Stephen Fry and Chris Hitchens Destroy the Catholics

As Amanda reported in the Quickies a few weeks ago, Stephen Fry and Chris Hitchens participated in a debate over the topic “The Catholic Church is a Force for Good.” Fry and Hitchens were, naturally, on the anti- side, and absolutely destroyed the poor souls on the pro- side. Check out the full video in five parts here. The first is below:

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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  1. The most interesting thing I found about the debate was how the bishop and Anne Widdecombe both do exactly what Hitchens and Fry accuse the Church of doing about travesties the Church has been responsible for or turned a blind eye to; they try to downplay and ignore them while.

  2. Favorite bit from this is at the tail end of part 4 and start of part 5. Goes something like this:

    But on the other hand, we must remember as the point that was made is that the church is very loose on moral evils because although the try to accuse people like me who believe in empiricism and enlightenment of somehow, what they call “moral relativism” as if it’s some appalling sin when what it actually means is “thought”. They for example thought that slavery was perfectly fine – absolutely OK – 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!

  3. I’d read about this and I am glad I’ve had the chance to see it. I’d read how much of a rout it was for Hitchens and Fry, but wasn’t prepared for just how much. It was like if Usain Bolt ran the 100 metres against a sumo wrestler.

    And how long have I waited for Stephen Fry to give both barrels to religion.

  4. @Andrew Nixon: “And how long have I waited for Stephen Fry to give both barrels to religion.”

    I am at work so haven’t had a chance to listen to this yet, but did he give both barrels to religion or the church?

    From what I have read, I thought it was the latter.

  5. @MoltenHotMagma: It was sort of a mix. He focused on the condom and child-raping thing (he blatantly told the African bishop that he should apologize for the church), but took religion to task for condemning him to hell since he’s gay.

    I think Widdicombe’s attitude of “Oh, there you go with the child rape and condoms again” attitude was the most damaging argument they presented. Damaging to their side, I mean. Stephen’s response (repeated above by Steve) is my new favorite quote.

    She was basically claiming they’re a moral beacon who aren’t any more moral than whatever society they find themselves in. What are they for, indeed.

    That, and they offered absolutely no defense of the “condoms increase the spread of AIDS” crap. If she had quoted a study showing that or something I’d have some respect, but they just let it slide.

    And as someone on Pharyngula said, her defense of the all male priesthood made me think of a slave defending his slavemaster. “Well, women can’t pretend to be Jesus.”

    Is this really the best the Catholic Church can offer?

  6. Was it just me or did the arch-bishop have a moment of sanity when he followed Widdicombe’s answer to the 10 Commandments question. (which was teh is da awesome cos dey sez no kill, no steal, adulteries and da stuff kay?)

    IIRC he turned toward her and said that before Catholicism came in, before they heard of the 10 Commandments, his father and the people of Africa knew those things (no killing, stealing, etc.)

  7. My favorite quote of the night came from Stephen:

    Yes–yes!–are you getting the message? There is a reason we hammer home these issues: because they matter. There’s such an opportunity, owning a billion souls at baptism. It’s such an opportunity to do something remarkable to make this planet better, and it’s an opportunity that’s constantly and arrogantly being avoided, and I’m sorry for that.

    I much preferred the route that Stephen Fry took. Honestly, I felt somewhat awkward listening to Hitchens. It isn’t that I disagree with his message so much as I disagree with his delivery. Watching him repeatedly use Stephen as an example felt really awkward and rather unnecessary. Pointing out specific figureheads in the Catholic church likewise felt too much like an attack.

    It isn’t that he’s wrong. It’s that I can’t imagine having a civilized conversation with him. What? He just had to speak to Ms. Badawi right when Onaiyekan was giving his talk?

  8. After listening again, I’m now thinking that the arch-bishop didn’t have a moment of clarity like I thought he might have.

    Rather I think, that when he said “everyone knows these things” referring to ‘shalt not kill’, etc., I think it more likely he was playing that old canard that “God instilled the commandments and morality in all of us.”

    Whatever, it always amuses me to no end when the ten commandments are brought up as if they are some magic moral handbook and we never knew what to do w/o them. It’s that kind of simple minded assertion that helped me dump religion and god. So by all means, I hope the keep it up.

  9. By the power vested in me as a blog commenter I nominate Steven Fry’s “Then what are you for?” as a Crowning Moment of Awesome.

    And he’s right, you can’t claim the church as a source of moral leadership while mumbling excuses for why they don’t behave any better than anyone else.


    The most interesting thing I found about the debate was how the bishop and Anne Widdecombe both do exactly what Hitchens and Fry accuse the Church of doing about travesties the Church has been responsible for or turned a blind eye to; they try to downplay and ignore them while.

    In particular you can tell Widdecombe is a politician in the way that she never answers the question that is asked.

  10. @James K: I second that CMOA, and I wonder if it wasn’t the moment that so many in the audience chose to change their position on the question.

    Like some other commenters, I do wish that the Catholics had had some decent debaters on their side and not just the two spouting and respouting the same vagueries. An actual conversation about condoms among the four participants, instead of the “La-la-la-la I’m not listening” responses, would have been extremely interesting.

  11. I was raised Catholic, and I went to a Catholic high school. One thing the monks there impressed upon us was that the church was and is fallible, because God’s work was being carried out through weak human hands.

    Now, that’s not a fantastic excuse. But at least it acknowledges the possibility of current doctrine being wrong, which just wasn’t something I saw the Catholic reps doing here. And that is a shame.

    On Fry’s points, not only should they be apologizing, they should be actually defending their points rather than giving the runaround and evading as bombs were dropped. My favorite lesson in school was that the Catholic church has done bad things and probably will in the future, but it will admit to such, it is sorry when it’s mistaken and is willing to take steps to rectify mistakes where possible.

    I wish that view was more spread up the hierarchy.

  12. @ZachTP:
    ZachTP: The problem is that if the church hierarchy were to do that it would cede so much of the moral high ground it wouldn’t have any left. And that would make it a bit harder for the Pope to run around telling people what to do.

    The important thing to remember about the Catholic Church, like any institution is first and foremost about expanding the power and influence of the institution. The Pope and his senior priests will always be politicians first and priests second and politicians never apologise unless they stand to gain more than they lose from it. Usually this is only when they’re apologising for things done a long time ago.

  13. I don’t think the Pope has much to do with it. An organisation doesn’t last for some 2000 years without an institutional culture that puts its own power first and everything else a distant second.

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