Hitchens and Fry versus the Catholic Church: Post Mortem


manicstreetpreacher witnesses first-hand a rhetorical massacre of Vatican hench(wo)men by the cream of British intellectualism.

On Monday, 19 October 2009 I attended a debate at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, London featuring “New Atheist” and author of God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens and 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 proposing.

The debate was filmed by BBC TV cameras and the debate moderator, Zeinab Badawi, told us that it would be broadcast to 70 million people throughout the world on 7 and 8 November 2009.   The full video of the debate can be viewed below:

Each of the four speakers were allowed 15 minutes for an opening statement, then there was about 30 minutes of the audience’s questions and comments and then the panel were given a final five minutes to sum up.  The whole event lasted a shade under two hours from 7:00 – 9:00pm.  The only disappointment is that Hitchens wasn’t signing books afterwards, but apart from that it was very well put together by the organisers, Intelligence Squared.

Exactly as I predicted before the event, this was an utterly one-sided affair.  Hitch and Fry wiped the floor with their papist opponents.  It was an embarrassment for the parties of God.  The two men had everything on their side.  They had the arguments, they had the historical facts, they had the present day facts, they had the rhetoric, they had the wit and most importantly they had the audience, although it has to be said that most of them were dead against the motion from the start.

Blow-by-blow: Archbishop John Onaiyekan

Archbishop John Onaiyekan opened the motion for the proposition.  He seemed an amiable enough fellow; I’m sure you’d like to have him round for dinner.  Unfortunately he was encumbered with a thick Nigerian accent, which made it difficult to understand what he was saying.  Not that it would have made too much difference.  From what I could pick up, his opening statement was a wishy-washy apologia that cited few factual examples and even less ideology.

The Archbishop said that from his Catholic upbringing to the present day as a 65 year old adult, he had no regrets and devoutly believed in the motion, otherwise he would not be a member of the Catholic Church in the first place.  The Church has stood the test of time over the last two thousand years ranging from the good ordinary folk of the world to the leaders of the world.  He cited the 2008 papal encyclical, Caritas In Veritate, “Charity in Truth”, as a good example of what the Church stood for.

Noises were made about the Church’s syllabus of errors, but the Archbishop stressed the need to keep perspective and be careful when judging others.  After all, the late pontiff, John Paul II apologised for many of the Church’s “misjudgements” throughout history.

The Archbishop argued that true good of the Catholic Church can be attested by its 1.2 billion members and we really ought to go and speak to some of them to realise that the world needs more people linking arms and striving for a future of justice.  The Archbishop also stated that the Church has a hand in setting up many schools and hospitals and contrary to the public perception of its stance on condom use, had worked closely with the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS.

It was a well-meaning and consolatory opening.  The Archbishop finished with plenty of his allotted time to spare and asked with a dash of irony whether there now could be anyone in the audience who didn’t think that the Catholic Church was a force for good.  Bless him, he must have hoped that his two opponents would be willing to search for common ground.

What planet has he been living on?

The Hitch

OK, let’s face it.  This is why the majority of the audience paid their admissions fee.  To witness arguably the world’s most outspoken atheist and opponent of religion take aim at the easiest target he could have wished for.  We were not disappointed.

After the usual warm-up quips about the moderator admiring his shirt, Hitch went at the Holy See like a rabid dog.

WHAM!  The statement delivered by Pope John Paul II’s spokesmen on 12 March 2000 apologising for everything from the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the oppression of women (who after all comprise half the human race), to the forced conversion of the indigenous peoples of South America by the Conquistadors.

BLAM!  The 94 public recognitions of the Church’s crimes against humanity from apologising for the African slave trade in 1995 to the admission in 1992 that Galileo was actually right when he said that the sun was the centre of our solar system and the earth and the other planets were in orbit around it.


KA-ZAAM!!!  Hitchens’ demanded that apologies were long overdue for the crimes of the Croatian Utashe lead by Ante Pavelić in the Second World War which received the full blessing of the clergy, to the rape and torture and cover-up of children in Catholic schools and care homes from “Ireland to Australia”, to the hideous preaching of Augustine’s doctrine of limbo which had countless parents in agony over the destination of the souls of their un-baptised children.

BIFF!  There were a few more sins for the Holy See to atone for: the 1933 Reich Concordat with Nazi Germany which dissolved the Catholic Centre Party and removed all opposition to the rise of Hitler while ensuring that the Church maintained control of state education.  Come to think of it, wasn’t the first treaty that Mussolini put his name to the 1929 Lateran Treaty with the Vatican.  Wasn’t Jozef Tiso, the despot who governed Slovakia an ordained priest?   Wasn’t every other fascist dictator from Franco to Salazar raised as a Catholic with the public blessing of St Peter’s Basilica?  Wasn’t Adolf Hitler’s birthday celebrated from the pulpits every year right up until his death?


Well alright, then perhaps a little bit more.  This is getting kinda fun.

THWACK!!!  Hitch declared that none of this could be laughed off with gestures to the charitable.  After all, didn’t Pope Ratzinger qualify the apology to the South American Indians by saying while on a visit to Brazil in 2007 that they were “silently longing” for the arrival of Christianity?  The sex abuse scandal culminating in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, Massachusetts, only for the same Cardinal to show up at the 2005 conclave to elect the new pontiff doesn’t exactly enhance the Vatican’s claim to moral superiority either.  Neither does the doctrine of anti-Semitism for the Jews’ complicity for the death of Christ preached until 1964, nearly 20 years after the judgment of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

POW!!!   Hitch then proceeded to tear the moral relativism that has engulfed the Church in recent years  (and would certainly engulf the arguments of its apologists this night) a new one.  He stated that the rape and torture of children is something that cannot be relativised.  It cannot be shrugged off as something that would not happen if “queers had not been allowed into the Church.”   If any “normal” person were accused of child rape, they would want to die.  If they were found guilty, they would commit suicide.

ZAP!!!  More suggested topics to apologise for?  How about the re-inauguration of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, who effectively said, “Genocide?  No.  Deicide? Yes!”?  Ratzinger invited Williamson back into the fold because Church unity was more important than moral integrity.  And how about the genocide in Rwanda, the most Catholic country in Africa where priests and nuns were guilty of inciting the massacres and indeed, many are now standing trial for taking part in it themselves.  No proper apology has ever been issued.

Hitch then stood up for his friend, Stephen Fry, who is “not like other girls” and cannot be a member of the Church for being a “fag”.  The Church’s condescending stance to “hate the sin, love the sinner” means that a substantial portion of the world’s population is excluded from the sacraments.

Hitch ended by saying that he did not wish harm on anybody, but he looked forward to the death of Ratzinger for one reason and one reason only.  In the intervening weeks and months between one pope dying and another being elected by the College of Cardinals, there is a period when no one on earth claims to be infallible.  Our species must be rid of its faith the certainty from above if it is to progress.

The crowd loved every minute of it.  Hitch’s address was punctuated by applause and cheers several times.  The biggest cheer came when he faced the Archbishop and asked him for a public apology for the Church’s policy of delivering false information about the effectiveness of condom use, effectively saying that “AIDS is bad, but condoms are worse”.

In case you couldn’t tell, Hitchens is a personal hero of mine.  I’m well on the way to having read all of his books.  I’ve seen him lecture and debate as many times as I’ve been able to find on YouTube.  I’ve referenced him more times than I care to remember on this blog and in my appearances on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable? and I have come in for some stick from commenters and listeners for being a mouthpiece for the Four Horsemen in general and Hitchens in particular.  This was the first time that I have seen him speak live and it was worth 10 times the admission price.

It was orgasmic!


The Conservative MP and Catholic convert was announced to have left the Church of England in 1992 when it decided to ordain women priests.  In answer to a question from the audience, she explained that a woman can be an MP because it is a profession, but there is no theological basis for a woman to be a priest because they cannot lead the confession before Christ.  Apparently a woman can no more stand in for JC than a man for the Virgin Mary.  Right.

Out of the two papists, it has to be said that Widdecombe put up by far the better fight.  She raised rapturous applause from the Catholic supporters in the audience (all five of them) by starting off demanding that Hitchens give an apology for the caricature he had presented of the Church’s history, saying that members of the Waffen SS had to renounce their Christianity before entering the organisation, and Ratzinger made Bishop Richard Williamson renounce his views on the Holocaust before once again granting him the sacraments.  She also tried to deflect his remarks saying that he had to delve into history and go back to the Crusades and the Inquisition for the core of his arguments.

I was in dire need of a sick bucket at one point when Widdecombe indulged in the worst kind of relativism in defending the Church’s stance on slavery since it was simply in line with the opinions of the rest of the world!  Hitchens later pointed out that if slavery had to be considered in context, what could be more relative than that?  What happened; did God change his mind?

As if slavery wasn’t bad enough, Widdecombe went on to say that it has only been in recent years that the courts and the Samaritans have tackled the problem of child sex abuse and there has been a Sex Offenders Register.

Special pleading and calls for clemency do not convincing arguments make, Miss Widdecombe.

The worst offence Widdecombe committed was recommending the work of historian Michael Burleigh who, along with Martin Gilbert, has praised the efforts of the wartime pope, Pius XII, in rescuing many thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by giving them refuge in Castel Gandolfo. I wonder how many people realised that in fact Burleigh re-prints a bogus statement purporting to be from Albert Einstein praising the Church’s response to Hitler in his 2006 book Sacred Causes, the questionable authenticity of which Hitchens debunks in God Is Not Great.

While Hitch didn’t nail her for that point in his closing remarks, he did stand by his views on the Church preaching the doctrine of deicide against the Jewish people as likely to have provided a well of anti-Semitism throughout Europe which facilitated the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

It wasn’t all bad, however.  Widdecombe at least pointed out that the Church does much in the way of charitable giving and as a politician, she relied on them as much local government.

The address finished off with a call for the Church’s offer of hope and salvation, which the two nasty heretics at the other side of the table simply could not offer.  Hitch’s retort in the closing section was to agree whole heartedly that absolution was not forthcoming from him and Fry, but Catholics still had to live with their conscience and good luck to them.


As good as Hitchens was, the revelation of the evening was Stephen Fry.  Here was a man who I previously did not think capable of saying boo to a goose coming out (if you’ll excuse the pun) in full force against the forces of theocratic sexual repression.

Fry started off quoting Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest, saying that speaking one’s mind was quite often not just a moral duty, but a pleasure!  This was a subject he felt strongly about, not because he objected to people being religious, but because he felt passionately about the Enlightenment, which the Church has never tired of attacking.  Straightaway, Fry sarcastically rubbished Widdecombe’s dismissal of history, saying that history “quivers down all of us”.

Fry then went on to attack the appalling doctrine of purgatory and the hideous idea that a soul needs to be prayed for by us mortals here on earth in order to “take the first left when getting on the plane and getting a first class seat to heaven.”  He lambasted the tradition of people giving money to ensure the safe delivery of the soul and questioned why it should be a privilege that only men could enjoy.

The next target was the Church’s exploitation of poor people, citing Thomas More who burned people at the stake for reading English translations of the Bible during the Reformation yet was made the patron saint of politicians by Pope John Paul II!  Then there was the disgraceful joint statement on contraception with Saudi Arabia (!) in 2003 that began, “On behalf of the revealed religions of the world…”

However, the real meat came with Fry’s attacks on the Church’s stance on homosexuality.  As a gay man, Fry could not possibly be a member of an institution that thought him evil.  On the contrary, Fry announced that he was a man who was full of love and certainly had no need of the pope’s permission to tell him to practise it.  Fry compared sex to food.  It’s jolly and it’s fun.  But frankly, the Catholic Church is anorexic.

Fry has made a series of TV documentaries about HIV in Africa, HIV and Me, and attacked the Church’s stance on preaching misinformation about contraception.  “Yes, abstinence and being faithful help prevent the spread of AIDS, BUT SO DO CONDOMS!!!”  It was not the last time the mild-mannered British comic would raise his voice.

This wonderful opening speech was topped off by speculation as to what Jesus would think.  Fry is clearly one of those atheists who at least think that Christ was a great moral teacher (unlike Hitchens who questions both the man’s existence as well as his morality), and asked what the Nazarene would think of the opulence of St Peters and the male-dominated hierarchy.  Of course he would be horrified and would be the last person to become a member of his own church!

In his closing statement, Fry answered Widdecombe’s protests that he just had to bring up condoms and sexuality was rather like a criminal in the dock saying to the judge, “Do you have to bring up that burglary?”!  The second time he raised his voice was in reply again to Widdecombe’s relativist defence of the Church not condemning slavery because it was a socially acceptable normal with, “WELL, WHAT ARE YOU FOR?!”  Magic.


Democracy in action

After the main speeches, the debate moved to comments and questions from the house.  The atheists were in full force in both numbers and words.  The moderator eventually had to ask for Catholic supporters to ask questions to balance things out!

Several gay men and women took the mikes and made their feelings known on the Church’s interference with what they do behind their bedroom doors.  One man asked the Archbishop what current policy of the Church he was most ashamed of!

Hitchens answered supporters’ objections to the Church’s charitable work and fundraising with his stock reply that Hamas do much of the same in Gaza, but is anyone going to say a word in defence of them for that reason?  He also showed his feminist colours by attacking the Ten Commandments as suppressing women and that the one proven way of bringing a society off its knees was to bring about the emancipation and the empowerment of women as opposed to having them as field hands, pack horses and baby producers.

Hitch also quite happily admitted to being sexually obsessed after Widdecombe accused Fry in her closing remarks of saying the evening’s only piece of “unpleasantness” by mocking the Archbishop’s vow of celibacy.  Hitch’s retort to this piece of prudishness was that from the day he first discovered that his God-given male member would give him no peace, he decided to give it no rest in return.  He also pronounced that homosexuality was not just a form of sex, it was a form of love.  Stephen Fry was a good friend of his and he would allow him to baby-sit his children any day of the week.  If, on the other hand, a clergyman showed up to look after his children, he would first call a taxi and then call the police!

The audience polls before and after the debate said it all:

Before the debate:

For the motion: 678
Against: 1102
Don’t know: 346

After the debate:

For: 268
Against: 1876
Don’t know: 34

Therefore, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774.


Andrew M Brown, on his Daily Telegraph blog, summed up the problem for the parties of God rather well:

The problem (from the Catholic point of view) was that the speakers arguing for the Church as a force for good were hopelessly outclassed by two hugely popular, professional performers.  The archbishop had obviously decided that it would work best if he stuck to facts and figures and presented the Church as a sort of vast charitable or “social welfare” organisation.  He emphasised how many Catholics there were in the world, and that even included “heads of state”, he said, as if that was a clincher.  But he said virtually nothing of a religious or spiritual nature as far as I could tell, and non-Catholics would have been none the wiser about what you might call the transcendent aspects of the Church. Then later when challenged he became painfully hesitant. In the end he mumbled and spluttered and retreated into embarrassing excuses and evasions. He repeatedly got Ann Widdecombe’s name wrong.  The hostility of both the audience and his opponents seemed to have discomfited him…

Even if you didn’t agree with him you’d have to concede Hitchens especially was spectacular and hyper-articulate…  Hitchens drank bottled water mostly, and plenty of it, though from time to time when he was sitting down he raised a glass of amber fluid from out of sight, down on the floor somewhere, and took a slug from that.  I don’t know why he kept a drink under the table like that, perhaps because the debate was filmed for broadcast.  He sweated profusely and dabbed his shiny forehead, eyes and cheeks with a handkerchief. But his diction was clear and he was in control, like a revivalist tent preacher, building the volume to a crescendo at the end, to applause and roars from the audience.

Amen to that, brother.

In conclusion – more and more are wearing their scarlet letter with pride


Aside from the superb showing by Stephen Fry and the utter annihilation of the apologists at the hands of the heretics, the evening was notable for one other reason: the number of people willing to announce their atheist colours with pride and make their feelings known about what they really feel about the most oppressive, hypocritical institution that our mammalian primate species has ever concocted.

The books by the “New Atheists”: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and of course, Christopher Hitchens have instilled the non-believers around the world with the motivation and the confidence to speak out.  This is no mere flash in the pan.  As Winston Churchill had it, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Sorry to all the bishops, priests, nuns and mullahs, but we are not going away in a hurry.  All we need now is the confidence not to pick on such a soft target next time and debate whether Islam is a force for good in the world…


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26 Responses to “Hitchens and Fry versus the Catholic Church: Post Mortem”

  1. Mark Jones Says:

    Superb write up, manic. You’ve filled in many of the gaps I forgot!

  2. PaulJ Says:

    I saw a tweet from Stephen Fry late on Monday evening that suggested the debate had been a somewhat one-sided affair. Do you know if BBC World TV is streamed live on the net? I look forward to watching the recording, though I imagine it will be edited down to under an hour.

    BTW, nice concluding paragraphs to this post. I have one of those scarlet A pins, but so far I admit to being diffident about wearing it. I’ve thought mischievously about wearing it at work, on those occasions when I visit Catholic primary schools. But then I’ve also thought about slipping a copy of The God Delusion onto the shelves in the school library. To date I’ve done neither.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hi Paul

      Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased you enjoyed my report.

      I don’t know what the broadcast details will be or whether it will be streamed over the ‘net. I hope so! I did record the debate on my MP3 player, but the quality was only good enough to serve as an aide memoir for this post. Not worth uploading.

      How’s the editing of our podcast going?


      • PaulJ Says:

        How’s the editing of our podcast going?

        The audio is edited, and the new episode will be posted tomorrow (probably fairly late evening).

  3. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    One of the posters at RichardDawkins.net has posted an interesting comment following a chance encounter with the Hitch and his son in a London bar following the debate:

    Bizarrely, by pure fortune, I just met and had an hour-long conversation with Christopher Hitchens and his son in a hotel bar in west London!!

    He told me there was no joy in this debate, “it was like picking the wings off a fly”!

    Interesting guy. Exactly as he is on screen, but a little shorter.

    You looked like you were hating every moment of it, Christopher…

  4. ScottP Says:

    Excellent write up manic. Thanks for the blow by blow and for posting your link to my site. Cheers!

  5. Alex Gibson Says:

    Aside from the “Then what are you FOR?!” comment from Fry, my absolute favourite part was Anne Widdecombe’s stumbling bastardisation of history. It made it very clear that this debate was only going one way when she said:

    “Mr Hitchens has to look back to the crusades to find points against the motion or, if you like, even further to the sack of Constantinople”


  6. RichardC Says:

    I wondered about the truth of Widdecome’s claim “that members of the Waffen SS had to renounce their Christianity before entering the organisation”, and did a little google search. From the link below this claim appears to be very questionable as various members of the Waffen SS say they were able to practise their religion + some of their units had chaplains. It is also a well-known fact that many Nazi soldiers had “Gott Mit Uns”, meaning “God With Us” on their belt buckles during WWII. http://www.redrat.net/thoughts/iraq/gott_mit_uns.jpg


    Can anyone provide more information on this?

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Hi RichardC

      Come to think of it, that was yet another misrepresentation by Widdecombe in respect of Christianity’s role in the rise of Nazism!

      Hitchens has previously cited the Catholic historian Paul Johnson’s, A History of Christianity, as saying that 25% of the SS were confessing Catholics, but not a single one of them was excommunicated for taking part in the Final Solution.

      Most of the Nazi leaders were brought up as Catholics as well, but only Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated for the sin of marrying a divorcée Protestant!

      Hitler’s true religious views are the subject of hot debate. However, he never formally renounced his membership of the Church and certainly used the religious prejudices of the time to win favour. Mein Kampf contains a glowing reference to The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a crude forgery by the Tsarist secret police purporting to outline plans for Jewish world domination.

      MK also references “Heaven” and “the Almighty” rather a lot, but Darwin and Nietzsche not at all.

      You might want to take a look at this fascinating website showing pictures of Hitler praying at a public rally and attending church, as well as Catholic priests giving the Nazi salute, and Nazi Muslim troops.

      The most famous source of Hitler’s anti-Christian (not even atheistic) remarks is Table Talk: a collection of his tea-time ramblings as recorded by his secretaries. However, as this article by Richard C Carrier shows, the source’s trustworthiness is questionable in the extreme.

      Thanks for your comments. Keep ‘em coming.


  7. Byrom Says:

    An excellent analysis of the debate and you’re dead right about Stephen Fry – I was expecting Hitch to be the bad cop, but he looked almost meek and mild compared to Fry!

    I am grateful also that you mentioned Anne Widdecombe’s nonsense reply to my question about women priests vs women MPs. I can remember her saying my question betrayed a “vast ignorance”. And indeed she was right, for I was completely ignorant of any good reason for women to be denied ordination and I am happy to say, even after her reply, that I remain so!

    I myself am not an atheist (let’s call it agnostic with cautious, non-religous yet theistic tendencies) but I was rejoicing at the outcome of the debate, that the institution of the Catholic Church was well and truly (no apologies for choice of words) crucified.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    If I ever do lapse into unbelief, I will be able to confidently say that Dawkins, Hitchens and yourself were not vehicles of my deconversion, but obstacles to it. This debate throws into sharp relief the nauseating self-congratulation which Dawkinsite atheists thrive on. Their sickening triumphalism is aimed not at all at helping people see reason, but at making people look stupid. All those people – yourself included – paid money, not to attend a “debate”, but to have your ears tickled by one of your heros (whom you openly admit you hoped to have a book signed by afterwards) as they devoured a couple of sacrificial lambs in the form of this bishop and MP, whos arguments by the sounds of things were lacking to say the least. (I would not be surprised if they were selected for this reason; I’ve seen it on Revelation TV lots of times, where they take a world class Baptist apologist and set him up again Catholic Fr Joe Blogs from round the corner of the studio, in order to ensure the Catholic Church comes off worst.)

    This schoolboyish toadying gives me an instant revulsion to the idea of associating with the community of so-called “brights”, and an emotional impulse to flee further back into faith, even blind faith if necessary. I can only hope that intellectual honesty will win the day with me once again, and that I shall follow the truth wherever it may lead, whether it be to remain a Catholic, or to consign myself to doubt.

    As for Hitchens and Fry, it’s clear that what they’ve done it scoured the history of the Catholic Church looking for bads. The Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years, longer than any other institution known in the West. Of course there’s going to be an impressive list of errors and sins. But this is the worst way to look at history. If looked at the same way, ANY institution older than 50 years would have seemed to be demonised. I have studied Catholic history, and I know of it’s shortcomings, but when I study the history, the bad comes up in proportion to the good. It’s a shame neither of the proponents in this debate could have presented this case.

    • Ed B Says:

      OK, I’ll take the bait.

      Name 5 good things that the Catholic Church has done.

      These should obviously be actions that showed particular foresight, compassion or humanity in comparison to the culture or morals of the day, and that were achieved uniquely and solely by the Catholic Church (preferably acting by direct decree of the Pope, or some similarly authoritative figurehead).

      I would be genuinely interested to see your list.

    • PJG Says:

      Anonymous, do you really stand by this comment?

      “This schoolboyish toadying gives me an instant revulsion to the idea of associating with the community of so-called “brights”, and an emotional impulse to flee further back into faith, even blind faith if necessary.”

      Are you really saying that you will turn to blind faith rather than reality simply because you disapprove of the manner in which others report a debate? Do you really think that is more mature behaviour than that which gives you “instant revulsion”?

  9. TheTrueScotsman Says:


    “The Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years, longer than any other institution known in the West. Of course there’s going to be an impressive list of errors and sins.”

    I thought their leaders claimed infalibility?

    • Byrom Says:

      According to Anne Widdecombe, God decided to let them discover for themselves that child rape was wrong, so fair enough to give them 2000 years.

    • Oli Lea Says:

      They claim infallibility (which means “freedom from error”) in their theological definition, not “impeccability” (which literally means “freedom from sin”). The meaning of the infallibility of the Church is a commonly misunderstood thing. It doesn’t mean that the Pope can’t lose his temper, lose at Risk or lose his aim when he takes a piss in the night. It just means that when he sits in a special chair and wears a special hat, and makes a doctrinal pronouncement in the name of the entire Church (for example, that Mary was assumed into Heaven) then the Holy Spirit will prevent him from erring.

      You may feel, as a great many do, that this is total rubbish of course. But at least knowing this you can judge the Church for what it claims to be, and not what it doesn’t.

  10. socialrepublican Says:

    The nature of fascism and religion is not quite as direct as the Hitch makes out nor is it completely alien as the apologists insist.

    Richard Steigmann-Gall recently made the case that much of the Nazi leadership attempt an internal and not too coherent synthesis of the primacy of god and that of the nation


    With regards to the Ustasha, again, experts are split. Much of the strongest work recently comes from Mark Biondich. He believed that there was little in the way of true theocratic tendancies in the Ustasha movement, rather catholicism was used as only one marker of ‘Croat-ness’. Nevenko Bartulin supports this by making clear the secular underpinnings of the ideology, with regards to traditional conceptions of Croatian nationalism.

    I think a better explaination is given by Rory Yeomans. To his mind, the Ustasha did use religion as a marker, but it was a primary factor in their identification. Rather than the dry theology of academics, they used and were inspired by ‘village catholicism’, a synthetic mix of ritual, nomos and folkloric assumptions and catagories. The hierarchy of the church could influence it, but did not have a monopoly over the discoursae and its meanings.

    You see a similar situation in Romania. The Legion, a sort of Orthodox Christian Al-Qaeda, practices, according to Alexander Webster, a similar ‘village orthodoxy’. Before 1936, the Church and the Legion were very close. After the Patriarch join the government, they both condemned each other bitterly, Codreanu declaring ‘we are the true church now’

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Excellent post, socialistrepublican. I’ll certainly make an effort to check out the books you recommend, although they will be going to the bottom of a pile that it about 10 feet high!

      Personally, I am fascinated by the character of Pius XII. Was he “Hitler’s Pope” or was he a “righteous gentile”? I am actually researching a blog paper on Christianity’s role in the Holocaust, although it’s turning into a bit of a book, as I keep finding more material to investigate.

      Fascism was not an explicitly religious movement like the Crusades and the Inquisition, but it was a movement comprising mainly Catholics and Protestants with the blessing of the Holy See. Pius XII even granted an audience with Ante Pavelić at the Vatican during his brutal rule of Croatia in the Second World War, although it is not clear whether he knew the full extent of the Utashe ’s atrocities.

      The perception that fascism was secular or atheistic is utterly unfounded and appears to be based on little more than a few off-the-cuff tea time rantings from Hitler of highly questionable reliability.

      A point on which I did agree with Michael Burleigh is that it is important to keep some perspective on matters and remember that the Church did not order any of the massacres or send anyone to the gas chambers itself. The Flying Chariot Ministries page I linked above re-prints the opinion of a very eloquent Amazon reviewer which summarises matters perfectly:

      David Dalin has written an entire book that misses the point by a whole country mile! As long as Pope Pius XII allowed Hitler to remain a Catholic, the Pope supported his actions, period, and end of story. There was no conspiracy, just failed responsibility, and lack of action. David Dalin’s book, The Myth of Hitler’s Pope demonstrates very little except to try and defend the ridiculous.

      – Gordon A Stamper

      • socialrepublican Says:

        I cannot comment in any way authoritatively on Pius. I would suggest you steer clear of Goldhagen though. The man is a complete hack.

        One can make a rough judgement from Stepinac’s criticism of the NDH. The mass murder of Serbs was on a par with public blasphemy

        As for fascism as atheist/profane/secular, I would say that, at heart, the cult of the nation central to fascism was a replacement ideology par excellent. It was deeply religious, containing a nomic canopy, transformative rituals and a do or die eschaton. Yet the various ‘post’ christian plans produced by the fascists, notably the Volkisch cults of the NSDAP, were inherently anti-christian.
        They were serious about the ‘decadence’ of all that meek and mild stuff and how the new man must be rid of it.

        If you can get on Athens, there’s a article by my former Professor, Roger Griffin (no relation) called ‘The ‘Holy Storm’:’Clerical Fascism’through the Lens of Modernism
        ‘ in Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2007. It applys Ockham’s katana with some dash onto the subject

  11. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Jesus H Christ! Even Stuart Reid, blogger at the Catholic Herald has declared Hitch and Fry the overwhelming winners!

    Fry and Hitchens were well-armed and well-prepared, and they deployed their WMD to great effect. Rockets rained down on the usual Catholic suspects: Hitler, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, the Crusades, Pius XII, Mussolini, the sack of Constantinople, the spread of HIV/Aids, Franco, Salazar, Bishop Richard Williamson – or “Roger” Williamson, as Hitchens called him, in what for me was the only light relief of the evening – and, to quote Hitchens again, the “institutionalisation of the rape and torture and maltreatment of children”…

    The audience was made up for the most part of student types and of relaxed, charming, nicely dressed professional and media folk. They were the sort of people you’d like to invite to lunch if you had a nice enough house and weren’t such a saddo.

    These were nice people, in other words, anti-Catholic to be sure, but in a rather self-deprecating English way. You felt that they wanted to have their most cherished disbeliefs confirmed, without being too noisy about it, and they reminded one of what has become increasingly obvious in recent years: that many of the well-educated, high-income professionals who run the country think Christianity is absurd, and that unyielding Catholicism is doubly absurd, even if it gave us Tuscany.

    But the times are changing, and the English may become less easy-going. It is possible that within 50 years, for example, it may be against the law for the Catholic Church to proclaim its teaching on sexual morality or to continue to bar women from the priesthood.

    What could possibly be more humiliating than condemnation from your own side? Trust me, going by personal experience, I know it bites!

  12. JW Says:

    For a more realistic account of the debate (Part 1) see http://christopherhitchenswatch.blogspot.com/

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      Ignore this troll from an anti-Hitchens blog, people!!!!!!

      If I wasn’t an atheist, I think that Christopher Hitchens was God!!!!

      Seriously though, JW, thanks for the link. Always good to get an alternative view. Some of it’s just ad hominem, saying that Hitch probably hasn’t even read a whole volume by Kant or Hume, much less understood it.

      However, I agree with much of the sentiment in the piece, as well as the critical reviews it links to. Hitch changes his mind more often that he changes his jacket.

      Paul Johnson actually says in A History of Christianity that 22.7% of the SS were confessing Catholics. In God Is Not Great, Hitchens ups that a tad to 25%. And in debates and lectures he has upped the figure even further saying it’s 50 – 60%!!!

      And in a previous review of Johnson’s Intellectuals (re-printed in For The Sake of Argument) Hitchens rubbished Johnson’s work completely and had some very unkind words in particular for A History of Christianity!!!!

      “I was a guarded admirer of the late Pope John Paul II”.

      Yeah, right that’s why you wrote a couple of damning articles after this death saying that he wouldn’t burn in hell because there was no such place.


  13. Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Great | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] Church is a force for good in the World”, Intelligence Squared, London, 19 October 2009 (Video / MSP review).  Yours truly was there on the night and it was a pleasure to see Hitch stick a red hot poker up […]

  14. I am censored | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] asked Ann Widdecombe why it was fine for a woman to become an MP but not to become a priest at the Intelligence Squared debate on the Catholic Church in October 2009 and was rather curtly ridiculed by the corpulent cleric for his “vast […]

  15. dennis savage Says:

    Fry is the Queen of gays interesting someone suffering from a filthy disease should make a remark against any religion maybe the guy in the red suit not santa will have a special pit for fry and his cohorts when the time arrives.

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