I recently found out that evangelical figure Larry A. Taunton wrote a book called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. It made me very sad to google it and find out that this is a more elaborate version of a deathbed conversion rumour. It’s made worse by the fact that, on his tour to promote the book, Mr. Taunton seems very comfortable calling himself “one of Hitchens’ closest friends”.
Taunton talks about Hitchens having a fascination with religion, and choosing to debate so many theists as a way of “going to Bible study”. I love wasting my time, so I’ve repeatedly tried to explain what I understand of Hitchens’ feelings towards religion. Hitchens often said, to his christian opponents: “Love your own enemies, but don’t love mine”. Ironically, Hitchens had a certain love and admiration for religion. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t believe in what he said during debates. Here is a video in which Hitchens says that if there were one last religious person left in the world, and he could convince them to abandon their faith, he wouldn’t do it.
Now, obviously, this is a thought experiment, not a serious scenario. What it says, to me, is simply that Hitchens could see something beautiful in religion. There is something beautiful in the deep sorrow that one might feel at the death of a loved one. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Hitchens also often said that religion was mankind’s first attempt at philosophy, ethics and metaphysics. As a lover of culture, there’s a lot to love there. That doesn’t make him insincere in preaching that religion today poisons all it touches.
You don’t need to agree with what Hitchens said to see intellectual integrity and respect it. In an interview after his diagnosis, Hitchens predicted that there would be some saying that he recanted his heresy before the end. He knew that there are christians out there who are so insecure in their faith that seeing a desperate, dying man agree with them would make them feel more secure. It’s tragic to me that the first person I see seriously doing that to Hitchens calls himself a friend.