While listening to a lecture recently by Larry Alex Taunton, I was reminded of this book and I remembered wanting to check it out when it first came out, several years ago. Mr. Taunton is an excellent author and this book seems to be especially relevant for our times. For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Taunton is an evangelical Christian speaker and writer, while Mr. Hitchens was one of the foremost Atheists of the modern age.
We live in a time of extremes, but life and people are usually more complex than the simplistic view presented in the latest meme or media headline. It is possible for people to hold viewpoints that are neither fully liberal or conservative. More importantly, it is also very possible for people who disagree to sit down and have a very direct conversation and come away having not changed their minds, but having become friends. That is exactly what happened between these two gentlemen. In The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist, we find the story of their friendship and a frank discussion of the complexity of Mr. Hitchens.
Not only can two such different people become friends, but it is possible for other unexpected outcomes. Someone who was a leader in the Vietnam Anti-War movement can become a patriotic defender of the military and police and a strong proponent for the Iraq War. One of the “Four Horsemen” of Atheism can become a Pro-Life anti-abortion advocate. In many ways, this book tells the story of an atheist heretic, who believed what he believed very vehemently, but didn’t accept the entirety of atheistic dogma.
Touring the Christian south for lectures and debates, he became friends with several evangelical Christians and found southern Christian hospitality much more pleasant than he often found the extreme left. In fact, he found that the more he got to know them, the more intelligent he found them to be and the less they were like his expectations. He was grateful that there were Christians, but couldn’t understood why they existed. One of his most famous anti-Christian diatribes came to be known as the Hitchens’ Challenge. He believed that any Atheist could be just as good as any Christian and was quick to cite examples that demonstrated this.
Privately, he had difficulty reconciling this with both what he saw in the lives of the Christians he met and in statistics that show that Christians give 10 times more to charities than charitable non-believers. When his friend the author adopted an HIV-positive child, he found a faith that his life didn’t have a category for. In time, Mr. Hitchens began to differentiate from those who taught about faith and those who actually believe it. He would aggressively attack the positions of both on the stage, but it was only those who he perceived as hypocrites that he made an effort to destroy and humiliate individually.
Mr. Hitchens kept his promise to the author to study the Bible with him on an 11 hour roadtrip they took together near the end of Christopher’s battle with esophageal cancer. As Mr. Hitchens began to read the Gospel of John, he closed his eyes and began to recite it from memory, a remnant of his upbringing in Anglican schools a lifetime earlier. He would have frank discussions with the author and other believers and would hear the message of the Gospel presented by many of them, but in the end, he died without any known conversion to the truth.
If he had lived another 5 or 10 years, perhaps he would have made it, but ultimately, it doesn’t seem as if his search found any final answers. The author calls Mr. Hitchens a seeker and a man who kept 2 books, one public, the other private. In public, he was larger than life, bombastic and always attacking. In private, the author said he was “like Nicodemus, if he had come to see Jesus by day, rather than by night.” He came as a reporter or a critic, not as someone ready to hear the truth.
As believers, we should take the lessons of this book to heart. There are people out there who are very different than us, who hold very different opinions than we do, but who still need true friends and people who will love them enough to close the distance that these kind of differences create. I recommend this book to hear a beautiful story of the author’s friendship with this complex man and a picture of what friendship can look like between those from widely varying viewpoints.
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