In a hommage to my atheist blogosphere opposite number, Lukeprog of the now-archived Common Sense Atheism, who compiled a review of all William Lane Craig’s debates, I publish here a similar collection of my thoughts of the debates of my intellectual hero, the late Christopher Hitchens: journalist, literary critic, author, scourge of the faithful and proud member of the Four Horseman with his international bestseller against the forces of theocratic fascism, god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.
Hitchens did many debates and I have mainly included formal debates and panel discussions in front of an audience. I have mentioned some of Hitch’s many TV and radio interviews and discussions, but only where there was a single topic on the agenda, as opposed to the zillions of time he appeared on C-SPAN and Bill Maher to discuss the general politics of the day.
I may have missed out on some; suggestions in the comments section, please!
Since there are 69 70 71 debates in total, I have divided the piece up into three separate posts as follows:
The Good (for the remainder of this post); and
The Not So Good.
Brummett, “Religion has been a positive force in culture”, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 4 June 2011 (Video). In his last public debate prior to his untimely Earthly demise, Hitchens appears by video-link because he was too ill to travel to the venue. This is a fairly civilised exchanged between two very clever men, but Hitch looks and sounds very unwell. Nevertheless, this was as good a way to sign off as any; the live audience clearly thought so in their standing ovation at the end.
Blair, “The Munk Debate: Religion is a force for good in the world”, Toronto, Canada, 27 November 2010 (Video). Hitch takes on the former UK prime minister and key instigator of the Iraq War on whether religion is a good thing. Although the general verdict post-debate was that Hitchens won, all of his points were overly-familiar to regular viewers and he let Blair off lightly when he should have torn him in half. A possible explanation was Hitch’s reverence for Blair’s stance on the Iraq War, but that’s hardly a good excuse now is it?
Haldane, “We Don’t Do God?”, Oxford University, 12 May 2010 (Video). Haldane is an unusually intelligent opponent, who does not let Hitch make him look too silly, but he’s just not as interesting to listen to and his arguments are far too vague and “scholarly” to have much impact.
D’Souza Round III, “God On Trial”, Fixed Point Foundation, Powell Symphony Hall, St Louis, 10 September 2008 (Video). A reasonably even-handed debate against Dinesh, but Hitch still wins because of superior eloquence and rhetoric. I eventually found the video on YouTube while proofing this post, but Fixed Point Foundation jealously guard their product and will probably have it taken down sooner or later. I originally downloaded the audio from Amazon fairly cheaply. The DVD is available to buy from the Fixed Point Foundation shop.
D’Souza Round V, “God Is Not Great”, Jones County Junior College, Mississippi, 20 April 2009 (Video). D’Souza does reasonably well in this one, although his comments about Jupiter protecting the Earth from asteroid collisions as being evidence of a divine design show just how arse-about-face the Anthropic Principle is.
D’Souza Round VII, “Is Religion the Problem?”, University of Notre Dame, 7 April 2010 (Video). This is a far more civilised and respectful encounter than the pair’s previous meetings. If you agree with Hitch’s position, then I suppose the debate goes to him, but it’s a close call. The debate is most noteworthy for D’Souza coming out in support of Intelligent Design.
Karabell/Kirsch, “Religion and Culture Panel”, The LA Times Festival of Books, 2007 (Video). Highly entertaining panel discussion, memorable for Hitchens denouncing a “fascist crackpot” audience member.
Ritter, “Iraq War”, Tarrytown, New York, 20 December 2006 (Audio). Ritter proves himself to be one of Hitchens’ most formidable opponents in the Iraq War debates. He was intimately involved in the Gulf War and in the events leading up to the Iraq War and gives a very detailed account of the contradictions and hypocrisies of US policy toward Iraq. Hitchens largely agrees, but draws a different conclusion.
Gomes/Kushner, “GOD”, The Connecticut Forum, 29 January 2009 (Video). An unusually civilised discussion on matters of faith between a Christian Reverend and an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, with the exception of Hitch lambasting Kushner on the issue of “genital mutilation” of baby boys.
Danner, “How Should We Use Our Power? Iraq and the War on Terror”, Zellerbach Auditorium, UC Berkeley, 28 January 2003 (Video). Hitch puts his case very eloquently before the outbreak of the war. There is some good back and forth between him and Danner, although the two men’s constant interruptions and talking over each other quickly annoys.
Arato, “Iraq War”, CalArts REDCAT, c. 2003/2004 (Video). Hitch makes his case as persuasively as ever. Unfortunately, the format is more like a TV panel Q & A, and his opponent is not terribly engaging, even though I agree with his point of view.
Grayling, “Among the Dead Cities”, Goethe Institute, Washington, 20 April 2006 (Video). A very civilised and intelligent discussion of Grayling’s book examining the moral implications of wartime bombing of civilians, although Hitch gets rather irate at Grayling’s comparison of Hiroshima with the 9/11 attacks as the kind of sloppy moral-equivalence that the Left routinely trots out against the Iraq War. I’ve read Grayling’s source-text and this debate is well worth viewing in conjunction with the book. I can well-understand both men’s respective stances.
Fry/Bakewell, “The Blasphemy Debate”, Hay Festival, 28 May 2005 (Audio). Not really a debate, because Fry and Hitch both sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to religion, but this is a really entertaining discussion on the victimless crime.
Tharoor/Bakewell, “Freedoms of speech”, Hay Festival, 27 May 2006 (Video / Audio). A fascinating discussion on the special privileges afforded to religious views. All very civilised and respectful and Hitch makes some great points.
D’Souza/Prager, “The Christian God, the Jewish God, or no God?”, 1 May 2008 (Video). D’Souza scores a decent hit against Hitch in reply to his 98,000 Year Absentee God Gambit, but apart from that Hitch rules the roost and pwns Prager on “atheistic” Nazism and D’Souza on the historical Jesus.
Olasky, “On Religion and Politics”, The Future Forum, 14 May 2007 (Video). Assured stuff from Hitch against the gentle Olasky who has done a lot of good things since finding God, but is no match for his more literate and informed opponent.
Hedges, “The is God…Great Debate”, King Middle School, Berkeley, CA, 24 May 2007 (Edited Audio / Video Clip I / Video Clip II / Review). Unfortunately, only snippets of this are available online, but from what is on offer, Hitchens chopped the moderate, liberal, jihadist-sympathising Hedges into tiny bits. What I have seen, heard and read is not pretty.
Wilson, “Apologetics in Action: Aesthetics and the Existence of God – Atheism vs. Christianity”, Westminster Theological Seminary, 10 December 2008 (Video). Good performance against the mild-mannered Christian pastor. Although Hitch’s anecdote about the World Series is apparently wrong.
Turek Round II, “What Best Explains Reality: Theism or Atheism?”, The College Of New Jersey, 31 March 2009 (Video / Audio). Frank actually does a lot better in his second meeting with Hitch, despite using the same appalling “arguments” and “jokes”. Hitchens was not at his aggressive best, his arguments and sound bites are more than familiar by now and he lets Turek get away with a lot, including his recycled points that he pulverised him for in the first debate. However, it’s entertaining enough for Hitchens fans.
Lennox Round I, “Europe should prefer the New Atheism”, Edinburgh International Festival, 9 August 2008 (Video). Despite losing the audience vote at the end, this is a very entertaining debate with an excellent opening salvo from the Hitch. So good in fact that Lennox concurs with all of what his opponent has just said, before rambling on about the love of JC. The video occasionally makes it onto YouTube before the organisers, Fixed Point Foundation, demand it be taken down.
Wolpe Round III, “Religion, faith and God”, John Hancock Hall, Boston, MA, 23 March 2010 (Video). More sterling work from Hitch in the face of an opponent who does not do especially well against him, but comes off less badly than most.
Hitchens/Harris/Dennett –v- D’Souza/Boteach/Taleb & Wright, La Ciudad de las Ideas, Mexico, November 2009 (Video). A good tag-teaming with two of other Four Horsemen, Harris and Dennett who show D’Souza and Boteach a thing or two. The format is rather slow and drawn out with the moderator translating for the Spanish-speaking crowd.
Craig/Wilson/Strobel/Denison, Christian Book Expo, Dallas, 21 March 2009 ( Video / Audio). Hitchens dominates and makes the rest of the God Squad panel look silly, but Craig scores a knockout blow on Hitch in his mocking final remarks that would be a sign of things to come at their upcoming Biola debate (see The Not So Good).
Sharpton, “God Is Not Great”, New York Public Library, 7 May 2007 (Video). Hitchens makes some good points and is gleefully rude to an audience member who asks a stupid question, but his opponent – “a man who proves every day that you can get away with anything in this country if you can shove the word ‘Reverend’ in front of your name” – refuses to defend the personal, biblical God of classical Christianity and instead bangs on about a loose form of deism. Hitch, quite understandably, looks baffled.
Richards, “Atheism versus Theism and the Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design”, Stanford University, 27 January 2008 (Video). Non-scientist Hitchens has a lot of fun with Discovery Institute stooge Richards (who looks like he’s just walked off the set of Happy Days) and makes him look rather silly. Don’t expect the most intelligent discussion though.
D’Souza, “Is Socialism Obsolete?”, 1989 (Audio). An early debate with arch-opponent D’Souza when Hitch was still very much a Marxist. Being a Tory Boy myself, this is probably the most I have agreed with D’Souza on anything ever, but it is of historical interest to hear what was on Hitchens’ mind a few political ideologies ago. Alas, the tape is incomplete.
Benjamin, “The Thrilla in Manhattanilla: The War in Iraq”, The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 9 February 2006 (Video). Hitch makes his case as eloquently as ever in a rowdy debate with a tough opponent and even tougher audience members. The moderator’s comment that this was “the most unproductive discussion” he has ever chaired says it all.
Landes, “Religion and Freedom of Speech”, Binghamton University, 28 April 2008 (Video). An intelligent discussion with an intelligent opponent. The two agree on a great deal, but there are some heated clashes. Unfortunately, the video was taken on an audience member’s mobile phone or digital camera, so the sound and picture quality is poor.
Dembski, “Does a Good God Exist?”, Prestonwood Baptist Church Plano, Texas, November 2010 (Video). A so-so exchange between Hitch in his last days and noted Intelligent Design proponent who gets off fairly lightly.
Rutten, “In Conversation”, Los Angeles Public Library, 4 June 2007 (Video). A gentle discussion with a moderate Christian at the beginning of Hitch’s god Is Not Great book tour is memorable mainly for Hitch’s dismissal of a 9/11 “Troofer” during the audience Q&A without dignifying his question with a response as well as Rutten’s quoting Tertullian on the cannibalistic element of oral sex.
Boteach Round III, “Is There An Afterlife?”, Cooper Union, New York 16 September 2010 (Video). Hitch and Boteach’s third head-to-head is a far more civilised (and quiet, by Boteach’s standards!) affair. Hitch refuses to be drawn to faith despite his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer and makes some great, fresh points about the Catholics Church’s complicity with Fascism and Nazism as well as Ratzinger’s involvement in the Hitler Youth and German Army.
Roberts, “The Great God Debate”, Hugh Hewitt Show, 5 June 2007 (Audio / Transcript). A decent radio exchange with Hitch on the phone and his Christian opponent in the studio with the Christian host. Although neither side scores any significant hits, Hitch answers all of his opponents’ charges effectively and makes them audibly squirm in a couple of places.
Beinart/Packer, “Is Obama’s foreign policy working?”, Elebash Recital Hall, New York, 22 September 2010 (Video). Less of a debate and more of a calm discussion between public commentators on a president who clearly does not want to be a “foreign policy president” and has been conducting America’s affairs overseas as inconspicuously as possible.
Doerr, Interfaithradio, July 2007 (Audio). A civilised 30 minute radio discussion with another nonbeliever who prefers to describe himself as a “humanist” rather than an “atheist”. Hitchens agrees with him on many points, but is less forgiving to religious moderates and de facto atheists who still go to church for the sake of keeping up appearances: Doerr sees them as a sympathetic ear to advance humanism; Hitch accuses them of taking their religion a la carte.
James/Crabb/Rees, “Programmatic specificity we can believe in”, Sydney Writer’s Festival, Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay, May 2010 (Video). A good-natured and humorous panel discussion on the convoluting of language and spread of political correctness in public discourse. As always, Hitch is by far the most eloquent and funny.
Amis, “No Laughing Matter: Saul Bellow as part of Jewish Book Week”, 25 February 2007 (Video / Audio). Another appearance that is less of a debate and more of gentle discussion with a long-time friend. Readers of Hitch’s memoir, Hitch-22, will recall that Hitchens has some rather dense, personal thoughts regarding his intellectual brother (and indeed lover!), Amis. This is an interesting and thought provoking discussion on the topic of anti-Semitism and is best viewed in conjunction with Hitchens’ delivery of the 2010 Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture on the same subject matter.
Berlinski, “Does atheism poison everything?”, Fixed Point Foundation, Sheraton Hotel, Birmingham, Alabama, 7 September 2010 (Video). Post-cancer diagnosis, Hitchens debates New Atheism “flea” critic Berlinski, who Richard Dawkins had previously speculated could well fall into the “wicked” category (as opposed to the “ignorant”, “stupid” or “insane” tiers) in his rejection of evolution. This is generally a civilised exchange but in keeping with all of Berlinski’s other media appearances that I have seen, he comes across as a very slippery and evasive character and Hitch hauls him up on it, particularly during the Q & A as to whether he would prefer an Islamic Europe or a secular one. As per Dawkins’ assessment, Berlinski’s support of religious ideas and rejection of secular science, despite being a non-believer himself, seem less to be genuinely held and more to advance a contrary position for its own sake.
Donohue, “The hostility of the American cultural elite to religion in general, and Catholicism in particular”, Union League Club, New York, 23 March 2000 (Video). Hitch takes on the conservative-reactionary (hard-right nut-job) head of the Catholic League, who fights as dirtily as he speaks loudly. Hitch uses all his eloquence of tongue and incisiveness of fact to come off reasonably well, but this encounter was almost as dirty his clash with Galloway (see The Not So Good).
Parenti, “Iraq and the future of US foreign policy”, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 18 April 2005 (Video). Hitchens argues his case far more eloquently and passionately than political scientist Parenti, who makes some good points, but is mainly rambling and incoherent. Hitch refutes all of his canards with ease.
Taunton, “God or No God?”, Billings, Montana, 19 October 2010 (Video). Having moderated so many of his debates with others, the head of the (aptly-named) Christian thank-tank goes head-to-head with a post-cancer diagnosis Hitchens. Taunton does not come off too badly, but that’s not to say that he comes off well either. Cancer may have been destroying Hitch’s body, but it clearly could not break down his mind, which is as sharp as ever.
Wright, “Foreign Policy & Religion”, 9 December 2009 (Video). A Skype debate between Hitch and fellow-atheist-but-believer-in-belief Wright following their meeting at La Ciudad de las Ideas a month earlier. Hitch makes his case on an interventionist US foreign policy and the Iraq War as forcefully as ever and answers all of Wright’s canards on matters of faith. Wright comes off reasonably well in the first hour on politics, but allows Hitch to get the better of him in the second hour on religion, as evidenced by the ever-increasing volume and speed in his voice.
Peter Hitchens Round I, “Let’s Abolish Britain”, Conway Hall, London, 14 April 1999 (Edited Video). The Brothers Hitchens debate Peter’s book, The Abolition of Britain, in a far more even-handed encounter than their clash on religion and foreign policy nearly a decade later (see The Great). Both men make good points; however, this is a rather too intellectual discussion with the speakers failing to attack the issues of the day, such as Blairism, Europe and the Single Currency, although moderator John Humphries’ opening remarks are a hoot. HEALTH WARNING: The video inexplicably fast-forwards c. the 48 minute mark in the middle of Peter’s rebuttal to Christopher’s for what must be at least 20 minutes of real time. Strange and wholly unnecessary.
Morris/Armstrong/Kutler/Rubin, “Was Henry Kissinger a war criminal?”, National Press Club, Washington DC, 22 February 2001 (Video). Hitchens leads a Press Club discussion with a former government aide and two law professors following the publication of his two articles in Harper’s magazine indicting the former US Secretary of State and one of the most famous diplomats in history for murder, kidnapping, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The debate is well worth seeing in conjunction with the aforementioned articles as well as Hitchens’ subsequent book-length polemic and film documentary. While Hitchens is predictably damning in his assessment of Kissinger, the other panellists persuasively argue that Kissinger was no “lone wolf”, but acted openly and with the assistance of numerous government aides, not to mention President Nixon, in his the execution of his Realpolitik and aversion of the Cold War turning hot.
Ali, “US Imperialism or A Just Response To Terror?”, Georgetown University, Washington DC, 17 April 2002 (Audio). With the rubble of the Twin Towers barely cleared away, Hitchens goes head-to-head with a former comrade on the Left who published a book blaming America for visiting the attacks on itself. I would like to have placed this one in the top category alongside the all time greats as Hitchens’ opening speech is a rip-snorting broadside against the hypocrisy and double-standards that was soon to lead to his departure from Liberalism in favour of Neo-Conservatism. But alas, he doesn’t use his time for a rebuttal and the audio cuts out before the first audience question is answered.
Click below to see:
The Not So Good