Larry Alex Taunton, Thomas Nelson, 2016, 212 pages, 4 of 5 stars
A compassionate but uncompromising account of the friendship between a Christian author and Christopher Hitchens—one of the world’s most notorious atheists.
A surprisingly good read by Taunton. This kind of book isn’t easy to write. It could appear the author is trying to capitalize on the wickedness and death of an outspoken atheist. I was expecting Taunton to go soft on Hitchens. He’d grovel before him like so many others. Taunton didn’t. He struck a perfect balance. It’s the kind of book you could give to an atheist friend as an evangelistic tool: lots of biography, several Scriptures, a warm but firm style.
(1) A Requiem fo Unbelief (a bunch of cocky intellectuals gather at a Unitarian college for Hitchens’ funeral), (2) The Making of an Atheist (born in ’49, becomes an atheist at 15 years old), (3) Intellectual Weapons (gifted debater and socialist that pretends to know more than he actually does), (4) Two Books (the public and private Christophers didn’t match), (5) Honor Thy Father (Hitchens hated his weak, hypocritical father), (6) Brothers (his hyper-opinionated brother Peter is a Christian), (7) September 11th (9/11 made Hitchens an American patriot),
(8) Undercover (plans for nationwide debates and book sales), (9) The Atheist Heretic (Hitch has different views than some issues [like abortion] than most atheists), (10) Sasha (HIV adopted daughter of author has deep impact on Hitch), (11) 3:10 to Yuma (Hitch gets stone drunk as the author helps him into bed), (12) The Shenandoah (diagnosed with cancer, the road trip and Bible studies begin), (13) The Last Debate (author works hard for the final debate together), (14) Yellowstone (talks about Christianity on the final drive home), (15) The Abyss (Hitch, the searcher, dies. No death bed confession)
Here were my biggest takeaways from the book.
- Pride in youth grows in adulthood. “Christopher was always Christopher’s favorite.” He had a high sense of self-importance. He used his self-assuredness as a weapon and a disguise. He was an actor that made his opponents over estimate his intellectual ability. The crowd loved his overconfidence. “People are attracted to those who speak with certainty on matters where they are uncertain” (25). Though often demolished in debates, he steered the dialogue such that few noticed. Even his photo ops and interviews were carefully staged: alcohol, cigarette smoke, dissolute look, British accent all to awe the crowd.
- Rebels are good at disguises. Brother Peter said Chris decided to hate God in his teen years. CH wanted the freedom to do what he wanted, with no moral restraints. No God = no rules. But he also wanted respect, which can be hard for rebels to obtain, so he disguised his atheism as “science” and portrayed himself as a champion of reason.
- Gifts from God can be used against Him. CH was a skilled speaker with a good mind. Early on he “entered the arena of intellectual blood sport: debate.” He used this gift to lash out against his Creator. Blaise Pascal: “Men despise religion, they hate it, and fear it is true.” His three rules for debate were: know your opponent’s position, know why he holds to it, and decide if you want to destroy the man or the argument. CH could quote many Scriptures by memory.
- Atheism and socialism go together. It should not be surprising that CH was an ardent socialist, an ideology that defies logic given the murderous history of the system. Socialism requires the utmost confidence in human government. As Dostoevsky said, socialism wants to build Babel without God, to have heaven on earth. It is not just a political or economic system. In the biblical worldview, the state is temporal that serves man, who is eternal. In socialism it is the opposite: Man is temporal and it serves the eternal state. Socialism is atheism in a political disguise.
- Socialists don’t really love the poor. CH used his socialism to pretend he was fighting for the poor, but this was all a ruse. Like Marx before him, CH only loved the poor abstractly. Once they were up close to poverty and weaknesses, they hated them. CH was often abusive and demeaning to the impoverished and preferred to hang out with intellectuals. When he and Taunton were together, CH never paid for anything.
- Atheists often grow up in grotesque homes. CH was sent off to boarding school where he experimented with homosexuality. His mother aborted two children on each side of Christopher. She ran off with an ex-pastor where they committed suicide together. His father was a hypocrite, which CH despised. He hated that his mother was stronger that his father. She won all the arguments. “A boy who rebels against his father and prevails learns the worst of all lessons: contempt for authority” (45). Fathers make a huge difference on their sons. “When a mother converts to Christianity, 17% of the time the children do too. When a father converts, the figure rises to an astonishing 93%” (47).
- Unbelievers hate intellectual frauds in Christianity. They may disagree with Christians that have real conviction, but a kind of respect is there. Atheists hate the Sharptons of the world. CH publicly rebuked an author who privately told Hitch he didn’t really believe the anti-atheistic book he had written. It was just for the money.
- The Holy Spirit ultimately changes hearts, not clever arguments. God uses biblical proposition as tools, for sure, especially when paired with love. But without the Spirit, arguments are useless. Taunton spoke of the arrogance and naivety of some Christians that would slip him notes to pass on to Hitchens and Dawkins, just sure this was the argument that would finally change their minds.