Webcast Summary: Tony Blair vs Christopher Hitchens

First the most immediate (and most common) question … “Is there an archive of the webcast available?” … The answer is yes.  … If you go to http://www.munkdebates.com/home.aspx you can pay them, $2.99 to get access. Now don’t be shocked, yes they want a few bucks, but its only $2.99, they are not a charity, and they do have costs to cover.

Update: The videos are on YouTube in 8 parts… just do this search to find them …

Update-2: You can find a full textual transcript here

OK, so what about the debate itself, how did that go?

Both speakers were polite and showed respect for each other, but in the end it was Hitchens who won the day … not a surprise there, Blair was on very dicey ground to start with, defending religion, an idea that is entirely imaginary and does not have a single jot of evidence to back it up. Its not a great place to be, no matter how passionate you feel about it.

The main thrust of the argument made by Blair went along the lines of, (with his usual oh-so-familiar jovial I’m your best-mate hand-waving style), can be best more of less summed up as, “Ah yes, of course people have done wicked things in the name of religion, but look at all the good things that people have also done in the name of religion”, then tosses in references to Catholic charities in various places where they help the sick and the poor. He is a good speaker, his ten years of constant bombardment of by the opposition week-after-week in the house of commons have served him well, and he can quite clearly and quickly talk himself out of a few tight spots with lines such as …

I do not deny for a moment that religion can be a force for evil, but I claim that where it is, it is based essentially on a perversion of faith.

Hitchens was, (I’m delighted to say), sharp, witty, and constantly on the offensive, leaving Blair very much on the defensive back-foot and constantly reverting back to, “But religious folks also do good”, stance. Hitchens also had a few really good lines, my favorite being  …

“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, and over us to supervise this is installed a celestial dictatorship. A kind of divine North Korea.”

Even Tony Blair found that line funny and laughed along with everybody else.

A few interesting questions also came from the audience as well. Blair was challenged by one girl about the war in Iraq, he replied …

“We can nail this one pretty easily, it was not about religious faith …. You don’t go into church and look heavenward and say to god “Right. Next year. The minimum wage. Is it £6.50 or £7.00? Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell you the answer.”

It was inevitable that at some point the topic of a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would come up … and when it did it was quite apparent that they both took very different views. Blair said that men of faith on both sides were “desperately” tying to get a solution and play a good role, but in contrast, Hitchens observed that it was, “a failure of the parties of god.” … and then went on to observe …

And it’s not something that happens because people mis-interpret the texts. It’s because they believe in them. That’s the problem.

At one point both were asked which of each other’s arguments they found most convincing. Blair observed, “This definitely never happened in the House of Commons,” then went on to say that it wasn’t always easy for people of faith to explain the importance of scripture in the modern world. Hitchens admitted no such difficulties, saying he preferred the wonders of the cosmos over the superstition and mental submission involved in religion.

“You gain everything by repudiating that [the superstition and mental submission involved in religion.] and standing up to your own full height,” he declared. “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.”

Once all the dust had settled and they were done, Hitchens prevailed, a quick poll of the audience resulted in two-thirds of them voting for him.

Update: You can find further articles by others over at the BBC, the Guardian, and the New Humanist.

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