Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hitchens vs. Blair, Roy Thomson Hall

  • Cristopher Hitchens vs. Tony Blair: Be it Resolved, Religion is a Force for Good in the World
  • November 26, 2010, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    [Introductions by Peter Munk and moderator Rudyard Griffiths]

    HITCHENS: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much to the Munk family, great philanthropists for making this possible. Seven minutes, ladies and gentlemen, for the foundational argument between religion and philosophy leaves me hardly time to praise my distinguished opponent. In fact, I might have to seize a later chance of doing that. I think three and a half minutes for metaphysics and three and a half for the material world won't be excessive. And I have a text—and I have a text and it is from, because I won't take a religious text from a known extremist or fanatic, it's from Cardinal Newman, recently, by Mr. Blair's urging, beatified and on his way to canonization, a man whose Apologia made many Anglicans reconsider their fealty and made many people join the Roman Catholic church and is considered, I think, rightly a great Christian thinker. My text from the Apologia: "The Catholic church," said Newman, "holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail and for all the many millions on it to die in extremist agony than that one soul, I will not say will be lost, but should commit one venial sin, should tell one willful untruth or should steal one farthing without excuse." You'll have to say it's beautifully phrased, ladies and gentlemen, but to me, and here's my proposition, what we have here, and picked from no mean source, is a distillation of precisely what is twisted and immoral in the faith mentality. Its essential fanaticism, its consideration of the human being as raw material and its fantasy of purity. Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well. I'll repeat that: created sick, and then ordered to be well. And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent—exigent, I would say more than exigent—greedy for uncritical praise from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original sins with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place. However, let no one say there's no cure: salvation is offered, redemption, indeed, is promised, at the low price of the surrender of your critical faculties. Religion, it might be said—it must be said, would have to admit, makes extraordinary claims but though I would maintain that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, rather daringly provides not even ordinary evidence for its extraordinary supernatural claims. Therefore, we might begin by asking, and I'm asking my opponent as well as you when you consider your voting, is it good for the world to appeal to our credulity and not to our skepticism? Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs? To appeal to our fear and to our guilt, is it good for the world? To our terror, our terror of death, is it good to appeal? To preach guilt and shame about the sexual act and the sexual relationship, is this good for the world? And asking yourself all the while, are these really religious responsibilities, as I maintain they are? To terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just of themselves, but of their parents and those they love. Perhaps worst of all, to consider women an inferior creation, is that good for the world, and can you name me a religion that has not done that? To insist that we are created and not evolved in the face of all the evidence. To say that certain books of legend and myth, man-made and primitive, are revealed, not man-made code. Religion forces nice people to do unkind things and also makes intelligent people say stupid things. Handed a small baby for the first time, is it your first reaction to think, "Beautiful, almost perfect, now please hand me the sharp stone for its genitalia that I may do the work of the Lord"? No, it is—as the great physicist Steven Weinberg has very aptly put it, "In the ordinary moral universe, the good will do the best they can, the worst will do the worst they can, but if you want to make good people do wicked things you'll need religion." Now, I've got now 1 minute and 57 seconds to say why I think this is very self-evident in our material world. Let me ask Tony again, because he's here, and because the place where he is seeking peace is the birthplace of monotheism, so you might think it was unusually filled with refulgence and love and peace. Everyone in the civilized world has roughly agreed, including the majority of Arabs and Jews and the international community, that there should be enough room for two states for two peoples in the same land, I think we have a rough agreement on that. Why can't we get it? The UN can't get it, the US can't get it, the Quartet can't get it, the PLO can't get it, the Israeli parliament can't get it, why can't they get it? Because the parties of God have a veto on it, and everybody knows that this is true. Because of the divine promises made about this territory, there will never be peacem there will never be compromise. There will instead be misery, shame and tyranny and people will kill each others' children for ancient books and caves and relics, and who is going to say this is good for the world? And that's just the example nearest to hand. Have you looked lately at the possibility that we used to discuss as children in fear, what will happen when Messianic fanatics get hold of an apocalyptic weapon? Well, we're about to find that out as we watch the Islamic republic of Iran and its party-of-God allies make a dress rehearsal for precisely this. Have you looked lately at the revival of czarism in Putin's Russia, where the black-cowled, black-coated leadership of Russian Orthodoxy is draped over an increasingly xenophobic, tyrannical, expansionist, and aggressive regime? Have you looked lately at the teaching in Africa and the consequences of it of a church that says, "AIDS may be wicked but not as wicked as condoms." That's exactly no seconds left, ladies and gentlemen. I have done my best. Believe me, I have more.

    GRIFFITHS: Christopher, thank you for starting our debate. Mr. Blair, your opening remarks, please.

    BLAIR: Thank you. First of all, let me say it is a real pleasure to be with you all this evening, to be back in Toronto. It's a particular privilege and honor to be with Christopher in this debate. Let me first of all say that I do not regard the leader of North Korea as a religious icon, you will be delighted to know. I'm going to make—it's a biblical number, seven—seven points in my seven minutes. The first is this: it is undoubtedly true that people commit horrific acts of evil in the name of religion. It is also undoubtedly true that people do acts of extraordinary common good inspired by religion. Almost half of health care in Africa is delivered by faith-based organizations, saving millions of lives. A quarter of worldwide HIV/AIDS care is provided by Catholic organizations. There is the fantastic work of Muslim and Jewish relief organizations. There are in Canada thousands of religious organizations that care for the mentally ill or disabled or disadvantaged or destitute. And here in Toronto, barely one and a half miles from here, is a shelter run by covenant house, a Christian charity for homeless youth in Canada. So the proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable. It can be destructive; it can also create a deep well of compassion, and frequently does. And the second is that people are inspired to do such good by what I would say is the true essence of faith, which is, along with doctrine and ritual particular to each faith, a basic belief common to all faiths in serving and loving God through serving and loving your fellow human beings. As witnessed by the life and teaching of Jesus, one of love, selflessness and sacrifice, the meaning of the Torah. It was Rabbi Hillel who was once famously challenged by someone who said they would convert to religion if he could recite the whole of the Torah standing on one leg. He stood on one leg and said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and do it." The teaching of prophet Mohammed, saving one life is as if you're saving the whole of humanity; the Hindu searching after selflessness; the Buddhist concepts of karuna, mudita, and metta which all subjugate selfish desires to care for others seek insistence on respect for others of another faith. That, in my view, is the true face of faith. And the values derived from this essence offer to many people a benign, positive, and progressive framework by which to live our daily lives, stimulating the impulse to do good, disciplining the propensity to be selfish and bad. And faith, defined in this way, is not simply faith as solace in times of need, though it can be, nor a relic of unthinking tradition, still less a piece of superstition or an explanation of biology. Instead, it answers a profound spiritual yearning, something we feel and sense instinctively. This is a spiritual presence, bigger, more important, more meaningful than just us alone, that has its own power separate from our power, and that even as the world's marvels multiply, makes us kneel in humility, not swagger in pride. And that if faith is seen in this way, science and religion are not incompatible, destined to fight each other, until eventually the cool reason of science extinguishes the fanatical flames of religion, rather, science educates us as to how the physical world is and how it functions and faiths educates us as to the purpose to which such knowledge is put, the values that should guide its use, and the limits of what science and technology can do not to make our lives materially richer but rather richer in spirit. And so imagine indeed a world without religious faith, not just no place of worship, no prayer, no scripture, but no men or women who, because of their faith, dedicating their lives to others, showing forgiveness where otherwise they wouldn't, believing through their faith that even the weakest and most powerless have rights, and they have a duty to defend them. And yes, I agree, in a world without religion, the religious fanatics may be gone, but I ask you, would fanaticism be gone? And then realize that such an imagined vision of a world without religion is not in fact new. The twentieth century was a century scarred by visions that had precisely that imagining in their vision, and at their heart and gave us Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot. In this vision, obedience to the will of God was for the weak, it was the will of man that should dominate. So I do not deny for a moment that religion can be a force for evil, but I claim that where it is, it is based essentially on a perversion of faith and I assert that at least religion can also be a force for good, and where it is, that it's true to what I believe is the essence of faith. And I say that a world without religious faith would be spiritually, morally, and emotionally diminished. So I know very well that you can point, and quite rightly Christopher does, to examples of where people have used religion to do things that are terrible. And that have made the world a worse place. But I ask you not to judge all people of religious faith by those people, any more than we would judge politics by bad politicians, or indeed journalists by bad journalists. The question is, along with all the things that are wrong with religion, is there also something within it that helps the world to be better and people to do good? And I would submit there is. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Well Tony, your training in parliament, I can see, had you perfectly landing that right on the seven minute market. Ladies and gentlemen, we're moving into our rebuttal rounds and I'd like the audience to get engaged, to applaud when they hear something that the debaters say that they like, also to help me enforce our time limit. So when you see that clock ticking down, start applauding and that will move us through this in an orderly fashion. So Christopher, it's now your opportunity, in our first of two rebuttal rounds, to respond to Mr. Blair.

    HITCHENS: Do I have four, is that right?

    GRIFFITHS: Two rounds of rebuttals. Each of you has the opportunity to go back and forth, and yes, you have four minutes for each speaker within each of those rounds, if that's not too confusing.

    HITCHENS: That sounds alright. I've got four minutes?

    GRIFFITHS: Yes.

    HITCHENS: Yeah, good. Then hold your applause, for heaven's sake. Well now, in fairness, no one was arguing that religion should or will die out of the world, and all I'm arguing is that it would be better if there was a great deal more by way of an outbreak of secularism. Logically, if Tony is right, I would be slightly better off, not much, but slightly better off, being a Wahabi Muslim or a "Twelver" Shia Muslim or a Jehovah's witness than I am, wallowing as I do, in mere secularism. All I'm arguing, and really seriously, is what we need is a great deal more of one and a great deal less of the second. And I knew it would come up that we'd be told about charity, and I take this very seriously, because we know, ladies and gentlemen, as it happens, we're the first generation of people who do really, what the cure for poverty really is. It eluded people for a long, long time. The cure for poverty has a name, in fact: it's called the empowerment of women. If you give women some control over the rate at which they reproduce, if you give them some say, take them off the animal cycle of reproduction to which nature and some doctrine—religious doctrine condemns them, and then if you'll throw in a handful of seeds perhaps and some credit, the floor of everything in that village, not just poverty, but education, health, and optimism will increase. It doesn't matter; try it in Bangladesh, try it in Bolivia, it works—works all the time. Name me one religion that stands for that, or ever has. Wherever you look in the world and you try to remove the shackles of ignorance and disease stupidity from women, it is invariably the clericy that stands in the way, or in the case of—now, furthermore, if you are going to grant this to Catholic charities, say, which I would hope are doing a lot of work in Africa, if I was a member of a church that had preached that AIDS was not as bad as condoms, I'd be putting some conscience money into Africa too, I must say. But it won't bring—I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be funny. If I was trying to be funny, you mistook me. It won't bring back the millions of people who have died wretched deaths because of their teaching. That still goes on. I'd like to hear a word of apology from the religious about that, if it was on offer, after all, otherwise I'd be accused of judging them by the worst of them, and this isn't done, as Tony says so wrongly, in the name of religion, it's a direct precept, practice, and enforceable discipline of religion, is it not, sir, in this case? I think you'll find that it is. But if you're going to say, all right, the Mormons will tell you the same, "You may think it's a bit cracked to think Joseph Smith found another bible buried in upstate New York, but you should see our missionaries in action." I'm not impressed. I'd rather have no Mormons, no missionaries quite honestly, and no Joseph Smith. Do we grant to Hamas and to Hezbollah, both of whom will tell you, and incessantly do, "Look at our charitable work. Without us defending the poor of Gaza, the poor of Lebanon, where would they be? And they're right, they do a great deal of charitable work. It's nothing compared to the harm that they do, but it's a great deal of work all the same. I'm also familiar with the teachings of the great Rabbi Hillel. I even know where he plagiarized the story from (if he had access to the stuff). The injunction not to do to another what would be repulsive done to yourself is found in the Analects of Confucius, if you want to date it, but actually it's found in the heart of every person in this room. Everybody knows that much. We don't require divine permission to know right from wrong. We don't need tablets administered to us ten at a time in tablet form on pain of death to be able to have a moral argument. No, we have the reasoning and the moral suasion of Socrates and our own abilities. We don't need dictatorship to give us right from wrong, and that's my lot, thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: In the name of fairness and equity, Mr. Blair, I'm going to give you an additional 25 seconds for your first rebuttal.

    BLAIR: First of all, I don't think we should think that because you can point to examples of prejudice in the name of religion, that bigotry and prejudice and wrongdoing are wholly owned subsidiaries of religion. There are plenty of examples of prejudice against women, against gay people, against others that come from outside the world of religion. And the claim that I make is not that everything the church has done in Africa is right but let me tell you one thing it did do, and it did it whilst I was Prime Minister of the UK: the churches together formed a campaign for the cancellation of debt, they came together, they succeeded, and the first beneficiaries of the cancellation of debt were young girls going to school in Africa, because for the first time they had free primary education. So I agree that not everything the church or the religious communities have done around the world is right, but I do say at least accept that there are people doing great work, day in, day out, who genuinely are not prejudiced or bigoted, but are working with people who are afflicted by famine and disease and poverty and they are doing it inspired by their faith. And of course it's the case that not everybody—of course it's the case that you do not have to be a person of faith in order to do good work, I've never claimed that, I would never claim that. I know lots of people, many, many people, who are people not of faith at all, but who do fantastic and decent work for their communities and for the world. My claim is just very simple: there are nonetheless people who are inspired by their faith to do good. I mean, I think of people I met some time ago in South Africa, nuns who were looking after children that were born with HIV/AIDS. These are people who are working and living alongside and caring for people inspired by their faith. Is it possible for them to have done that without their religious faith? Of course, it's possible for them to have done it. But the fact is, that's what motivated them. So what I say to you is at least—look, what we shouldn't do is end up in a situation where we say, "Right, we've got six hospices here and one suicide bomber there, and how does it all equalize out?" That's not a very productive way of arguing this. And actually, I thought one of the most interesting things that Christopher said is that we're not going to drive religion out of the world, and that's true, we're not. And actually, I think for people of faith to have debates with those who are secularists is actually good and right and healthy and it's what we should be doing. I'm not claiming that everyone should congregate on Myspace, I'm simply claiming one very simple thing: that if we can't drive religion out of the world because many people of faith believe it and believe it very deeply, let's at least see how we do make religion a force for good, how we do encourage those people of faith who are trying to do good, and how we unite those against those who want to pervert religion and turn it into a badge of identity used in opposition to others. So I would simply finish by saying this: there are many situations where faith has done wrong, but there are many situations in which wrong has been done without religion playing any part in it at all. So let us not condemn all people of religious faith because of the bigotry or prejudice shown by some, and let us at least acknowledge that some good has come out of religion, and that we should celebrate.

    GRIFFITHS: Christopher, your second rebuttal, please.

    HITCHENS: Oh I have a second one?

    GRIFFITHS: You have a second one.

    HITCHENS: Oh my God—an amazing test of audience tolerance. Well alright, well how splendidly you notice we progress, ladies and gentlemen. Now it's okay, some religious people are sort of all right. I think I seem to be bargaining one of the greater statesmen of the recent past down a bit. Not necessarily opposed to that. Just to finish on the charity point, I once did a lot of work with a man called Sebasti&atild;o Salgado, some of you will know him, great man, great photographer. He was the UNICEF ambassador on polio questions. I went to Calcutta with him, elsewhere. Nearly got rid of polio, nearly got rid of polio, nearly made it join smallpox as a disease, a thing of the past, a filthy memory, except for so many religious groups in Bengal and elsewhere, Afghanistan, West Africa and so on, telling their children, "Don't go and take the drops, it's a conspiracy. It's against God. It's against God's design." (By the way, that argument isn't terribly new, when smallpox was a scourge, Timothy Dwight, the great divine who was the head of Yale, said taking Dr. Jenner's injection was an interference with God's design as well.) That's sort of, by the way—you need something like UNICEF to get major work done if you want to alleviate poverty and misery and disease, and for me, my money will always go to organizations like Medecins Sans Frontiers, like Oxfam, and many others, who, strangely enough, go out into the world, do good for their fellow creatures for its own sake. They don't take the Bible along, as people do to Haiti all the time, we keep catching them doing it. Their money is being spent flat out on proselytization. It's a function of the old thing that was hand in hand with imperialism. It's the missionary tradition. They can call it charity if they will, but it doesn't stand a second look. So much on the business of doing good, except perhaps to add, since I have you for some extra minutes, Mr. Blair and I at different times gave quite a lot of our years to the Labour Party and to the Labour movement, and if the promise of religion was true—had been true, right up until the late nineteenth century in, say, Britain, or North America or Canada, that good works are what's required and should be enough, and those who give charity should be honored, those who receive it should be grateful, two rather revolting ideas in one, I have to say, there would be no need for human and social and political action, we could rely on being innately good, which we know we can't rely upon, and which I never suggested that we could or should. So, now what would—and I'm intrigued now, so religion could be a good thing after all, sometimes, we think, is now the proposition. What would a religion have to do to get that far? Well, I think it would have to give up all supernatural claims. It would have to say no, you are not to do this under the threat of reward, heaven, or the terror of punishment, hell. No, we can't offer you miracles. Find me the church that will say, "Forget all that. Faith healing, no." It would have to give that up. It would have to give up the idea of an eternal, unalterable authority figure who is judge, jury, and executioner, against whom there could be no appeal and who wasn't finished with you even when you died. That's quite a lot for religion to give up, don't you think? But who would not say we would be better off without it if it was, or what Tony Blair would like it to be like it to be, an aspect of humanism, an aspect of compassion, an aspect of the realizations of human solidarity, the knowledge we are all in fact bound up with one another, that we have responsibilities one to another, and as I do when I give blood, partly because I don't lose the pint forever, I can always get it back, but that there's a sense of pleasure to be had in helping your fellow creature. I think that should be enough, thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Tony, it must feel like the House of Commons all over again.

    BLAIR: I don't know, so far they're a little politer actually.

    GRIFFITHS: Your final rebuttal, please.

    BLAIR: Yeah. It all depends, I guess, what your experience of religious people is. I mean, my experience of the people I was with last week in Africa, that include deeply religious people is not actually that they're doing what they're doing because of heaven and hell. They're doing it for love of their fellow human beings, and that's, I think, something very fine. What's more, that they believe that this love of their fellow human beings is bound up with their faith. So it's not something, you know—yes, of course, it is absolutely true, they might decide to do this, irrespective of the fact that they have religious faith, but their faith, they feel, is an impulse to do that good. And you know, I don't recognize the description of the work that they do in what Christopher said. In Sierra Leone, where I was, you have Christians and Muslims working together to deliver health care in that country. That's religion playing a positive role. They're working across the faith divide and doing it, because they again believe that their faith impels them to do that. When we look back in history, yes of course you can see plenty of examples of where religion has played a negative role. You can see great examples, for example in the abolition of slavery, where religious reformers joined with secular reformers in order to bring about the abolition of slavery. Let's get away from this idea that religion created poverty. You know, there are bad things that have happened in the world outside of religion. And when you look at the twentieth century and you see the great scars of political ideology, around views that had absolutely dramatically at their heart—fascism, the communism of Stalin—absolutely at their heart was the eradication of religion, and what I would say to you is, get rid of religion, but you're not going to get rid of fanaticism and you're not going to get rid of the wrong in the world. So the question is, how then do we make sense of religion having this vital part in the world today, since it is growing and not diminishing, how do we make sense of this? And this is where yes, there is an obligation on the people of faith to try and join across the faith divide with those of other faiths. That's reason for my foundation. We have people of different religious faiths, we've actually got a program where young people team up with each other of different faiths and work together in Africa on malaria, back in their own faith communities, and here in Canada. We have a schools program that allows schools to link up using the technology so that kids of different faiths can talk to each other across the world. And here's the thing, when they start to talk about their faith they don't actually talk in terms of heaven and hell and a God that's an executioner of those that do wrong, they talk in terms of their basic feeling that love of God can be expressed best through love of neighbor and actions in furtherance of the compassion and help needed by others. And this is—in 2007, you know, religious organizations in the US gave one and a half times the amount of aid that USAID did, not insignificant. So my point is very, very simple: you can list all the faults of religion, just as you can list the faults of the politicians, the journalists, and any other profession, but for people of faith, the reason why they try to do good, and when they do it, is because their faiths motivates them to do so and that is genuinely the proper face of faith.

    GRIFFITHS: Well gentlemen, thank you for a terrific start to this debate. The time has now come to involve you, the audience, here at Roy Thomson hall, those written questions have been coming in and some have been passed on to me and our folks in the control room. Also, we're going to bring on our online audience through questions that have been debated on our discussion boards and I'm going to take some live questions from some younger audience members here on the stage. And in that regard, Christopher, we're going to start with a question from you. There's a young woman right here who would like to address you personally. Tell the audience your name and your question, please.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Hi my name is Meg [indecipherable].

    GRIFFITHS: Just hold on one second. We're going to get this microphone working. Is this microphone working? Try again.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Hello?

    GRIFFITHS: You go it.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Ok. My name is Meg [indecipherable]. I'm a recent graduate from the University of Toronto and my question's in regards to globalization. This century, globalization will bring together as never before nations and peoples divided by wealth, geography, politics and race. So my question is: instead of fearing faith, why not embrace the shared values of the world's major religions as a way of uniting humankind?

    GRIFFITHS: Great question. Christopher? Unity out of faith or disunity?

    HITCHENS: Perfectly good question, but sounded—seemed to be phrased as a call for common humanism. I mean there's no—I didn't hear anyone say, "Wouldn't it be better if everyone at least joined some church or other?" Not a bit of it. Common humanism is, I think, not made particularly easier by the practice of religion and I'll tell you why: there's something about religion that is very often, at any rate, in its original monotheistic and Judaistic form, actually is, ab initio an expression of exclusivism. This is our God. This is the God who's made a covenant with our tribe. You find it all over the place. It isn't always as sectarian as foundational fundamentalist Judaism was and sometimes still is, but it's not unknown. I mean, it's always struck me as slightly absurd there'd be a special church for English people, although I can sort of see the point. It strikes me as positively sinister that Pope Benedict should want to restore the Catholic church to the claim it used to make, which is it is the one true church, and that all other forms of Christianity are, as he still puts it, defective and inadequate. How this helps to build your future world of co-operation and understanding is not known to me. If you tell me in the Balkans what your religion is, I can tell you what your nationality is. You're not a Catholic, you know less about Loyola than I do. But I know you're a Croat, and I know you're a Croat nationalist. Religion and, in fact any form of faith, because it is a surrender of reason, it's a surrender of reason in favor of faith, is a fantastic force multiplier, a tremendous intensifier—I was trying to say—of all things that are in fact divisive rather than inclusive and that's why its history is so stained with blood, not just of crimes against humanity, crimes against womanhood, crimes against reason and science, attacks upon medicine and enlightenment, all these appalling things that Tony kept defending himself from that I didn't even have time to bring up. No, but if you would just look at the way the Christians love each other in the wars of religion in Lebanon, or in former Yugoslavia, you will see that there is no conceivable way that by calling on the supernatural, you will achieve anything like your objective of a common humanism which is, I think you're quite right to say, our only chance of, I won't call it, salvation. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Tony, what I'd like you to do—there's another question on the stage, someone in a sense has the inverse question for you and it'd be a great opportunity for to respond to Hitchens at the same time. So let me go to Emily [Padden], a Trudeau scholar at Oxford University, who has a question for you, Mr. Blair.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Thank you very much. My research is in armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa and so the question I'd like to ask you Mr. Blair, if I may is: how do you argue that religion is a force for good in the world when the same faiths that bind peoples and groups also deepen divisions and exacerbate conflict?

    GRIFFITHS: Great question.

    BLAIR: To which my answer is they can do, and there are very many examples of that, but there are also examples, let me give you one from the Northern Ireland peace process, where in the end people from Protestant and Catholic churches got together and actually the religious leaders of those two churches tried to bring about a situation where people reached out across the faith divide. And so, what I would say to you is this exclusivism is not—you know, this type of excluding other people because they're different—let's just nail the myth that this is solely the prerogative of religion. I'm afraid this happens in many, many different walks of life. It's not what true religion is about. True religion is not about excluding somebody because they're different, true religion is actually about embracing someone who is different. That is why, you know, in every major religion, this concept of love of neighbor, and Christopher is absolutely right, Confucius did indeed say exactly something similar to Rabbi Hillel, of course Jesus said love your neighbour as yourself. If you look at Hinduism, Buddhism, the religion of Islam, after the death of the prophet Mohammed, Islam was actually at the forefront of science, was at the forefront of introducing proper rights for women, for the first time, in that part of the world. So the point is this, and this is really where the debate comes to, Christopher says, "Well, humanism is enough," and what I say to that is: but for some people of faith, it isn't enough. They actually believe that there is indeed a different and higher power simply than humanity, and that is not about them thinking of heaven and hell in some sort of old-fashioned sense of trying to terrorize people into submission to religion, they actually think of it as about how you fulfill your purpose as a human being in the service of others. And so, you know, when we say, "Well, that could be done by humanism," yes, it could, but the fact is for many people, it's driven by faith, and so yes, it's true, you can find examples of where religion has deepened the divide in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. You can also find examples of where religion has tried to overcome those divides by preaching what is the true message of religion, which is one of human compassion and love.

    GRIFFITHS: Hitchens, let's have you come back on that because, not just Northern Ireland but Iraq, a war that you supported, religion played an important role arguably in the success of putting together post-invasion Iraq.

    HITCHENS: I only think we should do this because the two questions were in effect the same and both very well phrased, and because I never like to miss out a chance to congratulate someone on being humorous, if only unintentionally. It's very touching for Tony to say that he recently went to a meeting that bridged a religious divide in Northern Ireland. Well, where does the religious divide come from? 400 years and more, in my own country of birth, of people killing each others' children, depending on what kind of Christian they were, and sending each others' children in rhetoric to hell, and making Northern Ireland the place, the most remarkable in northern Europe for unemployment, for ignorance, for poverty and for, I would say, stupidity too. And for them now to say, "Maybe we might consider breaching this gap." Well, I should bloody well think so. But I don't see how. If they had listened to the atheist community in Northern Ireland, which is a real thing, and if they had listened to the secular movement in Northern Ireland, which is a real thing and I know many people who have suffered dreadfully from membership in it, not excluding being pulled out of a car by a man in a balaclava and being asked, "Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He said, "I'm Jewish atheist, actually." "Well are you a Protestant Jewish atheist or a Catholic Jewish atheist?" You laugh, but it's not so funny when the party of God has a gun in your ear at the same time. And that was in Britain, and still is, to some extent, until recently. Rwanda: do I say that there would be no quarrel between Hutu and Tutsi, people in Rwanda? Belgian colonialism made it worse, but there are no doubt innate ethnic differences, or there are felt to be in Rwanda. But the fact of the matter is Rwanda is the most Christian country in Africa. In fact, by one account—that's to say, numbers of people in relation to numbers of churches—it's the most Christian country in the world, and the Hutu power genocide, at any rate, was preached from the pulpits, actually the pulpits of the Catholic church, as many of the people we are still looking for wanted in that genocide are hiding in the Vatican along with a number of other people who should be given up to international justice, by the way, quite a number of people. So since Tony seems to like religious people best when they are largely non-practicing, but just basically faithful, I will grant him that much. I say it's not entirely the fault of religion that this happened in Rwanda, but when it's preached from the pulpit as it was in Northern Ireland and in Rwanda, it does tend to make it very, very much worse. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Tony, just briefly come back on that, because you were intimately involved in the search for peace in Northern Ireland and I presume you had a very different perspective of the role faith played in the resolution of that conflict.

    BLAIR: Yeah, and I now do work in Rwanda. First of all, I think it really would be bizarre to say that the conflict in Rwanda was a result of the Catholic church. I mean, Rwanda is a perfect indicator of what I'm saying, which is you can put aside religion, and still have the most terrible things happen. I mean, this was the worst genocide since the holocaust, it was committed on a tribal basis. Yes it's true there were members of the Catholic church who behaved badly in that context of Rwanda. There were also, by the way, members of the Catholic church and others of religious denomination who stood up and protected and died alongside people in Rwanda. So you know, you—and as for Northern Ireland, yes, of course, Protestant and Catholic, absolutely right, but you couldn't ignore the politics of the situation in Northern Ireland. It was to do with the relationship between Britain and Ireland going back over many, many centuries. So my point is very simple: of course religion has played a role and sometimes a very bad role in these situations, but not only religion. And what is at the heart of this is we wouldn't dream of condemning all of politics because politics had led to Hitler or Stalin or indeed what has happened in Rwanda. So let us not condemn the whole of religion or say that religion, when you look at it as a whole, is a force for bad because there are examples of where religion has had that impact. And so my—I think actually Rwanda and Northern Ireland are classic examples, even the Middle East peace process, I mean yes, I agree, you can look at all the religious issues there but let's not ignore the political issues either, and frankly at the moment the reason, and I can tell you this from first hand—well, but I can tell you from first hand experience, the reason we don't have an agreement at the moment between Palestinians and Israelis is not to do with the religious leaders on either side, it's a lot more to do with the political leaders, so it's my branch that has to take the blame for that. And therefore, what I would say is I actually think that yes, of course a lot of these conflicts have religious roots, I actually think it's possible for religious leaders to play a positive part in trying to resolve those, but in the end, it's for politics and religion to try and work out a way in which religion, in a world of globalization that is pushing people together, can play a positive rather than negative role, and if we concentrated on that, rather than trying to drive religion out, which is futile, to concentrate instead on how we actually get people of different faiths working together, learning from each other and living with each other, I think it would be a more productive mission. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Okay, let's—we like the applauding, so please continue that throughout the debate. Let's take a written question. My producers are telling me that we have a written question, we'll get that on the screen and Christopher this is for you to start with, interesting one: America is both one of the most religious countries in the world and also one of the most democratic and pluralistic, both now and arguably through much of its history. How do you explain that seeming paradox?

    HITCHENS: Relatively simply, the United States has uniquely a constitution that forbids the government to take sides in any religious matter, or to sponsor a church, or to adopt any form of faith itself. As a result of which, anyone who wants to practice their religion in America has to do it as a volunteer. It's what de Tocqueville wrote about so well in his Democracy in America. Ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut during his tenure as president, saying—you'll be familiar with the phrase I'm sure: "Rest assured," because they had written to them out of their fear of persecution in Connecticut, "Rest assured that there will ever be a wall of separation between the church and the state in this country," and the maintenance of that wall, which people like me have to defend every day against those who want garbage taught in schools and pseudo science in the name of Christ and other atrocities. The maintenance of that wall is the guarantee of the democracy. By the way, for a bonus, can anyone tell me who the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut thought was persecuting them?

    AUDIENCE MEMBERS: The Congregationalists.

    HITCHENS: The Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut, well done. (Also, that argues, by the way, for the existence of a very small but real fan base of mine somewhere in this room.) Yes, now, it doesn't seem to matter very much now but it mattered then. Give those Congregationalists enough power, as they did have in Connecticut, and just you see just how unfurry they look compared to how dare so they behave now that we've disciplined them. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Tony, let me come to you with that same question. Is it just a case of American exceptionalism, or is this balance between pluralism and faith that's been achieved in America something that you're either seeing in other parts of the world or a model that can be exported globally?

    BLAIR: Well I think what most people want to see is a situation where people of faith are able to speak in the public sphere but are not able to dictate, and that is a reasonable balance, and I think that most—you know, most people would accept.
    But I think, you know, again what I would say about examples of where you get religious people that are fanatical in the views that they want to press on others, you know, fanaticism is not, as I say, it's not a wholly owned subsidiary of religion, I'm afraid. It can happen outside of religion too. So the question is, how do people of, if you like, good faith, who believe in pluralist democracy, how do we ensure that people who hold faith deeply are able to participate in society, and have the same ability to do that as everyone else without being kind of denigrated, but at the same time have to respect the fact that ultimately, democracy is about the will of the people and the will of the people as a whole. So I think that most people can get that balance right, and we are very lucky actually in our countries because we are in a situation where people of different faiths are free to practice their faith as they like and that is in my view an absolutely fundamental part of democracy, and it's something that people of religious faith have to be very clear about and stand up and do. And one of the reasons why for me I think it's—it's actually important for people of religious faith to have people like Christopher challenge us and say, "Ok, this is how we see religion, now you get out there and tell us how it's different and where it isn't different how you're going to make it so," and I think that's a positive and good thing. All I ask for is that where people of faith are speaking in the public sphere, then people accept that we have a right to do that, and that sometimes we do that actually because we believe in the things that we're saying, and we're not trying to subvert or change democracy. On the contrary, we simply want to be part of it, and our voice is a voice that has a right to be heard alongside the voice of others.

    GRIFFITHS: I see Christopher writing furiously so I'm going to ask him to come back on that point.

    HITCHENS: Well, I hadn't anything specially to add there, I think I would rather give another person a chance for a question.

    GRIFFITHS: Well, it's a question that was debated for you, Christopher, on munkdebates.com in a lead-up to this evening, on our discussion board, many people saying that religion provides a sense of community in modern societies where immersed in a consumer culture, more often than not, living alongside fellow citizens who are more maybe self-directed than other-directed. What do you say about the pure community function of religion? Isn't that a public good—a valid public good of religious belief?

    HITCHENS: Absolutely, I say good luck to it. The way I phrase it in my book, available at fine bookstores everywhere, is that I propose a pact with the faith, the faithful. I say—I'll take it again, I'll quote from the great Thomas Jefferson, I don't mind if my neighbor believes in 15 gods or in none, he neither by that breaks my leg nor picks my pocket. I would echo that and say that as long as you don't want your religion taught to my children in school, given a government subsidy, imposed on me by violence, any of these things, you are fine by me. I would prefer not even to know what it is that you do in that church of yours. In fact, if you force it on my attention, I will consider it a breach of that pact. Have your own bloody Christmas, and so on. Do your slaughtering, if possible, in an abattoir. And don't mutilate the genitals of your children. Because then I'm afraid it gets within the ambit of law. All right, don't you think that's reasonably pluralistic and humanitarian of me? I think it is. Why is it a vain hope on my part? Why is that? Has this pact ever been honored by the other side? Of course not. And it's a mystery to me, and I'll share it with you. If I believed that there was a savior who had been appointed or sent by—or a prophet—appointed or sent by a God who bore me in mind, and loved me, and wanted the best for me, if I believed that and that I possessed the means of grace and the hope of glory, to phrase it like that, I think, I don't know, I think I might be happy. They say it's the way to happiness. Why doesn't it make them happy? Don't you think it's a perfectly decent question? Why doesn't it? Because they won't be happy until you believe it too. And why is that? Because that's what their holy books tell them. Now, I'm sorry, it's enough with saying in the name of religion. Do these texts say that until every knee bows in the name of Jesus and so on, there will be no happiness? Of course it is what they say. It isn't just a private belief. It is rather, and I think always has been, and it's why I'm here, actually a threat to the idea of a peaceable community, and very often, as now, and frequently, a very palpable one. So I think that's the underlying energy that powers the friendly disagreement between Tony and myself.

    GRIFFITHS: Tony, would you like to come back on that topic of religion and community or move on to another question? Let's move on? Also on our website, big discussion around the topic of religion and its role in the invasion of Iraq and Mr. Blair, the question is for you, and it's about something that many people posted about something you said once about the interplay of religion and politics, and to quote you directly, you said, "What faith can do is not tell you what is right, but give you the strength to do it." The question being: what role did faith play in your most important decision as Prime Minister, the invasion of Iraq?

    BLAIR: We can nail this one pretty easily. It was not about religious faith. And, you know, one of the things that I sometimes say to people is, look, the thing about religion and religious faith is if you are a person of faith, it's part of your character, it defines you in many ways as a human being. It doesn't do the policy answers, I'm afraid. Ok? So as I used to say to people, you don't go into church and look heavenward and say to God, "Right, next year, the minimum wage, is it £6.50 or £7?" Unfortunately, He doesn't tell you the answer. And even on the major decisions that are to do with war and peace that I've taken, that they were decisions based on policy, and so they should be, and you may disagree with those decisions, but they were taken because I genuinely believed them to be right.

    GRIFFITHS: So Christopher, the natural follow-on question to you is how did you square the circle, or maybe you didn't, between your support for the Iraq war and let's say the current then president, George W. Bush, in his very public evocation of faith in terms of his rhetoric around the invasion?

    HITCHENS: Well, I don't remember, in fact I don't think you can point out to me any moment where George Bush said he was under divine order or had any divine warrant for the intervention in Iraq. In fact, I'm perfectly certain that...

    GRIFFITHS: Well, he...

    HITCHENS: ...he might not have minded at some points giving that impression. But he wanted to give that impression about everything that he did. George Bush is someone who, as with his immediate predecessor, after various experiments in faith, ended up in his wife's church, most comfortable place for him to be. She's, after all, is the one who said to him, "If you take another drink, you scumbag, I'm leaving and taking the kids," which is his way of saying he found Jesus and gave up the bottle. We know this to be true. Now, and like a good Methodist—I was in Methodist school for many years myself—like a good Methodist, George Bush says the following: "I've done all I can with this argument and with this conflict. From now on, all is in God's hands." That's quite different, I think. It would have made him a perfectly good Muslim, as a matter of fact. A combination of fatalism with a slightly sinister feeling of being chosen. Anyway. No, what was—surely what's striking most to the eye of those who observe the debate on what Tony Blair and I agree to call teh liberation of Iraq is the unanimous opposition of the leadership of every single Christian church to it, including the president's own and the other Prime Minister's own. The Methodist church of the United States adamantly opposed, the Vatican adamantly opposed, as it had been to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Not the first time in the world that a sort of sickly Christian passivity has been preached in the face of fascist dictatorship, and of course I was very surprised by the number of liberal Jews who took the same about a regime that harbored genocidal thoughts towards them, and if it comes to that—but I'm not the arbiter of what's rational in the mind of the religious thinker given the number of Muslims put to the sword by Saddam Hussein's regime, quite extraordinary to see the extent to which Muslim fundamentalists flocked to his defense. But I don't expect integrity or consistency from those quarters. But those of us who worked with the people, with Iraqi intellectuals like Kanan Makiya, with the Kurdish leadership, the secular left opposition of the popular—excuse me, the patriotic union of Kurdistan, the Iraqi Communist Party, you have to give it credit for this, many feminists and other secularists who worked for many years to bring down Saddam Hussein are very proud of our solidarity with those comrades, those brothers and sisters. We are still in touch with them, we have nothing to apologize for. It's those who would have kept a cannibal and a Caligula and a professional sadist in power who have the explaining to do. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: I want to be conscious of our time and go to our two final onstage questions and I believe the first one is for Mr. Blair, a student at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Introduce yourself and ask your question of Mr. Blair.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Yes. Good evening, my name is Jonah [Cantor] and my question pertains to something that has come up earlier this evening. Religion on both sides is often seen as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East, and I was wondering what role you believe faith can play in a positive manner in helping to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

    BLAIR: Well, I remember a few months back I was in Jericho and when you go out from Jericho, they took me up to—we went to visit the Mount of Temptation, which is where I think they take all the politicians, and the guide that was showing us around—the Palestinian guide, suddenly stopped at one point, and he said, "This part of the world," he said, "Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, why did they all have to come here?" And I sort of said, "Well, supposing they hadn't, would everyone be fine?" He said, "Ah, probably not." But you know, the religious leadership can play a part in this, for example, I don't think you will get a resolution of the issue of Jerusalem unless—which is a sacred and holy city to all three Abrahamic faiths—unless people of faith are prepared to try and find common ground, so they are entitled to worship in the way that they wish. And it's correct that in both Israel and Palestine, you see examples of religious fundamentalism and people espousing and doing extreme things as a result of their religion, but I can also tell you that there are rabbis and people of the Muslim faith on the Palestinian side who are desperately trying to find common ground and ways of working together. And I think part of the issue and the reason indeed for me starting my faith foundation is that we can argue forever the degree to which what is happening in the Middle East is a result of religion or the result of politics, but one thing is absolutely clear, that without those of religious faith playing a positive and constructive role, it's going to be very difficult to reach peace. So my view again, and I think this is in a sense one of the debates that underlies everything we've been saying this evening, is if it is correct that you're not going to simply eliminate religion, you know, you're not going to drive religion out of the world, then let's work on how we make those people of different faiths, even though they believe that their own faith is the path, so they believe, to salvation, how they can work across the faith divide in order to produce respect and understanding and tolerance, because believe it or not, amongst all the examples of prejudice and bigotry that Christopher quite rightly draws attention to, there are also examples of people of deep religious faith, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, who are desperately trying to search for peace and with the right political will supporting that who would play a major part in achieving peace. So I agree that religion has to one degree created these problems, but actually people of different religious faiths working together can also be an important part of resolving these problems, and that's what we should do, and it's what we can do, and in respect of Jerusalem, it is absolutely imperative that we do do.

    HITCHENS: A visitor goes to the Western wall—anything he can do. A visitor goes to the Western wall, sees a man tearing at his beard, banging his head on the wall, shoving messages into it at a rate of knots, wailing and flailing, watches with fascination. When the guy finally breaks he says, "Excuse me, I couldn't help noticing you were being unusually devout in your addresses to the wall, to the divine. Do you mind if I ask you what you're praying for?" He said, "I was praying that there should be peace, that there should be mutual love and respect between all the peoples in this area." And he said, "What do you think?" says the visitor. He says, "Well, it's like talking to the wall." But there are people who think talking to walls is actually a form of divine worship, in this part [indecipherable] and it's another instance, not that I didn't bring it up laboriously myself, but I don't mind it again, of the difference between Tony and myself. When he says—when he uses his giveaway phrase "in the name of religion," rather than "as a direct consequence of scriptural authority," which is what I mean when I talk about this. No one's going to deny, are they, that there are awards of real estate made in the Bible by none other than Jehovah himself, that land is promised to human primates over other human primates, in response to a divine covenant. [Coughing] (Do excuse me. Sorry, this sometimes happens.) No, that can't be denied. When David Ben-Gurion was Prime Minister of what he still called a secular state he called in Yigael Yadin and Finkelstein and the other Israeli archaeologists, professional guys, and said, "Go out into the desert and dig up the title deeds to our state. You'll find our legitimate"—that was instruction to the department of archaeology. They went, after they conquered Sinai and West Bank. They went even further afield looking for some evidence Moses had ever been there. They didn't find any because there never has been and there never will be any. But you cannot say that the foundational cause, casus belli in this region, the idea that God intervenes in real estate and territorial disputes, isn't inscribed in the text itself. And not only in the Jewish text but thanks to a foolish decision taken in the early Christian centuries where it was decided not to dump the New Testament and to start again just with the Nazarene story—great Christian theologians like Marcian were in favor of that. Why do we want to bring the darkness and tyranny and terror and death and blood and cultism of the first books along with us? Surely we should start again? No, we're saddling ourselves with all that. So this is a responsibility for the Christian world too. And need I add that there is no good Muslim who does not say that Allah tells us we can never give up an inch of Muslim land and that once our mosques are built there can be no retreat. It would be a betrayal, it would lead you straight to hell. In other words, yes, yes, they gibber and jabber, all of them, the three religions. Yeah, yeah, you're quite right, God awards land, it's just you've got the wrong title. No. This is what I mean when I say religion is a real danger to the survival of civilization, and that it makes this banal regional and national dispute which, if reduced to its real proportions, is a nothingness, if it makes that, not just lethally insoluble, but is drawing in other contending parties who really wish, openly wish, for an apocalyptic conclusion to it, as also bodied forth in the same scriptural texts, in other words that it will be the death of us all, the end of humanity, the end of the world, the end of the whole suffering veil of tears, which is what they secretly want. This is a failure of the parties of God and it's not something that happens because people misinterpret the texts, it's because they believe in them, that's the problem. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Tony, would you like a quick rejoinder or can I move on to our final question for this session?

    BLAIR: If you like.

    GRIFFITHS: Well great, we have, I think, the perfect final question and it's from another student at the Munk School for Global Affairs, Dana Wagner. Where are you Dana? Here you are.

    WAGNER: A big part of this issue is our inability to stand in another's shoes with an open mind to understand a different world view. In this regard, can each of you tell us which of your opponent's arguments is the most convincing? Thank you.

    BLAIR: Right. Now this definitely never happened in the House of Commons. I think that the most convincing argument is, and the argument that people of faith have got to deal with, is actually the argument that Christopher's just made, which is that the bad that is done in the name of religion is intrinsically grounded in the scripture of religion. That is the single most difficult argument. And since I've said it's a really difficult argument, I suppose I better give an answer to it. My answer to it is this: that there is, of course, that debate that goes on within religion, which is the degree to which, as it were, you look at scripture abstracted from its time, you pick out individual parts of it, you use those in order to justify whatever view you like, or whether, as I tried to do in my opening, you actually say well what is the essence of that faith and what is the essence of scripture? And of course, then what you realize is that yes, of course, if you believe, as a Muslim that we should live our lives according to the seventh century, then you will end up with some very extreme positions, but actually there are masses of Muslims who completely reject that as a view of Islam, and instead say no, of course, the prophet back then was somebody who brought order and stability and actually, for example, even though we today would want equality for women and many again, despite what people say, many Muslims would agree with that as well, and many Muslim women obviously, back then, actually what He did was extraordinary for that time. And also when you look at Christianity, yes of course you can point to issues that of that time now seem very strange and outdated, but on the other hand, when you take Christianity as a whole and ask what it means, and they say, "Well what draws people to it?" You know, what is it that made me as a student come to Christianity? It wasn't to do with some of the things that Christopher has just been describing, and you know, I understand that's—there are those traditions within religion, I understand that, I accept that, I see how people look at certain parts of scripture and draw those conclusions from it, but it's not what it means to me, it's not the essence of it. The essence of it is through the life of Jesus Christ, is a life of love and selflessness and sacrifice and that's what it means to me. And so I think the most difficult thing for people of faith is to be able to explain scripture in a way that makes sense to people in the modern world, and one of the things that we have actually begun recently is a dialogue called the common word, which is about Muslims and Christians trying to come together and through scripture find a common basis of co-operation and mutual respect. So, you know, yes, it is a difficult argument, that is the most difficult argument, I agree, but I also think there is an answer to it, and I think one of the values actually of having a debate like this, and in a sense, having someone making that point as powerfully as Christopher has made it, is that it does force people of faith to recognize that we have to deal with this argument, to take it on, and to make sure that not just in what we are trying to do, but in how we interpret our faith, we are making sure that what I describe as the essence of faith, which is serving God through the love of others, is indeed reflected not just in what we do but in the doctrines and the practice of our religion.

    HITCHENS: Admirable question, thank you for it. The remark Tony made that I most agreed with this evening, I'll just hope that doesn't sound too minimal, was when he said that if religion was to disappear, things would by no means, as it were, automatically be okay. I mean, he phrased it better than that. But it would be what I regard as a necessary condition would certainly not be a sufficient one, at any rate religion won't disappear, but the hold it has on people's minds can be substantially broken and domesticated. He's quite right about that, of course. I hope I didn't seem at any point to have argued to the contrary. I come before you after all as a materialist. If we give up religion, we discover what actually we know already, whether we're religious or not, which is that we are somewhat imperfectly evolved primates on a very small planet in a very unimportant suburb of a solar system that is itself a negligible part of a very rapidly expanding and blowing apart cosmic phenomenon. These conclusions to me are a great deal more awe inspiring than what's contained in any burning bush or horse that flies overnight to Jerusalem or any other of that—a great deal more awe inspiring, as is any look through the Hubble telescope at what our real nature and future really is. So he was quite right to say that, and I would have been entirely wrong if I implied otherwise. I think I could say a couple of things for religion myself—would, in fact. First is what I call the apotropaic. We all have it: the desire not to be found to be claiming all the credit, a certain kind of modesty, you could almost say humility. People will therefore say they'll thank God when something happens that they are grateful for, or—there's no need to make this a religious thing. The Greeks had the concept of hubris as something to be avoided and criticized. But what the Greeks would also call the apotropaic, the view that not all the glory can be claimed by a load of primates like ourselves is a healthy reminder too. Second, the sense that there's something beyond the material, or if not beyond it, not entirely consistent materially with it, is, I think, a very important matter. What you could call the numinous or the transcendent, or at its best, I suppose, the ecstatic. I wouldn't trust anyone in this hall who didn't know what I was talking about. We know what we mean by it, when we think about certain kinds of music perhaps, certainly the relationship or the coincidence but sometimes very powerful between music and love. Landscape, certain kinds of artistic and creative work that appears not to have been done entirely by hand. Without this, we really would merely be primates. I think it's very important to appreciate the finesse of that, and I think religion has done a very good job of enshrining it in music and in architecture, not so much in painting in my opinion. And I think it's actually very important that we learn to distinguish the numinous in this way. I wrote a book about the Parthenon, I'll mention it briefly. I couldn't live without the Parthenon. I don't believe any civilized person could. If it was to be destroyed, you'd feel something much worse than the destruction of the first temple had occurred, it seems to me. But—and we would have lost an enormous amount of besides by way of our knowledge of symmetry and grace and harmony. But I don't care about the cult of Pallas Athena, it's gone. And as far as I know it's not to be missed. The Eleusinian mysteries have been demystified. The sacrifices, some of them human, that were made to those gods, are regrettable but have been blotted out and forgotten. And Athenian imperialism is also a thing of the past. What remains is the fantastic beauty and the faith that built it. The question is how to keep what is of value of this sort in art and in our own emotions and in our finer feelings the numinous, the transcendent, I will go as far as the ecstatic, and to distinguish it precisely from superstition and the supernatural which are designed to make us fearful and afraid and servile and which sometimes succeed only too well. Thank you.

    GRIFFITHS: Well it's time now for the final act in our debate, closing statements. We'll do that in the reverse order of our opening remarks. So Christopher, I'm going to call on you, again, to speak your closing remarks, please.

    HITCHENS: I'm not ready.

    GRIFFITHS: Ok.

    HITCHENS: I didn't know it was coming. And, Tony, what do you say, would you rather have another question? There are so many people who've got them.

    BLAIR: I'm...

    HITCHENS: [indecipherable] answer another question.

    GRIFFITHS: Let's take another question? Ok.

    HITCHENS: In other words, don't run away with the idea I've run out of stuff, ok? Yes, I'd rather be provoked if someone could do that.

    BLAIR: Sure.

    GRIFFITHS: Well let's do that. And I guess we'll give Christopher a pause here, a chance to drink and catch his breath and Tony, go to you on this—the whole question of, which has been at the center of this debate, on the rigidity or flexibility of religious doctrine. Your church, the Catholic Church, has just made a reversal of sorts on its policy around the use of condoms, allowed explicitly and only for the prevention of HIV/AIDS infection. Is that a positive? Is that an expression of flexibility or a critique of the decades of rigidity before this reversal?

    BLAIR: Well, I welcome it. But you know—I mean, I'm one of the billion, I think, lay Catholics, so I don't—and I think many, many Catholics have different views on the whole range of issues upon which there is teaching by the Church. I just wanted to pick up something, if I might, that Christopher said, because I thought his discussion of the transcendent was very interesting, actually. I mean, for those of us of religious faith we acknowledge and believe that there is a power higher and separate from human power and in a way what Christopher is saying is, "Well, I don't—I can't accept that but I do accept there is something transcendent in the human experience and something numinous, something even ecstatic." You see, for me the belief in a higher power and the fact that we should be obedient to the will of that power and not simply our own will, I don't regard that as putting me in a position of "servility," is not the word I would use. I would use the word "obligation" and, you know, when I—it is of course absolutely true that when I can point to any of the acts that I say are inspired by religious faith, you can say, "Well, they could have easily been inspired by humanism." But I think that for those of us that are of faith and do believe that there is something actually more than simply human power this does give you, I think, a humility. It's not all that can give you a humility but it does. I think, and I have witnessed this myself, I remember—actually again, to refer to Northern Ireland—when I met some of the people who were the relatives of those that dies in the Omagh bombing, which came actually after the Good Friday Agreement and was the worst terrorist attack in the history of Northern Ireland, and I went to visit the relatives of the victims and I remember a man saying to me and—that—who had lost his loved one in the bombing—saying to me, "You know, I have prayed about this and I want you to know that this terrible act should make you all the more determined to reach peace and to not stop your quest for peace." And it is completely true that of course he could have come to such an extraordinary and, I would say, transcendent view of forgiveness and compassion without religious faith but it was what led him to that. And so, I think you can't ignore the fact that for many of us, actually religious faith is what shapes us in this direction and not because we are servile or base our religious faith on superstition or contrary to reason, indeed, which is why I've never seen a contradiction between Darwin and being someone of religious faith. But we do genuinely believe that it impels us in a way that is different and more imperative in a sense than anything else in our lives and, you know, in a way we wouldn't be being true to ourselves unless we admitted that. So that doesn't mean to say that someone who has no religious faith couldn't be just as good a person and that is—I do not claim for an instant that anybody who is religious—of religious faith is in some way a superior or better person than someone who isn't, but I do say that religion can and does, in the lives of millions, actually hundreds of millions, in fact, billions of people, does give them an impulse to be better people than otherwise they would be.

    GRIFFITHS: We'd ask for your closing statement, five minutes. Your closing statement.

    HITCHENS Five minutes each?

    GRIFFITHS: Yep. So now onto our closing statements. Christopher, you will begin. You have five minutes on the clock.

    HITCHENS: I think a way I might do it actually is by commenting on what Tony just said because he succeeded in doing what I had hoped I might get him to do earlier which is to allow me to drive him back onto the territory of metaphysics with which I began because we did need to transcend that and thus to get beyond questions like, "Well, are religious people good?" "Are they bad?" and other things that are very important. "Does religion make them behave better or worse?" and so forth. I'll give you and I'll challenge Tony on an example: I mentioned earlier our attachment to the Labour and socialist movement in our lifetimes. For a very long time we had in that movement a challenger, apparently from the left, the communist movement, which has only been dead a very short time now and actually hasn't died everywhere yet and which said it had a much more comprehensive and courageous and thoroughgoing answer than we did to the problems created by capitalism and imperialism and other things and really proposed a fighting solution. And if I was to point to you the number of heroic people who believed in that and the number of wonderful works of especially fiction, novels and essays written by people who believed in it—you could probably, all of you mention one of your own. If you were a Canadian—I hope they still teach about him in school, the great example of Norman Bethune, heroic doctor who went to volunteer in China during the civil war on the communist side, did amazing work, invented a form of battlefield blood transfusion, just one among many examples. It was the communists in many parts of Europe who barred the road to fascism in Spain and kept Madrid, for many years, from falling to Franco and Hitler and Mussolini. Ghandi may take credit for the Indian independence movement (too much in my view) but no one would deny the tremendous role played by the Indian communists in doing this, in helping to break the challenge—excuse me, break the hold of Great Britain on their country. As a matter of fact, some people find it embarrassing to concede this, but I don't, as a supporter of it myself, the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela's party, at least half of its members of the central committee and executives were members of the communist party until quite recently, very probably including Mandela himself. There's no doubt about it, there was real heroism and dignity and humanism to those people but we opposed it. We said it wouldn't work. Why won't it work? It's not worth the sacrifice of freedom that it implies. It implies that these things only can be done if you'll place yourself under an infallible leadership, one that, once it's made the decision has made that decision and you are bound by it—you might conceivably notice where I'm going here. It's why many of the people, the brilliant intellectuals who did leave it, left it very often for as high reasons of principle as they joined it in the first place and the names of their books are legion and legendary. The best known is called The God That Failed, precisely because it was an attempt at a bogus form, a surrogate of, religion. But let no one say, and when the history of it comes to be written, no one will be able to say that it didn't represent some high points in human history. But I repeat, it wasn't worth it that the sacrifice of mental and intellectual and moral freedom and that was the purpose of my original set of questions on the metaphysical side. Are you—consider yourselves and consider this carefully, ladies and gentlemen, brothers, sisters, comrades, friends—are you yourselves willing for the sake of certain elements of the numinous, perhaps for a great record of good works, as it's proposed by Tony, are you willing to say that you give your allegiance to an ultimate redeemer, because you're not really religious if you don't believe that there is a divine supervision involved. You don't have to believe it intervenes all the time. If you don't believe that, you're already half way out the door, you don't need me. But are you willing to pay the price for a permanent supervisor? Are you willing to pay the price of believing in things that are supernatural, miracles, afterlives, angels? Are you willing to admit, perhaps this most of all, are you willing to admit that human beings can be the interpreter of this divine figure? Because a religion means that you will have to follow someone who is your religious leader. You can't, try as you may, follow Jesus of Nazareth. It can't be done. You can try and do it, it can't be done. You'll have to follow his vicar on earth, Pope Benedict XXVI as presently, the—his own claim, not mine—the apostolic succession, the vicar of Christ on earth. You have to say that this person has divine authority. I maintain that that, and what goes with it, is too much of a sacrifice of the mental and intellectual freedom that is essential to us, to be tolerated, and you gain everything by repudiating that and standing up to your own full height and you gain much more than you will by pretending that you're a member of a flock or in any other way any kind of sheep. Thank you.

    BLAIR: I've just—when Christopher was talking there about our times in the Labour Party together I was just recalling after we suffered our fourth election defeat in a row in the Labour Party, meeting a party member after the fourth defeat who said to me, "The people have now voted against us four times. What is wrong with them?" And you know, I would say that actually the example of communism shows that those that want to suppress freedom and that those that have a fanatical view of the way the world should work, those are not confined to the sphere of religious faith, I'm afraid. It is there in many, many different walks of life. So the question is, for me, this is not about how I, with a belief for me as a Christian, with the belief in Jesus Christ not how that makes me subject to oppression and servitude but, on the contrary, how that helps me find the best way of expressing the best of the human spirit. And it was actually Einstein who was not an atheist in fact, he believed in a supreme being, although he did not necessarily subscribe to organized religion, who said religion without science is blind, but he also went on to say science without religion is lame and I would say that, for me, faith is not about certainty. It is, in part, a reflection indeed of my own awareness of my own ignorance and, that though life's processes can be explained by science, nonetheless the meaning and purpose of life cannot be. And in that space, for me at least, lies not certainty in the scientific sense but a belief that is clear and insistent and I would say rational which is there is a higher power than human power and that higher power causes to lead better lives in accordance with a will more important than our own, not in order that we should be imprisoned by that superior will but, on the contrary, so that we can discipline and use our own will in furtherance of the things that represent the best in human beings and the best in humanity. So, I think this debate this evening has been a fascinating and I think deeply important debate about probably the single most important issue of the twenty-first century. I actually don't think the twenty-first century will be about fundamentalist political ideology. I accept it could be about fundamentalist, religious, or cultural ideology and the way that we avoid that is for those people of faith actually to be prepared to stand up and to debate those people who are of none and for those people who believe in a world of peaceful coexistence where people do cooperate together recognize that there are people with deeply held religious convictions and that those convictions impel them to be a part of that peaceful coexistence even though it is true, there are those who in the name of religion, and indeed as a consequence of religion, will sometimes do things that are horrific bad, evil, and, in my view, totally contrary to the true meaning of faith. So, I don't stand before you tonight and say that those of us of religious faith have always done right since that is plainly wrong, but I do say that throughout human history there have been examples of people inspired by faith that have actually, rather than contributed to the suppression of humanity, contributed to its liberation, spiritually, emotionally, and even materially and it is those people that I stand up for here with you tonight. Thank you.
    Read Hitchens' response

    Read Christopher's brother Peter's response
  • 1 comment:

    1. I was at this debate - the indecipherable word in Hitch's first rebuttal is "credit": "a handful of seeds perhaps and some credit..."

      ReplyDelete