Slander: Hitchens did not consider converting to Christianity on his deathbed

I didn’t think this post would be necessary, as there’s been a lot of good writing about it, but I want to set the record straight. It concerns Alex Taunton’s new book in which he claims Christopher was considering a deathbed conversion to Christianity. The article below from  Patheos, is a good one and includes a comment from Christopher’s wife, Carol Blue. But first my thoughts:

It is unfortunate that Larry Alex Taunton, in his new book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, is claiming that Christopher was considering a deathbed conversion. This is not true as this post, and the article in Patheos will show.  So why did he write it?  It could be that Mr. Taunton wishes it were true, and is projecting.  More likely however, is that the author has a vested interest in claiming a conversion. The organization Mr Taunton founded and is the Executive Director for, The Fixed Point Foundation, states “Our mission is to defend and proclaim the Gospel in the secular marketplace”.  This is not someone who can be objective. Is it coincidence that his claims would also fulfill the mission of his organization? And of course, book sales.

How do we know his claims are not true?  First, Hitchens, on more than one occasion,   warned us that the faithful may try to claim this for him, as they have done throughout history in the case of other non-believers (always, conveniently when the person /victim can not refute the claims).  Second, we know what Hitchens was thinking right up until his death, as he was of sound mind and wrote about his thoughts. These were collected for the book “Mortality“.There is not only, no proclamation of a conversion, but there is not even a whiff of uncertainty in his writing, something I suspect we would find if he was at all unsure of his positions. And third, this article from Patheos discusses the matter and provides a quote from Carol Blue, Christopher’s wife:
REPRINTED FROM PATHEOS

Christopher Hitchens Didn’t “Contemplate Conversion” on His Deathbed
April 20, 2016 by Hemant Mehta

A new book by Larry Alex Taunton, called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, suggests that Hitchens was “contemplating conversion” near the end of his life, though he never actually made that leap:

“I discovered Christopher is not defined by his atheism,” Taunton said. “Atheism is a negative and you can’t build a philosophy around a negative. Christopher was searching for a unifying system of thought. They’re accusing me of saying he converted. I make no such claim. It’s not my claim that Christopher converted, it’s that Christopher was contemplating conversion. I think I substantiate it in the book.“

That’s quite a claim — especially considering that the evidence we’ve seen from Christian media sources suggests that the substantiation boils down to nothing more than “Hitchens was friends with some Christian apologists.”
Who would you trust more? Christian apologists who have everything to gain by spreading a lie that can’t be refuted by the man himself… or his wife, Carol Blue, who was at his side when he died?

When he revealed his sorry physical state, discussion raged over whether he would have a death-bed conversion and embrace religion for solace or salvation.
That never happened, said Ms. Blue.
“He lived by his principles until the end. To be honest, the subject of God didn’t come up.”

Hitchens also addressed the topic during an interview with Anderson Cooper not long before his death:

COOPER: In a moment of doubt… there might be a moment when you want to hedge your bets.
HITCHENS: If that comes, it will be when I am very ill; when I am half demented, either by drugs or by pain. I won’t have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumor later on, because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumors. I can’t say that the entity, that by then wouldn’t be me, wouldn’t do such a pathetic thing. But I can tell you that… not when I’m lucid, no. I can be quite sure of that.
COOPER: So if there is some story that on your deathbed–
HITCHENS: –Don’t believe it.

One commenter on a Christian website noted, “If Christopher Hitchens had a deathbed conversion it is because he asked for a priest and converted the priest to atheism.”
That’s clever, but Hitchens actually took it a step further. Among the final thoughts recorded in his book Mortality was this brutal gem:
If I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than an atheist does.
Damn. He wasn’t thinking about becoming a Christian in his final days. He was thinking about the best ways to roast them.
There’s no evidence whatsoever that the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything ever believed God might be great and religion ain’t as bad as I thought.
If you want to give Taunton the benefit of the doubt, it’s that Hitchens spoke about religion so frequently that his conversations about faith led even people close to him to believe he took it seriously.
But that’s being too generous to Taunton, who appears to be cashing in on his friendship with Hitchens by invoking the old Christian trope that assumes decent people who didn’t accept Christ during their lives must surely have accepted Him at the last possible moment.
Hitchens was a lot of things, but shy about his opinions wasn’t one of them. If he had converted, even at the end of his life, he would’ve been shouting about it from the rooftops of the hospital. He would’ve found a way to make sure the world knew about it.
He sure as hell wouldn’t have used Taunton as an intermediary.
***Update***: Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service has some strong reactions to this controversy from people who knew Hitchens well:
Steve Wasserman, who was Hitchens’ friend for 30 years, co-executor of his estate and with Hitchens’ family, at his death, called the book’s claims “petty” and “appalling” when they were read to him.
“I am not in the position to dispute the what Taunton says were private conversations,” he said by phone from New Haven, Conn., where he is executive editor-at-large for Yale University Press. “But I really think it is a shabby business. It reveals a lack of respect. This is not a way to debate Christopher Hitchens’ beliefs — to report unverifiable conversations, which amazingly contradict everything Christopher Hitchens ever said or stood for.”

And Michael Shermer, an atheist and founder of Skeptic magazine, who read the book’s manuscript and liked its description of the friendship between the two men — enough to give it a favorable jacket blurb — said Taunton’s claims of Hitchens’ flirtation with conversion were “exaggerated.”

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5 thoughts on “Slander: Hitchens did not consider converting to Christianity on his deathbed

  1. thank you so much for this article. In my quest to collect and read everything about Hitchens’, I was considering buying this book. You have saved me money and probably some unneeded aggravation as well.

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  2. He is my favorite Aspiration and I will always admire him for he never budged even at the end and stood like a Mountain for us all sane and Logical Atheists!

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  3. Had Taunton wanted to honor the legacy of his friend, he would have picked something Hitchens wrote and responded with a direct criticism, inviting Hitchens’s fans to respond as they think appropriate. As it is, this gish gallop full of back-handed insults and underhanded personal attacks is hard to read. Taunton is utterly shameless.

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  4. Only one problem with this entire article: the book never claims Hitchens considered a deathbed conversion. But such is the way of those who comment on books they have not read. You have chosen the same presumption you criticize Larry Taunton for, so there is a certain irony (if not hypocrisy) being demonstrated here.

    The book was unfortunately titled, to be provocative I am sure, and the rush to judgment without reading the contents is to be expected, I suppose. This does not absolve the guilt of so many who’ve been brazen enough to write vitriolic pages worth of commentary in the darkness of ignorance. Welcome to their ranks.

    The book convincingly makes the case that Hitchens, at one point in particular, was affected enough by a conversation about the Gospel of John to give very clear signs of that affectation…enough to warrant the conclusion that Hitchens was considering the merits of what he was hearing.

    Taunton never extrapolates that out so far as to insinuate an atheism hanging by a thread. He never portrays a pensive and troubled Hitchens wringing his hands over what he is to do about Jesus Christ. He never insinuates that his failure to get Hitchens fully on board with Christianity was a “near miss…almost, but not quite.” He certainly does not say that there is evidence of a deathbed conversion or even the consideration of a deathbed conversion.

    Yet, all of these descriptors have been used in accusation against Larry Taunton. In fact, if you’d read the book, you would know that Taunton quotes Carol Blue on this matter, saying that there was, in fact, no deathbed conversion, no talk of a deathbed conversion, and no talk of God on his deathbed.

    He does end the book on a note of personal hope: that only God really knows the heart of a man, and maybe there was reason enough for the author to personally hold some hope that Hitchens made a silent acquiescence to God. Taunton himself acknowledges that it’s long shot, maybe even to the level of wishful thinking. And to that I say, “No harm, no foul.” It’s a personal cleaving on the part of someone who held some level of affection for Hitchens – a fact completely lost on all the Hitchens apologists lined up to excoriate a man they have not bothered to give a hearing to.

    If this is the intellectual honesty of atheism, I’ll stick with my theistic delusions.

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