“Religion has been a positive force in culture.”
It was moderated by Jian Ghomeshi.
So, why am I calling it the “un-debate”?
One of my hobbies is to listen to debates between religious folks and science folks. I really like it when the debaters passionately disagree, and are utterly convinced that the other is a kook. That didn’t happen tonight.
First of all, Hitchens wasn’t there in person. I can’t say I blame him… he’s fighting cancer. Instead, he was present via live video link. That was OK, but it DID make it a bit harder to hear what he was saying. Combine that with the fact that Hitchens tends to use rather long an convoluted sentences (oh, and he has a British accent), and sometimes it’s difficult to get his point. I must say, I missed much of the point of his opening statement. But I’m sure he had some.
Prof. Brummett was not as opinionated as I like to see in debates. I can appreciate that he’s probably a nice person to work with, collegial and understanding. But I really didn’t get much of a sense for where he stood on the topic. He got a chuckle out of the crowd when he answered two questions in a row with “it depends… blah blah blah”. I understand that the topic is complex, but he didn’t seem to want to draw a line in the sand.
Prof. Brummett did make some good points, that HOW one talks can be an important factor in communication. He also flogged the point that it’s important to not only understand your own point of view, but to also try to predict what your rivals might counter with. Perhaps he thought Hitchens would eat him alive if he came out with guns-a-blazin’.
As the question period approached, I started wondering about the finer points of the topic. What exactly does “positive force” mean? And what kind of culture are we talking about? I assumed it referred to society. But I think I was wrong. A number of questions seemed aimed at tabulating the number of paintings and sculptures inspired by religion, and weighing them against the atrocities done. In retrospect, I find the question of “culture” rather vacuous. Here’s why. One person asked what would inspire all the great art if there was no religion. I know how Dawkins would have answered. Reality!
For me, the climax of the debate was during Hitchens’ last statement (in fact, he seemed to get better as time went on). Someone asked, “There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of extremism. I’d like to hear more about tolerance.” In reply, Hitchens referred to “tolerance” as patronizing and condescending. He asked “Would you like it if I said ‘I’ll tolerate you’? ” Then he discussed how Mother Teresa forgave him for writing The Missionary Position. Hitchens said that she wasn’t as modest as she looked, making false claims of modesty… “Don’t pay any attention to me. I’m just going around doing God’s work all the time.” Hitchens said that “it’s a tremendously arrogant claim.”
Prof. Brummett was an excellent speaker, clear and cogent, but uncontroversial. I admit it, my desire to see a clash of words is not rational. After all, why should I expect a conversation between two grown men to get inflamed? Brummett probably just doesn’t have a bone to pick with Hitchens, at least not on this topic.
Hitchens looked healthier than I’ve seen him lately. He did manage to sling around some anti-religion mud. But it’s hard to fight someone who won’t hit back.
I think the topic was just too vague to really spark a heated debate between these two.