Monday, October 19, 2009

Hitchens & Fry vs. Onaiyekan & Widdecombe

This debate was produced by the folks at intelligence squared and aired on the BBC, so you know it has fabulous production values as well as a sharply focused topic question, which was this: "Is the Catholic Church a force of good in the world?"

Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan goes first, and basically cites to the medical and missionary services which are provided in the name of the Catholic Church. He gleefully ignores all of the evils done in the name of the church, as if it never happened.

Hitch picks up the ball and runs with it, giving us a sense of just how many lives were ruined by the Crusades, Inquisition, systemic misogyny, forced conversion of indigenous peoples, silent complicity in the Holocaust, rape and torture of children in Ireland, the UK and US. He then drops the f(aggot)-bomb in allusion to the church's institutionalized homophobia. I'm not generally a fan of Hitchens, because I prefer carefully structured logic to explosive rhetoric, but even I couldn't help cheering him on in his well-presented litany of sins both venial and mortal.

British politician Anne Widdecombe is up next, and she decries all of Hitch's accusations as mischaracterizations. She also does a good job of enumerating some of the charitable things that the church has done to move first-world resources into third world nations.

Fry leads off with a kindly distinction between those moral individuals who pursue Catholicism on the one hand and the institutions and doctrines on the other. He then cites to (recently sainted) Thomas Moore's torturing and burning of those who owned English Bibles, and segues smoothly to a litany of moral evils, including the demonization of gays like himself and the lies about condoms which have demonstrably increased the spread of fatal diseases. Even though he is sharing the stage with Hitchens, Fry gets in the best line of the evening, "The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese, and that, in erotic terms, is the Catholic Church in a nutshell."

Overall, this was a fantastic show, and even though no one put forth a rigorous argument with conclusions following from premises or attempted anything resembling a utilitarian calculus of goods minus evils, it was nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable and I commend it to your viewing.

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