Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from the Sunday papers.

1. The Tories couldn't deliver the goods without the Lib Dems (Sunday Telegraph)

The Conservative right is wilfully blind to the fact that it is getting pretty much what it wants from a coalition that it hates, argues Matthew d'Ancona.

2. Bringing the bankers to heel must start right here, right now (Observer)

If Britain doesn't take a lead in controlling Big Finance, says Will Hutton, outrageous bonuses will carry on being paid and there will be another crisis.

3. Ed needs business more than big wins (Independent on Sunday)

The Lib Dems lost the Old & Sad by-election but claimed success. Labour won it but it's a terrible result for them, according to John Rentoul.

4. High taxes breed clever dodgers (Sunday Times) (£)

England's footballers, who rarely troubled opposition defences in the World Cup, are proving much more adept at outflanking the taxman, says a leading article.

5. Labour can only win if voters believe they're on the money (Observer)

The British public is not going to hand Labour the keys to No 10 until it restore its economic credibility, says Andrew Rawnsley.

6. What would be the impact of the Alternative Vote? (Sunday Telegraph)

Why are we having a referendum on AV? How does the voting system work? And is it fair? Tim Montgomerie reports.

7. Books for all, not just the wealthy (Independent on Sunday)

This leading article criticises cuts to public libraries, which will have a disproportionate effect on deprived areas.

8. Now we have two kinds of elderly (Sunday Times) (£)

Minette Marrin warns that as the elderly work for longer, two classes of old people will emerge – those who employers want and those who employers don't.

9. We can transform our countryside. Put forests in the hands of the people (Observer)

Andy Wightman maintains that a campaign to stop the government selling our woodlands misses a great chance to revolutionise their ownership.

10. Barack Obama captured the mood of a nation. Can David Cameron do the same? (Sunday Telegraph)

The president's speech in Tuscon showed the transforming power of language – a power that Cameron has so far been unable to master, argues Janet Daley.

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No, Christopher Hitchens did not convert to Christianity on his deathbed

From Mother Theresa to Princess Diana, for Hitchens, there were no sacred cows. He certainly would not have wanted to become one. 

The suggestion that atheist writer Christopher Hitchens converted on his deathbed was inevitable. When the evangelical Christian Larry Taunton appeared on Newsnight last week to discuss his new book, he suggested that “the Hitch” was “contemplating conversion” in his final days. The collective sigh from his fans was palpable.

That particular claim is uncontroversial. Of course Hitchens “contemplated” Christianity – to say so simply suggests he had an open mind. However, the book goes further, and claims that Hitchens began to doubt his convictions in his final days. Taunton writes that: “Publicly, he had to play the part, to pose, as a confident atheist. In private, he was entering forbidden territory, crossing enemy lines, exploring what he had ignored or misrepresented for so long.” The book is littered with similar insinuations that he was, so to speak, losing his faith. His close friends, those he wasn’t paid to spend time with as he was with Taunton, deny this completely.

Naturally, the book has sparked a host of rumours and junk articles that suggest he converted. Not one to let a cheap shot slide or leave an insinuation untouched, Hitchens was forward-thinking enough to not only predict these accusations, but deliver a perfect pre-buttal. When Anderson Cooper asked him, a short while before his death, whether he had reconsidered “hedging his bets”, he responded:

“If that comes it will be when I’m very ill, when I’m half demented either by drugs or by pain when I won’t have control over what I say. I mention this in case you ever hear a rumour later on, because these things happen and the faithful love to spread these rumours.”

If that isn’t enough, however, his wife has made clear in the strongest possible terms that talk of a softening on Christianity and a deathbed conversion is entirely untrue. “That never happened. He lived by his principles until the end. To be honest, the subject of God didn’t come up.”

The spreading of fallacious rumours of deathbed conversions by the religious is predictable because there is so much historical precedent for it. Many of history’s most famous atheists have suffered this fate, so, in a sense, Hitch has now been inducted into this hall of infamy alongside the likes of Darwin, Thomas Paine, and David Hume. In God is not Great, he wrote that “the mere fact that such deathbed ‘repentances’ were sought by the godly, let alone subsequently fabricated, speaks volumes of the bad faith of the faith-based.”

Now, not for the first time, Hitchens has fallen foul of this bad faith. After all, what can be more abhorrent than baying for a man to abandon his lifelong principles when he is at his most vulnerable, and spreading callous lies when he can no longer respond? It speaks for the complete lack of confidence these people must have in their beliefs that they strike when the individual is at their least lucid and most desperate.

Hitchens felt the bitter end of the religious stick when he was dying as well, and he responded with typical wit and good humour. He was told that it was “God’s curse that he would have cancer near his throat because that was the organ (he) used to blaspheme.” His response? “Well, I’ve used many other organs to blaspheme as well if it comes to that.” One suspects that he would have rubbished recent talk in a similarly sardonic fashion.

Likewise, for a man who was not afraid of a provocative title himself (see: The Missionary Position, No One Left to Lie to) it would be reasonable to think he’d accept his own life as fair game. From Mother Theresa to Princess Diana, for Hitchens, there were no sacred cows. He certainly would not have wanted to become one.

Fortunately, we are blessed with the wonders of the internet, and Hitchens can respond to these claims as Thomas Paine and David Hume could not – from the grave. His prediction and preparation for this speaks of an intellect like no other. In a posthumous debate he still wins out.