Larry Alex Taunton taunted again for his ghoulish book on Hitchens

June 11, 2016 • 1:15 pm

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:

Taunton again:

“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.


39 thoughts on “Larry Alex Taunton taunted again for his ghoulish book on Hitchens

  1. “Larry Alex Taunton taunted again for his ghoulish book on Hitchens”

    I like what you did with the wordplay. Very good!

  2. I wish there were a way of grilling Taunton to make him provide hard evidence for his statements. Should cause him to squirm as he has none. He obviously didn’t know squat about the man. I also wish there were a way that
    Christopher Hitchens’ family and followers club could bring a libel suit against this bustard (I almost said, “for blasphemy”).

  3. Super journo sleuth, Mehdi Hasan, ever at the cutting edge of breaking world news, tweeted a couple of days ago the smear that the Hitch turned god-botherer, following up on Taunton’s story.

    Seeing as half the planet had seen all the rebuttals to Taunton ooh…10 days ago, I think we have some explanation for the implosion of the al-Jazeera America business plan in the sight of Mehdi trying to catch up as the rest of us begin to forget this non-story. Puffing his way down the last kilometre as the peloton warms down.

  4. “there are always a few people whose approbation we desire and to whose standards we conform.” ”

    Hmmm, if there’s one thing that characterized Hitchens was his disregard for the standards of others. Had he truly cared about the regard of his peers, he would never have supported the Iraq war.

    1. Exactly my thought as well. Taunton seems to be the perfect example of a coward. Want to pick a fight with someone – just wait until they are dead.

    2. I’m an atheist. I’m from a devout family. My two best friends are devout Christians.

      But to say I “hate God” is such bullshit! I hate what belief in God too often encourages evil, weak or ignorant people to do.

    3. It is beyond the mind-set (in the sense of “plaster cast” or “stookie”. Or “strait-jacket”.) of the run-of-the-mill Liar for Jesus to conceive that someone can honestly not believe in a god of any sort.
      There’s no point in arguing with them on that point. It’s an ideé fixeé.

      1. Yeah, and the more you argue that you don’t care about a non-existent G*d, the more you appear to confirm its importance to you. Can’t win.


          1. Or maybe just life?

            (But then I’ve seen life described as ‘thermodynamics with messy complications’)


          2. Thermodynamics is Go played without super-ko rules.
            Got to get your priorities right.

  5. One thing Christopher Hitchens had a great deal of was courage (and since he was partly Jewish, let me say chutzpah), and he was VERY willing to admit his changes of mind.

    He was VERY public about being a former Marxist who now supported the Iraq war, and one of the few political journalists to boldly be quite negative toward both the Nixon administration (mainly Kissinger) and the Clintons.

    Hitchens graciously had at least a few kind words to say about Mother Teresa after the publication of her secret diaries, having earlier pilloried her in his book “The Missionary Position” (though he certainly hadn’t retracted his former criticisms of the hellish conditions in her hospices nor of her misuse of these hospices as attempts at conversion).

    I can’t help wondering if Taunton (mis/over)interpreted some vaguely religion-friendly remark of Hitchens, such as his positive affirmation of the usage of words like “transcendent” and “numinous” in his interview with Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. I have seen multiple other religious publications pick up on this, but no one else has drawn the kind of wildly implausible conclusions from this that Taunton has (or been as snide about it). (In the BBC “Four Horsemen” documentary and elsewhere, Hitchens is quite careful to say he affirms the numinous withOUT affirming the supernatural, and cites the Hubble telescope pictures as a good exemplar of the former, reminiscent of Sagan’s fictional characters saying the same of the Andromeda galaxy.)

    Finally, It is NOT the central tenet of atheism to hate God, though many atheists hate particular versions of God or particular actions attributed to God.


    Reading these many “taunting” posts is a refreshing alternative to reading yet another story about Brock Turner.

  6. One thing that really leapt out at me from that Frum piece was this, from the author of the NT article:

    I actually think the stakes of one person’s late-life religious musings, or the absence thereof, are pretty low. . . . [T]hose who knew and loved Hitchens will disagree, as they have an interest in seeing their friend or relative remembered accurately.

    As if the readers of the NY Times don’t also have “an interest in seeing [Hitchens, or for that matter anyone newsworthy] remembered accurately.” That statement alone should make him persona non grata at any journalistic organization, from a small-town weekly on up.

    1. For “NT article” read “NYT article”. My phone’s spellchecker apparently has a Biblical bias.

    2. I think the quoted statement is a valid, or at least defensible, viewpoint. In terms of atheism vs religiosity in general, would it matter much if Hitch *had* converted at the last minute? It surely wouldn’t invalidate all the arguments he had made against organised religion in his career.

      But for friends of Hitch, yes it is much more important. And, I think, for anyone who values accuracy for its own sake.


  7. I’d say the most outrageous and inflammatory claim quoted above is “Hatred of God was the central tenet of their faith…” Taunton doesn’t even seem to know what an atheist is.

    1. Indeed he doesn’t, which is why he wrote the book.

      I think Christians like Taunton are actually incapable of understanding atheism–especially in regards to death. They, who are terrified of oblivion, literally cannot fathom how unbelievers like Hitchens meet their fate with equanimity.

      I believe Taunton wrote the book sincerely, if for no other reason then a deathbed conversion is the only development that would make sense in his warped little universe.

      1. What’s that saying about fitting square pegs into round holes – if you use a big enough hammer?

  8. Yet again with that atheists have a “[h]atred of God” claim of the religious.

    If I hadn’t realized before that Taunton knew nothing of Hitchens, it became obvious then.

    [added when posting: partly ninja’ed by Ann]

  9. That is a comprehensive, well-written piece by David Frum in The Atlantic.

    Although I disagree with them about almost everything (and have made japing comments about specific articles by each), Frum and Ross Douthat are probably as close as we have today to voices of the reasonable, responsible Right among the American pundit class.

    As between the two, Frum has more edge — and more stomach for speaking hard truths about his own side.

  10. frum’s money shot:

    Perhaps the New York Times headline should have read, “Christopher Hitchens Shaky in His Atheism, Despite His Own Emphatic and Repeated Statements to the Contrary, New Book Speculates.”

    1. money shot #2:

      In other words, even when challenged: “You seem unable to say something non-disparaging about the man you call your friend” — even in the course of his own attempt to demonstrate that after all he could say something non-disparaging — Taunton only produced more denigration.

  11. 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,

    That claim is an assertion without TTBOMK supporting evidence. Unless someone knows of him claiming (near-) contemporaneous notes, then I’d remain open to the possibility that he’s made it all up to (choose one or several) make money ; Lie For Jesus (maybe he thinks he’s going to hell, and needs to chalk up some goody points for a get-out-of-torment-free card) ; ummm, flat-out sociopathy?

  12. As others may have noted, atheists don’t hate god. There is no god.

    The ‘hate god’ and ‘costs of conversion’ give it away.

    This is quite a sicking excerpt. It seems to claim that Christopher failed to have the moral fibre to stand up for a belief. That he would believe in god if others wouldn’t castigate him for it.

    He is saying that Christopher was dishonest and lacking the courage of his convictions. Both nasty ridiculous assertions.

    It is absurd.

    The believer often doesn’t seem to realise that atheists simply don’t believe in that thing they think is obvious.
    Those that think about it have generally considered every possible consideration possible, so failing some major magical event happening, it is absurd to think, despite all other protestations that an atheist would ‘flirt’ with conversion.

    It wouldn’t be a conversion anyway.

    Once, when I was exploring my beliefs I had long conversations with believers, and out of both respect and curiosity about the subject I spoke in their language.
    Nothing any believer ever said changed my mind on the matter but a few years later one of those people started talking to me as though I were a believer.

    Christopher was no coward who would worry about losing friends. He went to many dangerous hotspots and, obviously was on the outer when it came to the Iraq war and other controversial issues.

    It is a disgusting excerpt.

  13. From reading Frum’s piece, I think I can divine the source of Taunton’s confusion (or learned stupidity). For him, God is really there, knocking at the door of the soul and saying “Let me in, I love you” (and later “Let me in, I’ve got a flame thrower”). Christians are people who heard the knocking and let Him in. Atheists are people who block their ears or desperately explaining it away as merely the clunking of our mechanical universe. He is waiting for atheists to finally crumble and admit we hear it too but can’t face up to the truth.

  14. In Frum’s piece there’s a part that asks what kind of friend would do and say the things about Hitchens that Taunton has, after he;s dead and can’t answer for himself. That’s easy; a Christian friend. Someone who believes their Christianity is more important than friendship.

  15. “Fierce protestations of loyalty always precede a defection, and Christopher had to make them.”

    I’d like to know how Taunton manages to distinguish between insincere fierce protestations of loyalty preceding a defection and sincere fierce protestations of loyalty not preceding a defection. I suspect he’s deluded himself.

  16. Related to Frum’s point about Hitchens being left speechless at one point and Taunton drawing the wrong conclusion from it, here is rare footage of Hitchens being left speechless…

  17. Sorry late posting but just today 19 June – Australian Broadcasting Corporation ABC local radio – actually on nationally from 10pm – is interviewing this man about that book — Phil Cleary religious matters program giving friendly interview confirming all his own biases. No mention of the criticism from figures such as Nick Cohen, or indeed the inappropriateness of writing and publishing this years after the man is dead

    “he knew that you couldn’t build a world view around a negative – atheism. He knew that it was an inconsistent line of thought .. I don’t think Christopher ever found something to fill himself or that gap. Left and right and centre have received this book very well. Its the internet crowd who don’t agree ….”. Had the nerve to finish with “bring me a higher love”Pop song as evidence that he was supposedly converted to its “evangelical” message??? What?!!! Cleary’s approbation of the whole thing is nauseating.

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