Tony Blair, ex prime minister of the UK, and born-again believer vs. Christopher Hitchens, Atheist Extra-ordinaire. They were debating the fact of whether religion is any good at all. Looked to be one interesting Smackdown.
And it was fascinating stuff. It was clear from the start that the crowd was behind Hitchens.
There was thousands of people who were watching the Live Stream and commenting in the comment box as the debate went on. And all the vocal ones on the chat were definitely supporting Hitchens, too. One viewer wrote in:
Blair is gonna get Hitch-Slapped!
Hitchens is currently fighting the last stages of oesophageal cancer, and he was bald and rather weak. But because it could possibly be his last debate, the crowd was unbelievably behind him.
And it was pretty amazing that amongst the atheists who were all typing in their comments, there seemed to be a pretty strong community. Messages kept popping up.
Hi, atheist from Muskoka!
Atheist from Norway signing in!
On and on, from Hong Kong, Atlanta, and Africa, they were signing in, enjoying the excitement.
The debate began, and from the start Hitchens shone. Blair looked like a flailing turtle beside him. He tried to make an important point time after time, but he didn't have Hitchens razor-wit and sparkling repartee.
Hitchens had an interesting sentence to say:
"Once you assume a creator and a plan it makes us cruel objects in a plan in which we are created sick and ordered to be well."
It's funny, because I've been wrestling with a lot of thoughts about God and life for around three years now, and the questions that Hitchens kept firing where cleverly phrased versions of my own. He referred to God as, "The Divine Dictatorship - a celestial North Korea." and said that, "Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and intelligent people to do stupid things."
I'm afraid I found Hitchens so much more interesting than anything Blair had to say. Blair kept trying to make the point that, even though religion has spurred people to do violent, cruel and evil things, he believes so much more good has been done by people acting out of love of their God. He kept making this point a dozen times, trying to phrase it differently.
But he just sounded weak and floundering, to the very sharp Hitchens who had a complete arsenal of arguments that Blair did not try to defend. At one point, when Blair was laboriously spelling out a point, Hitchens began swinging in his legs in the anticipation of creaming him in the next rebuttal.
Blair was trying to say a good thing. He had a good and valid point. But he lacked the abilities and charisma of Hitchens. I got what he meant, but he was standing in a room almost full of atheists, and it's not easy to argue with them.
Hitchens concluded in the end that Humanism is the only chance for Salvation. Which is a clever argument, but an old one...because humans can't save themselves. They don't have the ability to do so, and Utopians who have attempted it in the past have all miserably failed.
At the end, people applauded Hitchens for several minutes, with (dare-I-say-it?) an almost religious fervour; and I have no doubt that he won the argument. I went out for tea last night, and announced that I thought I would become an atheist. My mum told me to eat my dinner.
It's funny. Even though Hitchens had some good points, and decent angry complaints against the Deity who is represented by one annoying fan-club, it was like some part of him does desire good and truth, without religiosity. And I hope he does get to meet God one day, and find that it's a fulfilment of something he has always longed for, and desired.
He talked for a moment about the universe, and said that he finds it a good deal more inspiring than any Burning Bush.
So I think maybe he can see God in the world, and in other people....and I think he likes it.