Perhaps atheism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A new book by Fixed Point Foundation’s Larry Taunton reveals a much different picture of the real Christopher Hitchens.
Larry Taunton’s The Faith of Christopher Hitchens is an excellent book that needs to be read by every Christian worried about the ongoing attacks by atheists such as the late Hitchens himself, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, et al.
First of all, Taunton’s book is not about deathbed conversions, but about friendship. I am ashamed that this aspect of the book caused me the most insight and the most grief. I have spent a fair amount of my time battling the New Atheism, treating the new atheists as enemies to be extinguished verbally. By contrast Taunton took the Christian approach: love your enemy, and the best way to do that is become his friend.
In short, after reading the book, I realized that my approach to the New Atheism did not include what should have been an obvious and defining ingredient, especially to a professed Christian: charity. When you read Taunton’s account of his debates with Hitchens (on and off stage), their road trips together, and the times Hitchens spent with the Taunton family, Hitchens is humanized. He becomes who he actually was: a real, lovable, cantankerous, flawed, hilarious, foolish, brilliant, sinful, and multi-faceted human being.
Taunton thereby teaches a most important lesson to Christians. The new atheists are human beings, created in the image of the God against whom they are rebelling, and they are therefore an object of God’s creating and redemptive love. It is clear that Taunton cared deeply for Hitchens’ soul and its salvation, and therefore was a real friend to Hitchens. By contrast I took my task to be the drubbing of atheists, rather than reaching out in Christian love as Taunton did. A painful insight into my own failings, and one that makes me rather humbled, to say the least. What atheist might I have won over had I not played the belligerent bulldog?
But that’s not the only lesson in The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. Of equal importance is the deep ambiguity of Hitchens as the preeminent intellectual atheist of our time. Hitchens railed against Christianity in the most virulent and distasteful terms, yes. But Hitchens publicly rejected abortion, an almost unheard of moral position among unbelievers, and one that took considerable courage, and privately found the notion of gay marriage unintelligible. He also, reports, Taunton, rejected atheist Peter Singer’s reduction of human beings to animals, and Singer’s consequent embrace of infanticide. Hitchens, the seemingly devout atheist, was no moral relativist. But how does that fit into a Godless universe? And this one caused me to laugh out loud while reading: Hitchens also admitted to Taunton that he found fellow atheist Richard Dawkins’ bestselling The God Delusion to be so poorly written and reasoned that he couldn’t bring himself to finish it! And then there’s the strangest revelation of the book, that Hitchens and Taunton studied the Gospel of John together on very long road trip through the Shenandoah. I will not spoil the details of this fascinating chapter for the reader.
In addition to these gems (and some others I’ll leave for the reader), Taunton spends a fair amount of time digging deeply into Hitchens’ past in an attempt to give an account of his atheism—what Taunton calls giving an account of Hitchens’ soul. Why did Christopher Hitchens become an atheist? Was it his weak father? The intense admiration for his free-spirited mother, a woman who (as Christopher reports in his own memoir, Hitch 22) fawned over him, who abandoned Hitch’s father for an ex-Anglican cleric, who inexplicably (to her son, at least) committed suicide? Or was it Hitchens’ hatred for authority? Or his homosexual experiences, enjoyable to him but forbidden by the Christian God whom he rejected? Or a combination of these? All fair questions, and all deftly treated by Taunton.
Not surprisingly, Taunton’s book has stirred up the atheists. The private Hitchens, the Hitchens befriended by Taunton the Evangelical Christian, was not the lockstep atheist one would infer from his carefully-crafted public image. He not only had serious disagreements with his famous fellow atheists, as I’ve already noted, but was curiously open to speaking with Taunton about Christianity—as if he was a seeker.
But those fellow atheists left behind by Hitchens’ death will hear none of it, and so they have been accusing Taunton of seeking to recast Hitchens as having a deathbed conversion—something that Taunton emphatically did not do in his book—and of making up their friendship in order to make a fast buck.
In short, the atheists don’t want to hear that Hitchens may not have been the unflappable, unambiguous atheist they thought him to be. They simply will not allow it. It cannot be! It must not be! So, they have taken to attacking Taunton personally, on television, in print, and on Amazon.com reviews (which, almost to the last one give no evidence of the attackers having read Taunton’s book).
All the more reason that Christians should read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens.