UPDATE: Because people have suggested that I wrote this entire piece without having read any of Taunton’s book, let me add that I read the six pages about Hitchens given on the Times site, and, after writing it, have read substantial sections of the book that someone sent me. I am now well versed in what Taunton said, and I stand 100% by what I wrote below. The man was clearly intending to suggest that Hitchens, toward the end of his life, was softening on Christianity, and was keeping “two sets of books”. (There is in fact a chapter called “Two Books”). An excerpt from that chapter:
These divisions—or some might say “contradictions”—necessitated a keeping of “two books”—a phrase Hitchens would use quite often to describe various aspects of himself, his beliefs, and his relationships with other people. The original meaning of the phrase “keeping two sets of books” refers to a fraudulent bookkeeping method in accounting, where one set of books is public and one is private; the public book is made to appear in accordance with the law, while the private book records all the shady financial dealings behind the scenes.
The implication, in using this phrase in regard to himself [“keeping two books], is that the discovery of his private set of books would reveal that his public set of books were somehow fraudulent. The public and private Christophers did not match. To know what was really going on, one must see the private books—or so the phrase would imply (and Christopher was notably meticulous in regard to precision in words).
The reader already knows where I am going. As I’ve already noted, my private dealings with Christopher revealed a much different man than the public Christopher, the confident, bombastic, circuit-riding atheist-pugilist. While I do not quite want to say that the public Christopher was a sham—perhaps an occasional actor might be a better description—he said and did things in my company that would lead one to conclude that this public manifestation of Christopher Hitchens was not the real one.
And that chapter opens with this quote:
“God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another.”
—SHAKESPEARE’S HAMLET, ACT III, SCENE 1”
There’s no doubt, then, that Taunton claims that the Hitchens we saw and knew was not the real one—that only he knew the real Hitchens.
That’s malarkey, as of course it leaves out Hitchens’s editors, friends, colleagues, and wife, all of whom saw his private side, and none of whom agree with Taunton’s fairy tale.
Stories of deathbed conversions are always dubious, especially when they are recounted by the faithful, lack corroborating evidence, and involve a famous nonbeliever. Such was the case of Charles Darwin, an agnostic subject to widespread (and false) conversion stories. Creationists still propagate the lie that Darwin embraced God on his deathbed.
And such is now the case with the late Christopher Hitchens.
A “friend” of Hitchens, one Larry Alex Taunton, is profiting from rumors—rumors he revived—that Hitchens might have been turning to God after learning he had terminal cancer. Taunton is the founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, whose website states this:
The mission of Fixed Point Foundation is to defend and proclaim the Gospel in the secular marketplace and equip others to do the same. To that end, Larry Alex Taunton and the Fixed Point team have sponsored debates and symposia on topics ranging from atheism and Islam to gay marriage and the relationship between science and religion – bridging the sacred and the secular.
On April 12, Taunton released a book called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Famous Atheist. Taunton clearly intended this book to imply that, at the end, Hitchens was getting soft on religion, and may have been embracing it. Here’s the Amazon summary:
Hitchens was a man of many contradictions: a Marxist in youth who longed for acceptance among the social elites; a peacenik who revered the military; a champion of the Left who was nonetheless pro-life, pro-war-on-terror, and after 9/11 something of a neocon; and while he railed against God on stage, he maintained meaningful—though largely hidden from public view—friendships with evangelical Christians like Francis Collins, Douglas Wilson, and the author Larry Alex Taunton.
In The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, Taunton offers a very personal perspective of one of our most interesting and most misunderstood public figures. Writing with genuine compassion and without compromise, Taunton traces Hitchens’s spiritual and intellectual development from his decision as a teenager to reject belief in God to his rise to prominence as one of the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism. While Hitchens was, in the minds of many Christians, Public Enemy Number One, away from the lights and the cameras a warm friendship flourished between Hitchens and the author; a friendship that culminated in not one, but two lengthy road trips where, after Hitchens’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer, they studied the Bible together. The Faith of Christopher Hitchens gives us a candid glimpse into the inner life of this intriguing, sometimes maddening, and unexpectedly vulnerable man.
I haven’t read it (except for the six pages given by the Times [see update above: I’ve now read a lot more]), but I’ve corresponded with several people who have, and have read the reviews (both on Amazon and in the press), and my impression was verified. Taunton is apparently cagey about his intent, but reviewers and others have clearly read his book as showing that Hitchens was, at the end of his life, coming around to religion. The book’s title, too, clearly implies that the man had a “faith.” Well maybe he did, but it was in rationality, not religious malarkey.
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