Hitchens and Fry Get a Free Shot at the Catholic Church

HitchenSweatstephen-frymanicstreetpreacher is licking his chops at the prospect of seeing two of the finest intellectuals and wits the British Isles have ever produced sticking to the Vatican where the sun don’t shine.

On Monday, 19 October 2009, I will be attending a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared in London.

EDIT 20/10/2009: My full report of the debate is here.

EDIT 02/12/2009: The full video of the debate can be viewed on the Intelligence Squared website.

Writer and public intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, will be teaming up with actor, writer and broadcaster, Stephen Fry, to argue against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” with Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe arguing in favour.

widdecombeArchbishop John Onaiyekan

The moderator of the debate is BBC news anchor, Zeinab Badawi.  I hope she knows what she’s letting herself in for…

ZeinabBadawi

The Hitch given a free opportunity to rail against the Vatican?  This can only yield one result.  I have listed a series of classic Hitchens sound-bytes against the Church below.  Hitchens has lambasted the Holy See for everything, from the Crusades and the Inquisition, to the Vatican’s endorsement of fascism, to its policy of relocating paedophile priests (I will be disappointed if he does repeat the one about “no child’s behind left”) and preaching the ineffectiveness of condoms in AIDS-ravaged Africa to the excommunication of Bishop of Bulawayo Pius Ncube for being caught having an affair with his housekeeper while fully endorsing Zimbabwe’s ruthless dictator, Robert Mugabe.

Hitchens has even dared to attack that beacon of pan-religious goodwill, Mother Teresa, which started with his article in the November 1992 edition of The Nation tellingly entitled, “Teresa: Ghoul of Calcutta”, continuing with his 1994 Channel 4 documentary, Hell’s Angel:

followed up with his 1995 book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, as well as in numerous interviews and articles both before and after her death.

MotherTeresa

For the love Christ, in October 2003 Hitchens even took over what was then the recently defunct role of Devil’s Advocate and represented the Prince of Darkness pro-bono by arguing against the Vatican’s decision to canonise the old bag.

The words “duck” and “sitting” leap to mind.  Indeed, the blog entry on the British Humanist Association website sums up the proposition thus:

Can anything good really be said of an institution that has such a warped attitude to sex that it tries to stop the world from wearing a condom, is bitterly opposed to gays leading a fulfilled life and regards women as unworthy of officiating in its rituals?  That’s the standard line of attack by detractors of the Catholic Church (Hitchens and lesser Fry).

But who ya gonna call when it comes to finding a good school for your children, when it comes to standing up for the oppressed, when it comes to giving material and spiritual succour to the wretched of the earth?

Nevertheless, I like to provide a range of opinions where I can and indeed the boys over at anti-Hitchens blog, Hitchens Watch, predict matters somewhat differently:

The Forecast: The Bishop is in tip-top condition and he’s an expert in sharia law in Nigeria, while Ms Widdecombe is a real unholy terror – fearsome, formidable and ferocious.  Expect a real bludgeoning with blood on the canvas, Hitch on the ropes, Fry in the pan, and the pair of them screaming “God help us!  God save us!” by the end of Round 5.

However, the pre-date poll on the event’s page at Intelligence Squared is not looking good for the Catholic defenders:

For: 4.3%
Against: 95.2%
Don’t know: 0.5%

The full details of the debate are as follows:

“The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world”

Speakers for the motion

Archbishop John Onaiyekan: Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria.

Rt Hon Ann Widdecombe MP: Conservative MP and Catholic convert.

http://www.annwiddecombe.com/text.aspx?id=1

Speakers against the motion

Christopher Hitchens: writer, broadcaster and polemicist, author of the bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

www.buildupthatwall.com

Stephen Fry: actor, author, comedian and television presenter.

http://www.stephenfry.com/

The location of the venue is:

The Methodist Church
Methodist Central Hall
Storey’s Gate
Westminster
London
SW1H 9NH

Tel: 020 7654 3809
Fax: 020 7222 3392

Email: church@mchw.org.uk
Web: www.methodist-central-hall.org.uk

Doors open at 6:00pm and the debate will start at 6:45pm.

!!!VENUE WARNING!!!

Hitchens Watch and New Statesmen have listed the location as Cadogan Hall, 5 Sloane Terrace, London.

I have checked with the event’s organisers and this is incorrect.  Don’t go to the wrong venue!

As I said, I will be attending this debate, taking notes and hope to have a full write-up on this blog within 48 hours.

Watch this space!

Hitchens’ and Fry’s track record on religion

Hitchens and Fry make for an enticing tag-team.  The two of them debated (although of course it was more as a discussion because they agreed on practically everything!) blasphemy at the Guardian Hay Festival in 2005 with Joan Bakewell moderating:

During the course of the discussion, Fry delivered a wonderful speech on how a world without religion ought neither to be mundane or uninspiring:

As for Hitchens, he has said far too much about religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular than I could possibly fit into one blog post.  Check out the religion videos section on his website, Build Up That Wall, as well as those in the video archive over at RichardDawkins.net.

My favourite Hitchens speech against theocracy was his unforgettable volley against hate speech laws protecting religion at Hart House, University of Toronto on 15 November 2006.  You can watch the video and read the transcript of Hitchens’ speech on my blog.

I have also compiled a collection of classic Hitchensisms.  A selection of my favourites lambasting all things theist is below:

On the Catholic Church’s policy of relocating priests guilty of paedophilia

In the very recent past, we have seen the Church of Rome befouled by its complicity with the unpardonable sin of child rape, or, as it might be phrased in Latin form, “no child’s behind left”.

On the Church’s co-operation with Fascism throughout the 1930s and 40s

Up to 50% of the Waffen-SS were confessing Catholics; none of them was ever excommunicated, even threatened with it, for taking part in the Final Solution.  But Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated.  For… marrying a Protestant!  You see, we do have our standards!

On the Church of England

It not only calls itself a flock, it looks very sheep-like.

On Mother Teresa

I would describe Mother Teresa as a fraud, a fanatic and a fundamentalist.

Everything everybody thinks they know about her is false.  Not just most of the things; all the things.  It must be the single most successful emotional con-job of the 20th century.  She was corrupt, nasty, cynical and cruel.

I would say it was a certainty that millions of people died because of her work and millions more were made poorer, stupider, more sick, more diseased, more fearful and more ignorant.

When Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, few people had the poor taste to ask what she had ever done, or even claimed to do for the cause of peace.

What’s motherly about her by the way?  Hideous virgin and fraud and fanatic and fundamentalist.  Shrivelled old bat.  As far from the nurture of motherhood as a woman could decently get!

MT was not a friend of the poor.  She was a friend of poverty.

The Hitchens Challenge on whether there is a divine source to human morality

Name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever.  I am still waiting for a response to this.  It carries an incidental corollary: think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what?  There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point.  Everybody can instantly think of an example.

On the Bishop of Carlisle’s remarks that the 2007 floods in England were divine punishment for society’s acceptance of homosexuality

If there was a connection between metrology and morality, and religion has very often argued that there is, I don’t see why the floods hit northern Yorkshire.  I can think of some parts of London where they would have done a lot more good.

On freedom in religion

I don’t think it’s any more optional than Abraham saying to his son, “Do you want to come for a long and gloomy walk?”

On the Catholic Church’s moral equivalence of contraception with abortion

Aquinas believed that every single sperm contained a micro-embryo inside it and thus if you like – I hope I don’t offend anyone – hand jobs are genocide.  As for blow jobs; don’t start.

On the only safe way of getting oneself excommunicated by the Vatican

Pius Ncube goes.  The Vatican says, “That’s it, you’re no longer the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo.  You have to go, you’ve gone too far.”

Robert Mugabe, the communicant, the daily Catholic communicant, who thanks God for his electoral victory, which you may have seen, recently, celebrated so warmly by his people has not been forbidden the sacraments, hasn’t been excommunicated.

Now, Pius Ncube, the Bishop of Bulawayo, had an affair with his housekeeper.  Robert Mugabe has subjected his entire country to torture, famine, theft, expropriation, death, death squads and the rest of it, but it seems to me there is nothing he can do to get himself outside the church.  He’d probably have to recommend condoms or abortions at the rate he’s going before anything would be said about him, any condemnation would be thundered from the pulpit.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “Hitchens and Fry Get a Free Shot at the Catholic Church”

  1. PaulJ Says:

    This looks highly interesting. It’s too early in the evening for me (and when I considered the possibility of taking time off work to enable me to attend, I discovered it was fully booked).

    But I look forward to your write-up. Might the debate be recorded?

  2. PaulJ Says:

    Hey, I wonder if they’ll screen the recent Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on the Vatican? (Somehow I think not.)

  3. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Penn & Teller? Mmmmmmm… They might be giving that one a miss I would imagine. Although looking at the pre-date online poll, the majority of the audience would lap it up!

    I emailed the organisers while clarifying the venue cock-ups of New Statesmen and Hitchens Watch and they said that the event would be taped their own cameraman, BBC World and also another TV crew are filming Ann Widdecombe (!).

    They’re not sure whether it will go upon YouTube though.

    I was thinking of recording the debate with my MP3 player, but I doubt whether the quality will be any good, and even if I manage to upload it to my blog, Intelligence Squared will probably slap me with a copyright action!

    MSP

  4. PaulJ Says:

    Ann Widdecombe has done stuff for ITV, so that might be why she has another film crew following her.

    With regard to recording mp3 of the debate, it would be worth it for personal use — to be sure of exactly what someone has said when you want to comment on it on your blog. And if the recording quality is reasonable you could post excerpts, on the basis of “review”, “comment” and “fair use”. I’m aware that such qualification has minimal legal status in English law, but in practice (and on the basis of my past experience of podcasting) it’s unlikely to draw the ire of the company doing the official recording. If your blog is likely to encourage people to watch the programme when finally released, they can hardly claim that you’re depriving them of income.

  5. TheTrueScotsman Says:

    When I started to read this, I immediately thought of the “Blasphemy” debate between Hitchens and Fry at the Hay on Wye Book Festival a few years ago. I’m very glad you knew of this and posted it up here.

    The closing remarks by Fry have always resonated with me.

  6. Alex Gibson Says:

    Hi Ed, didn’t see you there! I was the one who heckled when Anne Widdecombe made a joke about how critics always bring up condoms, like it was a tiresome point.

    What a rout – Fry in particular was spectacular at keeping on point and was razor sharp. Widdecombe knew very little, patronised the audience and even had the temerity to say that historical abuses and crimes of the church didn’t matter, as well as that we have to consider those crimes in the context of the time. Very pleased to see Fry respond that he thought the Church’s truth was eternal and, if it wasn’t, what good was it?

    I think Hitchens came across a little badly and I would have liked to see the issue of the aid provided by the Church addressed more clearly – it’s undeniable that they do give lots of aid to poor countries but Hitch skipped over that lightly instead of pinning them to the wall about charity with proselytizing strings attached. Altogether a good debate though!

    At the start about 600 people were for the motion that the Catholic Church was a force for good and, by the end, it was down to 200. Brilliant!

  7. edthemanicstreetpreacher Says:

    Hello Alex

    Sorry we missed you guys. I think Hitch answered the point about the Church’s charitable work with his stock response about how Hamas do a lot of social giving in Gaza.

    It was a cracking debate! Until I finish my blow-by-blow account, we’ll just have to make do with Andrew M Brown’s executive summary on his Daily Telegraph blog:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/andrewmcfbrown/100014133/intelligence-squared-debate-catholics-humiliated-by-christopher-hitchens-and-stephen-fry/

    And this guy

    http://goodgrieflinus.blogspot.com/2009/10/may-force-be-with-you.html

    who have frustratingly beaten me to it!

    MSP

  8. JW Says:

    The first part of a more realistic account of the debate can be found here: http://christopherhitchenswatch.blogspot.com/
    Whether self-described freethinkers will be interested in grappling with the issues remains to be seen.

  9. edthemanicstreetpreacher Says:

    My write-up of the debate wasn’t “realistic” enough for you?

    How realistic is a piece posted on an anti-Hitchens blog going to be?

    MSP

  10. JW Says:

    Well – the anti-Hitchens blog is certainly not a “pro-Catholic” blog (while this one seems very ‘pro-Hitchens’ – and remarkably uncritical). Still, readers will decide. But shouldn’t Hitchens’ claims actually be challenged?

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Pro-Hitchens?! Whatever gave you that idea?

      Yes, I do worship the fag fumes he smokes. And yes, I do agree that his claims ought to be challenged. It’s just a shame that it is done post-hoc by bloggers instead of by his opponents in the actual debates.

      Have you read my comment on the post-debate report thread?

      MSP

  11. JW Says:

    I hadn’t seen that comment – thanks – some good points. My apologies for hasty judgement.
    Re. the SS the linked to review of Hitchens book has another take on the SS and Catholics (which Widdecombe brought) – namely that members of the SS had to recategorise themselves away from Catholic Church in the German system.

  12. Roy Spatchcock Says:

    Widdecombe (a recent convert to Catholicism we learnt at the start, just like arch Tory Anthony Blair) came across as patronising and snobby. The Bishop had also brought a fart to a shit fight. People have accused secular organisations of packing the audience but the cold, hard reality is that this is the UK now, a largely post-religious society. Bet the Beeb won’t run a similar debate on Islam being a force for good in the world, more’s the pity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 59 other followers

%d bloggers like this: