I’m going to start this post by going off topic…
I love Stephen Fry. Until recently I didn’t know who he was, and then I started watching his In America series and was captivated by his curiosity and enthusiasm for everything. I was so sad once the series ended, but maybe he’ll do In Canada next!
Enough gushing…I heard that Fry was in this debate on the topic of whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world (pfft!), and I couldn’t wait to see it because I’m such a big fan of him, as well as of Christopher Hitchens, who would both be debating against the motion that the Catholic Church is a force for good…and also Stephen Fry tweeted this adorable tweet right before the debate:
The debate was on October 19th, but it was just recently put on YouTube so now you can watch it here:
You can read my thoughts on the debate after the jump (spoiler alert!)…But first, the opening vote from the people in attendance:
Motion: The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World
First up on the Catholic side was Nigerian Archbishop John Onaiyekan. His opening comments were shockingly (though perhaps not surprisingly) unimpressive. He took forever to get to making an actual argument, instead resorting to wishy-washy statements about how the Catholic Church is a community blah blah blah…here are his main points:
- The message of the Church guides people
- There are lots of Catholics…1.2 billion (I fear, since I was baptized and confirmed in a Roman Catholic Church, that I’m included in that number…in spite of the fact that I haven’t gone to Church in years)
- Catholics run lots of charities that help people with AIDS
- The Catholic Church makes mistakes, but they apologize and apologies are rare
He ended by saying “Is there anybody here who still doubts that the Catholic Church is a force for good?”…the audience responded with laughter. I laughed also.
Weak! I would expect that someone who has risen to the level of Archbishop, and who was described by the moderator as “one of Africa’s best known, most respected commentators of the [Catholic] Church” would be able to come up with some better arguments than that…
Next up, Hitchens:
- To defend the Catholic Church, you have to start by making a number of apologies: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of the Jewish people, injustice towards women, the forced conversion of indigenous people, the African slave trade, the admission that Gallileo was right, silence during Hitler’s Final Solution, the rape and torture of children…all not to be laughed off by the occasional work of charities
- Antisemitism was preached as official doctrine of the Church until 1964
- There will come a time when the Church will issue apologies for things it’s currently doing
- The Church’s position on condoms, responsible for the death and misery of millions of the Archbishop’s fellow Africans
- The Church’s anti-homosexual stance
He kind of went off on a rant, but his point was clear: the Catholic Church does a lot of shameful and horrible things.
Back to the Catholic side, Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe, who started off by saying that Hitchens owed the Church an apology for listing off all of those misrepresentations…to which Hitchens somewhat conceded with a laugh. It’s Christopher Hitchens, okay, he tends to exaggerate!
- Churches & monasteries secreted Jews during the Holocaust.
- The Pope gave refuge to Jews in his summer palace (SUMMER PALACE?!?! Seriously? Do you think Jesus would have had a summer palace? Is the Vatican not enough of an extravagance? What a sacrifice, giving up his summer vacation home.)
- The Catholic Church makes mistakes, but so does everyone.
- The Church pours billions of pounds into international aid, and plays a vital role.
- She brushes off the mention of child abuse and condoms by saying that that’s not what the Catholic Church is about, it’s about the message that it preaches: a message of hope and salvation.
I find it pathetic how both Catholic spokespeople refused to acknowledge the current problems, namely its anti-homosexual stance, priestly child abuse, and its position on condom use, and instead resort to “sure, they make mistakes, but who doesn’t?” Ugh…Stephen Fry gets to that point (in his closing statements), and he’s up next:
- He believes in the enlightenment, but the Catholic Church attacks the enlightenment. He then tells an interesting story about Thomas More (a Saint). If you aren’t planning on watching the full debate, at least watch this part at about 3:45 of Part 3.
- AIDS in Africa – Abstinence and Being Faithful are important, but so are condoms, the Pope spreads the lie that condoms increase the incidence of AIDS. Mentions how the Church is obsessed with sex, like anorexics and the morbidly obese are obsessed with food.
- Closes by saying that Jesus would be ill at ease in the Catholic Church. What would Jesus think of the wealth, the power, the self-justification, the hierarchy?
There’s a brief question period, starting at about 2:15 in Part 4. Highlights from this section:
- The Archbishop accidentally makes the point that the Ten Commandments aren’t necessary for a moral code because people knew not to do those bad things before they were in the Bible.
- An audience member asks Anne Widdecombe why she thinks it’s okay for a woman to be an MP, but not a priest. Widdecombe converted to Catholocism when her previous Church (Church of England, I think) allowed women to become priests. She gives some lame, doctrinal answer, saying that women can’t represent Christ.
- Stephen Fry: “the Church is very loose on moral evils, because although they try to accuse people like me who believe in empiricism and the enlightenment of somehow what they call moral relativism as if it’s some appalling sin, where what it actually means is thought, they, for example, thought that slavery was perfectly fine, absolutely okay, and then they didn’t. And what is the point of the Catholic Church if it says “Oh well we couldn’t know better because nobody else did,” then what are you for? [directed at the Catholic side of the table].
- A woman who does charity work in Africa begs the Catholic side to reverse the ruling on contraception.
Stephen Fry gives the best line of the night (in response to Widdecombe’s whining about the mention of condoms and child abuse):
It’s a bit like a burglar in court saying “oh you would bring up that burglary and that manslaughter, you never mention the fact that I give my father a birthday present.”
Widdecombe ignores what Fry JUST SAID, and continues to whine about them bringing up the terrible things that the Church says. Horrible.
Hitchens points out how the Catholics evaded the difficult issues, and closes with “when my children were young I would have been proud to have Stephen [who is gay] as their babysitter…and if anyone came to my door as a babysitter wearing holy orders, I’d have called first a cab and then the police!” Typical Hitchens wit!
The Archbishop closes by just repeating over and over that the Church is a force for good, and reminds us that he is still ignoring the arguments that the Church does a lot of horrible, inexcusable shit.
The final vote:
Motion: The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World
For: 268 (down by 410)
Against: 1,876 (up by 774)
I think this screen cap says it all:
One final off topic note, if you’re now as charmed by Stephen Fry as I am, he has a fun podcast series on iTunes called Stephen Fry’s Podgrams. It’s worth downloading!