Author: Famed Atheist Christopher Hitchens Was Contemplating Christianity Before His Death
The famed atheist writer Christopher Hitchens was contemplating converting to evangelical Christianity before his death, according Christian author and friend Larry Alex Taunton. Taunton details his conversations with sharp-tongued wit in his new book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist.
As the book’s blurb says, “Taunton traces Hitchens’ spiritual and intellectual development from his decision as a teenager to reject belief in God to his rise to prominence as one of the so-called ‘Four Horsemen’ of the New Atheism.” Most intimately, Taunton shares his own personal relationship with the late columnist.
“At the end of the day, the most powerful apologetic is love.” Larry Alex Taunton
Taunton, founder of the Christian ministry Fixed Point Foundation, became friends with Hitchens in 2008 when the God is Not Great author set out to debate Christians. Hitchens found more than he bargained for, gaining a new appreciation for people of faith. “For the first time in his life, he was engaging evangelical Christians,” Taunton told The Huntsville Times (AL.com). “He found them to be different from the veneer of Christianity in Britain. When he began debating these evangelicals, he began to like them.”
One of the Christian apologists Hitchens debated was Jay Richards, now The Stream’s Executive Editor.
Taunton and Hitchens cemented their own friendship during two long road trips, including a journey to Yellowstone National Park, which included Hitchens reading aloud from the Gospel of John.
Along the way, Taunton discovered Hitchens wasn’t defined by his atheism. “Atheism is a negative and you can’t build a philosophy around a negative,” he said. “Christopher was searching for a unifying system of thought.”
Taunton is not saying the search was successful. “It’s not my claim that Christopher converted. It’s that Christopher was contemplating conversion.”
By this point, Hitchens was battling the esophageal cancer that would claim his life. “Christopher was in a difficult place,” Taunton remembers. “He’s a dying man. He asked me why I thought he didn’t convert. I said ‘You’ve created a global reputation as an atheist. Your fortune, your reputation is based on it. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to admit you were wrong. You created a prison for yourself.'”
Whether Hitchens did ultimately escape that prison is unclear. However, as Christianity Today noted upon his death in December 2011, we do know thoughts of converting weighed heavy on his mind. Doug Wilson, another Christian who debated and befriended Hitchens, wrote in his obituary of Hitchens:
In a number of interviews during the course of his cancer treatments, he discussed the prospect of a “death bed” conversion, and it was clear that he was concerned about the prospect. But, he assured interviewers, if anything like that ever happened, we should all be certain that the cancer or the chemo or something had gotten to his brain. If he confessed faith, then he, the Christopher Hitchens that we all knew, should be counted as already dead. In short, he was preparing a narrative for us, just in case.
Only God knows whether there was, in Wilson’s words, “a gracious twist at the end.” Taunton said that he only knows Hitchens’ ears and heart were open.
And it wasn’t just evangelist leaders and apologists who may have influenced Hitchens. More than anything, said Taunton, was the impact of Tauton’s daughter Sasha. Hitchens stayed with the Taunton family before participating in a debate hosted and moderated by Taunton, and was greatly moved by the faith of the adopted HIV-positive girl. “Sasha’s impact on him was huge,” Taunton said. “It’s because of her own innocence. He was powerfully moved by her, an argument he couldn’t refute … At the end of the day, the most powerful apologetic is love.”