No one — not Hitchens, not Sharpton, and certainly not the unfortunate audience, who got, to be precise, a bill of goods. Once a brave and eloquent writer, Hitchens is now just a rantaholic (God is Not Great is intellectually shabby in a number of ways), and Sharpton’s responses were pathetic. Faith, to him, is all about the “validation” of his personal experiences, none of which, he clearly states, have anything to do with the Scriptures, etc. Why then, Rev, are you a minister?
The whole thing reminded me of that circus act that Madalyn Murray O’hair used to perform with some evangelist whose name I can’t recall. The diabolical atheist vs. the man of the cloth: entertaining, emotionally satisfying on some level, utterly worthless.
Hitchens has a point about God–but only as he misconceives him. Neither Hitchens nor Sharpton have much of a grasp of theology. Too bad they didn’t match Hitchens with Terry Eagleton. Sharpton did get one thing right. Hitchens always writes well even when he is wrong.
Actually, Joseph, Hitchens’ prose in God Is Not Great is not, well, great. (If you haven’t read it yet, take a look. I think you’ll agree that it’s not his best work, from both stylistic and a polemical standpoints.) There’s more sarcasm than wit, and most of what he says in a critical vein is boilerplate, the sort of thing that was risque and exhilarating when Tom Paine wrote it, but not now.
If the “debate” has been described accurately, it had all the rigor of a late-night barroom conversation between two tired old acquaintances talking past each other on a subject they had each rehashed too many times, and possibly better for different audiences.
It used to be possible enjoy Hitchens’ performances even if you didn’t grant his presuppositions or follow him to his conclusions, just because it was so interesting to watch the way his mind would go to work on whatever topic was on the table. Sad to say, the edge seems to be gone these days.
Well, at least there is still Spengler over at the Asia Times.
Interesting excerpts from a Q and A with Hitchens in New York magazine:
And what if one of your children found God? Would that be a problem?
Not at all. My children, to the extent that they have found religion, have found it from me, in that I insist on at least a modicum of religious education for them. The schools won’t do it anymore. And I even insist, though my wife [who is Jewish] isn’t that thrilled, on having for our daughter a little version of the Seder.
What’s your favorite Bible story?
“Casting the first stone” is a lovely story, even though we’ve found out how much it wasn’t in the Bible to begin with. And the first of the miracles. Jesus changes water into wine. You can’t object to that.
This may be a case of the exception proving the rule. My personal opinion is that Hitchens’s heart is in the right place that he will end up accordingly.
Is God-slamming a new genre of literature?
We’ve had Harris, Dawkins, and now Hitchens. Whose book is next? Karl Rove?
For a much better discussion of the issues Hitchens and Sharpton barely touched on, the Fr. Frederick Copleston/George Bernard Shaw BBC radio debate showcases two brilliant individuals in an intellectual chess match: