From The Independent:
Coming on Friday, in Toronto, the big face-off between Godzone Tony Blair and Godless Christopher Hitchens! They believe that attacking Iraq was absolutely the right thing to do, but the former uses Christianity as an alibi for his political decisions – intimations of divine reassurance brought on by fervent prayers – and ardently believes in celestial goodness, while his adversary is contemptuous of religion, hates its global influence. Should be a titanic clash. The brainy braggarts will use sophistry and scorn, score points and punch – until, the hope is, one finally gives up and is laid low.
Can’t see that happening. Can you? Both are excruciatingly self-righteous; their eyes shine with the loony light of absolutism; they are men of ideological wars without end, propagandists who have spun themselves into unedifying prophets. Belief and scepticism deserve better champions than these two, I feel, perhaps because they seem to have no heart and no room in their heads either for ambiguity or that unknowingness so many of us struggle with.
Hitchens has cancer and is handling his serious illness with characteristic audacity – which adds further tension and pathos to the encounter. Weaker mortals in this situation – even atheists – would pray for mercy, a little more time. Not this great, though flawed intellectual. (Yo, Blair! Don’t offer to pray for him – wouldn’t go down well.) The subject they have been asked to debate:
Is religion a force for the good or would the world be a better place without it?
The questions are hopeless, trivialising as they neatly attempt to package some of the most vital and unending quests of humanity from the beginning, before the word. Who are we? Why are we? Is there something beyond this insignificant and often meaningless world of ours, or is this it? From the earliest cave painters; through the sediments of various cultures and civilisations; the ages of industrialisation, science, psychology, revolutions; and now super technology; millions did and do experience life as more than itself (or want to), and the search has gone on and on.
Religion (particularly organised religion) has exerted a malevolent influence forever. Those who don’t accept this are lying to themselves and us. They lift the best, most ideal bits of religious texts and hold them up as “evidence” of goodness. Yes, agreed, there are fine and noble injunctions in the books of worship. What matters is what people do, not what they are told to believe and practice. Most humanists are more virtuous than many of the so-called saved, yet today in Britain, religious communities are given limitless influence over politics and policies.
However, atheism weaves its own lies and gives itself licence to demean and wreck. Religion didn’t give rise to Communism and Fascism, nor does it fuel most of the endless tribal conflicts around the world. Nuclear weapons were made and used by those with no sense of the sacred or the holiness of life. Commercial greed is destroying the natural and social environment and one can’t blame Islam or Catholicism or Hinduism for that destruction which cannot be reversed. One could argue that the wreckers care not because they have no sense of a higher authority, of God. Dogmatism, intolerance and an inability to imagine makes the creedless creed as dangerous as religious fanaticism, perhaps more so. Atheist China is guilty of more human rights abuses than is excessively religious India, where people are capable of barbaric religious violence but others are also restrained by prayer, guilt and fear of retribution from the deities.
The two men will meet at Roy Thomson Hall in a Munk Debate. The Munk Debates are a series created through the Aurea Foundation, a Canadian charity established by businessman and philanthropist Peter Munk. To learn more about the debate, including how to stream it live this coming Friday, November 26 at 7:00pm EST, visit the Munk Debates website here.