Friday, November 26, 2010

Hitchens vs. Sharpton, New York Public Library

  • Christopher Hitchens vs. Al Sharpton: Is God Great?
  • May 7, 2007, The New York Public Library

    [Introductions by Paul Holdengräber and moderator Jacob Weisberg]

    WEISBERG: Christopher, I would like to start with you: what have you got against God?

    HITCHENS: [To Sharpton] Good grief, so it hadn’t really sunk in on me that as you were being ordained when I was nine, I was just getting out there completely. I was nine when I thought I saw through it when my biology teacher told me that God was so good as to have made vegetation green because it was the color most restful to our eyes. And I thought, “Mrs. Watts, this is nonsense.” I knew nothing about chlorophyll or photosynthesis, nothing about the theory of evolution, nothing about adaptation, nothing of the sort. I just knew she’d got everything all wrong. And, of course, the argument against faith, against religion, falls into two essential halves, not necessarily congruent, but I believe congruent: the first is it’s not true. Religion comes from the infancy of our species—I won’t say race because I don’t think our species is subdivided by races—infancy of our species when we didn’t know that the earth went around the sun, we didn’t know that germs caused disease, we didn’t know when we were told in Genesis you’re given dominion over all creatures that this did not include microorganisms, because we didn’t know they were there, so we didn’t know they had dominion over us. When diseases broke out it was blamed on wickedness, or sometimes on the Jews, or if it was by Jews on the Amalekites, or as you will. We didn’t know anything about the nature of the earth’s crust, how it was cooling, earthquakes, storms, all of this were a mystery. Well, we are, at least to that extent, a reasoning species. Even a conspiracy theory is often better than no theory at all. The mind searches for form, we’re now stuck with the forms that we found in our infancy, in our primitive, barbaric past. Well, that could be fine, still. No nation can be without mythology or myth or legend. And there are people who say, “Well, it’s not exactly true. Virgins don’t conceive, ok, bushes don’t burn forever,”—although why that would be so impressive, I’ve never understood—“Dead men don’t walk, and so on and so forth. Ok, alright, it’s not really true. It does come from a rather fearful period of the Dark Ages. But, at least it’s nice to believe it. It teaches good precepts.” This, I think, is very radically untrue. I give in my book the example, which I’ll give you now, of a person very much influential on my youth, and I know on the Reverend’s too, Dr. Martin Luther King. My friend Taylor Branch’s book about Dr. King—I would rather call him doctor than reverend because, I’m sorry to say, I think it’s a higher title of honor—Taylor Branch’s trilogy about him is called Parting the Waters, The Pillar of Fire, and At Jordan’s Edge. And everybody literate here knows the story of Exodus and understands what Dr. King meant when he demanded that his people be free of bondage. But, if you think about it for a second, it’s a very good thing that the good doctor was only using this metaphorically. If he’d really been invoking the lessons of Genesis and Exodus, he would have been saying that his people had the right to kill anyone who stood in their way, to exterminate all other tribes, to mutilate their children’s genitalia, to make slaves of those they captured, to take the land and property of others, to engage in rather long and hideous and elaborate arguments about ox goring, and finally, which is the sentence that ends that—or the verse that ends that section of the book, should not suffer a witch to live (the warrant for witch burning). In other words, in these books there are the warrants for genocide, for slavery, for the torture of children for disobedience, for genital mutilation, for annexation, for rape and all the rest of it. It’s a very good thing that this is man-made. There are those who say that they wish they could believe and I suppose a decent atheist could say that, if only for a lack of evidence, he wishes he or she could. I can’t be among their number. I’m very glad it is not true that there is a permanent, unshakeable, unchallengeable celestial supervision, a divine North Korea in which no privacy, no liberty is possible from the moment of conception, not just until the moment of death but well after. I’ve been to North Korea and now I know what a prayerful state would look like. I know what it would be like to praise God from dawn until dusk. I’ve seen it happen. And it’s the most disgusting and depressing and and pointless soulless thing you can picture. But at least with North Korea you can die and you can leave. Christianity won’t let you do that because—I’ll mention another thing about the Old Testament: the Old Testament may have—and any Jews and Christians who like it may like this too—they may have genocide, rape, racism, and all the rest of the things I’ve mentioned, but it never mentions punishment of the dead. When you’re done, when you’re in the mass grave into which you’ve been thrown as an Amalekite, it’s over. Not until gentle Jesus, meek and mild is the concept of hell introduced. Eternal torture, eternal punishment for you and all your family for the smallest transgression. I have no hesitation in saying this is a wicked belief. I've also no hesitation in saying—and I musn't trespass on the Reverend’s time—that we don’t need it in two senses. One, it’s wicked and two, we have and always have had, a much superior tradition. We know that Democritus and Epicurus worked out in ancient Athens the world was made of atoms, that the gods did not exist and certainly took no interest in human affairs and would be foolish to do so and would be wicked if they did. We have the tradition that brings us through Galileo and Spinoza and Thomas Paine and Voltaire and Thomas Jeffesron and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, men of great wisdom and insight by all means struck by the awe-inspiring character of our universe, by all means open to devotional music and architecture and poetry, by all means aware of the transcendent. But look through the Hubble telescope if you want to see something that is awe inspiring and don’t look to blood-stained old myths. Now, “Why now? Why am I doing this now?” people ask. Well, I’ll tell you why now: because in the last few years it’s become impossible to turn a page of a newspaper without being, as the religious would say, "offended." In other words I don’t think I sound self-pitying if I say I’m offended that a cartoonist in a tiny democratic country in Scandinavia (Denmark) can’t do his job without a death threat and that no American magazine or newspaper would reprint those cartoons either to elucidate the question or in solidarity. I’m offended that civil society in Iraq is being destroyed, leveled by the parties of God. I’m offended that people in this country believe that they have the right to advocate the teaching of garbage to children under the fatuous name of Intelligent Design. I believe that we're—[After audience applause] Oh, I thought you’d never clap. Just as I believe that where religion ends philosophy begins, where alchemy ends chemistry begins, where astrology ends astronomy begins and now the people would say, “Well let’s give equal time to astrology in the schools.” It’s nonsense—dangerous and sinister nonsense. The Pope says, “AIDS may be bad, but condoms are much worse.” What kind of moral teaching is this? And how many people are going to die for such dogma? You see what I mean. So, I just—I’ll be very brief: and end to this, an end particularly to the cultural fringe that says that if someone can claim to be religious spokesman they are entitled to respect. [To Sharpton] I have to say it in your presence, sir: I think that the title Reverend is something people should be more concerned to live down than to live up to. Thank you.

    WEISBERG: We will get back to some of that. But Reverend Sharpton, in your rebuttal, would you take a moment to correct Christopher on his misconception that religion was somehow incidental to the Civil Rights movement?

    SHARPTON: That’s all you want me to rebut?

    WEISBERG: No.

    HITCHENS: Feel free.

    WEISBERG: Cover that please.

    SHARPTON: Well, first of all, let me thank you for inviting me and—to have this debate. It is the first time in my long career that I was not assumed to be the devil in a debate. It’s an unusual place for me on this stage. So I couldn’t turn down representing God and the divine in a public encounter. But I think that several things in rebutting what brother Hitchens says—you don’t have a problem with living up or down to being brother, do you?

    HITCHENS: Damn right.

    SHARPTON: I think that…

    HITCHENS: I take it kindly.

    SHARPTON: …you made a very interesting analysis of how people use or misuse God but you made no argument about God himself. And by attacking the “wicked” use of God does not at all address the existence of God or non-existence of God. We are sitting in a room that, because of lights, we assume that there is electricity in the building. Electricity can light up a room or burn it down. It does not mean electricity does not exist because it burns the building down or that it is inherently wicked. It is how people use it. So clearly people have misused God as they have misused other things that are possibly positive, but its existence is not in any way proven or disproven by you giving a long diatribe on those that have mishandled and misused God because there are many that you can cite that have acted in a way that shows the goodness of God. Your book God is Not Great could be refuted by many that feel He is great or She is great, whatever way you relate to God. Science, to me, does not wipe away the existence of God because science had to start somewhere. So to pick up mankind in its evolving state does not tell me where mankind began, how it became a long story of ordered steps. Well who ordered them? Why do things follow such a natural progression? Who set the progress? And, in fact, even in the term “wicked,” if there is no God, and if there is no supreme mechanism that governs the world, what makes right right and what makes wrong wrong? Why don’t we just go by whoever’s the strongest at any given period in history? Because nothing is wicked, because whoever’s in power at the time would determine what is wicked and what is not wicked because there’s no real moral code because there’s nobody to judge that. So at one hand we’re going to argue God doesn’t exist, on the hand we’re going to call people wicked. Wicked according to who and according to what? It would be based on whoever has the power at that time. So I think that the real thing that I’m interested in, Mr. Hitchens, is to really discuss the idea of God and the idea of a supreme being and how creatures and creation have just by some great coincidence, an unexplained scheme follows some order that just happened by itself. Something, some force, some overruling force had to set all of that pattern in and it continues thousands of years later. Can you give a million examples of where people have misused that, where they’ve distorted that, where in the name of God or North Korea or other tragedies have happened? Yes. In terms of the Civil Rights movement, it was absolutely fueled by a belief in God and a belief in right or wrong and had not there been this belief that there was a right and a wrong, the Civil Rights movement that you alluded to, or that you referred to, would not have existed because what made it wrong for people to be slaves? What made it wrong for humans to be treated unequally? Because there was nobody to say that they were all equal, it was whoever had the strength. But at the end what is refreshing is that you are a man of faith because any man that at this date still has faith that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has more faith than any religious person I know.

    HITCHENS: Very well, that's a very generous response. Do you mind if I take it in reverse order? The belief that there are weapons of mass destruction, or rather the conviction that Saddam Hussein was interested in weapons of mass destruction, you could, I suppose, describe as an argument from design. In other words, he had them before, he’d known how to conceal them, he’d used them several times, he seems to be prepared to risk his entire political career on the idea of reacquiring them. I would say that was not a belief that had no evidence and I would say that anyone who treated him as if he was innocent on the subject would be a sap, actually (would be my short word for it). Second, on the Civil Rights movement, you—I expected you to be more assertive. I don't know what Dr. King's private convictions about religion were. I know that he studied Hegel, I know that he studied Marx. I know that among his very close entourage were a large number of secular socialists and communists, you know their names too. Samuel Levinson is probably the best known but—among the black civil rights leadership, Bayard Rustin, secular socialist, Philip Randolph, secular socialist, trade union leader, these were the building blocks for the march on Washington, as was Victor Reuther and many others. The belief that it is illegal as well as evil to keep black Americans in subjection does not require any supernatural endorsement. It had been proved repeatedly in law and in morality and in ethics and demonstrated in practice. The only thing that has always been consistently justified by the churches was initially slavery, the right to hold someone as a slave, biblically warranted, and the right to keep the races separate which is endorsed by a church that, just to give a contemporary example, one of the current candidates for the Republican nomination is a member of a church (the so-called "Mormon" Church of Latter-Day Saints) that until 1965 had it as an article of faith that the Bible separates the Sons of Ham and makes them lesser. Well, I don't have to discredit a text like that because I don't think it has any authority. So, in a sense, I return the question to you. Now, I didn't say that God was misused. I hope I didn't—I wasn't so poorly understood by everybody. I said that the idea of God is a dictatorial one to being with. The belief in a supreme, eternal, invigilating creator who knows what you think and what you do and cares about it and will reward or punish you and watches you while you sleep is, I think, a horrific belief, a man-made one fortunately. I'm very glad there's no evidence for it. Let me—in case I was misunderstood let me assert again: I think it's innately an awful belief. However, the cleverest theologian, and there have been some, has never been able to demonstrate that such a person exists. It's impossible to do so. It's not possible either for me to demonstrate conclusively that no such person exists. That cannot be done either. But one thing can be done: a person who claims not to know only that this person exists, a task beyond our brain, but to claim to know His or Her (I'll accept your correction, Reverend) mind, to say, "I know because I'm in holy orders what this entity wants you to do, what He wants you to eat, who He wants you to go to bed with and how He wants you to go to bed with them, what you may read, what associations in private you may form, what thoughts you may have," that person is out of the argument now, it seems to me. We know that no one knows that. So the claim made by the religious that they know God, they know His mind, that they can tell us what to do in His name is, I think, exploded. Further, it is not argued by my side at any rate nor by no one I know on it that the—our presence here on the planet is something that is susceptible to a smooth, logical, reasonable explanation. To the contrary, we are still very much in doubt as to precisely how we came to be human and to separate ourselves from some of our common ancestors. We also know that of the species that have been on this small planet on this tiny solar system since the beginning of measurable time of the number that have—were ever in existence, more than 98.9% have become extinct. A certain solipsism I think is required to believe that we, as the resulting species, are somehow the center of the created cosmos. This is not modesty, as the Christians call it. It's not humility. It's an unbelievably arrogant claim to make. But at least it makes up for the other claim we're supposed to put up with which is, "Well, yes, but we're also miserable sinners, conceived in filth and doomed to abject ourselves." Both of these positions are too extreme, too strenuous, too fanatical, and both of them reinforce each other in unpleasant ways and both should be outgrown by us. Voila.

    SHARPTON: Well I think you probably had a bad Sunday School teacher because a lot of what you're saying is based on dogma and has nothing to do with one's belief in a supreme being. You're discussing, again, religions, dogmas, denominations, not the existence or non-existence of God. I'm glad to hear you concede you can't prove He or She doesn't exist any more than you claim that those that believe—[Microphone buzz]

    WEISBERG: There He is now.

    SHARPTON: Are you going to claim that's God speaking on my behalf?

    HITCHENS: I hate it when that happens.

    SHARPTON: Or the devil, which you choose. But I think that, again, the basic core question of God goes way beyond any example, no matter how witty or humorous, of those that come in God's name because it is the dictates of denominations or organized religious groups that tell you what to eat and what to wear and who to sleep with and all of that. That has nothing to do with the existence of an order to the universe that is clear and evident, that science, I think, confirms that it evolved from somewhere. That's how I relate to God. To your point, however, since I wasn't assertive enough in the first going forward and I think—one guy said that the other night in Vegas and Mayweather got more assertive, he won the fight so watch out on that. I'll get a little more assertive. Dr. King's organization's, brother Hitchens, name was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, so there's no question that he himself saw that the basis of the movement was God-based. Did he have some socialists that did not believe in God that associated with the movement? Absolutely. But they joined SCLC's endeavors after SCLC was formed. In fact, SCLC was formed in 1957 in New Orleans before many of them that organized the march on Washington. When Bayard Rustin, who I knew, went down south, his problem was he debated a lot with the ministers there who was the core of that group, so to try and secularize the Civil Rights Movement is just totally inaccurate. It was a church-based, faith-based movement, there is no question about that. And Dr. King, way before he studied Hegel and the rest he grew up in Ebenezer Baptist Church, was an ordained minister, first went to Morehouse, then Crozer Theological Seminary, then went to Boston to study those that you have referred to so let's not reinvent Dr. King any more that we try to reduce God to some denominational convention. And as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry about that. That's a temporary situation. But I think the core challenge that I would have is that I would say to you that if your argument is that there are those that have used religion, as in slavery, or as even today, to oppress people use religion to be unfair to people or have misinterpreted scriptures, you would get no debate from me. I think that is a fact of history and one that many of us have had to fight against. That still does not disqualify God any more than using anything in nature that is wrong—to say that one eats food that is poisoned does not mean one should therefore starve because food is inherently bad. That—I think you're confusing the misuse of religion with the existence of God. There are those that have no religious affiliations at all that believe in God. There are people that don't deal with organized church at all that still believe in God. So when you say God is not great let's not then debate organized religion is not great or some that have exploited organized religion is not great. You, in the title of your book—and I've had a chance to go through your book—attack God not those that express that they are therefore standing in God's place or representing God and your whole oratory about weapons of mass destruction and he thought he had it and all of that, when we found him he was in a rat trap with a 22 pistol. He knew he didn't have any weapons of mass destruction because no one, as one that comes out of the hood, no one that has atom bombs would just retreat with a 22 and wait under calvary.

    WEISBERG: Any order you like.

    HITCHENS: I think I better stick to the reverse order. No, well that's why I—very good time to attack him was before he would get back what he lost by way of WMD. He didn't have any then and he wasn't going to get them back, either any more than he was going to improve his relations with Al Qaeda. They were as good as they were ever going to get and that was fine by me. Maybe an argument for another time but, believe me, I'm not reluctant to have it. Then we are of one mind, essentially, I mean, after all, I did not deny what's common knowledge that Dr. Martin Luther King was the Reverend Martin Luther King and was indeed at the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

    SHARPTON: I thought you said you don't know his [indecipherable].

    HITCHENS: No, no, I said I cannot say to you that I know that he was a believing Christian, no I cannot. I mean neither can you say that to me any more than, we seem to be of one mind on this too, that none of us can prove or disprove the existence of God. The differences between us—I don't say that I'm an ordained minister because I don't think I could push it that far. On the—since you're evidently an agnostic, it's a confession that I'm very welcome to have, not extracted from you, but heard you make. Now here's the question: you say these texts are misused, I say that they are not. The Old Testament says or does not say that Abraham was doing a noble thing by offering to sacrifice his son to prove himself loyal to God or to the voices he was hearing in his head? It says that was a noble thing for him to do, he was rewarded for it by a great posterity and a great long life. Offering to murder his son because of hearing voices in his head. This is not moral teaching to me. Is it not the case that the Old Testament says that the Amalekites must all be destrored down to the last child, every one among them, leave not one? Yes, it does say that. Bishop of Landaff in a debate with Thomas Paine said, "Well, when it says keep the women," as Paine had pointed out, he said, "I'm sure God din't mean just to keep them for immoral purposes." Well what does the Bishop of Landaff know about this? Kill all the men, kill all the children, and keep the virgins. I think I know what they had in mind. I don't think it's moral teaching. To this day there are nutbag settlers, some Israeli citizens, some of them American, some of them Israeli-Americans, trying to settle the West Bank in the name of this prophecy, throw other people off their land and establish a theocracy that will bring on the Messiah and, they hope, Armageddon and the end of the world. Well I think the United States Supreme Court should hear argument that not one American dime can be used constitutionally for that project, ok? It's high time, cut it off. These people mean to— these people mean us real harm and I'm not going to dilate about whether their Muslim brothers say about us when the—the Koran does not say that you may be killed for changing your religion but the Hadith, the so-called sayings of the prophet, which are taken just as seriously, do say that. So when someone says, "I'm a Muslim and I'm telling you, Mr. Rushdie, if you apostatize from this faith, you're dead," he's not misquoting the texts, sir, he's not. He's quoting them accurately. I think I'll phrase it as understatedly as I can: I think we can do without a lot of this.

    WEISBERG: Christopher.

    SHARPTON: Now, let me respond to this. I think again...

    HITCHENS: I think enough already would cover a lot of this stuff.

    SHARPTON: Again, you are debating points I didn't make. I said—you keep confusing the existence of God, again, with religious denominational beliefs. I'm not debating...

    HITCHENS: They're not—are they separable?

    SHARPTON: Yes.

    HITCHENS: Well fine.

    SHARPTON: Very much so. I think that you're quoting the Bible—if you said everything in the Bible you rejected you still have not established why a belief in God—maybe a belief in God through that vehicle may be your debate but you're not addressing God. You're talking Koran, Bibles, people's interpretation of God. That is not my debate. My debate with your book is that you're saying therefore since they did this to—well, since Abraham was going to murder his son, there is no God. That's like one plus two equals seven. I mean, we're not—so Abraham may have been incorrect, if that's your point, or what they did with the Amalcolmites or what's going on in the Middle East, what does that have to do with the existence of a universe that is set on a order that I believe was set by a supreme being that continues to evolve today that I think science has done a credible job in analyzing. Now you can debate which one of the Bibles, Korans, religious books may have had it right or interpreted it right but that does not address the central question. You, sir, did not attack the Christian church or the Muslim religion or the Pope, you attacked God and to attack God is a whole lot—you hit here and you debate here. Let's talk about God, let's not talk about those that came in His name and you have some maybe credible arguments against whether or not you felt that they were correct or incorrect and, again, I raise as I did in my opening statement: who decides what is wicked, what is right, what is ethical? If there's nothing there that governs humanity whatever is ethical is whatever we decide is ethical because we're in charge. It's all up to us.

    HITCHENS: Ok, once again in reverse order if I may: religion gets its morality from us. I think it's very easy to demonstrate that. I'll do it from one of each of the two testaments.

    SHARPTON: You back on testaments. Why don't you right a book Testaments are Not Great?

    HITCHENS: I've spent a lot of time with my Bible, ok? My Bible, I do.

    SHARPTON: I told you you had a bad sunday school teacher.

    HITCHENS: Or the "Babel" as they call it in Dixie. I do. In the—there's a very famous parable in the New Testament where the alleged Jesus of Nazareth tells a story about a man from Samaria (we call it the good Samaritan) who, finding a fellow creature in enormous distress and pain, goes well out of His way to alleviate his suffering and to follow up to make sure that His sympathy hasn't been a waste of time, to do the aftercare if you like. We know one thing about this person from Samaria: he cannot have been a Christian. Jesus is telling this story about someone He's heard of who acted, as far as we know, from no other prompting other than elementary human solidarity. What other prompting do we need? Our species would not have survived, we wouldn't be met here if we didn't have, as well as many selfish instincts, the need, and often for our own sake, to be of use to others, to combine with them, to take an interest in them, to care for them, and to worry when they're in pain. No supernatural authority, as with the Civil Rights Movement, is required for this. Morality comes from us, religion claims to have invented it on our behalf. Then, ok, another example from the older testament: is it really to be believed that, until they got to the foot of Mt. Sinai, the followers of Moses believed that, up until then, adultery, murder, theft, and perjury were ok? They're suddenly told, "Oh hey, we got some new ideas for you." I don't think so. It's a bit of an insult to the ancient Jewish faith, of which Jacob and I are both rather disgraceful ornaments in our different ways. I think our ancestors were smarter than that and even if they weren't smarter, they wouldn't have got that far if they were under the contrary impression. The Golden Rule is something you don't have to teach a child. There's no need to say, "And if you don't follow this rule, you'll burn in hell forever." That's immoral teaching. Now I hope I've made myself clear. On the—but I'm wondering if I have because you face me, Reverend, with two very unwelcome thoughts: either I have been completely inarticulate in everything I've said this evening or you have misunderstood me.

    SHARPTON: Or both.

    HITCHENS: I prefer myself—or, these are not mutually exclusive. And I should've seen that coming.

    SHARPTON: Have faith, son, you can do better.

    HITCHENS: I thought I said with storm ground we cannot know if there was a creator whether of ourselves or of our cosmos. You may wish to assume one but that's the best you can do. The evidence is all that the cosmos evolved and the evidence that there was a single mind purposeful creator of it is nil. There's no evidence for that at all. By all means believe it as long as you don't try to make me believe it or teach it to my children.

    SHARPTON: Well, let me say that we've got...

    HITCHENS: On that I have to insist. That's not a difference of opinion.

    SHARPTON: I will meet you on common ground there, but I will say that many people, I among them, in our own lives have had experiences that make me believe that there is a God and make me believe that my seeking God and seeking the guidance of a supreme being is real to me. I'm not going by Moses, I'm not going by Peter, I'm not going by the man that you said was "allegedly" Jesus of Nazareth, I'm talking about in people's personal experiences with their interaction through their own faith with God can say that you or no one else can tell me that did not exist. If I was only sitting up here arguing with you over Scriptures, then you would have points that I would consider valid to this discussion, but I'm not here to defend Scriptures. I didn't write those Scriptures. I lived my life and in my life the existence of God has been confirmed to me in my own personal dealings and my own faith being vindicated and validated that had absolutely nothing to do with Scriptures or whether they were right or wrong and, again, I pose the question: when you raise the issue of morality, if there is no supervisory being, then what do we base morality on? Is it based on who has the might at any given time? Who's in power? What is morality based on if there is no order to the universe and therefore some being, some force that ordered it, then who determines what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral? You use very religious terms interchangeably while you attack the idea of a God. There is nothing immoral if there is nothing in charge because everything becomes moral if, in fact, the species as we are is all there is. We'll determine—let's decide every four years what's moral. (Most Republicans do, but, I mean...) Let's do it in the sense of let's just say forget about that, we'll decide morality based on every period of time because there is nothing up there governing in any way. And you don't have to burn in hell to understand that life has certain guiding posts that has been set there well beyond your own being and I think to think that the whole world was waiting on one's birth, your birth or mine, or death, to set the framework of morality, I think that is very arrogant. It's also delusional, but it is very arrogant at best.

    HITCHENS: Again, in reverse order:...

    SHARPTON: Don't look for help from the referee, I'm over here.

    HITCHENS: I incline in your direction, sir. Said it before—very suggestive thing that you just said: if there was no one in charge, how would we know how to act morally? This is indeed, this is a very profound observation. It's argued by Smerdyakov in The Brothers Karamazov, he said, "Without God anything is permissible." Some people believe that. Some people believe that without the fear of divine total surveillance and supervision everyone would do exactly as they wished and we would all be wolves to each other. I think there's an enormous amount of evidence that that's not the case, that morality is innate in us, that solidarity is part of our self-interest in society as well as our own interest and very much to argue the contrary that when you see something otherwise surprising to you, such as a good person acting in a wicked manner, it's very often because they believe they're under divine orders to do so. Steven Weinberg puts it very well, he says, "Left to themselves, evil people will do evil things and good people will try and do good things. If you want a good person to do a wicked thing, that takes religion." For example—I simply do not believe—I do not believe that my Palestinian friends I've known now for years, think that to blow yourself up outside an orphanage is a moral act—or inside one is a moral act, or an old person's home in Netanya is a moral action, that anything in their nature makes them think this, but their Mullahs tell them that there is, that a person doing this is a hero. I do not think that any person looking at a newborn baby would think, "How wonderful, what a gift and now let's just start sawing away at its genitalia with a sharp stone." Who would give them that idea were it not the godly? And what kind of argument from design is this? Babies are not born beautiful, they're born ugly, they need to be sawn a bit because the handywork of God is such garbage. Well honestly, this is what I mean when I say that those who think there's any connection between ethics and religion have all their work still ahead of them and after thousands of years, still have it all ahead of them more and more. There.

    SHARPTON: So you do not believe, in your long and thorough research of history, that atheists ever did anything evil, it's only religious people that were driven by somebody representing God that made them do that and people that came in satanic ways, all of that is rubbish? Only religious people reading scriptures of some sort have done wicked things in the history of the world?

    HITCHENS: I should have raised that question myself and I realize also...

    SHARPTON: But you didn't, so I did, so let's...

    HITCHENS: But I've never yet been in one of these meetings where it didn't come up and—but I still owe you yet another answer. When you say you've had this confirming emotion in your own life, of course, I would not be so presumptuous as to challenge you. Indeed, I believe people when they say that they have experienced miracles. I believe that they think that they have. I think I'm obliged to credit them if it comes to that as long as they keep it to, if you like, if I can put it like this, modestly as I dare, to themselves. If I believed that I was saved because once a baby boy was born and, before mutilated, made the extraordinary discovery that he escaped the female birth canal, mother was a virgin (or at least that her birth canal was only one way) and that thus I was—a sorry thing, by the way, religions' distastes for these regions, don't you find? And something to put you on your guard: suppose I thought, ok, now I know that, that must prove his teachings are true, which it doesn't seem to me that they do, but suppose I did, and I'm going to be saved by it, I'd think that was a wonderful secret. It would make me happy. It should make me happy. It doesn't make people happy. They can't be happy until I believe it too. My children must be taught this stuff. So sir, no ma'am, no day, no way, no shape, no form. You keep your illusion private. And I hope it does make you happy and there's perhaps some reason why it would but then—no, we're told the Pope's authority to say you can't have a condom comes from his ability to certify a miracle, a disturbance in the natural order. I think it was David Hume who put it slightly vulgarly, this was again about the virgin birth I think: which is more likely, that the whole natural order is suspended or that a Jewish minx should tell a lie? There has to be an answer to this kind of question. As to the secular bad behavior, well, I used to be a believing Marxist and I've had this argument about Communism in different forms all my life and I really—there's a very—you confront me with an intensely serious question, though, actually, secular criminality on the political level wasn't really possible until pretty much the late eighteenth century because the religious monopoly on violence and cruelty and torture and slavery and so on was so intense. It has to be said that some of my non-believing forebearers seized the opportunity to behave in the same way, sure. There's no question about it. And I'll put it like this, to take the best known case: up until 1917 the czar of Russia was not just the ruler and owner of Russia and all the Russian people and everything in it, but he was also the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was considered by church and the people to be something a little more than divine—excuse me, a little more than human. Not as high as Hirohito, but a bit higher than the Pope in secular and temporal power. If you were Stalin you'd be crazy if you don't take advantage of a people who'd had centuries of indoctrination of that kind. Of course you would want to see if you couldn't replicate that and to see about reproducing it, emulating it, trading on it, taking advantage of it. You'd be nuts if you didn't do it. So the answer, I think, which is a very long process, will be a long, cultural process, is to try and move people up to a cultural and intellectual level where they above that kind of appeal, where they're not credulous, where they don't take things on faith, where they don't make gods or idols or images out of anybody including fellow human beings and that they learn the pleasures of thinking for themselves. How about that for a modest proposal?

    WEISBERG: I'd like to use my referee's power to ask you each a question before we open it to the audience for questions and Christopher, my question for you, taking up the cudgels a little bit for Reverend Sharpton: you keep coming back to various forms of biblical literalism. Reverend, somewhat to my surprise, has not defended anything in the Bible and asks, quite reasonably, what is your problem with deism? You've written about Paine, Jefferson, you write in your book about Einstein and Darwin, who are arguably deists in a way. What is, since you say yourself you can't prove God doesn't exist, what is your problem with faith divorced from religious text or literalism?

    HITCHENS: Well religion is not the belief that there is a god, after all. Religion is the belief that God tells you what to do. So, if we have to talk about religion, we are not talking—theism believes in the existence of a creating being but it has no prescriptions for morality. You can't as—a theist cannot say, "I think that this universe is so well-designed that it implies a creator, therefore don't be going to bed with another member of the same sex." Theism—deism, excuse, did I say theism that time? Deism, excuse me, is therefore not a religion. This is a first for me, I've never yet met someone in holy orders who has said that the words of the holy books have nothing to do with God. I know there's a lot of laxity in the churches these days, and I've been trying to encourage it, but, I mean, it seems to me—I could have been pushing at a slightly more well-defended door. Jefferson, who could have been a great paleontologist, a great botanist—well was, in fact, all of these things, couldn't shake the feeling that the sheer order and beauty of it implied something. But he had these great discussions with his French counterparts: "How come the shells—the sea shells you find them so high up on the mountain tops? What is that?" He had no idea. He died after 1819. The great day in 1819 is the day that Mr. Lincoln is born and Mr. Darwin is born, same day. I know which one of them was the greater emancipator, too. Jefferson couldn't see as far, we just didn't have the horizon. Now can you hold to the deist belief if you choose, if you like, but the overwhelming evidence is that we do have an explanation for the origins of the species, ours and all others and that each new discovery made, in however remote a part of the earth's surface, in paleontology will confirm, or not confute, or not contradict, the body of knowledge that we have so painstakingly erected. So everything else added to that is a work of what the Church of England used to call supererogation. It's needless, it's unnecessary. Ockham's razor disposes painlessly of it.

    WEISBERG: Let me turn...

    HITCHENS: It's gone. It's history.

    WEISBERG: To turn it to you, Reverend Sharpton, for a moment, I was expecting you to—I think you've very eloquently made a version of the argument from design, you have argued of an idea of spirituality, but you haven't defended the Bible at all. I mean, isn't that what you do from the pulpit?

    SHARPTON: Well maybe I read the wrong book.

    HITCHENS: Could be.

    SHARPTON: I did not get the book that Hitchens wrote, The Bible is Not Great. I didn't get a copy of the book that Religion is Not Great. He said God is not great and I have yet to, after several inquiries here tonight, get him to address that. And when I read his book and hear him talk he makes a case against everything other than God. Maybe the name of the book should've been God is Not Great, I Don't Think or You Have the Right to Think He's Great if You Just Don't Tell Me. That might have been a more appropriate title. But I'm waiting for him to establish that God, not King James, not Mohammed, not Jerry Falwell, God is not great. So to ask me to defend who I have no personal relationship with, no belief in, is—I'm in the wrong debate. I think that we can then agree that as long as I don't bother the sedate, scholarly world of Mr. Hitchens, then I can believe in my god and he's fine and I'm fine with that because I'm certainly not trying to convert Mr. Hitchens, I'm just trying to have him understand that he cannot impose upon me how I relate to God by quoting things that I may or may not believe anyway.

    WEISBERG: I'm afraid we're not going to have any conversions tonight and I wasn't expecting any, although, you never know if Christopher is going to start speaking in tongues before we're done. Let's take some questions from the audience. There is...

    [Holdengräber instructs those who are lining up where to find the microphones]

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Is it working? Thank you very much. Gentlemen thank you very much for the discussion. This question is for Mr. Hitchens. Based on your prior writings, based on, most recently, a Time Out interview with you in which you claim that the only time you ever prayed to God was for an erection, I'm going to ask you this question:...

    SHARPTON: Was that a miracle?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: The question, Mr. Hitchens, is should...

    HITCHENS: What people usually want to know is was the prayer answered?

    WEISBERG: And?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Not me, baby. Should we normal, sane Americans continue to be so bedazzled by a bespokes, off-cam superficialist who just wants the US to pick up the many disastrous pieces of the British Empire and whose understanding of God is much shorter than his penis?

    HITCHENS: I don't mind.

    WEISBERG: Assuming that that was not a question, let's try another one.

    HITCHENS: Well, I thought is was. It sounded interrogative. I mean, I don't want anyone to think I'm dodging anything is all.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: It might be difficult for me to follow that one, but, correct me if I'm wrong in the beginning of the talk you...

    HITCHENS: Oh we will, we will.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: ...you expressed antipathy towards deism in principle...

    HITCHENS: Slow down, I can't hear a word you're saying.

    SHARPTON: I can't either.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: I'm sorry. In the beginning of the talk you expressed antipathy towards deism in principle predicated upon this particular interpretation of God as a supreme dictator and judge, is that correct?

    HITCHENS: That would be correct, yes.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Now, if I could play devil's advocate for God for a moment, could you appreciate a god who watches us and our actions eagerly and with great interest because he created a world where everything is permitted?

    HITCHENS: Yes, I can picture it but not without horror.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Hi Christopher, my name is Lynn [indecipherable]. I came from Toronto for this.

    HITCHENS: This isn't about my penis, is it?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: No. I wanted to ask you in light of the number of intellectuals and well-educated people and Templeton prize-winners that invoke the names of Richard Dawkins, you, and others who are speaking out and liberating us right now, are they deluded, dishonest, or emotionally dysfunctional? And may I also ask with regards to your book you mentioned that at age nine that you realized that you might have been an atheist but yet had two religious weddings, one Greek Orthodox and then Jewish, why did you do that? When my second wedding came along I went for the justice of the peace in a real estate office under a stuffed trout.

    SHARPTON: Now I got the problem: two failed marriages and one failed erection, you gave up on God.

    HITCHENS: You still don't know how that prayer was answered, Reverend. That's what you might call a premature ejaculation on your part.

    SHARPTON: Not if I had Mary to give me witness.

    HITCHENS: And I'm sorry, but I only have on ex-wife and not even she, in her most adamant moments, would describe our marriage as failed. I will say this, by the way, I hope I encourage anyone here who might be over in any difficulty, if you have a child with someone you really can never be divorced from them and she and I are very proud of our children and they are rather happy with us. It's a pity we couldn't get along better, but...Anyway, don't let me get too husky about this. On with the show, skipping lightly over the genitalia. Isaac Newton was a spiritualist, as far as we know. He seems to have believed in a number of weird and crackpotted theories. Joseph Priestley, the great Unitarian and rationalist and defender of the American Revolution, forced to flee from England to Philadelphia after the monarchists and Tories burned his laboratory, discoverer of oxygen, believed in the phlogiston theory, the most exploded theory that we know of. You'll find the coincidence or coexistence of superstition and mania of all kinds with great scientific achievements all over the place... [VIDEO EDIT] The [indecipherable] people who are real physicists, Fred Hoyle was actually one of them—the late Fred Hoyle, the man who believed in steady state and disbelieved what he contemptuously called the Big Bang, was also a man of odd, intermittent faith. It doesn't matter. What you could not do is say that your evidence as a physicist or a biologist supported your private religious beliefs. It would be a coincidence. Whereas if you're Richard Dawkins, the coherence between what you have found and what you have contributed to science and the extreme unlikelihood of the existence of any god is pretty striking. Hope that's clear.

    WEISBERG: [To the next audience member] Please.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: First of all, I have no interest in anyone's sex life, sorry. My question builds upon your response. Why do so many people seem to feel such a deep need to believe things which are obviously untrue: homeopathy, angels, UFOs, you name it, all the claptrap which fills endless magazines, television shows, etc.?

    WEISBERG: As I understood the question it was essentially why is there such a persistent need for faith?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: What's the appeal...

    WEISBERG: Why do so many people continue to believe if Christopher argues that the species has evolved beyond the need for it? Is that your question?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: Well, not quite. What is the fundamental attraction of the illogical?

    SHARPTON: Is what?

    WEISBERG: Say it again?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: What is the fundamental attraction of the illogical?

    WEISBERG: Oh. Is it...

    HITCHENS: Of the illogical. Yeah, I understand.

    WEISBERG: Is it—are people drawn to religion because they're drawn to superstition and things that aren't logical?

    HITCHENS: [To Sharpton] Well, you first.

    SHARPTON: Let's go in reverse.

    HITCHENS: Alright then. There's a poem by Philip Larkin called Church going which I hope anyone here who has not read—that sentence is going nowhere—I hope anyone who hasn't read that poem will let me do them a favor and look it up for themselves before next—this time tomorrow, which would perfectly express my point of view. A wonderful statement by the greatest English poem of this period about the experience of visiting a church. Not wanting to be able to believe but not being able to dismiss the seriousness, the history, the tradition, the beauty of it. I couldn't do without the poems of George Herbert or John Dunne either, which have strictly devotional poems. I think you could fake being a devotional painter. You could be a painter who didn't believe in God and pretend you did for patronage. You couldn't fake being John Dunne or George Herbert. I couldn't do without their work. I couldn't do without gothic architecture or devotional music either. I wouldn't trust anyone who did, who had no feeling for this and people who don't know what the numinous and the transcendent feel like, who don't experience anything when combinations of landscape and music and poetry and also the melancholy of one's own life, the realization that we're going to die and that our children actually need us to do so, other melancholy reflections of this kind are, to that extent, not poetic, not human, not literary, not civilized. But the supernatural adds to this absolutely zero, it seems to me, and in some ways subtracts from its grandeur and its seriousness. So I'm one of those who Pascal is actually thinking about, or was thinking about, when we wrote. He wrote to the person who is so made that he cannot believe. There are millions of us, there always have been, there are now, there are going to be many more of us in the future. We're just a little bit fed up with being treated like freaks in American culture.

    SHARPTON: I, for my belief, do not believe that everyone believes in things that are illogical. I think that—and there are different theologians who approach it differently, I guess the closest—well not exactly where I am but Paul Tillich who talks about personal god would be going in the direction that I believe—I believe in my own experiences and my own relationship with God and that is not based on any illogical, unbelievable act. I do not believe things that are necessarily part of dogma and I think that [To Hitchens] Richard, if you or whoever has the right to disbelieve it without being a freak but I don't think that I am a freak that believes in illogical things because I believe that the reason the world operates in a certain order is because there is a supreme force that ordered it and I don't think that—I happen to agree with Richard that I think religion has been one of the most misused things in history but I don't think that has anything to do with the existence or the non-existence of God. I think that has something to do with man's misuse or use of what is absolutely there and that is a supreme being.

    WEISBERG: Thank you. We have a lot of questions. Let's get through as many as we can. Sir.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: I wonder if you both might comment on this. In an age when there is so much, as Mr. Hitchens would put it, wonderful secular knowledge that should disprove or replace the value or the importance of religion, all the modern knowledge that we have, why is it that in so much of the world religion is growing rapidly, in the global south particularly evangelical Christianity is growing at a tremendous rate and there are plenty of statistics to back that up. And even when people experience the most horrendous evil, they seem to turn in some strong ways towards religious belief. My broth-in-law is a US Air Force chaplain. He served two tours in Iraq. He's presently in Afghanistan. He ministers to men and women who have seen horrendous evil and experienced it firsthand and yet his services are overflowing, he's done many baptisms. Please help us understand at a time when the human race should have grown out of all of this, why is it growing so dramatically? Thank you.

    WEISBERG: [To Hitchens] Do you want the first go-about?

    HITCHENS: I am happy to yield to the...well, at the risk of being callous...

    SHARPTON: You?

    HITCHENS: (Can we assume that I've gone inaudible?) I don't think that we should be paying for chaplains. I don't think the US government should be employing any. James Madison's a coauthor of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom and of the First Amendment and therefore was very adamant on the point and very clear. There shouldn't be—it's flat out unconstitutional to pay or employ a chaplain to open the proceedings of Congress or to be in the armed forces. We can't have chaplains on our payroll. That's that. People who want to pray can't be stopped but they can do it—of all the solitary activities, apart for the search for—never mind—surely that's one that doesn't need a paid state mediator. It's a negation of the American Revolution. So, that first. Second, yes, modernity, involving as it does, a huge exchange of technology and population and innovation, in a very churning and vertiginous manner, of course means that a lot of lives have to be lived in a very insecure and risky way and it's not at all unlike our nature as a species to try and cling to stability, certainty, and consolation in those cases. It explains itself, it seems to me. What is notable, though, is it hasn't come up in thousands of years with any superior explanation to the old ones. It still is going back to myths that were discredited and exploded many years ago. And these, of course, turn out to be false consolations whereas the consolations of philosophy and of the aesthetic and of the beauty of science and of reason and so on, available to us all the time and really able to explain why things happen, why terrible wounds are inflicted in Afghanistan, and so forth. No, no, that won't do. Let's, like some absolute loser, find the person who Paley means who says—finds a watch on the beach and thinks, "I don't know what this is for but it seems to tick. It must be for something," but doesn't understand it. We find this wonderful truffle and open it and look at the chocolate and throw it away and then munch on the wrapper. I don't understand it but I'm one of those who are not made this way.

    SHARPTON: I think the core of your question—I think that the more mankind learns, the more mankind understands that it does not have all the answers and that's why people continue to reach and seek answers that is beyond what, even in this age, we've been able to discover. I think that is why. And I think that there's also the innate emptiness in mankind to always go back to the core of what made mankind in the first place and that, to me, is a supreme being. I think that answers the question of why I think the—and then—[Noticing Hitchens was choking]

    HITCHENS: Sorry.

    SHARPTON: I thought you got the Holy Ghost or something.

    HITCHENS: Just throwing myself around.

    SHARPTON: But I think that's why we see the rise of Evangelism. Whether or not I agree with the rise or not is another question. But I think the quest is inspired because of the increased knowledge has not answered the question of where it begins and what governs all of the things that, obviously, operate in some order and with some precision and I must say, at the risk of my sounding callous, it amazes me that it doesn't bother you that we spend two trillion dollars in a war we should've never been in, you just worry about paying the chaplains to pray over it?

    HITCHENS: Yeah well, you see, I don't love our enemies and I don't love people who do love them. I hate our enemies and think they should be killed and I think that they want to kill me. And I think we can do it with half the budget or maybe twice but I'm absolutely sure that there should be no country that has a budget that can threaten ours and I'm not sentimental about the point. I wanted to have another whack at that very question...

    SHARPTON: So people that preach God and love should shut up and remain private but killers ought to just go and just kill people that they call their enemies. That's very ethical and [indecipherable].

    HITCHENS: The people who preach "Allahu akbar" had better find out that there's a stronger force than them and one that also has unalterable convictions and principles and that can also be offended and that they offend it at their peril. That's what I think. Now, to the last question, I just want to have one more run at it.

    SHARPTON: You already answered it.

    HITCHENS: I know, but if you don't mind.

    SHARPTON: You trying it twice?

    HITCHENS: When I started hurling myself around like a shout-and-holler person, it was because I suddenly though of [indecipherable].

    SHARPTON: Ok, I understand. Well there is no right or wrong with you so go ahead, answer it three times.

    HITCHENS: The questions that they come and ask these chaplains are, "Why, why, why? Why does it happen that the nicest guy in my unit just took a round through the throat," you know, and, "I've just been to this village where all the children are being killed and where"—you can fill this in for yourself—"Why, why, why, why?" That's the question, isn't it? Well, have you ever heard of any spokesman of any religion give an answer to that question? They've had thousands of years to think about it. No, they haven't come up with a question at all, unless to say, as they used to, when it was a plague or a war or a tsunami, "Well it's probably a sign of sin. You're being punished." The Archbishop of Canterbury in England two years ago says he really worries how God could be so mean as to unleash a tidal wave towards Christmas time in Asia. You can't believe you're listening to this stuff. Now if you ask me, ok, I'll say—"Why did this happen? Why did the best guy I know get cancer of the throat or get mugged or slaughtered, or whatever it was?" I'll say, "Because we belong to an imperfectly evolved species where the adrenaline glands are too big, the prefrontal lobes are too small and we bear every sign of the stamp of our lowly origin and only by realizing the fact that we are mammals are we likely to be able to talk any sense about it." And if you say, "Well, why did that city fall down or be overcome by waves or that volcano kill all those children?" I'll say, "Well, hate to break it to you, but we live on a cooling planet whose crust hasn't quite settled yet. These are to be expected and there is no other explanation for them and don't believe anyone who says there is." Well, this is not perhaps perfect ethical instruction, but it does conform to the hippocratic injunction, primum non nocere, at least I'm not lying to these people. At least what I say can do them no harm and at least it cannot increase the illusions they already have and usually when you go to that village and ask, "Why are the children being killed?" it's because someone who believed in God thought that they had it coming.

    WEISBERG: Next.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Hi. Thank you. I'll be brief. The question of where to find morality, with or without God, which, I think, is certainly too large for either side of this debate to settle or resolve within the space of a few hours—you can't hear me? However, I think Mr. Hitchens has made a start and at least has offered a possibility of where we might find morality....

    WEISBERG: Could you, I'm sorry, just get to your question because we have lots of people waiting.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: Ok, I'm sorry. Reverend Sharpton has resisted Mr. Hitchens' attacks on the institutions that were later claimed to relay God's will but expresses doubt as to how we can have morality without God so I'm wondering if criteria such as personal experience are all we have without the legislature of shared religious texts, how are we to move on from moral solipsism and actually find morality?

    SHARPTON: I think that the—well, it is Mr. Hitchens that says that we found morality in ourselves, that we know morality. I would argue that the reason you can find it within yourselves is because of a sense of God and a pattern in human character that was there. There's no scientific evidence offered by non-believers as why this morality would be there other than—what, what, it just evolved somewhere? That we would have this sense of morality? I don't that it has to be governed by organized religion, that's all.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: Hi. First of all I just want to say I'm writing a book and it's called An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Religion Succeeds and Atheism Fails, so I am an atheist but I defend religion. And my...

    WEISBERG: You're really splitting the difference here, huh?

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: [After being told by an usher to ask his question] I know, I just lost it, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

    HITCHENS: Sounds like dialectical interference.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: My question is—to Christopher is how you can justify wanting to take something away from people that gives meaning to 95% of the American people replace it with something that gives meaning to just 5% of the American people?

    HITCHENS: Ha, well, what an incredibly stupid question. First, I've said repeatedly that this stuff cannot be taken away from people. It is their favorite toy and it will remain so as long—as Freud said in The Future of an Illusion it will remain that way as long as we're afraid of death and have that problem which is I think likely to be quite a long time. Second, I hope I've made it clear that I'm perfectly happy for people to have these toys and to play with them at home and hug them to themselves and so on and share them with other people who come around and play with the toys, so that's absolutely fine. They are not to make me play with these toys. I will not play with the toys. Don't bring the toys to my house. Don't say my children must play with these toys. Don't say—my toys might be a condom, here we go again—are not allowed by their toys. I'm not going to have any of that. Enough with clerical and religious bullying and intimidation. Is that finally clear? Have I got that across? Thank you.

    WEISBERG: Next. Quick question.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: Yes. Mr. Sharpton, if morality comes from whatever God tells people to do or whatever God says is right and wrong...

    SHARPTON: I never said—I never said that.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 8: ...rather than the objective requirements of human life, then how is God any different than Stalin?

    SHARPTON: But I never said that. I think that—I think Mr. Hitchens said that God tells people this. I said that God—if there is no supreme being that sets a framework for the world that has a framework of right and wrong then what do we base it on? Do I think God calls the leaders of the church every morning and tells them what's right and wrong after they read The New York Times? No. I think that there is a framework based on what is right and wrong in humanity by the force that created humanity and that is not God sending you an email every day or revelation on a mountain. I did not say that. I think that was his concept of what had happened to some that had professed that, so I can't defend what I didn't say.

    HITCHENS: I am of one mind with the Reverend in saying that there has been no divine revelation. There could not be such a thing. But I'm a little disappointed in you.

    SHARPTON: I know you are.

    HITCHENS: Just a fraction disappointed.

    SHARPTON: I know you are.

    HITCHENS: But you can live with it. I can see that you can.

    SHARPTON: I'll try.

    HITCHENS: You're man enough, you're man enough to [indecipherable].

    SHARPTON: I'll try.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 9: If—this is a follow up I guess to the last question—but if you need God or religion or spirituality, whatever, to have morality then how do you explain the high crime rate in the US, which is the most religious industrial country in the world versus Japan and Sweden and other countries that are almost entirely secular?

    SHARPTON: Well, I think you confuse two things in your question. That there, first of all, is a distinct difference between spiritual and religious. You kind of intermingled the two. And I think that those that commit crimes, and I hate to disagree with Mr. Hitchens, are not all believers in God. I mean to say that that question is logical is to say that every criminal is a God-fearing person that commits crime. I have a feeling—I certainly don't have the data at my disposal as my good friend brother Hitchens—but I would suspect atheists commit crimes too.

    HITCHENS: I can absolutely vouch for that.

    SHARPTON: We're of one mind. We're coming together.

    HITCHENS: I mean, look, I dare say the question was supposed to helpful to my side but I don't it so for two reasons. One, it's too approximate. I mean, just as you hear people say—something I think is really fatuous—there are no atheists in foxholes. You've heard it. There are very few atheists on death row, either, but I wouldn't make that a case for my side. It's just not the way I argue. I do notice that Christians, or other believers, tend to say if a baby falls 25 floors and lands with a bounce on the lawn and is unharmed they attribute it to a divine intervention and if it falls two feet off a table and cracks its skull and dies they just say that's bad luck. I have noticed that tendency and this is, I think, a version of that. The burden of proof, in any case, is not on our team, if you will. We don't say disbelief in God will make you a better person or make you more moral. We are arguing against those who say that a belief in an unprovable supernatural will make you more moral. Now that we know is not true. That we know is not true because there's not just a lot of ordinary crime committed by the faithful but there's a lot of extraordinary crime such as suicide bombing and genital mutilation and many other things that's committed because of and only because of faith. I rest my case.

    SHARPTON: So the way to get the crime rate down would be to increase atheism and disbelief?

    HITCHENS: No, there is no corollary, as I was careful, I think scrupulous in saying, there's no corollary of the atheists side to that.

    SHARPTON: Oh, ok.

    HITCHENS: Those who argue that religion is a source of morality have, as always, and as so far this evening, all their explaining still ahead of them and that's with 2,000 years of failure to chalk up. Pretty wet performance, isn't it?

    SHARPTON: I must say this—and I know some more questions—atheism has been here for thousands of years, too and I think that just as there is a lot going forward to look for answers from those of us that believe, those that have made thousands of years of careers and books in disbelief haven't answered much either.

    SHARPTON: Well if you think that Spinoza, say, or Democritus is just the equivalent of—I don't know who, did you say Paul Tillich?—I just think you're not comparing like with like. I think our tradition beats yours every time intellectually.

    SHARPTON: Of course you do.

    HITCHENS: And our tradition has no—we've never had to take anything back. We've never had to say, "Look, we were teaching the children that the world was flat for too long. We'll have to change this for now." Or we've never said you'll go to limbo if your child dies unbaptized. We've had nothing of this sort on our conscience and every discovery made by independent, corroborative, disinterested research tends to support what we suspected in the first place.

    SHARPTON: But I would argue that those of us that believe in our own relationships with God and believe prayers are answered does disbelief, that it's hard to lose something if you put nothing there but just argue against whatever's there is not there. So you start with a undue advantage.

    HITCHENS: That went straight past my bat.

    SHARPTON: I know.

    WEISBERG: Let's take—I want to take just two more questions. Sir, please.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER 9: Mr. Hitchens, does man have an innate need for ceremony and ritual and if so, how does he satisfy it without religion?

    HITCHENS: I believe we do, for the most part, have an innate need for ceremony and ritual, yes. I think that that seems to be a finding of all anthropologists in all societies at all times. This doesn't mean that they have to take the form of, say, human sacrifice, thought some of the better and more elaborate ones have taken that form, or say the investiture of a monarch where one would be better off with a republic, and so forth. I mean, the knowledge of this needs or innatenesses is also an awareness that these impulses must be, so to say, domesticated, civilized. Actually, the best argument I know for religion, which is—perhaps I owe an apology to the gentleman I was rude to a few moments ago—which is, in a way, an atheist argument, is religion, though it's based on complete falsity and fantasy does at least give a form and a shape to people's atavistic and superstitious and barbaric and other worshiping tendencies. It domesticates and organizes them. That's what many people believe the Roman Catholic Church has been doing for a while and I would be prepared to concede that is it wasn't for the teachings on virginity, the denial of the right of contraception, and many other horror shows. They can put on a good ritual, I'll give you that but don't go believing that if you put a wafer on your tongue you're going to change the cosmos because you know, there's no truth to that at all.

    WEISBERG: We're honored to have Ayaan Hirsi Ali here this evening.

    HITCHENS: Ah!

    WEISBERG: And I'm going to give here the honor of the last question.

    ALI: Yes, thank you, and I've become an atheist and if brother Sharpton answers my question I might go back to faith.

    SHARPTON: I got it here.

    WEISBERG: Glad there's at least one persuadable person here.

    ALI: Mr. Sharpton, you repeated many times tonight that you did not want to talk about religion, you wanted to talk about God. It is unfair, then, to ask you to give us the evidence if His existence. Is it, for instance, unreasonable for you to tell us if He or She or It created this world order, who created Him then?

    SHARPTON: Who created...

    ALI: God. I mean, what was before Him?

    SHARPTON: Well...

    ALI: Let me finish all of my question.

    SHARPTON: Oh, I though you only had one. This is a...

    ALI: Well, it's important.

    SHARPTON: Ok. It's a long conversion. Go ahead.

    ALI: And finally, isn't it odd that you carry a Christian title and that you refuse, even for once tonight, to defend the charge and the content of the Bible.

    SHARPTON: Because we are here to discuss Mr. Hitchens' book and Mr. Hitchens' book attacks God and I wanted him to defend his book. His book, unfortunately for your question, did not attack the Bible or Christianity and I would not want—well you have to read the book, it does when you get inside but I think that what you must—what I wanted to convey is that there are all kinds of people that relate to God other than the ways Mr. Hitchens may address a certain religion that I respect. You don't have to be a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist to believe in God or worship God. So that is not to defend against those that say that God does not exist because that would have reduced the debate to just part of the framework of the book. So that is why I wanted him to discuss with us his whole attack, not just his dogmatic attack, though he clearly does—and I do encourage people to buy the book, it's well-written. I don't believe what it says, but it's well-written.

    HITCHENS: [To Weisberg] Oh, that's a very nice [indecipherable].

    SHARPTON: He's a very eloquent and well-versed person.

    HITCHENS: Well that's extremely handsome of you.

    SHARPTON: Oh, I know that. But in answer to your first question, I think that, again, to say that one does not exist because I cannot say for sure how it was brought into being—I'm sitting on this stage, you don't know how I was born. Answering God's not there because we don't know who God's father was or how God came into being I don't think deals with the existence that there is clearly confirmed by some of the scientific data in Mr. Hitchens' book that I, again, encourage you to get and get an autograph. Is that a ritual, when you sign an autograph?

    HITCHENS: Yes, it is. It is.

    SHARPTON: I think that the existence of God...

    HITCHENS: It's more like a sacrament, actually.

    SHARPTON: It's a sacrilege?

    HITCHENS: It's more like a sacrament.

    SHARPTON: It's a sacrament.

    HITCHENS: This is America, baby...

    SHARPTON: Don't put a wafer on your tongue when you get an autograph.

    HITCHENS: ...I'm only going to be nice to people with receipts from now on. That's how moral I am.

    WEISBERG: I'm afraid we're ending the evening with no conversions but with a lot of eloquence and I want to—please join me in thanking both of our debaters.
  • 2 comments:

    1. Brilliant. Thank You for posting these. I will miss the razor sharp intellect of the Hitch.

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    2. Yes, thank you! Hitchens is awesome.

      ReplyDelete