June 2, 2016

This article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal; to read the article on their website, click here.


The question might seem silly, because atheists claim not to believe in God at all. But claims don’t always match behavior, as the reaction to a recent book illustrates.

That book is “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens,” by Christian apologist Larry Alex Taunton, who tells the story of his remarkable friendship with Hitchens, the writer and ardent atheist who died in 2011. The book focuses on two long road trips during which they actually studied the Gospel of John together. (Mr. Taunton drove while Hitch, who had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2010, read aloud and drank Scotch.) But the idea that, contrary to his blunderbuss public attitude toward Christianity, Hitchens was not just friendly with Christians but also open to the idea of faith, has many atheists apoplectic.

Avenging anti-God hordes have crashed the book’s Amazon page, fulminating with one-star reviews that the book is “tripe!” and “dishonest” and “morally reprehensible,” and accusing Mr. Taunton of riding the beloved Hitch’s coattails “to make a fast buck.” It is pretty obvious that none of these Amazon “reviewers” has actually read the book. But why haven’t they, and why are they so outraged?

Do they fear that Mr. Taunton is some Bible-believing Svengali whose nefarious power over their ailing colleague was sheerest opportunism? And are they afraid that actually engaging with Mr. Taunton and his ideas would put them in the same danger as the man they so admired?

How can people so vocal about the importance of “evidence” and “reason” behave like this? Yet there they are, posting their angry one-star reviews, “liking” all other one-star reviews on the page to try to discourage book buyers, and then indignantly clicking away.

But one must wonder: Could it be that, in the friendship between the two men, they detect the possible existence of something they deny but secretly fear might be real? Is God a subject too scary to seriously consider with facts and reason?

The idea that Hitchens was curious about faith and engaged with it intellectually apparently would amount to an intolerable betrayal in the minds of some atheists, so they simply pretend that it never happened, despite the clear evidence to the contrary.

After all, wasn’t Hitchens’s friendship with Mr. Taunton itself evidence that Hitchens actually valued Mr. Taunton and his views?

Consider a recent BBC “Newsnight” interview with Mr. Taunton. Flirting with “Saturday Night Live” parody, the smug host, James O’Brien, ensconced in a gleaming black-and-purple set with his interviewees on remote video, treated his Christian guest with imperious disdain. Failing to fluster Mr. Taunton by insinuating that the author was claiming a Hitchens conversion to Christianity—that’s not Mr. Taunton’s point—the host then turned to atheist activist Lawrence Krauss, who said that Hitchens was not Mr. Taunton’s friend at all, but was only in his company because Hitchens had been paid to debate him. Unmentioned: those two long, voluntary road trips, and the fact that Hitchens had even spent the night at his friend’s house. Of course to know this, one must have read the book.

I have some history with Mr. Krauss. In an op-ed in 2014 for this newspaper called “Is Science Increasingly Leading Us to God?” I discussed the implications of a fine-tuned universe—and stirred up swirling dust-devils of atheist outrage. Mr. Krauss attacked the op-ed in the New Yorker magazine with an essay called “No, Astrobiology Has Not Made the Case for God,” dismissing the idea of a divinely ordered universe as sheer nonsense.

How awkward. None other than Christopher Hitchens himself had taken the fine-tuned-universe argument seriously. In the 2009 documentary “Collision,” about his encounters with evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, Hitchens says: “At some point, certainly, we [atheists] are all asked which is the best argument you come up against from the other side. I think every one of us picks the fine-tuning one as the most intriguing,” adding that “you have to spend time thinking about it, working on it. It’s not . . . trivial.”

If atheist activists want to be taken seriously, they must be willing to engage the facts. The fact is that Mr. Taunton has simply said that Hitchens late in life was “not certain” of his atheism. Unable to tolerate this crack in the atheist facade, Mr. Taunton’s critics reacted hysterically. The response lent credence to what many of us suspect—that atheists really do fear some facts, and, more than that, fear where those facts might lead.

Mr. Metaxas is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty,” out June 14 from Viking.