Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi’

Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Not So Good

22/08/2013

HitchensIn 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 Great;

The Good; and

The Not So Good (for the remainder of this post).

The Not So Good

Craig, “Does God Exist?”, Biola University, Los Angeles, 4 April 2009 (Video / MSP review / MSP review one year on in three parts).  This one hurt quite a lot.  While not the massacre that the first blog reports had us believe, Hitchens simply did not prepare to take on “professional debater” (© Richard Dawkins) Craig and wanted to debate whether religion was good for the world, as opposed to the actual topic under discussion.  Craig showboats in front of his home crowd and Hitch lets him get away with smugly asserting that his five “arguments” are irrefutable.

D’Souza Round I, “Is Christianity the Problem?”, King’s College, New York, 22 October 2007 (Video / Audio).  Hitch lands a few punches, but overall he was not on top form on the night.  D’Souza is loud, longwinded and gets the last word on many points through filibustering.  There is also plenty of disingenuous quote-mining of authorities and misrepresenting of Hitch’s arguments.

Hitchens/Jackson –v- Arkes/Markson, “The Death Penalty Debate”, National Review & The Nation Institute, 7 April 1997 (Video).  Hitchens shares a platform with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who he was later to throw in the same damning category as the “Reverends” Jerry Falwell, Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson as someone who can get away with offences to truth and morality by virtue of calling himself a man of faith.  Hitch speaks against the death penalty persuasively, however, he is up against two equally convincing opponents and the clash is best described as a draw.  The Q&A section descends into farce due to a strict moderator and hapless audience members straying off topic.  For Hitchens completists only.

Galloway, The Iraq War of 2003 was just and necessary”, Baruch College, New York, 14 September 2005 (Video).  I have consigned this one to the lowest category, not because Hitch loses the debate, but because it’s deeply unpleasant watching him share a platform with such an unsavoury, hard-left demagogue who openly supports brutal Islamist regimes.  Things get pretty personal and Galloway resorts to schoolyard name calling.  At least he gets his comeuppance from the NY crowd by suggesting that America brought the 9/11 attacks on themselves.  Sully your eyes and ears by watching it if you must.

Click below to see:

The Great

The Good

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Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Good

22/08/2013

HitchensIn 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 Great;

The Good (for the remainder of this post); and

The Not So Good.

The 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 Great

The Not So Good

Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Great

22/08/2013

HitchensIn 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 Great (for the remainder of this post);

The Good; and

The Not So Good.

The Great

Dawkins/Dennett/Harris/Hitchens, “The Four Horsemen”, 30 September 2007 (Video).  A superb discussion with the three other Horsemen about religious faith in the aftermath of their recent God-bashing books.  I will say no more: sit back and enjoy.

Hitchens/Dawkins/Grayling –v- Spivey/Neuberger/Scruton, “We would all be better off without religion”, Intelligence Squared, Methodist Central Hall, London, 27 March 2007 (Video).  Hitch teams up with fellow atheists Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling who wipe the floor with three half-hearted apologists, whose main arguments in support of religion is that is has produced a lot of nice art and “you’ll never get rid of it”.  His opening speech slamming “the parties of God” is a classic Hitchens moment.

Hitchens/Fry –v- Widdecombe/Onaiyekan, “The Catholic 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 the Holy See’s backside.  Hitch’s teammate Stephen Fry was a true revelation.  Catholic defenders Ann Widdecombe and the barely comprehensible Archbishop John Onaiyekan were lambs to the slaughter.

“Freedom of Speech Includes the Freedom to Hate”, Hart House, University of Toronto, 15 November 2006 (Video / MSP transcript of Hitchens’ speech).  Hitchens debates students from the University (and is given twice as much time at the lectern!) and gives an absolutely barnstorming 20 minutes and 52 seconds in which the Hitch blows hate speech and Holocaust denial laws as well as “the Religion of Peace” to smithereens with his wonderful Richard Burton-esque delivery.

Hitchens/Gourevitch/Wilkinson –v- Khan/Cesarani/Matsuda, “Freedom of expression must include the license to offend”, Intelligence Squared US, 16 October 2006 (Video / IQ2 page includes MP3 audio).  Hitch makes many points that will be familiar to fans of his speech at Hart House, Toronto (see above) but this is still a terrific clash with a pack of wet-lettuce liberals who are afraid of angering the Islamists and the best way of dealing them is to be nice to them.  Hitch is also blessed with two equally literate, persuasive and witty debating partners.  Cartoonist Signe Wilkinson’s opening salvo is a hoot, while fellow-journalist Philip Gourevitch turns the opposition’s arguments on them with much aplomb.

Hitchens/Aaronovitch –v- Hart/Jenkins, “A pre-emptive foreign policy is a recipe for disaster”, Intelligence Squared, London, 13 September 2004 (Video).  Another convincing case made for the Iraq War as Hitchens and his partner swing the audience vote from pre-debate against the motion to post-debate for the motion.  Aaronovitch makes for a formidable debating partner who holds his own rather than just being a handy side-kick; the example in his opening statement of how people in the second tower of the World Trade Centre on 9/11 responded to the impending crisis is astonishing.

D’Souza Round II, “War and Geo-Politics:  Is Religion the Problem or the Solution?”, Freedom Fest, Las Vegas, 11 July 2008 (Video).  I don’t care how the audience voted at the end; Hitch had his revenge following his disappointing showing against D’Souza at King’s College the previous year (see “The Not So Good”), and frankly made him look a total fool.

D’Souza Round III, “What’s So Great About God: Atheism Versus Religion”, University of Colorado, Boulder, 26 January 2009 (Video). Another convincing performance against D’Souza memorable for Hitch’s exposition of a trashy early 20th century novel called When It Was Dark by Guy Thorne about the chaos that ensues in the Western world when people think that the body of Christ has been discovered.

D’Souza Round VI, “Is There A God?  The Great Debate”, University of Central Florida, 17 September 2009 (Video).  Hitchens uses the evasive D’Souza as little more than a human punch bag in this one; I’m surprised Dinesh keeps coming back for more.

McGrath, “Religion: Poison or Cure in the Modern World?”, Georgetown University, 11 October 2007  (Video / Audio).  After McGrath published a disgraceful ad hominem attack against the New Atheism in general and Richard Dawkins in particular with The Dawkins Delusion?, Hitchens ripped the lily-livered, “sophisticated” theologian limb from limb.

Jackson, “How Religion Poisons Everything”, Emory University, 16 May 2007 (Video).  This is really good-natured debate with some excellent exchanges between Hitch and Jackson, not to mention plenty of banter about the finer details of American whiskey!

Turek Round I, “Does God Exist?”, Virginia Commonwealth University, 9 September 2008 (Video / Audio).  After trying to blag his way through the opening speech with his fast-talking, loud-mouth New Jersey accent, Turek quickly has the wind knocked out of him with a few well placed punches from Hitch who could not have made him look more of a fool if he’d dressed him up in Edward Woodward’s costume from The Wicker Man.  Watch out for Hitch’s take on purpose in life without God during the Q&A (!).

Lennox Round II, “Is God Great?”, Fixed Point Foundation, Samford University, Birmingham Alabama, 3 March 2009 (Video).  Lennox was drafted in at a moment’s notice after D’Souza had to travel home to India to see his sick mother.  Hitch mops up after losing the audience vote at his first encounter with Lennox in Edinburgh the previous year (see The Good).

Peter Hitchens Round II, Faith, Politics & War”, Fountain Street Church, Hauenstein Center, Center for Inquiry, 3 April 2008 (Video).  Big Hitchens well and truly pulverises his conservative, reactionary, bible-bashing baby brother with superior arguments and rhetoric on the Iraq War and religion.  I don’t even support the Iraq War and I thought that Christopher presented the better case.  Peter whines on about civilian causalities, why we’re not trying to overthrow the Chinese regime and “the good old days” when children said their prayers before bedtime and opened doors for strangers.  Sad.

Wolpe Round I, “Is Religion Good for the World?”, Temple Emanu-El, New York, November 2008 (Video).  Wolpe doesn’t come off too badly, but Hitch is barnstorming and makes his Jewish opponent squirm at the ethical implications of “genital mutilation” of small boys.

Wolpe Round II, “Why Does God Matter?”, The College at Brockport, 2 December 2009 (Video).  Another great showing against the ever-resilient Wolpe.  Watch out for Hitchens’ treatment (annihilation) of Wolpe’s assertion that the public give priests a disproportionately hard time as soon when they put a foot out of line in comparison with other professionals.

Boteach Round I, “God and Religion in the New Century: Divine Treasure or Poisonous Belief?”, Makor, New York City, 27 September 2004 (Video).  Hitch gives excellent opening and rebuttal speeches with all his wit and panache and swiftly wins over the audience.  “America’s Rabbi” Boteach shouts and screams about lack of transitional fossils, favourable genetic mutations, the Anthropic Principle and the Holocaust.  Hitchens rips him in half.

Boteach Round II, “Debate on God”, 92nd Street Y, New York, 30 January 2008 (Video).  Hitchens is on top form for their pair’s second outing as he brushes aside more asinine ravings from Shmuley, who this time claims that the late, great Harvard palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould “did not really believe in evolution” (!?).  An utter embarrassment for religious people everywhere.

Ramadan, “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?”, 92nd Street Y, New York,  5 October 2010 (Video).  Hitchens, in his first adversarial debate since being diagnosed with cancer, goes to town on the religion that is anything but one of peace and shows the fake-moderate Ramadan as the pseudo-intellectual, mouth-piece for jihad that he is.

Hitchens/Harris –v- Wolpe/Artson, “Is there an afterlife?” American Jewish University, Los Angeles, 15 February 2011 (Video).  With Hitchens less than a year from death, this is a memorable performance from a man who refuses to give in and accept the false promises that religious faith offers him as he leaves this Earthly life.  Harris also makes some excellent points, particularly with his graphic illustration in his opening statement at how the concept of an afterlife provides some comfort to certain people that once they have experienced a natural World suffused with suffering, they will be let in on the punch line when the die.

Click below to see:

The Good

The Not So Good

Circumcision or Genital Mutilation?

08/04/2010

manicstreetpreacher uncrosses his legs and presents some excellent commentary against a barbaric piece of theocratic lunacy.

I’ve always had a problem with circumcision, even before I ordained myself as a New Atheist.  There just seemed to be something very wrong with snipping off an intimate part of a child’s anatomy when they were but a few days old because some millennia-old Holy Book says that this will please an invisible sky father who cannot be bothered revealing himself to humanity at large.

Apologists of the practice often claim that circumcision helps with hygiene and can reduce the chances of contracting AIDS.  That could well be true, but why not let the child decide what methods of contraception and cleanliness they use when they are old enough to make the decision for themselves?

That’s just male circumcision.  I found out about the real horror of female genital cutting after I became a New Atheist.

I strongly recommend this excellent piece on US sceptic Ophelia Benson’s superb blog, Butterflies and Wheels by Iranian-born German writer of several languages Jahanshah Rashidian that well and truly grabs the issue by the balls:

Circumcision, in its different forms, is practised in a big part of the world.  The Jews were the first to adapt it as a sign of religiosity; it is mentioned in the Old Testament as a religious ritual and preserved its practice into our times.  Circumcision was banned by the ancient Romans and Greeks considering it as an act of barbarity.  Also the early Christians took a strong stand against it.

Benefits of circumcision are believed to maintain genital organs in hygienic conditions for males whereas it is practised to reduce the sexual appetite for females. Removal of a functional, sensitive, healthy, and normal foreskin or clitoris with many nerve fibres, nerve endings, strictly speaking is a genital mutilation.  Medically speaking, it has no relevant healthy benefits that can objectively be used to justify its practice. And as such, this heritage of passed rituals violates the principles of modern morality and the very principles of sciences. [My emphasis]

Our universal law respects parents’ “ownership rights” over their children to protect them, to the extent that their decisions are in the child’s benefits. A child’s right to maintain the integrity of her/his healthy body should not be violated by any religion.

Some businesslike or religious doctors, as modern circumcisers, cut off a functional healthy and normal part of human body, a business or religious treatment which is in contradiction to their professional morality. This is akin to removing an eyelid which protects the eye or to cut off a finger of a child as a pseudo-healthy treatment.

(…)

No medical evidence about the effectiveness of this wounding in reducing the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or penile cancer or genital diseases has been shown. Only speculations, mostly loaded with religiosity, justify this practice.

No health organisation in the world currently accepts circumcision as a preventive procedure or advocates its practice for both sexes; even if female circumcision is in some areas absent, it is immorally perverse to excuse one cruelty by invoking a worse one. The genitals of both sexes, as the products of evolution, should be left intact.

Since 1996 female circumcision has been considered violence against women in the US and thus has become illegal, but the “civilised world” ignores the practice of it in many circumcising cultures. In Egypt, a US ally, more than 90% of women are victims of female circumcision.

Rashidian concludes his article:

Circumcision, an old practice, has no clear references concerning its history, motive and origin.

Circumcision is a ritual practice of primitive cultures and can be rooted in the factors of sexual punishment, ritual sacrifice and self-injury.

Circumcision has no preventive or medical benefits.

Circumcision, as an act of genital mutilation for both sexes, cannot morally be permitted.

Penn & Teller think that circumcision is BULLSHIT!  (And that’s all the confirmation I need.)

I’d recommend watching Penn & Teller’s excellent debunking of circumcision.  (I first saw the show a couple of years ago on YouTube.  This one is hosted by Yahoo! Video.  There were plenty of other sites hosting the video, so a Google search should turn up something if my URL has been removed.)

Hitchens Watch

Journalist and polemical author Christopher Hitchens has plenty to say against circumcision and lambasts it within the pages of God Is Not Great:

Hitchens comments on circumcision during his May 2007 debate against Christian apologist Timothy Jackson at Emory University:

Hitchens grills Rabbi David Wolpe on circumcision during their November 2008 debate at the Temple Emanu-El, New York:

And finally, Hitchens schools conservative Rabbi Harold Kushner during their discussion at The Connecticut Forum, February 2009:

I think that’s enough food for thought.  I would just like to conclude by saying that if a modern political party decided that their members had to show their commitment by removing parts of their own body, such an edict would not be tolerated in Western society and that party would most likely be banned.

So why do we allow such an appalling practice to continue when it is wrapped in the cloak of religious faith?

More Than I Could Chew?

22/03/2009

follow_my_way_poster_2

Reflections on Follow My Way

The manicstreetpreacher licks his wounds after a gruelling public encounter with a bunch of religious fundamentalists.  The other panel members weren’t all that rational either…

Right now I don’t want to go out; I don’t want to make any friends.  All I want to do is make enemies.  I’ve never felt this much contempt for everyone and everything in my entire fucking life.  I don’t feel the need for anyone to like me anymore.  Jesus, it’s hard enough to like myself.

– Nicky Wire (1994)

On Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 7:00pm I attended Science Lecture Theatre A, Lecture Theatre Building at Liverpool University and debated a panel of what sounded like the beginnings of an exceptionally poor barroom joke:

Hamza Tzortzis, a Muslim[i]

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein, a Jew[ii]

James Harding, a Christian and Anglican Chaplain of Liverpool’s three main universities[iii]

Without giving a blow-by-blow account, by the end of what had been an utterly gruelling evening I had felt as if my friends, work colleagues and fellow members of Liverpool Humanist Group would never speak to me again.

What’s more I felt as if I was the extremist, I was the ranter, I was the one trying to indoctrinate members of the audience and far more shrill, far more strident and far more intolerant than those believers against whom I lay the same charge.

It was the first time I had debated a Muslim and the first time I had debated in front of a predominantly Muslim audience.  A few quick points that atheist speakers in the same novel situation ought to be aware:

  1. If the event is organised by an Islamic society, expect arcane absurdities which do the religion no favours in the inclusiveness stakes, such as demanding that unmarried, unrelated men and women sit apart in the audience;
  2. The Muslim apologist will be given special treatment to cut off the other speakers whilst they are at the lectern trying to respond during their two precious minutes;
  3. If you intend to raise the issue of Wahhabi extremists brainwashing their children to become suicide bombers, don’t expect a positive reaction from the crowd.

After a very good reaction to my 10 minute opening address, which gave a whistle stop tour of atheism, anti-theism, secularism and the ills of religion on the world and humanist morality, throwing in a lambasting of the University Vice Chancellor, Sir Howard Newby, for his recent move to shut the philosophy, politics, statistics and communication studies departments, the crowd was firmly against me.

I found myself decrying miracles, the morality of the Holy Scriptures and Mother Teresa.  And then there was the small matter as set out in point three above, which nearly had me booed, jeered and hissed out of the hall.  My Christian opponent subsequently provoked the biggest cheer of the night, condemning me for saying “some really offensive things”.  Cheers and whistles which I myself added to.

It was actually Christopher Hitchens’ question on the usefulness of religion about whether you would prefer a child born tonight in Pakistan to grow up either as an atheist or a Wahhabi Muslim brainwashed into becoming a suicide bomber.[iv]

In retrospect, perhaps I ought to have pointed to the moral beacons of secular Scandinavia in front of a hijab-wearing audience, but I don’t regret it and I certainly don’t withdraw it, particularly, since the question was never actually answered and the topic was speedily moved to Blair and Bush’s adventures in Iraq.

The audience reaction was not so much indicative of any deliberate attempt to upset and provoke on my part (there was none) but the automatic respect accorded to religious faith in conversation.  Were the debate about Marxism, I very much doubt whether I would have received a similar response had I brought up the awkward fact of Joseph Stalin.

I certainly had my wish after my debate three weeks prior against Christian apologist Peter S Williams to come up against tougher opponents.  It wasn’t that my three antagonists had better arguments; it was that they were able to marshal an audience which was clearly on their side from the beginning.

Thus, when I raised the issue of lack of archaeological evidence for the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan, all Rabbi Rubinstein had to do was butt in from his chair by the main microphone and raise laughter and applause with an ad hominem against my bibliography.

“Oh, he reads the serious Jewish school now, does he?”  The flock loved it.

I tried to fight back with the doubtful location of Mount Sinai and the absence of any tombs for Moses, Solomon and David.  It didn’t matter; I had lost both the point and the crowd.  I have to resort to setting the record straight after the event when it’s too late with an open letter to the Rabbi.[v]

The audience were behind Hamza in particular.  He was given a roving microphone and cut me off several times during my precious two-minute slots at the lectern following questions from the audience.  He places a great of emphasis on the Argument from First Cause aka “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?”  He will not accept any rebuttals which impinge on other arguments, such as design or fine-tuning.  He also thinks that the Qu’ran is a book of such extraordinary power that it could only have been the product of a divine miracle.

I hope we have another live debate soon so I can expose these vacuous claims for what they are and in a more decisive manner than I was able to on this occasion.

Before the night, I had rather hoped that if it was going to turn nasty, it would be a squabble between the three apologists over who has the best imaginary friend, with me being the cool and reasonable one.  Alas, it was not be and I was reduced to fire fighting from all quarters.

The problem with Islam

A full castigation of the Qu’ran will have to wait for another paper, but having read the text myself,[vi] together the excellent executive summaries of Sam Harris[vii] and also my new best friend, Edmund Standing,[viii] I can safely conclude that anyone who says that this book is of such mind-blowing brilliance and so prescient of society’s universal and timeless needs is either deluded, dishonest, demagogic or a combination of all three.

The assertion that “Islam is a religion of peace which has been hijacked by extremists” is a claim utterly falsified by reading the Qu’ran.   Anyone who says that there could be nothing in the book that could possibly have mandated the atrocities of 9/11 or 7/7 doesn’t know what they’re talking about:

And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.

And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.

The Sacred month for the sacred month and all sacred things are (under the law of) retaliation; whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil) (2.190-4).

Ditto anyone who swallows the line that Islam says “there shall be no compulsion in religion”:

Allah will bring disgrace to the unbelievers (9.2).

O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination (9.73).

Meanwhile, the applicability of the Prophet’s family values in today’s ever-shifting moral Zeitgeist are questionable to say the least:

Narrated ‘Ursa:

The Prophet wrote the (marriage contract) with ‘Aisha while she was six years old and consummated his marriage with her while she was nine years old and she remained with him for nine years (i.e. till his death).

– Hadith collection of Imam al-Bukhari

While it is always a relief to hear religious people do not take their texts literally and read the Holy Scriptures as authorising genocide and jihad, there can be little doubt that many people do take such passages literally.  If you’re still not convinced, perhaps they would care to read Osama Bin Laden’s Letter to America:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,

“Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory.” [Qu’ran 22:39]

“Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (anything worshipped other than Allah e.g. Satan). So fight you against the friends of Satan; ever feeble is indeed the plot of Satan.” [Qu’ran 4:76][ix]

The latest polling data should alarming levels of fundamentalism among British Muslims.  The Centre for Social Cohesion produced a report in 2008 entitled Islam on Campus: A survey of UK student opinion.[x] The study, based on a poll of 1,400 students as well as field work and interviews, revealed of British Muslim students that:

  • 32% said killing in the name of religion can be justified;
  • 60% of active members of campus Islamic societies said killing in the name of religion can be justified;
  • 50% would be unsupportive of a friend’s decision to leave Islam;
  • 24% do not feel that men and women are fully equal in the eyes of Allah;
  • 28% said Islam was incompatible with secularism;
  • 40% said that they thought that it was unacceptable for Muslim men and women to mix freely;
  • 25% said they had not very much or no respect at all for homosexuals, as opposed to 4% of non-Muslim students.

A 2007 poll of 1,000 of the wider Muslim population in Britain conducted by the think tank Policy Exchange found that:

  • 86% of Muslims feel that religion is the most important thing in their life;
  • 36% of 16 to 24-year-olds believe if a Muslim converts to another religion they should be punished by death;
  • 74% of 16 to 24-year-olds would prefer Muslim women to choose to wear the veil;
  • 58% believe that “many of the problems in the world today are a result of arrogant Western attitudes”;
  • Only 37% accept that ‘one of the benefits of modern society is the freedom to criticise other people’s religious or political views, even when it causes offence’.[xi]

A 2006 Populus poll for The Times found that 37% of British Muslims believe that “the Jewish community in Britain is a legitimate target as part of the ongoing struggle for justice in the Middle East”.[xii]A 2005 Daily Telegraph poll found that 32% of British Muslims agreed with the notion that “Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to bring it to an end”. [xiii]

During a coda in a Muslim restaurant after the debate with my two remaining antagonists (Rabbi Rubinstein had to leave at 9pm while the debate was still ongoing) and members of the Islamic Society, I spoke further with Hamza and Muslim students.

The question of 1.3 million deaths in Iraq/ 3 million deaths in Vietnam/ 150,000 deaths at Hiroshima –v- 3,000 deaths on 9/11 arose as it had done so earlier that evening.

I am not going to write one word in defence of US foreign policy since World War II.  America has much to answer for and the body count arising from its activities abroad doesn’t even bear thinking about.

However, unlike the sloppy moral equivalence of Noam Chomsky in comparing Bill Clinton’s 1998 rocketing of the Sudanese Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, which purportedly lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent Sudanese from preventable diseases with 9/11, the body count is, bizarrely of secondly importance.

It can be demonstrated with this rather morbid thought experiment.  Which would you prefer; that your father was the bombardier on the Enola Gay that dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima which killed tens of thousands of women and children, or that he was in the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War and killed 20 women and children at the point of a bayonet?

It’s a massive moral paradox, but I think most people would go for option 1!

One of the few statements of Henry Kissinger I have agreed with is that statesmen very often have to choose between evils.  (For the record, I don’t agree with the second part of that statement, that normal rules of morality cannot apply to them.  I think certain liberals have mounted a very convincing case to bring Kissinger to an International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes along with the like of Milosevic and Karadzic.[xiv])

But the question remains, would we like it if the situation is reversed?  Would we like America to switch military support from Israel to Hamas?  Would we trust the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran by selling them nuclear weapons?  If the Iraqi National guard had invaded Washington, would they take any notice of the US employing human shields?  Would the US even use human shields?

Again, I don’t support the Iraq War, but I don’t point-blank reject its motives and its results either.  It is still possible to establish a first principle; there is still an argument for self-preservation, as there was for the fire-bombing of Dresden and the destruction of Hiroshima.  We wouldn’t be in Iraq if it wasn’t for 9/11.  The World changed beyond recognition for all time that day.

Also, anyone who says “Well ok, Saddam Hussein was a bad guy, but…” should educate themselves as to the extent of the man’s atrocities against the Kuwaitis, the Kurds and his own people.  Whatever happens to Iraq now, it has been an enormously costly exercise; that I cannot deny.  But I just have a hunch that in 10 years time it won’t be looked upon quite the same negative light as Vietnam.

The comparative sense of tribalism between me and Hamza and the Muslim students was astonishing.  Whilst I do not support America’s misadventures abroad, I do not feel the desire to take up arms and avenge the suffering visited upon them by innocent citizens of the perpetrators’ countries, or sympathise with those who do.  I hope I stand to be corrected in this, but I had the impression that Hamza and some of the other students do.

They repeatedly attempted to justify suicide attacks, play down religion’s role and play up that of secular politics.  The moderator of the debate, kindly gave me a lift home after the meal and pointed out that suicide bombing had only arisen in the last 20 years or so and was devised by the Tamil Tigers, whose motives are political, even if their religious views are Hindu, (as opposed to the common misperception that they are atheists).

I said to him that Jains and Tibetan Buddhists do not practice suicide bombing.   Tibetan Buddhists in particular are extremely oppressed.  If mistreatment by a foreign army occupying your country is sufficient to cause the requisite level of despair, Tibetan Buddhists ought to be blowing themselves up on Chinese public transportation.  But they do not do this, because their religion does not mandate in any way, shape or form.  This is a problem with Islam.

The problem with atheism

My opponents had a big advantage to me on the night.  They were advocating something positive, something inspiring, something that can provide hope.  Whether any of it was true or not was apparently of no concern whatsoever to the flock before them.

All I can say in reply to that is those who provide false consolation are false friends.  However, this still left me as the underdog.  I was essentially advancing a negative position.  I was speaking against their offers of hope and salvation.  I was the nasty teenager going around telling all the toddlers that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.

The Christian chaplain had a wonderfully inspiring story of how he was seriously injured in a car accident as a child.  He spent months in hospital in intensive care whilst everyday his parents were told by the doctors to expect him to die.  However, the power of prayer apparently saved him.   In response to that, I said that we should consider all the children who didn’t make it, who died every single day the chaplain was in hospital, who were seemingly less ill than he was and the prayers of whose parents were not answered by the Almighty.

When people talk about miracles they mean when a baby falls out of a top storey window and bounces harmlessly on a pile of grass cuttings.  People to hold their hands aloft and thanks heaven for this wonderful salvation.  They have nothing to say when in the Congo and Cambodia and Rwanda there were ditches filled with dead babies and no one did a thing.

The truth may set you free, but it sure can leave a bitter aftertaste.

At the Atheist Alliance International Conference 2007, Sam Harris argued controversially that actually the “atheist” brand was doing the anti-religious cause few favours.[xv] Atheism is a term that we do need, in very much the same way that we do not have terms like “non-astrologer” or “non-racist”.  People, whether they believe in God or, what Dan Dennett describes as, “believe in belief in God” see atheists speaking out against religion as a cranky, intolerant, sub-cult.

Atheists seemingly never have to stop answering the bogus “Hitler/ Stalin/ Mao = the endgame of atheism” card.   “This meme is not going away,” commented Harris.  I felt that my knowledge of history and philosophy far outstripped any of my opponents.  Nevertheless, all Rabbi Rubinstein had to do was mention the crimes of Hitler and Stalin being caused by them allegedly being atheists to gain a murmur of approval from the crowd and was then up to me to cut into my own time at the next visit to the microphone to refute it.

That night I had first-hand experience of Harris’ dilemma.  My three opponents appeared so happy, so content living their lies.  They had something to offer the crowd which I simply could not.  On the other hand, I must have come across as miserable, angry, intolerant and trying desperately to indoctrinate people into my way of thinking.

Faith seems to trump evidence at every turn.  I could have lectured to them extensively on the historical unreliability of the Gospels, but they wouldn’t have taken any notice.  The idea that someone died to wash away their sins obviously appeals to their deepest hopes and fears and no amount of evidence would dissuade them of it.  Any claim, no matter how ridiculous, is irrefutable as long as it is dressed in faith.  The onus suddenly switches to the non-believer to disprove it, which is often an impossible task.  Apparently, no qualifications whatsoever are required in order to believe, but conversely no qualifications are sufficient in order to criticise.

Right now, my head is filled with visions of celestial teapots and self-propelled spaghetti monsters…

How to re-brand the atheist mark?  Can it ever be a positive?  I contend that atheism is a by-product of an enquiring mind that is forever asking questions and will not accept easy answers.  There is some empirical data which suggests that religious people are happy and healthier than non-believers and I can easily accept this.  Who would have wanted to be me that night?

When faced with such terrible ideas, what can I do – attempt to refute them or let them go unanswered and keep on plugging the “use what’s up here” card?  It’s frustrating, but I simply cannot provide an alternative manifesto at this time.  The best I can do is to refute the idea that an atheist has no reason to save someone else’s life as I did in my opening statement:

Quite simply an atheist does not need to refer his or her problems upwards.  We view them for what they are, on their own terms.  There is fulfilment in performing a good deed for its own sake, as opposed to doing it because invisible Big Brother in sky wants you to do it.   If we were endangered we would hope someone else would do the same thing for us.

Similarly, an atheist can easily abhor pain and suffering for its own sake.  We object to the Holocaust because we would not like the same thing to happen to us.  If we saw it happening in front of our eyes we would act to stop it.  Or if we witnessed the aftermath, we would try to alleviate its effects.

When the Asian tsunami struck on Boxing Day 2004, it was exactly these kinds of sentiments that took people of all faiths and none at all to the other side of the world to help ease the suffering of perfect strangers.

It’s amazing how far a little human solidity will get you and equally amazing how permission from the divine is unnecessary.

A humanist is, after all, someone who can be good when no-one is watching.

I am a straight-talker and I always have been.  If it looks like a spade, and it feels like a spade, and it digs like a spade, then I will frame it in explicitly shovel-esque language.  I have been loathed for it at every stage of my life, but then again I have always garnered a certain level of respect from what I term a “sincere minority”.

In conclusion – this glorious struggle continues

When the debate itself was all over, at about 9:45pm, I felt absolutely awful!  I was sure that I would be banned from speaking again at the University for good.  One or two of my friends who had come along congratulated me, but others left for their cars and their beds straightaway without a word.

Members of the University of Liverpool Atheist Society were incredulous to put it mildly.  The chair said I was welcome to come to Tuesday night drinks at the society as usual.  I detected more than a hint of polite insincerity in her tone.

However, one gentleman came up to me, smiled and shook my hand and said, “Brilliant.  Your arguing was just brilliant”.  A member of the City Christian Union gave me his phone number and asked to meet up some time as there were “a few things he wanted to talk about”.  At the restaurant afterwards, James Harding said I deserve respect for going into the lion’s den like Daniel.

Members of Liverpool Humanist Group emailed the next day saying how well I had stood up to it all and promoted the cause of humanism.  I had a few positive comments posted on my blog from audience members who wanted me to elaborate on certain issues.

In work the next day, colleagues who had been present said how well I had done and I ought to re-train as a barrister.  One solicitor who had missed the event due to a personal commitment said after the reports from the other she was definitely coming for the next one.

And then there was the small matter of receiving a Facebook message the Sunday after the event from the Islamic Society… inviting me back to Follow My Way Part II scheduled to be held at the University after Easter.

This news could almost make me believe in God.  Surely it must fulfil David Hume’s criteria for a miracle?  I have asked myself whether I am under a misapprehension, or I am deluded, or hallucinating, but apparently not.

However, the more naturalistic explanation for my invitation is, I postulate, that no matter how much your views are disagreed with, a substantial number of people always respect you for having the courage to speak your mind without consideration for what the reaction will be.

Is the heading quote from Manic Street Preachers’ skinny bassist an accurate summation of how I’m feeling right now?  Only in so far as I’m not doing this to make any new friends.  Indeed, I am filled with a wonderful sensation of “me against the world”.  Very Manic-esque.

Is the title to this essay an accurate description of what happened to me on the night?  Well, I was certainly left feeling rather full and had a few crumbs round my mouth and down my front.

But it wasn’t about overfilling my tummy.  It was about finally getting my trousers off.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to friends, workmates and Liverpool Humanist Group members who came along for all their support before, during and after.  I won’t incriminate you here; you know who you are.

Special thanks to Edmund Standing (a qualified theologian with a first class honours in the subject and several other very impressive letters after his name), for giving some helpful advice to a fellow atheist crusader he has never met before in his life:

http://edmundstanding.blogspot.com/

http://www.jewcy.com/user/3956/edmund_standing

http://www.hurryupharry.org/

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/

Extra special thanks to Liverpool University Islamic Society for having me to speak, for a wonderful meal afterwards and risking the University’s buildings and contents insurance by inviting me back for a second time.


[i] www.hamzatzortzis.com.

[ii] http://www.rabbiyy.com/.

[iii] www.faithexpress.net.

[iv] Among other occasions, the question was posed in by Hitchens in his debate against Dinesh D’Souza, “What’s So Great About God? Atheism –v- Religion” at Macky Auditorium, CU Boulder, January 26, 2009 and can be viewed at: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3623,Debate-Christopher-Hitchens-and-Dinesh-DSouza,Thomas-Center.

[v] https://edthemanicstreetpreacher.wordpress.com/2009/03/22/open-letter-rabbi-y-y/.

[vi] For what it’s worth, my version of the sacred text is translated and with an introduction by Arthur J Arberry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), but I’m sure it’s full of mistranslations and passages taken out of context.

[vii] The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (London: Simon & Schuster, 2006).

[viii] Edmund Standing, “A Critical Examination of the Qu’ran”, Butterflies and Wheels, 6 February 2009,

Part 1: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=384,

Part 2: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=385,

Part 3: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=386,

Part 4: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=387.

[ix] “Full text: bin Laden’s ‘letter to America’”, The Guardian, 24 November 2002: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/24/theobserver.

[x] Full report: http://www.socialcohesion.co.uk/files/1231525079_1.pdf.  Executive summary: http://www.socialcohesion.co.uk/files/1231525079_2.pdf.

[xi] “British Muslims poll: Key points”, BBC News, 29 January 2007: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6309983.stm.

[xii] Peter Riddell, “Poll shows voters believe press is right not to publish cartoons”, The Times, 7 February 2006: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article727952.ece.

[xiii] Anthony King, “One in four Muslims sympathises with motives of terrorists”, The Daily Telegraph, 23 July 2005: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1494648/One-in-four-Muslims-sympathises-with-motives-of-terrorists.html.

[xiv] For a superb exposition of Kissinger’s war crimes, see Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (London: Verso, 2002) and its accompanying documentary, The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002) which contains Kissinger’s statement about statesmen having to choose between evils and can be viewed at: http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-2411718527195635002&ei=bEO9Se-IBoiGqwL3zcA-&q=trials+of+henry+kissinger+hitchens&hl=en.

[xv] The video of Harris’ speech on 28 September 2007 can be viewed at:

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1805,Sam-Harris-at-AAI-07,RichardDawkinsnet.  An edited transcript is at http://richarddawkins.net/article,1702,The-Problem-with-Atheism,Sam-Harris.

All web-based resources retrieved 15 March 2009.

Follow My Way: An Inter-Faith Dialogue at Liverpool University, 12 March 2009, 6:45pm

28/02/2009

follow_my_way_poster_2

For those of you who missed my debating début at Liverpool Uni last week, fear not!   I have received my first invitation to speak at Liverpool University’s Inter-Faith Dialogue to advocate the atheist cause on Thursday 12 March 2009 at 6:45pm held at the Science Lecture Theatre.

I’ll be on a panel with a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim.

We’ll have 10 minutes to make a statement at the lectern and then it will be thrown open to the floor.

SPEAKERS:

Hamza Tzortzis

Edward Turner

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein

Chaplain James Harding

University Science Lecture Theatre Building, Lecture Theatre A

http://www.liv.ac.uk/maps/liverpool-university-campus-map.pdf

Building 221 on the map

Parking is available outside the building or behind the Guild.

Popular landmarks around the building:

1) It is opposite the Veterinary Sciences Building just off Crown Street.

2) Behind Barclays Bank and Spar.

3) Two mins walk from Blackwells bookshop on campus.