Even Christopher Hitchens’s detractors would concede him two great qualities: honesty and bravery. Hitchens spoke the truth as he understood the truth, without regard to whom he might please and whom he might offend. What Hitchens wrote of his intellectual hero, George Orwell, was the epitaph he would have wished for himself:
By his determination to seek elusive but verifiable truth, he showed how much can be accomplished by an individual who unites the qualities of intellectual honesty and moral courage.
Yet this is the epitaph that a new book about Hitchens seeks to deny him. Larry Taunton is an evangelical publicist and promoter who became friendly with Hitchens during the writer’s final three years of life. Earlier this spring, Taunton published a new book that alleged that Hitchens was not as committed to his atheism as Hitchens publicly insisted—that, indeed, Hitchens had approached the verge of a Christian conversion.
Taunton based this astounding claim on two conversations with Hitchens during car drives to speaking events sponsored by Taunton’s foundation. During the longer of those drives (13 hours from Hitchens’s home in Washington, D.C., to Taunton’s in Birmingham, Alabama), the two men read aloud and discussed the Gospel of St. John. Taunton directed Hitchens’s attention to the Gospelist’s promise of eternal life, which Hitchens—according to Taunton—described as “not without its appeal to a dying man.”