism was also one of the major inspirations for his book God is not Great.

But the real problem with Taunton’s book is this:

The whole of my claim in this book is that Christopher was a man of two books, that off stage he was very different and that after his diagnosis with esophageal cancer, a diagnosis that he knew to be a death sentence, Christopher was reevaluating his religious options. Greek Orthodox, no. He was never going to consider that. Roman Catholicism, no. Judaism, perhaps. He was deeply affected late in his life by the discovery that he was Jewish on his mother’s side, something his mother kept secret the entirety of her life.

But Protestantism and Evangelicalism had a kind of appeal to Christopher and he was exploring it. But I think the problem for him was that Christopher had created a kind of prison for himself. If your reputation is built on, just as mine is in the other direction, if your reputation is built on atheism and you have spent so much of your life in discussions like this one and on television and so forth railing against faith, it’s pretty hard to backtrack from that to admit that perhaps you’re wrong.

I actually find this claim downright offensive. And it’s not because I hold Hitchens as being some paradigm of skepticism that would make him impervious to bad ideas. It’s more that this kind of claim is such a tired cliché, and it discredits the memory of someone that Taunton claims was a friend. Hitchens was unequivocal in his derision of religion. To think that he’d express doubts to a sometime debate partner rather than those closest to him seems unlikely. Furthermore, it goes against the character he had exhibited his entire life — that of someone who insists on speaking honestly about his opinions, even when they are at odds with the views of those with whom he’d normally agree.

And if those aren’t good enough reasons to doubt Taunton’s claims, we also have the testimony of Carol Blue, Hitchens’s wife. Not only did Hitchens think he would recover from the pneumonia that ultimately killed him (a symptom of his cancer), but as she said, “God never came up.” And in an interview with Anderson Cooper, Hitchens actually addressed this very scenario:

Taunton claims that his position is based on private conversations he had with Hitchens, so there will probably never be a way to prove or disprove what he says. But his claims run so counter to what those closest to Hitchens have said, and they’re so completely out of character with the man himself, that they’re simply unbelievable. Since Hitchens isn’t here to defend himself, it makes Taunton come across as incredibly opportunistic. To make such unsubstantiated claims is an insult to the memory and legacy of Christopher Hitchens.

52 thoughts on “New Book About Hitchens Claims Too Much”

  1. Nice research, Peter! Out of curiosity, where did you find out when Taunton’s conversations with him took place?

    And yeah, that review on Amazon was fantastic. Very thorough.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nate, I think I need to backtrack on the dates. I had read that Taunton had his discussions with Hitchens ‘shortly’ after his initial diagnosis with Cancer, which I gathered was in early 2010 (and thus before August 2010). However subsequently I found a reference by Taunton to discussions in the Fall of 2010 (which would be after August 2010). In that case it would post date the Atlantic Monthly interview of August 2010, not precede it.

    Atlantic Monthly had another lengthy interview with Hitchens in January 2011, however the focus of that seems more on politics than religion (though I did not watch all of it).

    The CNN interview transcript from Taunton in December 2011 can be found Here.

    Elsewhere I noted that Michael Shermer has asked the publishers to remove his endorsement of the book:

    And Michael Shermer, an atheist and founder of Skeptic magazine, who read the book’s manuscript and liked its description of the friendship between the two men — enough to give it a favorable jacket blurb — said Taunton’s claims of Hitchens’ flirtation with conversion were “exaggerated.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I would agree that the author’s thesis is quite radical given Hitchens outright hatred of God. At the same time, I’m sure there are self-identifying atheists out there who secretly have a thread of faith and, on the other side, pastors or rabbis who are secretly atheists. In my own period of doubt, I recall a thread of faith. That’s one of the reasons I never “came out” with my family. I was more afraid of eating my own words than social consequences of identifying with a particular group. It could’ve been worse though. What if I had written wildly popular irreligious books? Then, I would really be locked by fear of the self-humiliation that comes with eating one’s words.


  4. @Unklee

    “Hi Nate, yeah fair enough. I don’t have anything to say on that, I just thought it might be good to clarify something he did and didn’t say.”

    No, I call bullshit on that.

    Larry Taunton directly said that knew “Christopher was reevaluating his religious options”, suggesting that Hitchen wanted to convert and implied that Hitchen would have converted if not for the sake of preventing all the atheists from frothing in the mouth.

    You are not “clarifying”, you are trying to defend Larry Taunton on technicalities.

    It’s as though someone say all the things that are thinly veiled racist statements, but turns around and say: hey I’m not racist, I’m just stating facts, then you come and “clarify” and tell us that this guy didn’t say any racists statements even though a simple read tells us otherwise.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The utter gall of Taunton’s approach to this topic is amazing. He keeps presenting the book as a kind of homage to Hitchens when the book trashes Hitchens’s entire life. It’s really hard to stomach dishonesty on that level.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ” I call bullshit on that.”

    Hi Powell, I don’t usually respond to comments like this, but since you and I have had a number of friendly conversations, I thought I owed you a reply.

    Unfortunately (for you, but fortunately for me), your comments about me are completely wrong. Nothing you say describes anything I actually think. It is just another case of someone on the internet speaking with great confidence and certainty about something which they can’t possibly have any knowledge. I don’t know whether you’ll believe me or not, I hope so, but that’s up to you.

    All the best.


  7. lol, @unklee: “It is just another case of someone on the internet speaking with great confidence and certainty about something which they can’t possibly have any knowledge.”

    you mean like you talking about god?

    Liked by 2 people

  8. @naievethinker,

    I would agree that the author’s thesis is quite radical given Hitchens outright hatred of God.

    A comment only a complete idiot would write.
    Hirchens never hated Yahweh as he never believed in Yahweh or any other gods.
    Truly, will you ever grow up? You make a complete arse of yourself every time you comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Nothing you say describes anything I actually think.

    With due respect, though gods know why, it is only reasonable to expect that people will distill your thoughts from what you write, and you have on occasion, picked up an unsavory reputation for condescension, something you are no doubt aware of but appear to do nothing to correct.

    Therefore, if what you write is not a reflection of what and how you think then, sir, perhaps you are a fraud?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What if I had written wildly popular irreligious books?

    I don’t think, Brandon, that there’s much danger of you writing ANYthing wildly popular. Last time I checked Barnes and Noble, they had no literary category called, ‘Smarmy’ —

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Christians love deathbed conversions of atheists. Christians spread the rumor that Charles Darwin had converted on his deathbed. His children, who were present, repeatedly denied the claim, but the rumor persisted in many Christian pulpits.

    Maybe that is what happened with the Resurrection story. The earliest Christians so much wanted it to be true that they convinced themselves that it was.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. How many times has a Christian triumphantly told you that he or she knows about an atheist who converted to Christianity due to the “evidence”?

    Of course, they never want to talk about the thousands of Christians who convert to atheism…because of the LACK of evidence.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. as soon as Larry Taunton dies a slow painful death,
    i’m writing a book about his deathbed denial of jesus.
    same with that grotesque blob of fat and grease known as dr john lennox,
    soon as that obnoxious queen croaks,
    i’m writing a book saying his dying breath he said,
    “jesus is bullshit, I was only in it for the money and the underage boys.”

    Liked by 2 people

  14. They know that a Messiah who died an ignoble death was worthless – a dying/rising Messiah meant a new religion – AND they get to eat shrimp and pork chops!

    Liked by 1 person

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