I'm off out tonight to hear (and, hopefully, participate in) a debate between, on the one side, Archbishop John Onaiyekan (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria) and Ann Widdecombe MP (Conservative MP) and, on t'other side, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry. The proposal is: "The Catholic church is a force for good in the world." I suspect "a plague on both their houses" will be my considered view at the end of the affair, but it looks like it might be an interesting event nonetheless. Run by Intelligence Squared who seem to have quite a lot of decent looking events coming up.

Readers Comments

  1. Would Hitchens switch sides if the Catholic church invaded foreign nations and caused the deaths 100s of thousands of their civilians?

  2. Stephen, ahh... they did that for a stretch of around 1700 years.

  3. He'd only switch if the Vatican suffered some terrorist attack and he could write 15 self-serving articles telling us why he suffered from it so much more than anyone else. Things like, 'I was having usual ameretto in the plaza when I heard the news....' or 'Well, I never have another cigarette with Cardinal...' or 'Only hours after the atheo-facist stike and, as I predicted, the obnoxious squibs and casuistries from the Dawkins-clique began to suppurate in my inbox...'

  4. Having been brought up as a Roman Catholic, and (luckily) being a Catholic that had questions and investigated further, I now have no doubt in my mind that the Roman Catholic Church is by far the world's enemy, but I'll definitely be participating in the discussion. :-)

  5. It seems pretty poor to have a debate about the Catholic church in 'the world' and have only one non-British non-white person out of four. I have no belief in God and no time for the Catholic church, generally. However, I'd be a liar if I didn't also acknowledge that during the Angolan war, there were some spectacularly brilliant Catholic nuns and priests who did the most phenomenally brave things repeatedly. I've no doubt that their faith is what helped them. I don't get it myself, but I can acknowledge this. What a shame that debates like this - that claim to be about the world - are limited by the lack of imagination of the organisers. Two white privileged males and a white privileged fe(?)male. Shame on them.

  6. @Lara The debate was focused on the organised religion of the Roman Catholic Church and not on people of the RC faith.

  7. As Scott says, the debate was focused on the organised Roman Catholic Church and, as such, with just a panel of two, in front of a British audience, an African male speaker and a white woman seems to me to be not a bad spread...

    The limitations of the proposal meant that the debate couldn't wander too far into the more interesting (if well-trodden) atheism/theism debate. But I had arrived, despite the focus of the debate, hoping a decent discussion could take place.

    Indeed, I was mindful of the kind of experience that Lara recounts -- that work in places such as Angola, and in Latin America, would mean that the pro-Catholic camp (for want of a better description) would be able to compete with the inevitable trawl through the Church's ugly history that Hitchens and Fry would trot out.

    Sadly, as a debate, it was hopeless. As a spectacle it was enthralling. Hitchens (for whom I have no love) and Fry (whose ubiquitousness has seriously dented my long-held fondness for the man) were quite brilliant (particularly Fry). They landed punch after rhetorical punch on Onaiyekan and Widdecombe who were unable to marshal any real arguments to justifty their motion.

    A straw poll was taken of the 2000-odd strong audience when it entered the Hall. It was something like 450 for the motion with 300 undecided (the rest against, of course). That had dropped to just 200-odd for the motion with just about 30 undecided at the end of the debate. That was in no small measure due to how hopeless the proposers were and how extremely well-prepared and intelligent Hitchens and Fry proved themselves to be in this context.

  8. Can anyone tell me when this debate will be televised?

  9. the debate was rather one sided in part because the audience was so secular and anti catholic. They cheered as Fry got red in the face practically shouting anti catholic rhetoric and lies. I cannot get over the amount of historical revisionism and the lies about the condom issue in Africa.
    There is NO EVIDENCE that the church's policy on condoms in Africa has caused a single human being to die. Catholic countries in Africa have low HIV rates, the countries where AIDS is rampent are not Catholic. Fry lied about the ABC program in Africa. The Be faithful part was the biggest cause of the HIV rate decline, not condoms. Uganda was not flooded with condoms at all. Condom use was and is minimal in Uganada but HIV has gone down because behaviour has changed. Harvard University backs this up with studies by a non catholic, who states clearly that condoms are NOT stopping hiv in Africa. Look it up. " Harvard Study Pope Condoms"

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