A Debate on Organized Religion in the 21st Century

Several years ago, before the New Atheist books were ever published, I saw video of a debate between Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and right-wing nut and former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes over the question “Does Organized Religion Have the Answers to 21st Century Problems?”

Now that C-SPAN now has their entire archive online, this was one of the first things I searched for.

They won’t let me embed it, but here’s the link to the video.

If you’ve never seen a debate on this topic, this is a fantastic one to start with. Keyes recites the usual Christian soundbytes and Dershowitz (also using typical points) knocks him down left and right.

This is my favorite bit, coming from Dershowitz, in a particularly passionate moment:

Organized religion is always having to say you’re sorry for misunderstanding God’s will in the past. That has been the history of organized religions.

We’re sorry for the Crusades.

We’re sorry that we slaughtered babies and children in the name of Jesus.

We’re sorry for the Inquisition.

We’re sorry for the pogroms.

We were wrong then. God didn’t speak to us clearly then.

But he speaks to us clearly today!

If you have some time (two hours), it’s worthwhile to watch the whole thing. If you don’t have that time, just watch the Dershowitz bits.

I love the intensity and the back and forth in the second half of the video. And take special note of Dershowitz’s statement at the 30:10 mark, made a full year before 9/11.

  • mkb

    Dersh was the first person I ever heard talk about his lack of a god belief. First year, criminal law, a shock to this Presbyterian from the Bible Belt. Who knew I would one day share his lack of belief.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/umdsocietyofinquiry/ Anthony

    I thought Mr. Keyes had some good points during his statements, but in the dialogue at the end I think he lost it. I also think Mr. Dershowitz used the phrase, “because it is right” too many times.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I’ll watch it tonight instead of the NCAA basketball championship. I’ll just read about that game in the sports section of the paper.

  • http://onestdv.blogspot.com OneSTDV

    So Dershowitz thinks religion is horrible, yet he’s an ardent supporter of a state that has a quota for religious politicians?

  • http://www.feast-your-eyes.com Darius

    “It’s one of the reasons why even bad folks get to have a defense. You can’t assume that just because you think they did something wrong, the don’t have basic rights and dignity”

    I can’t believe Keyes, yes Keyes, says this statement in the same argument for why he doesn’t agree with granting full rights to homosexuals.

  • http://jimloomis.deviantart.com JimLoomis

    Keyes is a bigot. Just like every far right religious nut, as the walls come down and he gets more pissed off, his true beliefs start to unravel. He’s pretty darned pretentious as well. I’ve never seen someone more sure of such delusional ideas in a public forum. He dodges more questions than he answers.

  • Richard

    So, having watched the thing… I think the guy arguing for religion failed. Taking into account the last ten years – he took his arguments out of his own imagination whereas the other guy hit pretty close to home.

    It’s also really fun – in the light of Your*… decisions in Texas – that half the debate is about T. Jefferson.

    Anyway I’ll just post my conclusion:

    Alan Keyes is an idiot.

    I’m sorry to say this but having watched the thing, he made no good argument. He had a lot of emotion in what he was saying but close to nothing of what he says is intellectual. He attacks science on so many points that I got sick.

    Gays are born gay. Science: The more (in number) older brothers you have – the higher the chance you are gay[1]. How do you choose how many brother you get born with? Stem cell originates only in very limited amount from aborted fetuses[2]. How is this National Socialism?

    Besides, what does sex have to do with morals? And why the h**l do he attack science by comparing it with the Nazi camps? Why claim that the Nazi’s was not as horrible as the slave trade because of historical reasons?

    The whole debate could be over by basically saying “no, you are wrong” and “Godwin’s law”.

    So, I’m sorry but, the only conclusion possible is that Alan Keyes is an idiot.

    Anyways, if I offend you by this, to quote Tim Minchin:

    “And if perchance I have offended
    Think but this and all is mended:
    We’d as well be 10 minutes back in time,
    For all the chance you’ll change your mind”,

    my opinion is my own.

    Ref.
    [1] Link to study (look at the date): http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/153/1/27
    [2] Link to the first google search on this: http://www.allaboutpopularissues.org/where-do-stem-cells-come-from-faq.htm
    [3] Link to video and the text: http://podblack.com/2008/12/little-kitten-lyrics-to-tim-minchins-storm/

    * I’m not a member of your country

  • Carol

    Jeff P!!!

    What are you thinking?! I’ve always enjoyed and respected your posts, but you are **way** off base on this one, pal! You’re skipping the NCAA basketball championship for a video that can be watched anytime? For shame, man! *wink*

    GO DUKE! :-)

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Carol, “Go DUKE!”

    go “whoever Duke is playing”!

    AKA Butler ;)

  • BrettH

    Richard: To be a bit nitpicky, I am a member of this country(U.S.) and decisions made in Texas still aren’t mine. Texans get the responsibility/blame for Texas decisions, they don’t check with the other states first.

  • Carol

    @Jeff P:

    God says that if you don’t root for Duke tonight, you’re going straight to — oh. Ahem, wrong blog. I mean, Free Thinkers For Duke! :-)

    As a last resort, can I bribe you with beer?

  • Jeff Purser

    We Love our Husky Women!!

    Go UConn!

    Last night, UConn defeated Baylor 70-50 for its 77th consecutive victory.

    Tomorrow night, the Huskies take on Stanford for the Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship.

    If UConn wins it will be the first time in the history of the women’s game that one team has won back-to-back titles with perfect, unbeaten records.

    Stanford was the last team to beat UConn – the outcome is far from certain.

    Sorry for the OT Post but Jeff P & Carol “opened the door.”

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Carol,

    I do like that Duke’s mascot is the Blue DEVILS. I have to admit, though, that I don’t know anything about Butler. I don’t even know what state they are from. But then again, I’m from ACC territory and we can’t really see past the east coast. It seems that around here either you went to Duke and LOVE DUKE or went somewhere else and hate Duke.

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/co Joshua Zelinsky

    So Dershowitz thinks religion is horrible, yet he’s an ardent supporter of a state that has a quota for religious politicians?

    Huh? I presume you mean Israel. Israel does not have a quote of religious politicians. The Knesset is a standard parliamentary system. If you mean the charedi (ultra-Orthodox representation) that’s because there are a lot of them and they generally vote for the parties that represent their interests.

    (This isn’t to say that Israel doesn’t have other problems. But quotas for representation is not one of them).

  • http://oddboyout.blogspot.com/ OddBoyOut

    I do not understand how so many cannot see that Keyes is contradicting himself.

  • http://www.myspace.com/youreundoingmybeltwronghun Tim D.

    Organized religion is always having to say you’re sorry for misunderstanding God’s will in the past. That has been the history of organized religions.

    We’re sorry for the Crusades.

    We’re sorry that we slaughtered babies and children in the name of Jesus.

    We’re sorry for the Inquisition.

    We’re sorry for the pogroms.

    We were wrong then. God didn’t speak to us clearly then.

    But he speaks to us clearly today!

    Well, actually, in my experience, Christians tend to argue that the Crusades/Inquisition/etc. were a defensive conflict. Which is of course complete bullshit.

  • Demonhype

    Tim D.: Totally. My Christian History class skipped the Inquisition, but the text had a small (ever so tiny) paragraph claiming it was all in self defense and, anyway, no one ever actually got hurt and the worst that happened was a few exiles–but even if it had, the victims had it coming since they were “spreading a disease” that “needed to be quarantined” by “any means”.

    There was also the teacher calling the Nazis athiests–this after we read the Nazi manifesto in class, which is rife with biblical justifications for their actions and entreaties to Christian beliefs.

    Disgusting. Also dishonest. And shameless.

    I tried to listen to Keyes. I really did. But while Dershowitz started off quite politely, Keyes launched into his 12-minute rebuttal with ignorant personal insults delivered in that obnoxious preacher-charismatic tone. Between that and the complete horsehit falling out of his mouth at all times as he tried to skirt uncomfortable points…I just couldn’t take it anymore. My brain cells were fleeing in terror.

    Keyes has got to be the stupidest douchebag I’ve ever heard. I was yelling at the screen so loudly my mom came in to find out who I was arguing with on the phone. I’ve never done that before, and I’ve heard some suprememly stupid dishonest morons before. Keyes takes the cake.

    I’m glad Dershowitz took off the gloves after Keyes started relying on lying and insults. There are too many such debates wherein the believer stands on personal insult, contradition, misrepresentation, and other total BS and the opposition is too sweet and gentle to call them on it–or show them up. Dershowitz had the benefit of insulting Keyes without being full of it, which is even more delicious.

  • ChrisZ

    I absolutely loved that passion that Dershowitz brought to the debate; it’s something you don’t really see from the Hitchens/Harris/Dawkins/Dennets of the world.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I agree that Keyes is dishonest. He takes a legitimate (and good) idea that there should be checks and balances to power and morphs this into the (bad) idea that human morality should be subservient and dictated from some other-worldly domain. And who does this dictating? The priest class. All his talk of “unalienable rights” is just cover to get everybody to suck it in and obey the high priests of the dominant religion. Without having checks and balances grounded in this world, everything Keyes says is nothing but rhetoric. There are no checks and balances with religion. Religion is the antithesis of checks and balances.

  • ATL-Apostate

    Keyes is an idiot.

    His entire inane babbling about the Boy Scouts being a Christian organization, followed by him calling Dershowitz a liar for admitting that the BSA let a Jew join… WTF??? I can’t even follow what Keyes was saying. He’s clearly insane.

    Bizarre.

    Dershowitz owned Keyes on every point. Keyes resorted to hyperbole, emotion and indignation in a feeble attempt to keep up.

  • http://criticallyskeptic.blogspot.com Kevin

    Wow… I’m about 50 minutes in, and Dershowitz is awesome!

  • bigjohn756

    Since when is the Declaration of Independence the founding document of the government of the United States of America? I always thought the government was based on the Constitution and its amendments. The Declaration was a letter to King George outlining the reasons for our rebellion. Keyes obviously has no idea.


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