I think it may be a good sign that our man Hitch seems to have attended a debate albeit through a video. However, since last I heard he was unable to speak, perhaps he has turned a corner? If anyone sees the actual video from the debate please post it and email me. Here's the article:
WATERLOO — Although prominent intellectual Christopher Hitchens wasn’t at the University of Waterloo in person for a scheduled debate this weekend, he was larger than life, bringing the audience to their feet in a standing ovation.
In his characteristic way, Hitchens, a prolific speaker and author, had the crowd in his grip as he spoke about culture and religion, attacking the latter suggesting it would become irrelevant as the world grappled with more important questions of science and its effects on mankind.
“Religion is man-made,’’ he said. “God did not make men. Our species, mankind, instead made and continues to make hundreds of Gods … in the hope of establishing a secular tyranny of rule of men over men.’’
“The gods we have made are exactly the gods you would expect to made from a species about a half a chromosome away from being chimpanzee,’’ he said as the crowd at the Humanities Theatre burst into laughter Saturday night.
Hitchens spoke by video link from his home in Washington, D.C. He was unable to make the trip to Waterloo for health reasons. He has terminal cancer of the esophagus.
But his illness didn’t dull his notably sharp tongue as Hitchens commented on religious icons, groups and issues including the papacy, Mother Teresa, the Mormons and the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control.
Hitchens and his debate opponent, Barry Brummett, a communication studies professor at the University of Texas in Austin were asked to debate the resolution: Religion is a positive force in culture.
Brummett stuck to his prepared comments on rhetorical theory, his area of expertise. Brummett said Aristotle suggested some decisions in life, such as voting for president or deciding on whom to marry, can’t be resolved through sure and certain systems, but rather should be talked out.
“Wouldn’t you like someone to tell you whether you should spank your child or not?’’ he said. “Otherwise you do the wrong thing and 20 years later the kid climbs a library tower with a .30-06 (rifle) and it’s your fault.’’
But there are those who refuse to talk it out and instead give in to temptation and move to a sure and certain system for guidance. This, he said, is a rhetorical definition of extremism often practiced by the faithful.
Brummett suggested one solution to extremism is the long tradition of rhetoric which looks at the reasons for believing a point of view and questioning it.
Hitchens said he bristles at the word extremism because the religions he speaks of are the mainstream of religion, what he refers to as the “ABC’s” of religion. He also said he doesn’t wish to be told what to do, but prefers revelation comes from “long attempts at moral suasion and experience.’’
During a question-and-answer period, Hitchens was asked how society could live well and progress in culture if there wasn’t religion.
Hitchens said ethics and morality can’t be derived from proclamations on high. You can’t get them in 10-tablet form, he said.
“We wouldn’t be here having this conversation if we didn’t have in our species an innate need to help others, not just for our own sake, but because it’s positively a pleasurable thing to do,’’ he said.
For Hitchens, religion must be separated from culture.
Hitchens referred to the Parthenon, an Athenian temple and how this tremendous work was largely completed by free citizens, not slaves, who were inspired by faith that no one continues to practice.
“Nobody knows anything about that religion today. It’s all gone, but the tremendous contribution made by it stays with us,’’ he said.
Hitchens said as a society we need to transcend religion to see the beauty in architecture such as the Parthenon.
“How do we retain what is of value and of beauty in contributions from the past while discarding the superstition, the theocracy, the censorship, the torture, the intimidation that were just as necessary to that system and just as much a part of its legacy to us?’’ he said.
To sustain culture, the task is transcending the legacy of religion. Composer Giuseppe Verdi was a non-believer, but didn’t prevent him from writing a wonderful requiem, Hitchens said.
Instead of religion, society should be looking at the awe-inspiring discoveries of science and what the future holds. This will give more humility than any religion can, he said.
“The beauty of the struggle to master science and philosophy and physics and the extraordinary new discoveries we are making, just the preoccupation with those enormous questions is more than enough for a lifetime,’’ he said.
“It’s a shame that for some people it takes a lifetime to find that out.’’
“The gods we have made are exactly the gods you would expect to made from a species about a half a chromosome away from being chimpanzee,’’
I loved that.