"A disgustingly evil man ..."
The fact that Billy Graham is 88 years old, now retired from public speaking, was recently hospitalized for intestinal bleeding, and is now in seriously failing health, clearly hasn't moved Christopher Hitchens to much sympathy.
In a recent interview, Hitchens describes Billy Graham as "a self-conscious fraud" and "a disgustingly evil man". Speaking on C-Span as part of a promotion for his new book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens claims that the evengelist made a living by "going around spouting lies to young people. What a horrible career. I gather it's soon to be over. I certainly hope so." You can watch the 2 September interview during which he makes the comments below.
Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, the authors of The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House, have responded to Hitchens in detail here. They write:
The charge that Graham went into ministry to get rich is just as easily refuted, both by what he did and didn't do. Well aware of how easily a famous preacher could be destroyed by financial or sexual scandal, Graham took pains early on to protect himself from both. He insisted that crusade accounts be audited and published in the local papers when the crusade was finished. Having founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1950, he took a straight salary, comparable to that of a senior minister of a major urban pulpit, no matter how much in money his meetings brought in. He was turning down million-dollar television and Hollywood offers half a century ago. He never built the Church of Billy Graham, and while he lived comfortably, his house is a modest place. If he had wanted to get rich, he could have been many, many times over.
I suspect we will soon be assessing the legacy of Billy Graham -- his cultural impact and his popularist style of theology. Christopher Hitchens has become famous for his iconoclastic journalism (consider his scathing attack on the legacy of Mother Theresa), but do his comments about Billy Graham have the merit of accuracy, notwithstanding the tastelessness of their timing? Or do they merely reflect the intensity of Christopher Hitchens's hatred of all things religious?