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The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist Hardcover – April 12, 2016
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“With its unique combination of superb storytelling, intellect, and passion, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens achieves—and deserves—the rare status of instant classic.” – Brian Mattson for The Gospel Coalition
“Taunton’s smooth and accessible prose brings to life what seems to have been a dear and lively friendship between two thinkers at odds politically and religiously, but not intellectually.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Larry Taunton’s book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens is so good that words fail me. It is that triple rarity, an astonishing tour-de-force of heart and mind both, and a bona fide page-turner. If it doesn’t keep you up late, you are already sleeping. Who dreamt anyone would ever get to see this side of the cartoon enfante terrible? Taunton’s unprecedented access to the ‘real’ Hitchens is a gift from the heavens — literally and literarily — to anyone wanting to know who he really was, that man behind the withering, glowering mien and fulminating blunderbuss voice. This indefatigably clear-eyed window into the soul of the great Hitch may break your heart with love for its subject, as it did mine, or it may make you wish to rent yourself in twain with rage, Rumpelstilskin-style. Either way, it’s quite a book. A triumph.” – Eric Metaxas, New York Times bestselling author and nationally syndicated radio host
“Beautifully written. You’ve got to read this book. Everyone should read this book. You’ll really get something out of it.” – Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball
“Every fan of Christopher Hitchens must read this elegant, honest, and beautiful tale of an improbable friendship between an American Christian and an English atheist. If you thought you knew ‘Hitch,’ you did not. Now, you will.” – Paul Reid, bestselling author of The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm
“If you really want to get to know someone intimately, go on a multi-day cross-country road trip, share fine food and expensive spirits, and have open and honest conversations about the most important issues in life. And then engage them in public debate before thousands of people on those very topics. In this engrossing narrative about his friendship with the atheist activist Christopher Hitchens, the evangelical Christian Larry Taunton shows us a side of the man very few of us knew. Apparent contradictions dissolve before Taunton’s penetrating insight into the psychology of man fiercely loyal to his friends and passionately devoted to leading a life of integrity. This book should be read by every atheist and theist passionate about the truth, and by anyone who really wants to understand Hitch, one of the greatest minds and literary geniuses of our time.” – Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of The Moral Arc
About the Author
Larry Alex Taunton is Founder and Executive Director of Fixed Point Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the public defense of the Christian faith. Fixed Point has captured the attention of BBC, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News Network, The Christian Post, and many others. Taunton has personally engaged some of the most vociferous opponents of Christianity, including Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Peter Singer. He lives in Birmingham, AL.
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Unlike what some dishonest reviews of this book might proclaim, the author does not claim in any way that Hitchens had a deathbed conversion. But based on the copious amount of time he spent with Hitchens, away from cameras and the public eye, the author is able to reveal information about Hitchens that you won't find out anywhere else, and all of it is interesting and even somewhat shocking. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about the real person who was Hitchens, and to christians and atheists especially.
The author is a Christian and speaks in that voice. However, he is respectful toward Hitchens the man, is clearly fond of him, litters the book with verifiable events, appearances, and quotes and then adds to these private moments that don't contradict them in the least, but rather humanize Hitchens and show that there was, indeed, a person there.
It is impossible to read the book and not become fond of Hitchens, and I say this as a longtime atheist. Hitchens comes off as fearless, thoughtful, intellectually curious and generous, and in fact decent—a man of integrity and kindness (if also with a few basic flaws) when not onstage. He comes off, in fact, rather better than the author himself, and I like Hitchens all the more for having read the book, not less.
There is no claim to a deathbed conversion here, and in fact a rather clear statement that there is no evidence of one. The author does, as a Christian (and what else might we expect him to do, if he has any integrity?) indicate that he hopes that there was one, silently, despite the lack of evidence, because he is quite simply that fond of Hitchens.
More importantly, what is in evidence is a strong friendship grounded in mutual respect and curiosity between two individuals whose own followers too often miss the point and purpose that drives them to speak in the first place—that of making the world and human life somehow better. Both seem to understand that they share this deep motivation and value, even if they disagree on nearly everything else. And just as importantly, they courageously confront this disagreement, together, and listen to one another with respect.
I find it to be an edifying and hopeful account that doesn't betray anything that Hitchens stood for.
Anyone offended by this book is quite simply an ideologue who—unlike Hitchens—is very interested in not hearing things that challenge our preconceptions or require us to honestly grapple with them as fortification for our intellectual and moral mettle.
Top international reviews
I am disgusted with the many, many, reviewers & journalists who seem to loathe Mr Taunton, simply because they -- wilfully, or unwilfully -- misread his work.
I found it to be a humane and remarkably unflinching portrait.
I can see how Christopher might have had doubts about his militant atheist sect, and, his own self-professed loathing of religious believers & God.
The book is also remarkably humorous.
There’s a little snippet where Christopher (allegedly) tells his fans to “stop worshipping” him. It is also quite touching to see his affection for Mr Taunton, one of “the enemy”:
He says that if all men were like Mr Taunton, the world would be a better place, or something along those lines.
The only problem with the book is that it is only verified by Mr Larry Taunton, &, is based almost entirely on unverifiable conversations which took place between Mr Hitchens & Mr Taunton.
But, I can respect and believe Mr Taunton.
There are hints all the time of a private, more sensitive Hitchens, which -- naturally & understandably -- the public did not get to see.
I would urge you, if you are interested in Christopher Hitchens, to read this book.
I think -- conceptually -- it is more arresting than his memoir, Hitch-22.
Larry Taunton presents himself as a friend of Christopher Hitchens, and I think there is some foundation to this. However, the book brings to mind the saying "With friends like that, who needs enemies?" Larry Taunton does not miss many opportunities to criticise Hitchens, praise Taunton, and push his Christian viewpoint whether it matches Christopher Hitchens' views or not. He spends lengthy sections talking about what the Christian assertion against Hitchens' position is, and even has footnotes making it quite clear that a particular point is Hitchens' point and he doesn't agree with it (relax, Larry: it's abundantly clear that your viewpoint is different from that of Hitchens)
His description of his first interview with Hitchens is particularly revealing. He finds Hitchens different from what he expected because he is different from Richard Dawkins and Peter Singer. And here's where his preconceptions come in. Rather than recognising his definition of atheism is too narrow and broadening it to include Hitchens, he determines that Hitchens must be on his way back to faith. And as the only faith Larry understands is Christianity, that must mean he is on his way back to Christianity (but that he lacked the strength and courage to make a complete switch as his brother Peter did).
Then, by dismissing all the public statements Hitchens made because he had a reputation to keep up, he sets things up beautifully so the only possible arbiter on Christopher Hitchens' faith is Larry Taunton. Anyone who disagrees must be biased, someone who holds onto Hitchens as a hero in their desperate struggle to stay atheist against the evidence.
However, be assured that I don't hold Hitchens as a hero, and I was a long-standing atheist before reading anything by Hitchens. My problem is not that I want to ignore the evidence, but that it is never presented. Many of Larry's key points come from private conversation, which of course we can't check or question, but even then they don't make their point. They show Christopher Hitchens as someone who could be polite and have Christian friends, someone who could talk about the Bible and appreciate it as literature, and someone who could retain a sense of humour when dealing with outright proselytisation. None of this is inconsistent with atheism. For Taunton to assert it is shows more about the worldview he holds than about the faith of Christopher Hitchens. He then reads important conclusions into some of Hitchens' silences after leading questions. Again, as we were not there we can't read the body language of Hitchens, but given Taunton shows he doesn't understand atheism properly in the areas I can check, I have no reason to believe his construction in the areas I can't check.
One of his claims is that Hitchens doesn't really understand many of the books and ideas he cited, that he had "a shallow understanding of the things about which he spoke so self-confidently". Again, since he has given me no reason to trust his judgement, permit me to be skeptical of this claim. However, having read this book only weeks after reading "God is not Great", I was amused to see that Taunton quoted some of the same sources as Hitchens (Brothers Karamazov, Evelyn Waugh), but interpreted them completely differently. It is unclear whether he thinks Hitchens failed to understand these sources properly, or if he just didn't realise this.
But we still haven't got to what was in my view the low-point of the book, the most toxic statement: When Hitchens was facing death, Larry felt it was Hitchens' duty to become Christian so he could give his wife and daughter hope of seeing him again. It is hard to think of a better example of "Christianity as wish fulfillment" than this, and it also hard to find a better example of preying on the vulnerable: not just talking about their own life, but trying to manipulate their love in search of a conversion. Also revealing is that he doesn't seem to consider the faith or otherwise of said wife and daughter. He didn't make it clear whether they were Christian or not, but if they weren't no amount of conversion by Hitchens would give them hope. The gift of hope was not solely Hitchens' to give, and he couldn't force his wife and daughter to believe any more than Larry could force him to believe.
Much has been made of whether the book includes a death bed conversion. It doesn't. But to me that is missing the point. The fact that Larry Taunton has stuck to the facts so far as not to assert a death bed conversion is good. But it does not change the fact that he has chosen to use Hitchens' name to try and sell his own brand of Christianity and to attack the name and reputation of his supposed friend years after his death. This book is a poisonous and ill-founded critique of a dead man unable to defend himself. Though it is of some interest seeing how low the author can stoop, if I had known what the book really was I wouldn't have bothered reading it, and I do not advise anyone else to read it.
The book has won plaudits from the Christian world, and it's not hard to see why. It is cogently argued, it doesn't claim more than it's possible to claim, it draws conclusions that are far from unreasonable.
And yet. I just kept feeling uncomfortable with it. I think for a start, the title is a misnomer. Far better would have been something like "The Searching of Christopher Hitchens" - less doctrinaire and presumptuous. Because while it is true that atheism is a faith position (and so the title is technically correct), it seems deliberately ambiguous and a little dishonest.
Then there is the depiction of the friendship between these two men. I have no doubts that it was genuine and mutual - that much is clear. And Hitchens was on record testifying to the fact. But the book is essentially based on conversations over two road trips, the first being a couple of days, the second one day. You can cover a lot of ground - and they did. And Hitchens was nothing if not a curious intellectual who respected others with convictions. His lacerations of those he regarded as charlatans are well known (and discussed in this book).
But it just felt a little off. The book seemed to focus so much on how the author's arguments came across, how much his family life (and adopted daughter who is HIV+) impacted Hitchens, how he was able to witness etc. I realise this is unfair - because there is certainly a story to tell here, and it is hard to know how else to tell it without these emphases. I just found it jarring - especially when he couldn't quite resist critical remarks about Hitchens' lifestyle and attitudes.
The most positive feature of this book, though, is the importance of friendship. That both men relished this friendship, and that both had allies and fans who at least raised eyebrows about it. That is so sad but very indicative of the state of public discourse in the west today. Models of bipartisan, or even multipartisan, friendship have seemingly disappeared. So this book does a great service by reminding us that the key always is to seek to win the person, not the argument. If it stimulates people to do that, then we can all rejoice.
But I think I can see why some of Hitchens' fans are so cross about this book (quite apart from whether or not the arguments hold water). And I'm just not sure who is really going to be sufficiently convinced by it to change their minds and therefore change sides. It preaches to the choir a bit too much.
Be that as it may, I do hope that people will read this, especially those on the new atheist or even agnostic sides. Because there is much here to chew on and value. Above all, Hitchens was a remarkable man - that comes across in this book well. And I do think that the world is a poorer place without his writing (I just wish he was around to discuss the 2016 US election).
Zuerst beschreibt Taunton das Leben Hitchens'. Dieser war in eine Familie hineingeboren, die gerade am Aufsteigen war. Der Vater war ein einfacher Mann, aber er war im Krieg bei der Armee tätig. Die Mutter wollte unbedingt ihren Kindern einen weiteren sozialen Aufstieg ermöglichen und sparte an allen Ecken und Enden, damit die beiden Söhne eine anständige Privatschule und danach die Universität besuchen konnten. Die Schule war streng religiös, sodass Hitchens einen Hass auf Gott entwickelte. Taunton schreibt: "Every despot in history has claimed to be a man of principle, a champion of the people, but their principles were carefully chosen to match a seething hatred, be it hatred for one’s neighbor, the ruling class, or the Jews. Christopher hated God and was determined that he should master and tyrannize him. To do so, however, he now needed the tools of warfare. In atheism he had found a principle that corresponded to his grievance. Now he had to weaponize it." (Kindle-Pos. 412) Worte haben Macht, und Christopher entdeckte diese Macht früh. In diesen Schulen war Sport etwas sehr Wichtiges, aber da der junge Christopher eher schwächlich und „mädchenhaft“ (er nennt sich selbst „girlish“) war, trug seine Abneigung zum Sport zusätzlich dazu bei, stattdessen die Macht der Worte in Debatten und in schriftlichen Auseinandersetzungen zu schulen. Er wurde ein extremer Linker, der als Journalist und politischer Agitator rund um den Erdball reiste. Wer seine Artikel liest, sieht auf den ersten Blick einen sehr weit belesenen Mann. Doch der erste Blick trügt: "Words as weapons. Reeling bullies. Turning the tide of public opinion. This must all be remembered when we watch Christopher Hitchens in debate. The danger here—and Christopher fell wholeheartedly into its snares—was developing a love of words insofar as they were weapons for attack and defense of his position, rather than loving words insofar as they lead to truth. This, I believe, resulted in Christopher’s wide but not deep reading. [...] Rather than submitting to his professors’ systematic teaching and training of his mind, his reading was defined by predetermined goals: he looked for supportive assertions, witty repartee, and selective facts for ammunition. He remembered only what he could use. Consequently, he never really studied the great books and the great questions in real depth." (Pos. 490) Was ihm fehlte, war die systematische Auseinandersetzung mit dem Gelesenen. Nur wenige Autoren kannte er wirklich, da er meist nur las, um Munition für seine Meinung zu finden. Was nicht seiner Ansicht entsprach, wurde geflissentlich überlesen.
Lange Zeit war sein Leben von diesen zwei Dingen beherrscht: linksextreme Politik und Journalismus. Doch dann kam die Wende – und zwar eine Wende, bei welcher ich mich selbst wiedergefunden habe. Der 11.9.2001 markiert die Wende in Hitchens' Leben. Nun wurde er zu einem Suchenden. So ähnlich ist es mir auch ergangen – nur dass sich die Antworten in entgegengesetzter Richtung ergeben haben. Vom Linksextremen wurde Hitchens zum Unterstützer der Anti-Terror-Politik George W. Bushs und zugleich zum militanten Atheisten. Gehörte der Atheismus bei ihm bisher einfach zu seinem Leben dazu, wurde er nun ein bestimmendes Element. 2007 gab Hitchens ein Buch heraus mit dem Titel „god is not great“ (die dt. Übersetzung bekam den Titel „Der Herr ist kein Hirte“) und damit wurde er zugleich auch als New Atheist bekannt. Dieses Buch war der erste Moment, in welchem Larry Alex Taunton auf Hitchens aufmerksam wurde. Er organisierte mit seiner Fixed Point Foundation eine Debatte zwischen Hitchens und John Lennox. Dies wurde der Beginn dieser ganz besonderen Freundschaft, welche im Rest des Buches geschildert wird.
In dieser Freundschaft entdeckte Taunton einen ganz anderen Hitchens als derjenige, der auf der Bühne zu brillieren wusste. Einen Hitchens, der eigentlich auf der Suche ist. Einen Hitchens, dessen Atheismus Teil seiner Selbstdarstellung ist, der sich in seinem Innersten aber nicht vollständig bewusst ist, was das bedeutet. Taunton hat auch mit Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer und Peter Singer Debatten organisiert und kannte sich deshalb ziemlich gut aus, was die Positionen dieses Mainstream-Atheismus sind. So beschreibt er, wie Hitchens auf diese Auseinandersetzungen reagierte: "I recall once asking Christopher [Hitchens] if man was, in his view, born good or bad. His answer was emphatic: “Man is unquestionably evil.” I had asked that question of other atheists. Richard Dawkins spoke of genetic predispositions. Michael Shermer referred to social conditions. Peter Singer rejected the idea of such moral constructs. None of them had answered the way Hitchens did. They couldn’t. At least they couldn’t and remain consistent in their atheism. Christopher readily accepted that this was in contradiction to his atheism. He was then midstream of his philosophical transition and hadn’t yet worked out the details." (Pos. 1200)
"Christopher was not the atheist ideologue I had supposed him to be from reading god Is Not Great and listening to his lectures and debates. An ideologue will adhere to his given dogma, no matter what. He places ideas above people because he deems them more important than people. In this he really thinks he is morally courageous because he subordinates his feeling for what he believes is the greater good." (Pos. 1661)
"Christopher Hitchens was a searcher. In search of a unifying philosophy of life, atheism offered nothing. In more honest moments, Christopher would acknowledge this “joylessly, humorlessly, gloomily, pessimistically.” Patriotism, at least, was something. In it were virtues that appealed to the elder Christopher Hitchens if not the younger—tradition, honor, loyalty, and commitment to a cause beyond oneself—and, yet, it was an uncomfortable compromise. Patriotism alone was not a system of thought. It could not provide the answers he wanted to the larger questions of life. It was, he knew, a half measure. Hence, he considered accessorizing it with science on the one hand and religion on the other. His approaches to religion, Christianity really, were what Nicodemus’s might have been had he come to see Jesus by day rather than by night: as that of reporter or critic rather than as a would-be disciple. Hitchens was not as certain about his atheism, whatever his public professions to the contrary." (Pos. 2563)
2010 wurde bei Hitchens Speiseröhrenkrebs diagnostiziert, und Taunton war einer der ersten, die es erfahren durften. In der darauffolgenden Zeit unternahmen Taunton und Hitchens zwei längere Autofahrten, bei welchen sie zusammen im Johannesevangelium lasen und darüber miteinander sprachen. Kurz vor dem Tod Hitchens' wurde noch einmal eine Debatte organisiert, in welcher sich die beiden Freunde gegenüberstehen durften. Kurz danach starb Hitchens. Man weiß nichts darüber, was aus den Worten geworden war, die Taunton mit ihm teilte. Es gibt kein Zeugnis davon, dass er sich bekehrt hätte. Aber es gab auch nicht das Gegenteil davon – so sehr es sich die anderen Atheisten auch gewünscht hätten: "The atheist side wanted a saint, a man who would endure to the very last, courageously facing death in a way that—if he could just hold out—would show them that it could be done, quieting their own doubts about the hereafter. And, at first, Hitchens seems to be assuming that role. But he began introducing doubts, rather than hoped-for verities. In the same interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Christopher leaves the door not simply cracked, but wide open to “a Prime Mover or a higher intelligence.” Much more than attacking the idea that there is a god, Christopher attacks the “man-made” notion that anyone speaks on that entity’s behalf. This is hardly the stuff of a public conversion, but neither is it the conventional atheist dogma he usually spouted." (Pos. 2731)
Es ist ein Buch, das mich enorm mitgenommen hat in die Welt dieser Freundschaft. Zwei so unterschiedliche Männer mit so unterschiedlichen Ansichten, die sich dennoch mit sehr viel Respekt begegnen können. Eine echte Männerfreundschaft, die so tief geht, dass man sich nicht ständig sehen muss, und trotzdem einander zuerst Mitteilung macht, wenn man eine einschneidende Erfahrung im Leben macht, wie etwa die Krebsdiagnose. Lassen wir uns von Taunton zu solchen Freundschaften ermutigen!