HITCHENS VS BLAIR, IS RELIGION A FORCE FOR GOOD IN THE WORLD? THE MUNK DEBATE, BLACK SWAN, LONDON, 2011
 
Based on the Hitchens vs Blair debate: Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?
 
Christopher Hitchens engages in a debate with arch-hypocrite and war-monger and liar Tony Blair, ex-prime minister of the United Kingdom. Hitchens gives the case for religion being at least potentially harmful and being an unjustifiable risk. He was probably aware that to say that religion is a force for good puts pressure on people not to criticise it and thus it is enabled to take power and spread its errors everywhere. Blair was probably aware of that too - didn't stop him bending over backwards to defend religion.  Blair is proof of how a politician applies his lies and double-speak to religion not just politics.  He is an example of what all politicians do in a country where religion is influential and has power.
 
Page 8 Cardinal John Henry Newman is quoted by Christopher Hitchens. Here is the quote, "The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die in extremist agony, than that one soul, I will not say, will be lost, but should commit one venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one farthing without excuse".
 
Hitchens comments on that page that that is essential fanaticism. It implies that we are part of God's cruel experiment in which he makes us morally sick and commands us to be well.
 
I would add that The Catechism of Christian Doctrine proves Newman's interpretation right for it says that sin, which it defines as an offence against God, is the greatest of all evils. I would add that those who ask, "It would be a sin for millions to die in extreme agony so how could that be better than even one small sin?" fail to see that Newman is saying that it is better for evils we have not caused ourselves to befall us than for us to sin slightly.
 
Jesus said that we must love God as Lord with all our potential - not some of it. This is another way of saying that disobeying the Lord or Boss is the worst sin. If God comes first then failing to love him accordingly is the worst sin and not murder. Religion lamely says that this is not true for murder is sinful and evil because it is failing to love God. But that is an admission that my deduction is right. Moreover, murder and failing to love God are not the same thing.
 
I would add that if there is an all-good and all-perfect God, it is automatically true that offending him or disobeying him is the worst evil. Hurting people is not the worst evil - the disobedience is the problem.
 
The believer however religious often does not have the guts to become a paragon of religious evil. Many believers delude themselves and remain good despite embracing evil doctrine.
 
Hitchens should have said that the majesty of atheism is rooted in the fact that the atheist considers people dying in agony to be a worse evil than any moral defect.
 
Hitchens said that religion makes incredible claims and fails to match them with incredible evidence. He said religion fails to provide even ordinary evidence (page 9). It often happens though that a religion provides some evidence but the problem is that the evidence is not very convincing. Religion because of its poor record on evidence leads smart people to say stupid things and lures good people into doing evil things. Hitchens says on page 10 that you need religion in order to change good people into bad people.
 
Hitchens points to the failure of Muslims and Jews to live in peace and compromise as proof that religion can be bad. They refuse to make peace out of a sense of loyalty to God.
 
On page 11 he succinctly relays Catholic teaching that AIDS is bad but using condoms is worse!
 
Tony Blair then responded to Hitchens' points.
 
Blair simply ignored the points Hitchens made about Catholic doctrine being essential fanaticism and religion's lack of concern for evidence for its claims. Hitchens was good enough to express them and Blair in his craftiness rudely refused to deal with them. Blair just shrugged them off because he knew he couldn't deal with them.
 
Blair said that it is true that people have done terrible things in the name of religion.
 
My comment at this point would be that he is refusing to admit they do it because of religion. He is giving the impression that those who do evil are doing it in the name of religion and not because of it. To say its done in the name of religion implies nothing more than that you say - be it true or false - that its done for your religion. Anybody could say that. Jack the Ripper could say he murdered in the name of Islam even if he never met a Muslim in his life or thinks the Islamic faith is rubbish. Blair is craftily denying that religion ever does harm!
 
Blair then pointed out that Christian and Islamic and Jewish relief organisations do great work.
 
If you are an atheist or have leanings towards atheism, you may want to help others. Atheism has not got the global social structure or network that those religions have. Blair is trying to make out that those good people are necessarily Christians or Muslims or Jews. You can be sure that many of them are only pretending to have faith and so are not true members of the religions. Some of them will be atheists. You need to help others to make yourself happy. The fact that you have a good heart makes you trusting of others in general. Your happiness improves. The atheist then who does not believe in life after death SHOULD BE MORE inclined to have quality of life here and now which means he or she SHOULD BE A BETTER PERSON than the religious believer.
 
The next point Blair makes is to blatantly lie that all faiths agree that we must love and serve God through serving and loving others. But to love others for God is really loving God only. To love another person is not to love God. Its a lie to say it is. There are such things as terrorist religions. Mormonism was a vicious persecutor in Utah. Some sects thrive on fear and members whip themselves until the blood runs. Does Scientology love anybody who leaves its ranks?
 
Take the Roman Catholic Church. It is incorrect to call it the Roman Catholic faith. Many who claim to be Roman Catholic do not recognise papal teaching authority. Every person has his own faith based on Roman Catholicism - that is the reality. And one Catholic may endorse beliefs that are seen as evil and dangerous by another. There are as many Catholic faiths as there are Catholics and not all of them really care about loving and serving God. What about Catholics who use magic prayers to manipulate God?
 
A terrorist religion is still a religion. It does not help to pretend that its not a religion but just an excuse for people getting together to plot and execute evil. Some deny that evil sects that claim to be Christian or Muslim really are Christian or Muslim. The plot here is to keep Christianity and Islam looking good. ISIS is a religious denomination that claims to be Islamic. It is a Muslim religion. Some say that it is not THE Muslim religion! But who says that mainstream moderate Muslims (do they really exist?) understand Islam and ISIS does not? So it could be THE Muslim religion.
 
Some make a distinction between bad religion and good religion. Others, a bit more realistically, speak of better and worse religion. To say a religion is not a religion just because it is a terrorist religion implies that if say Islam is more damaging than Christianity, it follows that it is less of a religion than Christianity!
 
Is it really right to say that there is bad religion and good? Religion is just religion like electricity is just electricity. Religion in a nutshell is and allegiance of worship and service to a supernatural power or powers. The whole point of that is so that social and moral rules can be preached, sanctioned and enforced in the name of the supernatural. Its about control. Thus religion is intrinsically manipulative.
 
Blair knows that in the Jewish scriptures, the Hebrews were to love other Hebrews as themselves and keep away from other nations and consider themselves the chosen race. Its not true that every religion is all about love and service. The religions disagree often completely on how people must love and serve.
 
Blair then approvingly spoke of Rabbi Hillel's' lie that the Law of God in the Torah was all about treating others as you would like to be treated. Again that is a lie. He knows fine well that Christianity says that if you can sin all you want and turn to God for mercy on your deathbed you will go to Heaven.

And as for Hillel, it is rich coming from a man who knew that the Torah God laid out instructions for the cruel elimination of certain sinners. Adulteresses had to be dealt with by stoning. 
 
Blair then argued that science and faith are compatible because science is about the physical world and how it works while faith is about what values we should have in relation to science and the world.  There is no mention of the fact that if you leave out notions such as gods and spirit you can be confident that matter is just brute matter.  Once you bring them in you can deny as many do that the physical is really physical.  For example, consider how some faiths such as Christian Science say that matter's physicality is only in our heads. Jesus was able to pass through walls we are told and yet his body seemed physical.  People supposedly touched him.  This is not physical.  There is more to physical than being touchable. 
 
Blair said on page 14 that if religion vanishes, the religious fanatics will be gone but there will still be fanatics.
 
This is a very weak argument. If religion can be fanatical, then we cannot say we must encourage religion as there will always be fanatics anyway. If religion is gone there will be no religious fanatics and that can only be a good thing. There will be enough fanaticism around without religion churning out its own version of it.
 
On page 14 he claimed that he does not deny that religion can be a force for evil. Then he claimed that anybody doing bad in the name or religion was following a perversion of religious faith. But he contradicts himself here. To say religion can be a force for evil is to reject the view, "Its not religion that is bad but perversions of it."
 
Hitchens replied that religion undermines women's rights and because it does not empower women or give them fertility rights it promotes poverty.
 
Hitchens argued that the giving of money to charity by Catholics was conscience money. His point was that if you are part of a faith that promotes preferring AIDS to using condoms among the poor, then you will give those people help just to ease your guilt.
 
Hitchens pointed out that the harm done by religion is not cancelled out by the good that it does. He said the good is nothing in comparison to the harm. I would add that today the world is wrecked due to the popularity of moral relativism. Religion though it condemns it has led to it. People do not like to say if a religion is true or false so they settle for saying, "All religions are true for those who accept them. There is no religion truer than another." And they do that out of fear for they know in this nuclear age that religion could cause unrest and spark off the final world war. So they try to get everybody to airbrush the badness in the name of tolerance. Religion leading to relativism is a clear example of how it does harm. And the harm only escalates the longer time goes on.
 
An example, that comes to mind now is how the Catholic Church requires the belief that the human race sprang from two sinful parents and dismisses the DNA proof that this cannot be true. The Bible is preferred to science and this lie about the two parents, Adam and Eve, is promoted to children and the vulnerable in school.
 
Blair on page 18 spoke of people who didn't have religious faith who did good works.
 
Blair said about the nuns doing good work among AIDS victims in Africa. He said they might have been as good without religious faith but he said their faith motivated them to do good.
 
I want to explore this.
 
The notion that religion is altruistic is bizarre considering it has no problem with people becoming hermits and religion gives you beliefs that incite a need for sacrificing yourself that would not be needed or beneficial at all if religion is false. And your self-sacrifice will have to affect others. There is no getting away from that.
 
It is an insult to say that they might have been as good without religion. If you are good you will not need religion to motivate you. Is it necessarily their faith that motivates them? We all have an inbuilt programming to do some good for others.
 
If you are bad and need religion as a prop to make you good, then is the goodness real? If you are shy and use drink to make you talkative, then the chatty you is not really you. If religion is about hiding our badness then religion is intrinsically dangerous. It is bad no matter how much good it seems to produce.
 
Blair pleaded that we must not condemn all religious people because of the evil and bigotry of some religious people (page 19).
 
But we can condemn them for deliberately revering evil books as the word of God. That reverence is evil and bigotry.
 
If there are good people in religion, they will be still good people if religion vanishes. If they cease to be good without religion then they were not really good in the first place.  If people are good they will be good religion or not. It is not religion then that is the cause of their goodness. Religion then should be condemned for its evil but it cannot be praised for its good. It is never religion that is good but the people who think they are part of it.
 
Suppose there is such a thing as good religion. The test of a good religion is not in what it teaches or how good its teaching is but in how good its members become. But we see nothing special about any religion's followers. While it is true that we cannot blame all religious people for the villainy some religious people engage in, we can argue that it is wrong to have religion when it doesn't really do anything for its members. They are to blame for keeping a religious system going that gives people a reason or excuse for violence and cruelty.
 
Hitchens points on page 20 how religious people were against Sebastiao Salgado for curing polio in Afghanistan to name one holy country. They said it was against God's design and a sin.
 
Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, said it was a sin to take injections to cure your smallpox.
 
Blair responded on page 22 that one's assessment will be based on what their experience has been. He then recounted his experience of the care given by people of faith in Africa.
 
Hitchens pointed out how Judaism in its original form claimed to be God's tribe and thus excluded other people (page 27). This was to show that religion can be divisive and exclusivist.
 
Blair unsurprisingly ignored this assertion.
 
Blair "replied" that the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland reaching out across the divide to make peace refutes the exclusivism (page 26). He said that true religion is not about excluding a person because they are different. The hypocrisy of that coming from a man who joined the Roman Catholic Church that bans Protestants from receiving communion in its Churches is vulgar.
 
Hitchens responded that the Northern Ireland example was inadequate as there was division for hundreds of years and it resulted in stupidity and violence and unemployment and poverty and the Churches only reached out across the divide because everybody was sick of the problems (page 28).
 
Page 27 carries the extraordinary declaration by Blair that after Muhammad's death, Islam, gave "proper rights" to women.
 
Hitchens points out on page 37 that George W Bush's sense of being chosen by God is slightly sinister.
 
Pity he didn't explain what he meant. And its more than slightly sinister.