Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rage Against the Species

David Frum is angry. The target of his anger is one Larry Taunton, who has written a book, entitled "The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist." And the book is the reason for Mr. Frum's anger. To make a long story (and an interesting read) short, Mr. Frum takes exception to what he understands as Mr. Taunton's characterization of the late Mr. Hitchens as a) someone who was flirting with the idea of a conversion to Christianity, despite his very public atheism, and b) a thoroughly reprehensible person - even while he portrays himself as the author and polemicist's friend.

In order to be sure that he wasn't misrepresenting Mr. Taunton, Mr. Frum interviews him directly. And this where things become interesting. Mr. Frum points out that Mr. Taunton only makes a single unambiguously favorable statement about Mr. Hitches where he does not also complement himself, and when Mr. Taunton becomes defensive about this, Mr. Frum asks what complements he pays Mr. Hitchens in his book:

In other words, even when challenged: “You seem unable to say something non-disparaging about the man you call your friend”—even in the course of his own attempt to demonstrate that after all he could say something non-disparaging—Taunton only produced more denigration.
This strikes me as a side effect of what happens when a friendship is potentially born out of a desire to redeem a bad person - and Christians and Atheists have a habit of regarding the other as bad people. One of Mr. Taunton's other books is "The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief," and one of Mr. Hitchen's most famous is "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

And so, to a certain degree, I begrudge Mr. Frum his anger. After all, he describes Mr. Taunton as "an evangelical publicist and promoter," and a page for his book describes him as a Christian apologist. Why would one expect that his view of Mr. Hitchens, a man who had devoted his life to the idea that religion, including Christianity, was a virtual cancer to be even moderately positive? From sayings such as "There are no atheists in foxholes," to the assertion( that atheism stems from "a persistent immoral response of some sort, such as resentment, hatred, vanity, unforgiveness, or abject pride." It's easy to see how a devout Christian can see atheists as bad people.

In this, Mr. Frum makes something of the same mistake that he accuses Mr. Tauton of - not expecting him to believe what he professes to believe. A man who sees unbelief in Christianity as "corruption" and a world without Christianity as "cold, pitiless, and graceless," is unlikely to consistently have a very high opinion of someone who is bent on bringing about that world.

This is a topic that I've written about before. Not as a convenient way of knocking Christianity, or any other religion, but as a reminder to understand that sometimes, it's not about us. Mr. Frum's column is subtitled: "Larry Taunton's new book says more about its author than about the man he claims as a friend." But this would be true even if it were effectively a glowing hagiography of the man. Mr. Frum's column can be described the same way - as more about Mr. Frum than it is about Mr. Taunton. I think that all writing is like that. Despite the fact that I rarely write about myself from an autobiographical standpoint, Nobody in Particular is always, at it's core, about me, whether it my sliding into writing about Things Aaron Hates, or my consistent push to avoid simply using this as a forum to complain about things.

And in that sense, it does us no good to be angry at people for, well, being people.

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