On November 26, 2010 the Munk Centre in Toronto, Ontario hosted the sixth in its series of debates. The question to be resolved was “Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?” Answering in the negative was renowned wordsmith, literary critic, journalist and author Christopher Hitchens. The affirmative was answered by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. I desperately wanted to attend this debate if only to witness a showdown between two articulate, charismatic, witty and educated opponents. If it were at all possible, I also envisioned getting my copy of Hitch-22 signed by its author. Alas, it was not to be, so I’ve had to settle for watching it online (see below).
You might find it odd, if you know anything about me, that I come away from watching the debate favouring Christopher Hitchens. Of course, I am no friend to atheism, nor was I particularly convinced by his argument. Where I came to “side” with him was not so much on his atheism. Rather, this debate was less one about atheism vs. Christianity, or even atheism vs. theism. It was rather a debate between an atheist and a religious pluralist. I dare say, I think I can’t stand religious pluralism more than I can’t stand atheism. Blair converted to Catholicism after he completed his political career and is now some sort of spokesman for religion. It must be said, however, that Blair’s take on religion is a mushy form of “why can’t we all get along?” wearing a t-shirt with Desmond Tutu on the front.
Were I to debate Hitchens on this question, my opening words would attempt to clearly define what I meant by religion. If by the term I was to defend a catch-all that included Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Wicca and the religion that crazy guy in Allan Gardens mumbles in his crack-induced haze–I would gladly concede defeat without uttering another word. Yet, if by religion I mean that revealed in the pages of the Hebrew and Greek Testaments that has its focus set squarely on Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity–I humbly submit that I would not only argue for the validity that it is a force for good in the world, but I would win (not because of my skills, but because this definition of religion is a necessary precondition for any discussion of “good.” I’d win at the outset just by affirming my position!).
A much better rendition of this debate was had between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson. It was originally staged in the pages of Christianity Today, it then went on into book form with Is Christianity Good for the World?, and then went on tour across the eastern seaboard of the United States and was captured in the documentary Collision. For anyone dissatisfied with the Hitchens/Blair pairing, I would highly recommend Hitchens/Wilson instead. Wilson does all that I would hope a defender of Christ would do–including win.
So, below is first a video from the Munk debate; afterwards a trailer for Collision and finally the video for the Westminster Seminary part of the Hitchens/Wilson debate.