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← Intelligence Squared debate: Catholics humiliated by Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry

Intelligence Squared debate: Catholics humiliated by Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry - Comments

DeepFritz's Avatar Comment 1 by DeepFritz

If only the other side had debaters who were as witty and charasmatic as Hitchens and Fry, oh hang on - no one who is as charasmatic or witty would believe any of that tosh ;)

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 03:43:00 UTC | #406886

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 2 by mordacious1

Well that's what they get for showing up to an artillery duel with water pistols.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 03:51:00 UTC | #406888

The Anti-Theist's Avatar Comment 3 by The Anti-Theist

Need the video or audio for this one. It sounds like the tykes were trounced.



Tue, 20 Oct 2009 03:58:00 UTC | #406890

Fuller's Avatar Comment 4 by Fuller

I really, really, really want to see this.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 04:07:00 UTC | #406891

Chrysippus_Maximus's Avatar Comment 5 by Chrysippus_Maximus

Kudos to the writer of this article. Very well done.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 04:27:00 UTC | #406893

Roy_H's Avatar Comment 6 by Roy_H

"He repeatedly got Ann Widdecombe’s name wrong."
Her is a CLERGYMAN for crying out loud! They are notorious for it. How many times have you been to a church wedding/funeral/ christening etc. and hear the bloody vicar ballsing up people's names and /or getting their facts about people totally wrong, I know I have and I know others who have had similar experiences. I actually heckled a vicar for doing that at a funeral!

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 04:48:00 UTC | #406896

lvpl78's Avatar Comment 7 by lvpl78

Imagine debating against Fry AND hitchens. No thank you very much if you don't mind awfully.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:00:00 UTC | #406897

Janus's Avatar Comment 8 by Janus

The author gives the impression that he cares very much about who won the debate and who might do a better job for his side in the future, but not at all about whether or not it is true that the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:18:00 UTC | #406899

Modeski's Avatar Comment 9 by Modeski

I would very much like to see this as soon as it's available online.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:26:00 UTC | #406902

kraut's Avatar Comment 10 by kraut

but not at all about whether or not it is true that the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.``

Knowing the app. 1500 year history of the catholic church, even if only in broad outlines - that question was answered in the negative by the actions of that church.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:38:00 UTC | #406904

ThePublicPolemic's Avatar Comment 11 by ThePublicPolemic

To answer the last question in the article: no.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:49:00 UTC | #406906

milt's Avatar Comment 12 by milt

It will be aired on Nov 7/8 on BBC World I believe.
I had the pleasure of being there. Fry was impassioned & charming & powerful. Hitch was annihilating. The Archbishop or 'Grace' as he likes to be called floundered badly, and didn't seem to have access to any pertinent knowledge nor any experience making a point in front of a non-sheepish flock. Widdie had some fight in her, but was surprisingly clueless,and often misrepresented the questions posed to her. For example Hitch presented a 'summary' of crimes he felt the RCC needed to apologise unreservedly for. Starting at the crusades & culminating with the present popes actions. Widdecombe said to the effect of "How telling that he had to go all the way back to the Crusades" completely disregarding all later crimes.
Other low points included the archbishops suggestion that condom use would increase AIDS by promoting promiscuity, (together with Widde's cherry-picked quotes supporting this stance) My point is this: Given condoms offer at least 99% protection against AIDS infection, this would mean that the provision of condoms must lead to over 100 times more sexual activity for they argument to hold water. I'm not sure the brand of condoms they are referring to, but get me some of those.
The swing in the vote was staggering, particular given the presence of some vocal & devoted catholics.
But the real coffin-nail was Widdie arguing that the RCC shouldn't be judged for crimes in its past, as it was no worse than the prevailing morals of the day. Fine, maybe, but then tried to argue that the Catholic faith had access to an immutable eternal absolute moral law. Can't have it both ways. When called on such matters neither defender had any answer.
If I had the misfortune of debating F/H on this topic (maybe in a terrible dream) the only lifeline would be to apologise unreservedly, but plea that with reform, the power & loyal following of many (I guess) well intentioned minions, is a POTENTIAL force for good in the world. But they didn't do that at all, and they lost badly, it must have hurt. To drop over half of your supporters in 90 mins of debate is no mean feat, but some source of hope.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 05:53:00 UTC | #406907

Peter L's Avatar Comment 13 by Peter L

This was a fantastic debate with Fry and Hitchins in top form. My only complaint about the evening was the cackling of the Catholic women on the same row as me over Hitchens and Frys comments which they didnt have the nerve to listen to.
Widdecombe kept shooting herself in the foot by claiming that her opponents were obsessed by sex and condoms when it was her who kept (in a very embarrassing manner) bringing them to the fore. She should have had the common sense to leave that subject alone like most catholics in this country and concentrate on arguing the other points. I will say though she was ifinitely better than his 'grace' who was ill prepared for debating H and Fry. He even admitted that his father knew the moral code of the 10 commandments before he converted to christianity. This was greeted by a loud 'exactly' by one member of the audience.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 06:12:00 UTC | #406909

Apemanblues's Avatar Comment 14 by Apemanblues

"he mumbled and spluttered and retreated into embarrassing excuses and evasions"

I think you'll find they refer to that as 'theology'.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 06:24:00 UTC | #406910

Oromasdes1978's Avatar Comment 15 by Oromasdes1978

Fry and Hitchens - dear goodness, the opposition never stood a chance!

Quite recently I read the opening chapters of Mark Carwadine's excellent book where he revists the "Last Chance to see" animals that he and Douglas Adams went in search for. He described Stephen Fry as "a human Wikipedia" and was astounded by the man's ability to recall information, even very obscure info on a vast range of subjects. To put it mildly, the guy is a bloody genius!

Then you have Hitchens who is also very fond of being able to quote massive passages from books people have probably never heard of and his debating skills when on top form are positively ruthless. His ability to keep up with current affairs and his detailed knowledge of the world's main religions means he is a force to be reckoned with.

Verses Ann Widecombe and "His Grace".

Does the phrase "Lambs to the slaughter" carry much weight in describing the task ahead of Anne and Grace? I happen to think it does and I will be very interested to see this on video.

Good article, I like his fair minded approach considering he is a Catholic himself, but I do wonder if there are ANY theologians able to counter the towering superiority of Fry and Hitchens? I do not think so. Not with those two on the same team.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 06:38:00 UTC | #406911

manicstreetpreacher's Avatar Comment 16 by manicstreetpreacher

I was there myself. The debate was videoed and they said it would be broadcast across the world (including Africa) on 7 and 8 November.

Just writing a more detailed report for my blog. It was an embarrassment for the parties of God.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 06:42:00 UTC | #406912

Follow Peter Egan's Avatar Comment 17 by Follow Peter Egan

Like milt and PWL, I was also there and had a fantastic night.

Hitchens' power for oratory is amazing to watch. If the archbishop had had half his powers of persuasion he may have stood a better chance. Hitchens' speech made the hair on my neck stand up. Fry's speech brought a lump to my throat. I've never seen Stephen so impassioned and angry, but never at the expense of his eloquence, wit and charm. He was particularly good about the Catholic church's bigotry towards homosexuals (I'll admit that as a gay former-Catholic, I had a vested interest), and both he and Hitchens challenged Widdecombe and the archbishop to say whether or not they thought Fry (and homosexuals in general) were deviants drawn towards an intrinsic moral evil. They both evaded the question, Widdecombe muttering something about the church standing for "family values", like homosexuals don't have families, or something. They also evaded the direct question of the cushy treatment of child-abuse ignorer Cardinal Bernard Law, which was also shameful.

When Widdecombe shrilled, "Oh, I was waiting for somebody to bring up condoms. So predictable," Stephen retorted, "We bring it up BECAUSE IT MATTERS." The archbishop rounded off his speech by reiterating the dogma that condoms make AIDS worse, which, I hope, lost him a few hundred supporters.

Widdecombe, knowing she was beaten, resorted to claiming that Hitchens and Fry, and the majority of the audience, simply didn't understand the theology behind the Catholic church's stance on many issues, and that if they were sufficiently steeped in mumbo-jumbo, then they wouldn't have a problem with any of the church's manifold failings. Patronising doesn't quite cover it.

I'd like to think that the explanation the pro-catholics were so overwhelmingly trounced, and lost half their initial support, was due to reason winning the day and winning people over. However, I think the most rational explanation is that illusionist Derren Brown was in the audience. By occasionally standing up to let people past, he must have used the power of suggestion to influence people to vote "against". I've seen his shows. Brown can fuck with people's minds every bit as well as any cleric.

Of course, such an overwhelming victory was very satisfying, but it doesn't empower the side of reason, nor does it weaken the church's grip on poorer countries, or make it any more accountable for its actions. However, as a consciousness raiser, and as a debate that will receive a wide audience (70 million worldwide was mentioned) it could prove invaluable.

I briefly got to meet the Hitch afterwards, and he signed my copy of God is Not Great. He was ever bit as charming and friendly as you'd think, and it really capped off a great night.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 06:49:00 UTC | #406914

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 18 by Mark Jones

I was there also, and can confirm it was an embarrassment for the Catholic Church; I blogged on it here. EDIT: a crappy long range shot of Derren Brown there too!

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:00:00 UTC | #406915

beebhack's Avatar Comment 19 by beebhack

A fantastic evening. I'll alert everyone, if I can, when I find out precisely when it's scheduled on BBC World (sadly, the channel isn't available in the UK but I daresay someone will upload it). It's interesting that it didn't take long for AW to play the 'offence' care (Fry was terribly rude, it seems). When the result came through she looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp.

Even though this was a famous victory, I understand the Pope has decided not to resign as he still enjoys the support of the boss.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:06:00 UTC | #406916

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 20 by Mark Jones

Comment #425161 by beebhack

Fry was terribly rude, it seems

Ann Widdecombe objected to Fry saying that (I think) he objected to being called a pervert by the sexually dysfunctional. She took this as a sleight on the Archbishop on her right hand. This comment came after Fry had pointed out the inevitable tensions arising from the demands placed on priests and nuns to be celibate. I think Fry has a point, but perhaps a little harsh to suggest that all priests and nuns are sexually dysfunctional.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:26:00 UTC | #406921

huxley_leopard's Avatar Comment 21 by huxley_leopard

I was there. It was great.

Stephen Fry was brilliant. He didn't look or sound nervous as the article suggested, although he did say that he had been nervous all day because it was so important to him. It didn't affect his delivery, however, which was faultless, and he didn't need notes to refer to either.

At one point Fry said, "with my trusty Hitch by my side", which was lovely.

Ann Widdecombe was actually reasonably good. She is a good speaker, as one might expect from an MP and former government minister. She just didn't have the arguments. She fell into a trap on moral relativism - arguing that we need the catholic church to give us moral absolutes such as the 10 commandments as guidance. Simultaneously she argued that many of the church's crimes of the past should be judged in the light of the standards of the time (e.g. slavery when everyone thought it was ok). Fry/Hitch demolished her on this point and rightly so. You can't use the moral zeitgeist as a get out of jail free card and simultaneously claim to have eternal moral absolutes straight from the mouth of a god.

Overall, though, very entertaining. Would have been great to have a proper Catholic intellectual backing Widdecombe up, the Archbishop (who incidentally is highly educated, has a doctorate and is quite important in Rome, so should have been good on the strength of his CV) was rubbish.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:35:00 UTC | #406923

Lithium_joe's Avatar Comment 22 by Lithium_joe

Like Like milt and PW, Follower and Mark - I was also there.

Hitch in full flow is a sight to behold. 0_0

Widdecombe condescending to the audience: If I *must* explain theology to you - which you don't understand - a woman can't stand in for Christ at the moment of consecration .... hilarious. The Catholic support vote shed 2/3rds of it's support with comments like that. (they started with

The Archbishop was caught out completely when he admitted his father, the only Christian in the village (with apologies to Matt Lucus) had a moral sense before becoming a christian: "well then what are you FOR?" thunders Stephen Fry.

A brilliant evening - one further highlight, a questino from the floor: "Are they are catholic policies of which you are ashamed Archbishop?" "It's no like we dream these things up overnight - No!"

I did try and record the whole thing on my phone - don't know what the quality is like haven't listened t it yet, I only made it back to Derbyshire about 2am.

but if it's any good, I'll see if I can upload it somewhere.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:38:00 UTC | #406924

Chris Roberts's Avatar Comment 23 by Chris Roberts

Without having seen the 'debate' I would summise that it wasn't just the Catholic apologists who were outgunned by superior opponents - they were beaten down with superior evidence.

Add to that the inability of the church to repent, despite this being one of their own teachings.....

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:42:00 UTC | #406925

huxley_leopard's Avatar Comment 24 by huxley_leopard

Comment #425166 by Mark Jones -

I think it was the fact that Ratzinger said that the child abuse may have been avoided if homosexuals weren't allowed to receive holy orders. Fry took offence at equating homosexuality with paedophilia, as well as homosexuality being decribed by the church as a 'disorder'.

There was an interesting question from the floor, which Stephen Fry didn't answer, about whether he would consider celibacy as sexual dysfunction since he himself has said in the past that he had been celibate (for squeamish reasons rather than religious of course) until only a couple of years ago. Seems a bit harsh to describe anyone celibate as dysfunctional, but then again I don't think Stephen Fry ever preached about the rights and wrongs (and eternal damnation) of private sexual activities between consenting adults!

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:44:00 UTC | #406926

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 25 by Mark Jones

Comment #425171 by huxley_leopard

I think it was the fact that Ratzinger said that the child abuse may have been avoided if homosexuals weren't allowed to receive holy orders.

Oh yes, thanks for reminding me. Unfortunately for the Catholics, there is just *so* much ammunition against the motion.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:50:00 UTC | #406927

Lithium_joe's Avatar Comment 26 by Lithium_joe

While we are in the business of recollecting. I thought Fry did rather well adapting to Ann Widdecombe - on the point of whether or not historical wrongs where "irrelevant"

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:54:00 UTC | #406928

weavehole's Avatar Comment 27 by weavehole

While you're all waiting for the main course, here's something Fry and Hitchens served up in 2005.

Guardian Hay Festival 2005

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 07:55:00 UTC | #406930

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 28 by Peacebeuponme


Given condoms offer at least 99% protection against AIDS infection, this would mean that the provision of condoms must lead to over 100 times more sexual activity for they argument to hold water.
An excellent point.

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 08:01:00 UTC | #406931

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 29 by Nunbeliever

It was a gripping evening’s entertainment but a little discouraging for those of us who are Catholics.

Well, maybe you should consider leaving the church then...

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 08:02:00 UTC | #406932

Am I Evil?'s Avatar Comment 30 by Am I Evil?

I was there too!

The guy who shouted out 'EXACTLY!' (comment 425154 by pwl) was sat right in front of me. We were all thinking the same.

It was a walkover in terms of points made and points scored. And another point that was made was in reply to the boast that the church has over 1 billion members - apostates are still counted as long as they are baptised. Wonder how many they account for?

The comments on the article above are the usual xian hand-wringing sour grapes... 'now will they debate like that against islam? Thought not...' Way to completely miss the point, Mrs Arrogant Cow of Bucks.

And I had a nice little chat with Derren Brown! Top evening!

Tue, 20 Oct 2009 08:11:00 UTC | #406933