I had read a lot of vitriol from the secular community regarding this book and made a point of re-reading Hitch-22 since Taunton referenced it in his opening description of Christopher Hitchens. So armed I was looking forward to reading it to see if all the ruckus was justified. As it turns out, the book is rather anti-climactic. There is nothing in the book that would lead one to think there was any deathbed conversion. I have respect for Taunton insofar as any discussions of conversion he writes about is no different than what one would hear from any believer contemplating the death of a non-believing friend who, during the time they were alive, had philosophical and religious discussions about faith and belief and fervently hoped for a last minute change of mind. The book centers on a trip through the Shenandoah Valley after a debate that Taunton had moderated and a subsequent trip after the debate that Hitchens and Taunton had in Billings Montana. I would recommend watching the debate between Hitchens and Taunton which is freely available on YouTube.
Most apologists are guilty of causal simplification in their arguments against unbelievers and Taunton is no exception. This should preach well to his followers to which this book is very clearly directed. For the unbeliever and/or the fan of Hitchens this book does have something to offer and I’d recommend reading it if for only these two reasons. If you are looking for a compendium of tired old canards and jingoist slogans against atheists this book is for you; you’ll not find a better one. The other and more important reason is to see the paucity of Taunton’s thinking which is representative of the sort of mind that finds Taunton’s sophistry impressive. It is readily apparent Taunton is quite pleased with himself and his conclusions which makes one feel a bit obligated to extend a degree of pity towards him.
Taunton takes Hitchens’ expression of “keeping two sets of books” and accuses Hitchens of doing the same thing both in his movement from the Left to the Right and his subsequent support of the Iraq war and his desire to spend time with Taunton (they genuinely liked each other) to find out what Taunton believed and why. Taunton assumes that it is not possible to possess a mind that allows facts to change your opinions over time about your beliefs, even deeply held ones. One cannot sit in the pew every week making the outward professions of faith while at the same time holding doubts about certain tenets of one’s faith and working through these issues in one’s mind, according to Taunton’s thinking. You either believe or you don’t. Questioning is what Taunton would have you believe is “keeping two sets of books” and he accuses Hitchens of doing exactly that. While publically being a firebrand atheist up to his passing, Taunton interprets Hitchens desire to understand his friend’s thinking as evidence that Hitchens was himself “keeping two sets of books” and furthermore was evidence that Hitchens was really considering converting in much the same way Peter Hitchens, Christopher’s younger brother, converted later on in life. Anyone who has read Hitchens would see through this in an instant. A more apt example of what Hitchens considered “keeping two sets of books” would be Ted Haggard, the anti-homosexual preacher who lost everything when his long time homosexual relationships and drug usage were exposed.
As I write this review I am reading an article about Taunton resigning from his position as director of the Fixed Point Foundation after being confronted with allegations that he had inappropriate relationships with two young women on the ministry staff, according to sources familiar with the situation. If true, hopefully this will correct Taunton’s misunderstanding about what “keeping two sets of books” actually means.