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Opening – Christopher Hitchens

Thank you very much to a monk family, great philanthropists, for making this possible. Seven minutes, ladies and gentlemen, for the foundational argument between religion and philosophy. There’s been 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 it is from, because I won’t take a religious text from a known extremist or fanatic, it’s from Cardinal Newman, recently Prime Minister Blair’s, in urging beatification 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, 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 on truth, 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, I would say more than exigent, greedy for uncritical praise from dawn till 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, 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–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 meant anything to terrify children with the image of hell and eternal punishment, not just over 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 the 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. How did 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 made you 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 one minute and 57 seconds to say, well, 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 was unusually filled with refulgent 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, 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 peace. They will not compromise. There will instead be misery, shame, and tyranny, and people will kill each other’s children for ancient books and caves and relics. And who is going to say that this is good for the world? And that’s just the argument, 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 Tsarism in Putin’s Russia, where the 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’ve done my best, believe me, I have more.

Rebuttal – Christopher Hitchens

Oh heavens’ 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’s a great deal more by way of an outbreak of secularism. Logically, attorneys, right? I would be slightly better off, not much, but slightly better off being a Wahhabi Muslim or a twelve-year Muslim or Jehovah’s Witness than I am wallowing, as I do, in mere secularism. All I’m arguing is what we need is a great deal more of one and two, great feel 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, it happens with the first generation of people who do really what the cure for poverty really is. Deluded 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’re throwing a handful of seeds perhaps and some crepe, the floor, the floor of everything in that village, not just poverty but education, health, and optimism will increase. It doesn’t matter. Tragic Bangladesh tried 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 and stupidity from women, it is invariably the clergy that stands in the way. Or in the case of them now, firm, or if you’re 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, I must say. Whether you’re a Christian or not, 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’ve died wretched deaths because of that 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. Otherwise, I’d be accused of judging them by the worst of them. And this isn’t done, as Turney says so wrongly, in the name of religion. It’s a direct preset practice and enforceable discipline of religion, is it not? So 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. I think that Joseph Smith found another Bible bed in upstate New York, but you should see our missionaries in action. I’m not impressed. I’d rather have no Mormons and their 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 charge. We’ll work without us. Effendi, the poor of Gaza, the poor of Lebanon, where would they be but for a hand? Their rights?’ They do a great deal of charity 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 stuff, the injunction not to do to another what would be repulsive if 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 of commandments to be ministered 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, we have the reasoning and the moral suasion of Socrates and all of our own abilities. We don’t need dictatorship to give us right from wrong. And that’s why not.

Thank you.

Closing – Christopher Hitchens

I think that where I am, doing it actually is commenting on what Tony just said because he succeeded in doing what I had hoped I might get into earlier, which is to be loud. 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 me on questions like, “Are our richest people good or bad?” and other things that are very important. Does religion make the bed better or worse and so forth? I’ll give you a challenge, an example I mentioned earlier of our attachment to the labor and socialist movement in our lifetimes. For a very long time, we had in that blue bird a challenger, apparently from the left, the Communist movement, which has only been dead a very short time now, actually hasn’t died everywhere yet, and which said it had a much more comprehensive and courageous and thorough-going 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, especially in fiction novels and essays written by people who believed in it, you probably, all of you, mentioned one of your own. If you were Canadian, I hope they still teach about him in school.

The great example of Norman Bethune, a 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 woman. Many examples. It was the Communists in many parts of Europe who barred the road which aphasias him in Spain and felt kept Madrid for many years from falling to Franco and Hitler and Mussolini. Gandhi may take credit for the Indian independence and 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, 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 the Executive, who 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, “No, it won’t work.” “Why won’t it work?” It’s not worth the sacrifice of freedom that it implies, it implies that all these great things can only be done if you’ll place yourself under an infallible leadership, one that once it’s made a 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 us as high prisoners 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 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 at 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 considering yourselves, and consider this carefully, ladies and gentlemen, brothers, sisters, comrades, friends. Are you, are you yourselves willing, for the sake of certain elements of the numinous, perhaps for a great record of good works, as its proposed version, are you willing to say that you give your allegiance to an ultimate Redeemer? Because they’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 ready halfway out the door, you don’t need me. But are you willing to pay the price of the 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 the 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 the 26th, as presently the his own claim, not 9, the apostolic succession, the Vicar of Christ on earth. You have to say 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.

Transcription in progress.

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