A few days ago, I saw this very interesting debate held on 26 Nov. 2010, “Christopher Hitchens vs Tony Blair Debate: Is Religion A Force For Good In The World?“.
I congratulate honourable Mr. Tony Blair for his eloquent espousal of the good of religion in the face of very eloquent criticism of religion. I loved the way Mr. Blair accepted the valid parts of the criticism that the late Mr. Hitchens made but also put forward the good of religion quite powerfully and lovingly.
It was a joy to see such a debate being conducted in a civilized manner :). Usually such debates tend to become unsavoury. I congratulate both Mr. Blair and the late Mr. Hitchens for the civilized debate on such a sensitive topic.
My views on the debate are somewhat different.
Mr. Blair could be considered the loser judging by count of supporters vs. opponents – yes. Though I don’t know whether the numbers changed after the debate. My interest was not really in such counts but in the valid points of the discourse, as I saw it.
Hitchens zeroed in on the known failings of organized religion, especially in the Western world. He slammed the Abrahamic religions from the scriptural authority viewpoint though I don’t think the majority of believers of these religions interpret all of scripture literally. Perhaps it was just a debating strategy of his to zero in on this caricature of religious believers as people who interpret all of scripture literally and project it as if all believers are that way.
What I appreciated of Mr. Blair was that he accepted some of the valid points of Hitchens. But he was, at least in my view, able to put forward some important points. From what I recall of the debate, he made the following points that I liked:
a) The way Hitchens spoke one would think that all religions are pure unadulterated evil! Mr. Blair made the point about a lot of good being done by religions, IMHO, to bring a reality-check into the discourse.
b) He said that scriptural authority being interpreted literally (for each and every part of scripture) was not what most moderate religious believers approve (including him).
c) Many times it is not religion that is the main issue but politics & social issues that cause conflict. He referred to both the Northern Ireland and the Israel-Palestine problems.
d) He pointed out that removing religion from the picture, if at all that is possible, is no guarantee of such problems disappearing. He gave the example of Hitler and Stalin whose reigns of terror did not have any religious background.
e) He acknowledged that certain wrongs had been issued from the pulpit like in Christian Rwanda problem of Hutu & Tutsi. But he also stated that in the same problem many religious people had defended people of the other tribe and some even lost their lives doing it.
f) He advocated, if I recall correctly, focusing on the common good of religions and encouraging that.
g) He said Darwin and Christian religion can go together.
h) I felt that Mr. Blair presented the sober, moderate religious faithful view, which perhaps is the majority of religious believers in the Western world. He boldly took a stance which may not be supported by some rigid religious believers.
Hitchens was brilliant at his vitriolic criticism of religion. But then I felt he was playing to the gallery by using his brilliant command of the English language, his wit and his book-knowledge about religion (as against experiential-knowledge). He did not really respond, if I recall correctly, to Mr. Blair’s moderate religious faithful view. Maybe the structure of the debate was such that you don’t try to arrive at a meaningful solution but just attack the other party. So as a debater he perhaps did an excellent job in ensuring he ‘scored’ over the opponent.
But I felt Mr. Blair was the statesman looking for a solution rather than wanting to simply ‘score’ over his opponent.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation seems to be a very interesting organization. It’s website states that it, “Promotes respect and understanding about the world’s religions through education and multi-faith action. We show how faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.” I think such an initiative is a wonderful one. I pray to Almighty God to shower His Grace on The Tony Blair Faith Foundation to achieve its above-mentioned goals.