Are Atheists Afraid of God?

Writer Christopher Hitchens in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
Writer Christopher Hitchens in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

The author and Broadcaster, Eric Metaxas,  has chipped into the debate regarding the latest quite frankly rather daft claim within a new book by Larry Alex Taunton that claims that well-known Intellectual and Atheist Christopher Hitchens (pictured above) was seriously pondering the idea of a death-bed conversion just before he died.

Given that his article is entitled, “Are Atheists Afraid of God?“, then it will be no surprise to discover that Mr Metaxas is a deeply religious chap who considers the book by Mr Taunton to be factual.

He opens with this …

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.)

If Mr Metaxas was actually familiar with the writings of Mr Hitchens, then he would know that he had a deep appreciation of the bible as a piece of cultural literature and recognised that the King James version had a profound influence on English as a language. For example here is an article he wrote in Vanity Fair on that very topic …

Though I am sometimes reluctant to admit it, there really is something “timeless” in the Tyndale/King James synthesis. For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivaled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. From the stricken beach of Dunkirk in 1940, faced with a devil’s choice between annihilation and surrender, a British officer sent a cable back home. It contained the three words “but if not … ” All of those who received it were at once aware of what it signified. In the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar tells the three Jewish heretics Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that if they refuse to bow to his sacred idol they will be flung into a “burning fiery furnace.” They made him an answer: “If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, o King. / But if not, be it known unto thee, o king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. 

… “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter? And so bleak and spare and fatalistic—almost non-religious—are the closing verses of Ecclesiastes that they were read at the Church of England funeral service the unbeliever George Orwell had requested in his will …

… At my father’s funeral I chose to read a similarly non-sermonizing part of the New Testament …

… The Tyndale/King James translation, even if all its copies were to be burned, would still live on in our language through its transmission by way of Shakespeare and Milton and Bunyan and Coleridge, and also by way of beloved popular idioms such as “fatted calf” and “pearls before swine.” It turned out to be rather more than the sum of its ancient predecessors, as well as a repository and edifice of language which towers above its successors. Its abandonment by the Church of England establishment, which hoped to refill its churches and ended up denuding them, is yet another demonstration that religion is man-made

They really did not grasp what was going on

The thing that Mr Taunton, and now also Mr Metaxas fail to grasp is that a love of literature is not the same as actually believing it. If indeed the observation by Mr Taunton that he and Hitch spent time on a road trip reading it is “evidence” that he was seriously considering the idea of conversion, then can we seriously suppose all those that love and enjoy the epic Greek Poems are also seriously contemplating conversion to a belief in an assortment of Greek deities, or that perhaps all those that love “The Lord of The Rings” actually think that elves, orcs, and wizards are real.

Mr Metaxas then takes it all a step further and considers that the rather vocal criticism of Mr Taunton’s claim is “proof” that the non-religious are secretly afraid of God.

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.

In other words, when many point out that Mr Taunton is being a bit of an idiot because he is clearly mistaking a love of literature for an actual belief, we now have Mr Metaxas jumping in and making the exact same mistake. Mr Hitchens could quite happily be friends with people who held distinctly different views, but that does not in any way mean that he actually agreed with them, it simply means that he was capable of being a decent human being and did not bestow the mantle of jerkhood upon himself when with somebody held different views.

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