Hitchens Vs. Blair

Hitchens Vs. Blair

Be It Resolved Religion Is A Force for Good in the World : the Munk Debates

Book - 2011
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Presents the text of a debate between former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and British intellectual Christopher Hitchens about the role and influence of religion in the modern world.
Publisher: Toronto : House of Anansi Press ; Berkeley, CA : Distributed in the United States by Publishers Group West, [2011], ©2011
ISBN: 9781770890084
Branch Call Number: 205 Hi
Description: 81 pages ; 21 cm
Additional Contributors: Griffiths, Rudyard
Blair, Tony 1953-


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Jan 19, 2012

I am not a fan of Blair or Hitchens - although I think both men are smart, & as this book shows, both are obviously quick to think/speak - I liked this book. It is surprisingly engrossing and thought provoking for such a small book.

Dec 18, 2011

In many ways (probably most) it's easy to embrace the thought of such “new atheist” writers as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer. From Islamic extremism to the system of apartheid imposed by Israel on the Palestinians to the spreading insanity of the Christian right, it's impossible to deny their common assertion that religion (generally, for these writers, religion as represented by the Abrahamic traditions) is a great force for evil in world. Really, the debate transcribed in the small volume I'm considering here, where the late Hitchens debates former British P.M. Tony Blair on the resolution that “... religion is a force for good in the world,” is scarcely worth having. What I found to be of interest with this book comes not from the debate's main proposition but from the participants' passing observations that, other differences aside, they are in full agreement that the post-9/11 war on Iraq was necessary and right (see pp. 35-7). Anyone familiar with the thought of either man will know this already; still, it seems strange that so important an issue appears only as a sort of footnote in a debate of this nature.

With this in mind, one has to first wonder why on earth Blair, of all people, was chosen to represent the “yes” side of the debate. As, among other things, George W. Bush's principal accomplice in the invasion of Iraq, he has to be about as poor a representative of goodness, religious or otherwise, as one could hope to find. And if Hitchens is representative of the kind of virtue one could expect in the world without religion that he endorses, one has to ask what the point could possibly be of working to make such a world. I don't mean to suggest that we would not be living on an inherently better planet without religion—we surely would—but Hitchens hardly seems a good choice to represent the idea.

Actually, the question to be debated is strange as the choice of participants. One is left to infer that these men are arguing whether religion is, on balance, desirable. Probably a better question to ask is how religion might be said to hold any virtue at all despite its overwhelmingly negative history and present deplorable state. Without wishing to even remotely suggest that religious belief is any kind of prerequisite for defending decency in this world (as, for instance, Noam Chomsky's tireless efforts well attest), I would suggest that there are some people who, unlike Blair, have some hope of making a case that in certain ways, however oblique, religion can be a force for good. Bearing in mind that religion isn't going to be disappearing anytime soon, perhaps I can mention just a couple.

One is Chris Hedges who, in his book The World as it Is, says he is “not religious in a traditional sense” but “was raised in the church, graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School, and cannot escape [his] intellectual and moral formation.” Anyone concerned about the evils of imperial warfare and the inherent cruelty of global capitalism should check out any or all of his American Fascists, Empire of Illusion, or The Death of the Liberal Class. Another is the environmentalist Bill McKibben who, in The End of Nature, describes himself as being “a reasonably orthodox Methodist.” At a time when, in my country, the federal government is working hard to see big oil allowed to do such things as build a pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Texas (it's currently being referred to as the Keystone pipeline, but could better be labeled the Gravestone Pipeline), his recent book Eaarth is a must read. Writers such as these have more hope—small as it may be—of contributing to positive change in an increasingly anti-democratic, corporate-run world than a thousand Hitchens or Blairs.

SkyTower Dec 16, 2011

RIP Hitchens


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