Another God debate (Hitchens vs Blair part 1)

I am listening to two debates at the moment. The first is “God or No God” with Larry Taunton and Christopher Hitchens.  The second also sees Christopher against religion but now he has a new, different sort of opponent. A political one in the form of Ex Prime Minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair. I will blog my thoughts as they lock horns over the issue of whether or not religion is a force for good in the world.

The founder of the Aurea foundation and organiser of the debate, Peter Munk comes on and highlights the difference between a debate and a straight speech or presentation. The aim of the Munk Debates is to see some of the world’s most qualified people debate some of the most significant issues. He introduces Blair as one the most influential men in shaping the last decade but saves his most positive comments for Christopher. He not only states that he is one of the greatest minds of our times but praises his courage in agreeing to participate in the debate while undergoing treatment for cancer.

He then welcomes Rudyard Griffiths, to Co-organiser of the debate and moderator for the evening and gives him the lion’s share of credit for organising and making the debate happen.

Rudyard starts by welcoming the 240 million people who have access to the debate via the BBC plus the tens of thousands watching on the internet, and finally the 2,700 people  in the hall.

Then he introduces Christopher and Tony who come on to massive applause and shake hands. A few more snippets are given about them debaters. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism after leaving politics and launched the Tony Blair faith foundation to promote respect and understanding between the world’s religions. He was prime minster of the UK and is now the quartet representative in the Middle East working with the UN, the US, Russia and the EU to try to secure a lasting peace in the region. For his part, Hitchens is an author, journalist and atheist, well known for, among other things, his column in Vanity Fair.  Both have recently published memoirs. Tony’s “A Journey: my political life” and Christopher’s “Hitch 22”.

The format will be:

  • 7 minutes of opening remarks for and against the motion
  • 2 rounds of formal rebuttals
  • Questions form audience via cards, in person from younger members of audience on stage, plus the online audience will get a chance too.
  • It will conclude with 5 minutes of closing statements and a second vote on the motion.

A poll was taken on the way in of all 2,700 people:

  • 22% were in favour of the motion that religion is a force for good in the world.
  • 57% opposed the motion
  • and 21% were undecided.

Interestingly enough, 75% where open to changing their vote based on what they heard in the debate.

Christopher begins with his opening statement. I will blog my notes on it next time. I watch a ahead just a bit and its good stuff. Can’t wait.

Debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens

Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens

Be it resolved: Religion is a force for good in the world. Today Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens will argue for and against the motion http://www.munkdebates.com/home.aspx. It should be really interesting. If I get to hear it I will  blog on it .

I am still waiting for my copy of the  “God or no God” debate between Larry Taunton and Christopher Hitchens that took place on 19th October 2010. Meanwhile here is a clip of the two debaters talking about their unlikely friendship.

http://www.kulr8.com/news/local/An-Unlikely-Friendship-105232013.html?video=pop&t=a

 

On 27th Nov 2010 read this review in the guardian. Would still like to hear it myself though:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/27/christopher-hitchens-tony-blair-debate

Pray for Hitchens day

Author and vociferous atheist Christopher Hitchens, who was diagnosed with cancer this summer, has appealed to his religious fans and friends not to “trouble deaf heaven” with their “bootless cries” for his recovery.”

So wrote The Guardian on 6th Sept about Christopher Hitchens’ fight with Cancer.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/06/christopher-hitchens-asks-fans-not-pray

They were quoting from his latest Vanity Fair article (October). Christianity today had also read it and quote his repose to peoples prayers and the “pray for hitches day” on Sept 20th 2010 (today).    http://www.christiantoday.com/article/hitchens.dont.trouble.deaf.heaven.with.prayers.for.me/26658.htm

“[W]hat if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating”

I can see that, and I agree that objectively, it would not be a very convincing “miracle”. Granted his condition does not have a good prognosis but he is undergoing a lot of treatment and sometimes people do recover. A Christian in that situation would, of course, credit any recovery to the sovereign (if not miraculous) work of God while an atheist might assign no meaning to their recovery; Getting better over time, while taking strong medication, would probably not be seen as sufficiently convincing evidence to topple their worldview.

The bible, however,  seems to be full of a very different kind of miracle. Ones that are complete, instant, and occurring concurrently with a clear association to the person of Jesus. As well as praying for a long term recovery I am also praying for that kind of miracle. A miracle that not only speaks of God’s kindness and compassion but points to Jesus as the only saviour.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be happy with any kind of healing, but I’d love to move closer and closer towards those in the bible. Interestingly enough, the miracle being testified to by Delia Knox is taking place over time. First she got feeling back in her legs, then she could walk with some help, then a week later she could walk unaided for a short distance. It’s kind of half way between long term healing and instant miraculous healing. It was a miracle that she could feel and move her legs at all, and that happened at the time she was being prayed for in the name of Jesus. She was not however jumping about completely healed on that first occasion but is being healed in stages over time, hopeful towards the goal of complete recovery. Still, pretty amazing stuff.

Back to Hitchen’s though, who was at pains to say that if he makes a death bed conversion it should be rejected as being made by someone who is no longer him.

As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be ‘me’. (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumours or fabrications.)

A few weeks back when Larry Taunton from FixedPoint foundation suggested people pray for Christopher he got a very strong negative reaction from some people. He responded to that in a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJP4C1NQZPo which I will summarize here. Larry says:

Larry Taunton

1)  Christopher has never indicated that people praying for him is offensive to him. Larry himself isn’t offended by people saying “good luck” or lighting a candle for him. While these things aren’t necessarily effective they are expressions of care and love

2) The view that says the cancer is God’s judgment and that we should not pray for Christopher is “not a particularly Christian attitude”.

3) Larry did not wish to imply that Christopher was on the verge of conversion. Just that it would be good if when he recovered he would be in a debate representing the Christian position.

4) That he hopes the level of vitriol against Christopher would be lessened

5) and that we would all reflect deeply on what happens when we die.

Christopher has been well enough and bored enough (actually I think he really wanted to honour some previous commitments) to do a couple of debates recently. The first was for the Christian Fixed Point Foundation, Birmingham, Alabama titled “does atheism poison everything” against a guy called David Berlinsky. Previous debates have seen Hitchens on the attack against Christianity blaming it for many of the worlds ills. The counter argument has always come “well what about Atheism, hasn’t that also lead to even more atrocities?“. I have never been persuaded by Christopher’s response to this which is something about those atheistic regimes leveraging religion to perpetrate their crimes against humanity. However,  as I have never felt the force of this answer I wonder if I have really understood it.

Interestingly, David is a agnostic and secular Jew which meant that the debate might have given Christopher space to make his defence more thoroughly. In the event, according to Larry Taunton, the debate never really got off the ground with David simply absorbing blows and conceding ground. Maybe I won’t get the DVD after all.

Larry also pointed out that some in the audience seemed, unwittingly, to provide their own answer to the question of whether atheism poisons everything as a number of those opposing David’s view where rather unpleasant throughout the debate. One must keep in mind though that people who call themselves Christians can be pretty horrid too. (Richard Dawkins gives a number of examples of  rather unchristian ‘Christian hate mail’ in his book ‘The God Delusion’).

So, it seems the question remains open: is the conviction that God does not exist, in and of itself, detrimental to the world in which we live? I hope this is debated again some time.

Here is Larry’s blog if you want to know more: http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/blog and here is a link to the event: http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/debates/319-howatheismpoisonseverything (The second debate that Hitchen’s took part in was on the Middle East at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. on 27th Sept)

So how does Christopher feel about the “Pray for Hitches day” on 20th September?

“I don’t mean to be churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please do not trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.”

It will make me feel better and I trust it will lead to Christopher getting better too.