manicstreetpreacher 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.
The moderator of the debate is BBC news anchor, Zeinab Badawi. I hope she knows what she’s letting herself in for…
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.
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:
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.
Speakers against the motion
Christopher Hitchens: writer, broadcaster and polemicist, author of the bestselling book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
Stephen Fry: actor, author, comedian and television presenter.
The location of the venue is:
The Methodist Church
Methodist Central Hall
Tel: 020 7654 3809
Fax: 020 7222 3392
Doors open at 6:00pm and the debate will start at 6:45pm.
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.
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: africa, Ann Widdecombe, Archbishop John Onaiyekan, catholic church, christianity, christopher hitchens, condoms, debate, holy see, Intelligence Squared, London, Methodist Hall, Mother Teresa, Pius Ncube, pope, Religion, Robert Mugabe, Roman Catholic, Stephen Fry, third world, vatican, Westminster, Zeinab Badawi