Hitch & Blair: The Debate

That beloved atheist Hitch is at it again. Perhaps you heard? He and Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair had a public row about all things religion.  A reported 2,600 people turned out Friday at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall to hear these two gents.

Okay. Well, row might be too strong of a term. They had a public debate. But, hey, I’ve watched Parliment have a go at it on the telly. Those English people take their debates seriously. (We southerners came by our passion honestly.)

The two were sparing over whether religon has been a force for good or evil in the world.

I think a better question might be whether man has been a force for good or evil in the world.

My granny would likely have summed it up this way:  six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. But a preliminary poll of audience members had them siding with Hitch. Sixty-eight percent said they think religion has been more of a destructive than benign force in the world.

Easy for them to say. They haven’t yet lived in the world where there is no God. That’s like the kid who says life would have been so much better if only their parents had divorced instead of bickered with each other all those years. Yeah? Tell that to the child whose parents are divorced, who thinks life would have been so much better if only the parents could have learned to work out their differences. Arguing about who has it worse or who has it better doesn’t change the reality of it for anyone. Hitch really ought to give it a rest. But I have to hand it to the good fellow, he does ask some rather probing questions:

“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?” Hitchens said in his opening remarks. “To terrify children with the image of hell … to consider women an inferior creation. Is that good for the world?”

Of course, Hitch’s starting point is flawed. Who says God takes sides in war? Somebody show me the scriptures where God says he loves Americans best. Or the British. Or even the ever-charming peace-loving pacifists Canadians for that matter?

God doesn’t start wars, Hitch, man does. So man makes the rules of the game, not God.

Poor God. He’s all the time getting blamed for the idiotic ways in which we go about running our affairs. The few times He tries to intercede we push back and tell Him to mind his own beeswax, thank you very much.

And that whole appealing to our fear and our guilt argument?

Uh. Ahhhheeem. Again, Hitch, that’s some convoluted thinking you got going on there. God ain’t told nobody to go around acting like the Scripture Monster, threatening people to turn or burn. Yep. Those same kind of  people who paint John 3:16 on the end of the missles they use to blow up Iraqi neighborhoods are the ones who devised this “us” and “them” rhetoric of religion.

Man did it.

Not God.

God made it clear that the only side he takes is the side of humanity — the whole of humanity. Not some pared-down version where all the white men wear robes of gold and everybody else wears black.

And about that woman issue?

I can understand how Hitch came to his assumptions. Certainly there’s been plenty of abuses within the church to warrant a healthy debate on this matter, but again, I’d like to point out that there are just as many examples of women being demeaned outside the church. The telly may be the worst of all offenders in this matter.

Now that would be a worthy debate, Hitch. Let’s consider together whether the telly has been a corrosive influence upon society or whether it’s just a bit bothersome but mostly delightful tool.

I am a bit confused: Why does a man who doesn’t believe in God feel the need to spend his last remaining hours railing against the God that doesn’t exist?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Peg Willis

    Your last sentence says it all!

  • Karen, I agree with your overall point. I think this post, like all of your posts, is very insightful, and I’m better off having read it.
    If you don’t mind me going on a tangent, though, can I ask you to flesh out this statement of yours?

    “Who says God takes sides in war?

    How do you reconcile that position with, say, the Israelites being told to go take Jericho and kill everyone in the city, except for those in Rahab’s apartment? Or how God got mad at Saul because he didn’t follow through on the commandment to kill every living creature when he killed the Amelekites. Many more examples, but you get the idea. I’d love to hear your position on this.

    • danmcm

      Hey James… I’m not Karen, but I’ve got a response to your question that I think makes sense.

      I don’t think God takes sides in wars for the purpose of favoring one set of people over another. What I do think is that God has a plan of redemption for His people, and to the extent that His redemptive plan depends on circumstances such as wars to unfold in a particular way, He will favor who He needs to. Not because He loves one person more, but because His overall redemptive plan depends on it.

      For example… Rahab being spared — she ended up marrying into the genealogical line of Jesus. Saul not killing the Amelekites — the issue wasn’t the death of the Amelekites (they would all die at some point anyway), the issue was Saul being obedient to what God was calling him to.

      It’s Romans 8:28 — all things work together for good for those that love God and follow His commandments. The “good” is His redemptive plan, not necessarily who wins wars… but if it takes winning a war to make His plan fall into place, so be it.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      James: I wasn’t ignoring your question. Just needed time to ponder it.

      I am not at all sure I can explain God’s obsessive devotion with this cantankerous lot of unfaithful people, any more than I could explain the virgin birth.

      I don’t have any idea how the newspapers at the time were reporting the war. Did they do a shoddy job and accept the Department of Defenses press release stating that God was on their side?

      I find this exchange between Joshua and God’s commanding officer enlightening:

      13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
      14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord[e] have for his servant?”
      15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

      So are you for us or against us, Joshua asked the commander of the Lord’s Army. (God has his own army that doesn’t include drafting us, apparently).

      Neither, God’s commander replied. I’m not here to do your battles for you. I just want you to realize that you are standing on holy ground.

      God has a plan. We can either cooperate with him. Or we can get out of the way. Either way his plan is going to be executed. God isn’t take sides in our wars because He is too busy waging a war of his own — against real evil. He’s not interested in our petty differences that lead to outright struggles for power and money and land.

      I think what God wants us to understand at every moment is that we are all standing on Holy Ground. As long as we continue to disregard that, I think we’ll be at war with each other and with God.

  • Your last question hits the nail on the head for me. Why be so emphatic about questioning a God that supposedly doesn’t exist?

  • I’d be interested in hearing what Blair’s defense was for these attacks.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      BBC is going to be airing the debate in Jan. Check the Munk Debates site for details.

  • Grupetti

    “I am a bit confused: Why does a man who doesn’t believe in God feel the need to spend his last remaining hours railing against the God that doesn’t exist?”

    He’s railing against religion and the idea of God.

  • danmcm

    Good article.

    Hitch does ask a few good questions, but as you point out, a lot of his assumptions are flawed. And in some ways, he’s guilty of the same thing as those that have used religion to cause harm: they rely on certain passages and exclude others to build an argument based on half-truth. A very human thing to do…..

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yep. Very human thing to do. An error we all make, daily.

    • What about those passages, though?

      How can they be easily dismissed even in context?

      Exactly how are his assertions flawed?

      Do you believe that Moses received tablets bearing divine directives from a supernatural being or a burning bush?

      Do you believe that Mohammed received divine directives from the Angel Gabriel in the desert?

      Do you believe that Joseph Smith received divine directives from the Angel Moroni on golden plates?

      Why/why not?

      What method do y’all use to come to your conclusions, how do you deduce which one is true and which is a man-made fantasy?

      I am honestly interested.

  • Karen, you have written a really good post! In particular, I was struck by these lines:

    “Easy for them to say. They haven’t yet lived in the world where there is no God. That’s like the kid who says life would have been so much better if only their parents had divorced instead of bickered with each other all those years. Yeah? Tell that to the child whose parents are divorced, who thinks life would have been so much better if only the parents could have learned to work out their differences.”

    Very true. For all of the speculating, no human being has every experienced life on this planet with out God. I cannot imagine what human history would have been like if God had abandoned his creation and the people who he made. Life in this world may be rough-very rough, but I don’t want to even imagine a world where God has been totally absent altogether.

  • jaz

    A well intentioned man, who saw misery and hunger all around him, gathered the people around him.

    He presented them all with seeds and finely crafted tools for farming, then he taught them, as best he knew, how they could use these seeds and tools to better their lot in life. Some took his lessons to heart and, over time, become productive farmers able to feed not only themselves but also the people around them.

    Others said, “Yeah, whatever, here’s an easier way to get what you want, right away.” They cracked open the well-intentioned man’s skull with the tools he had given to them and took his grain for their own.

    We may as well ask whether any tools are good or bad.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      There you go again, J, trying to urge us toward rationale thought.

      • jaz

        I’m just calling it like I see it. Hitch et al. wag their fingers at religion because religion can be misused. Well, duh.

        Human beings are deceitful creatures. Misusing good ideas and good intentions in order to promote fear and guilt is what we do.

        Believing that the world would be any better if religion were wiped away is the real fantasy. We would just figure out how to promote fear, guilt, and division through science and reason instead of through religion.

        Oh, wait. We already figured out ways to do that long ago. Dang, we’re clever.

        • While Hitchens has a rather blunt approach, not coached in platitudes, he (among others) doesn’t just generically wag his fingers at religion because it can be “misused”.

          He points to the directives and ideology specifically stated within them that rather blatantly weaponizes at least the “big three” Abrahamic religions by creed.

          Further, he cuts through the imposed reverence for religious conjecture, by pointing out the immoral foundation of many of the most basic tenets, including genocide, infanticide, xenophobia, misogyny, racism and the morally indefensible concepts of vicarious atonement and the eternal torment of everlasting fire.

          All and each emanating from the well spring of the main deity as depicted by the sacred texts within.

          Again, Jaz, I may be a bit more optimistic regarding the potential for reason to promote a more compassionate and rational model for the human family.

          That said, science isn’t a philosophy or an ideology, it is a methodology regarding the empirical, so I really wouldn’t include it in such a discussion on morality.

          • jaz

            Agreed, there is great potential in reason.

            Best of luck selling it to the 6.7 billion.

  • Your last sentence is something I’ve been wondering a lot myself. I say he should debate you. I’d pay to see that.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Billy: I have a feeling a lot of people would pay monety to see me trounced upon. Stand in line.

  • We are in the season of the church year known as Advent, a time of waiting. Whereas our Israelite forebears waited centuries and millennia for God to make good on a promise, we can’t wait a few days or a few weeks. So our churches are filled already with Christmas decorations and Christmas carols. Would Jesus himself recognize any of this?

    The appointed gospel for this Sunday is Matthew 3:1-12, John the Baptist’s famous call to repentance. He gets most animated when the Pharisees and Saducees come out. Probably wasn’t an unbeliever or atheist in the entire bunch, Jew or Gentile. So the issue is not believing but seeing. Who SEES God at work?

    John calls for fire in the Messiah, says the One has a winnowing fork in his hand. For those unfamiliar with the metaphor of ancient threshing practices, let’s get up to date. Imagine you are driving a modern combine through a field of ripe wheat. Now imagine a little mama rabbit and her bunnies that make the wrong choice and hop right into the header of the combine rather than dashing away to safety. They, too, will go through the separator unit like the stalks and heads of wheat. “The One is coming,” John says, “and He’s gonna bust heads, run you through a combine, burn the straw and the chaff.” No way to hear that except for the violent image it is.

    That’s apparently the kind of Messiah John the Baptist is looking for. We’ve always assumed that JB had a 100% crystal clear vision of what the Messiah was and would be like. But then how is it that JB himself is confused after having baptized the guy, sending the interrogatory “Are you the One, or do we wait for another (’cause from my perspective it doesn’t look like it’s happening).” But as it turns out, about the only thing JB got right was the time. Even the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus is the Parakletos, the one who comes alongside to support, more like the life support systems in ICU than the hot breath of nuclear conflagration JB imagines.

    The question is not whether Hitchens or Blair is correct or wins the day. The burnin’ question is whether we see any more clearly than the Pharisees, Saducees or JB himself a Messiah who wins by losing, who triumphs by submitting, whose strength is given away, in the words of a favorite author, in “littleness, leastness, lostness” and by whom life is won through death.

    To what kind of Messiah do our lives conform?

  • JDean

    Karen said: “I am a bit confused: Why does a man who doesn’t believe in God feel the need to spend his last remaining hours railing against the God that doesn’t exist?”

    If you need to ask that, I don’t think you’ve understood much of the debate.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Care to elaborate?

  • For those who actually watch Hitchens debate religious counterparts, he nearly always addresses the inquiry “Why does one who has no belief in God rail against something that doesn’t exist”.

    He concisely states that it is an abhorrent model of morality and must be met head on due to the corrosive nature of what happens when folks think that they are the divine conduits and earthly representatives of a supreme being beyond space and time.

    The dangers far outweigh the need to remain silent, for silence often implies consent.

    Y’all should check out many of his debates with Dinesh D’Souza, among others.

    As JDean astutely points out, the inquiry itself about his intentions when debating religious folks infers a lack of understanding of the material he offers.

    He rejects and refutes religious claims (not just Christian ones, by the way, though more dominantly so for his western audiences) because the claims themselves are nonsense, which he doesn’t merely assert…he goes into great detail to point out why they are nonsense.


    • jaz

      We’re all born selfish, Steve. As infants, we’re all wailing centers of the universe. As we grow and mature, we have opportunities to come to understand that there is much more going on than our personal wants and needs.

      Both science and religion offer means to do exactly that: to become part of something larger than ourselves.

      But let’s be honest. The vast majority of us will not use either science or religion for this purpose.

      We will skim the surface of one or the other to find justifications for doing whatever it is we already want to do.

      The best any of us can do is to use these tools (whether within science or religion) to work on ourselves and, in so doing, to become a better example for others to follow.

      Don’t hold your breath waiting for the whole wide world to follow that example, though.

  • Hi Jaz!

    We’re all born in need of food, water, warmth and love to support the selfish requirements of life itself.

    In short, we’re all born human and we’re no more the “center” of the perpetual and (so far) ineffable universe than my dear bird Nova.

    As we grow and mature we learn that we may have the joy of successes, the despair of failures and the unexplainable ambiguity of trying our best and still coming away neutral resulting from the actions of others countering our intent or just things beyond our scope to control.

    To maintain personal integrity, in my view, we should always be culpable for the results whatever they may be.

    Further, I find that I may very well not ever discover all of the answers to some of the most perplexing puzzles in this life…but, I do love a mystery, and would rather *try* to discover some of the answers than to simply rely on the religious claims of those who fully and admittedly choose to believe simply on faith without the empirical.

    My view is that we are not born flawed or cursed because of the rather benign crime committed by a first man made of clay and the woman born of his rib.

    We are natural beings within the wonder of the universe in plain view and it is surely enough to be inherent within the starlight that “is”…than to limit existence to the small proportion of ancient lore out of a small desert region of this world.

    That’s my .02 anyway.

    I think I’ll be a bit more optimistic about the human family as well, though I do understand some of the disappointments.

    Have a great day, Jaz, and thanks for your perspective.

    Biloxi MS

  • Dave Huntsman

    “I am a bit confused: Why does a man who doesn’t believe in God feel the need to spend his last remaining hours railing against the God that doesn’t exist?”

    Karen, I agree you’re confused. But it is clear you haven’t listened to a single word Hitch has said.

    Chris has said repeatedly – including in this debate – his main problem is the religionists who seek to enforce their believes on others, via rules and laws and censorships and punishments. Fighting against these sanctimonious folks who would enslave our minds and souls is extremely noble; and thankfully for humanity’s sake, Hitch is even able to make a profit out of it.


    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Hitch is not without his own sanctimonious side.