The Blair Hitch Project

Former Prime Minister and Catholic convert Tony Blair exchanged fire with famed scribbler and atheist Christopher Hitchens over: Be it resolved, religion is a force for good in the world.

Before the start of hostilities, an audience poll was taken to determine how the interested public felt about the topic at hand:

PRE-DEBATE
PRO: 22%  CON:57%
UNDECIDED:21%

A further relevant question come statistic also proved enlightening – the percentage of those open to changing their minds based on what they might hear over the next 90 minutes: 75%

I have watched many a religious debate featuring Hitch, and felt going in that Tony Blair was the open question. The PM may have a towering intellect, a fine capacity for public speaking and thinking on his feet, and would obviously come prepared or not at all. However, across from him is the preeminent professional atheist. Yes, Hitchens has his ladle in many broths, from Iraq War apologetics to literary criticism, but nobody argues faith with such style as our ailing child of Portsmouth. Years spent traveling from town to town arguing with the parties of God puts a fine edge on a debaters tongue, so I feared Blair would come off as less than fully committed to the subject.

To a limited degree my fears proved to be reality, as Tony perpetrated a (unintentional) falsehood, one often made by those who wish to make known that atheism is dangerous as well. Tony pointed to the first half of the 20th century and the role Hitler and Stalin played in spreading misery from a fascist and secular helm. Due to time constraints Hitch let that go, so I will do my best to pick up the gauntlet.

Above is the standard issue belt buckle for the German armed forces in WW2. Gott Mit Uns translates to God With Us. Say what you want about perversions of faith or the cynical application of religion for propaganda, but neither the German military nor The Nazi Party were secular.

Further evidence against claims that the Nazis were secular fascists is provided by an Austrian corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler. From Mein Kampf:

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

“My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”

Again, a perverse and bizarre faith held by a man also aptly characterized by those adjectives, and in no way can one make the claim that religious faith was responsible for the European horror of the 30s and 40s. However, what also must be accepted as plain, is that Adolf Hitler and the doctrine of the Nazi Party were not secular.

So Tony, that’s one.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Tony’s second mistake was claiming Einstein for the faithful, so lets see what else our favourite megabrain had to say on the subject.

“… the man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events.”

At most, Einstein can be considered a deist, although even then…

“The miracle is that it all works, that there are no miracles.”

So, that’s two Tony, but we forgive you, ’cause you are a bit new at this, and many a very smart fellow falls into the Nazis were atheists and Einstein believed in God pit.

The result? People changed their minds:

Post-Debate

Pro: 32%  Con: 68%

Watch it

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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24 Responses to “The Blair Hitch Project”

  1. Andrew Fraser Says:

    these references to God in Mein Kampf do not preclude a secular nature of the Nazi party. Faith is separate from religion isn’t it? Secondly, if you negate Einstein’s belief in God due solely to his claim of the non-existence of miracles you are in error.

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      if you don’t think that mein kampf was the blueprint for everything that the Nazi party did, then you don’t know your history. that Nazi party was far from secular in doctrine or practice- from strange neo paganism to garden variety lutherism.

      what is god if not a miracle maker?

      Ben: hitchens won more people over. look again

      • Andrew Fraser Says:

        no one was undecided at the end? that sounds unlikely. if one does accept this then the swayed were split nearly down the middle.

        This debate is about religion not God. a state can be secular even if 100% believe in God. To be secular a group must simply not be guided by religious edict or doctrine.

        “what is god if not a miracle maker” is a question at best simplistic and at worst entirely meaningless.

      • rockrobinoff Says:

        regardless if we accept your definition of secular or not, Nazi Germany was guided by religious forces. Read rise and fall of the third Reich, or hitler’s pope if you don’t want to take my word for it.

        the god of the Catholics is a personal god that interferes in the affairs of man. Yes, there are more sophisticated versions of god our there, but what *is* meaningless are those notions so vague as to be not worth talking about.

        il

      • Andrew Fraser Says:

        my definition? thats what it means.

        Again…not about God but religion and not Catholicism specifically.

        What vague notions are you referring to?

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      sec·u·lar
         
      of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.
      2.
      not pertaining to or connected with religion ( opposed to sacred): secular music.
      3.
      (of education, a school, etc.) concerned with nonreligious subjects.
      4.
      (of members of the clergy) not belonging to a religious order; not bound by monastic vows ( opposed to regular).
      5.
      occurring or celebrated once in an age or century: the secular games of Rome.
      6.
      going on from age to age; continuing through long ages.

      you suggested me defining god as a miracle worker as so simple as to be meaningless. well, what else is god other than that? if you want to talk about stuff like “god is the capacity for human goodness” or “love” or whatever, then fine, but that is so vague as to carry almost no wait, and has almost no bearing on the question: is religion a force for good in the world.

      • Andrew Fraser Says:

        your dictionary paste supports my assertion not yours.

        i am not going to offer my account of the nature of God. I was simply pointing out that miracles being the defining attribute of Him to be unsubstantiated.

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      you wrote:

      “a state can be secular even if 100% believe in God.”

      how do you reconcile that with:

      “of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.”

      *worldly things*

      and i am not interested in your or anyone else’s personal notions of god, but of workable definitions of god as they are illustrated in scripture – that which informs the notion of god for vast tracks and has real consequences.

      • Andrew Fraser Says:

        it is very easily reconciled. the 100%’s beliefs are irrelevant to the state. tah dah! secularism.

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      andrew, you have lost me. start over. what is your point?

      • Andrew Fraser Says:

        i don’t need to start over. it’s all here. I took objection to your objection to Blair calling the third reich secular. Einstein’s quotable quotables were another instance of hairsplitting on your part that I took issue with. that’s all.

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      and i dont understand where you are coming from. you seem to want to turn the word ‘secular’ inside out and make it seem something else. so i am asking you to reword, with supporting examples, links, quotes, whatever you like. even a clear line of logic.

    • Shamelessly Atheist Says:

      these references to God in Mein Kampf do not preclude a secular nature of the Nazi party.

      Hitler claimed to have been doing God’s work in fighting the Jew. In other words, his policy was very non-secular indeed.

      As for the second point, I’ll let the great physicist negate his own belief in a god in his own words-

      It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

  2. Ben Waymark Says:

    This is the second ‘Is religion a force for good?’ debate I’ve heard, the first being on TED with Stephen Fry. Tony Blair certainly argued more effectively than Archbishop Dumb-ass from African on TED, but I still think Tony could have made a better argument.

    I suppose being a politician it is hard for Tony to consider anything that religion from a global/political perspective, but ‘as a force for good’ religion has a lot to offer individuals both in helping move away from destructive behaviour (alcoholism etc) and helping people who feel spiritual inclinations make sense of what they are feeling, which really the whole point of religion in the first place. Neither of these points were really addressed.

    I think Hitchen showed that religion could be a force for bad, but that doesn’t necessarily prove that someone isn’t a force for good which is why Tony won more people over. Indeed, I think it’d be interesting to see B&H argue the specific question “Is religion a force for bad?” as I think it’d be easier for Hitchen to prove (and the percentage swayed would go his way).

    A lot of wars have been fought in the name of religion, but then a lot of wars have been fought for other reasons. There has been a lot of religious fanatics that have done bad things, but then there are also non-religious fanatics that do bad things too. That line of argument isn’t very conclusive and it annoys me a bit that both of them went down that road.

    A much easier route for Hitchens would have been to argue how religion leads good people to do and thing bad things (and Tony could have rebutted with arguments about how religion helps bad people become good or makes good people even better) where instead they decided to argue politics and histories that, as you point out, they don’t even know very well….

    • Shamelessly Atheist Says:

      A much easier route for Hitchens would have been to argue how religion leads good people to do and thing bad things…

      He did exactly this when he paraphrased the famous quote by physicist Stephen Weinberg.

  3. Ben Waymark Says:

    I meant to say ‘would go more his way’ … apologies 😀

    Sadam was also secular, but that doesn’t mean that Islam didn’t shape his view. Indeed, Tony Blair, as a ruler, was secular as well. It wasn’t until after he left office that the UK found out he was religious (generally being religious works against you in the UK politics). But to say that Tony’s decision were examples of ‘atheism gone mad’ just because he separated his religious views from his politics wouldn’t be fair either. The Nazi’s weren’t any one religion, and the persecution of the Jews wasn’t because of religious difference, it was because of perceived racial differences. Being a Jew that converted to Christianity didn’t help ….

    For that matter, to suggest that if Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians all became atheists then turn around and say “what are we fighting for?” and all become friends is a naive.

    People don’t religion to be irrational or to go to war, although it does seem to help at times ….

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      “The Nazi’s weren’t any one religion,”

      true, but the heavyweight at the helm, adolf hitler was.

      beside, my only point, is that the nazis were not secular. despite what some no nothings seem to think.

      • Ben Waymark Says:

        That is my point too, what why I think it was a shit example for Tony Blair to use. My point about secularism was directed against Andrew’s argument “these references to God in Mein Kampf do not preclude a secular nature of the Nazi party.”

        It is pretty pointless to argue the merits of religion (or atheism) based on what bad people who were religious (or not) have or have not done unless religion has somehow influenced the thing that has gone bad.

        So the guy that killed his daughter because she shagged some bloke and he though the only way to redeem his honour is Allah’s eyes is slit her throat is an example of religion making someone do something bad.

        The guy that found God, quit drinking, got a haircut and spent the rest of his life street kids learn to skateboard is an example of religions doing something good.

        Hitler killing 6 millions people because he didn’t like their race is more or less irrelevant, because it wasn’t religiously (or none-religiously) motivated. Stalin killing 6 million ‘dissenters’ is irrelevant because it wasn’t religiously (or none-religiously) motivated. Even the Israeli/Palestinian conflict isn’t very relevant because that is motivated by race and culture more than actual religion.

      • Shamelessly Atheist Says:

        Hitler killing 6 millions people because he didn’t like their race is more or less irrelevant, because it wasn’t religiously (or none-religiously) motivated.

        Really? A large part of the motivation was indeed religious. Hitler’s writings in Mein Kampf explicitely relate the two. Also, could the Holocaust have happened in an atmosphere devoid of anti-Semitism, a wholely Christian concept? I find it impossible to believe that.

        As for Stalin, the deaths of millions are a result of dogmatic thinking. Stalinism has many aspects of religious extremism. And the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are motivated by race (put an Israeli and a Palestinian side by side and you can’t tell the difference – they are of the exact same genetic stock) and culture, when their cultures are defined by their respective religions? I’m sorry, but the best I can call your argument is “over-reaching”. Religion is inextricable from culture and to attempt to appease a sense of respect for it (wholely undeserved) is misguided.

      • Ben Waymark Says:

        “Also, could the Holocaust have happened in an atmosphere devoid of anti-Semitism, a wholely Christian concept?”

        Antisemitism is a wholely Christian concept? What about the Roman and Muslims? I certainly not saying that Christianity hasn’t been antisemitic, but the Arab world is rife with antisemitism, the Soviet Union was wife with antisemitism, and through the ancient classical world there was antisemitism.

        “Religion is inextricable from culture and to attempt to appease a sense of respect for it (wholely undeserved) is misguided.”

        Religion and culture do indeed a reinforce themselves, but take away religion, and culture still remains, cultural divisions still remain, and cultural conflict still remain.

        The only point I am trying to make is that it is naively optimistic to believe that without religion people wouldn’t find something to go to war over. As you said yourself, it is dogmatic thinking, which certainly can be reinforced by religion but it can also exist without religion.

  4. Ben Waymark Says:

    Oh ya, and for more intensive purposes I think “miracle worker” is as good a definition as any for God as any, and differentiates nicely between more elusive ‘archetypes’ which some (particularly neo-pagan types and Buddhists) would call gods but wouldn’t think can actually manifest physically and the God that I think we are mostly talking about, which the irrational belief in something greater than ourselves that can perform miracles. Using this rough definition ‘spirituality’ would be experience of this miracle worker and religion would be the organization of people who believe in the miracle worker.

  5. jwheels Says:

    Interesting points, and discussion. I’ve never read Mein Kampf, but I’ve heard people paint Hitler with religion when it suited them, and also with atheism when it suited them. I think the point has been made in the discussion above, but I think it’s worth repeating: Hitler didn’t kill 6 million people because of religion, though he definitely justified it by religion. Without serious anti-semitism, it’s very difficult to read judgment against Jews in the texts Hitler quoted above! (the whip was, quite obviously, for the animals, not the people).

    As for a state being secular, I think what Andrew was trying to say was that the only state that isn’t secular, at least functionally, is a theocracy – which Nazi Germany most certainly wasn’t. Even the political maneuverings of the Popes of old were precisely that: political, and not at all stemming from divine directives. It might be argued that Calvin’s Geneva was a theocracy; any modern state that functions under sharia law is not a secular state; but even when most nations were under the extreme influence of the Catholic church, the Church usually still looked to the State to carry out any function of law – it didn’t hold both the Bible and the Sword. It is only when the state is utilized for the purposes of the Church, and those purposes themselves are believed to be a directive of God, that a state is not secular; thus even in a nation that is 100% religious, it is typically “functionally secular”.

    As for miracles: if God exists, and created and sustains everything by the force of his own will, then the exercise of God’s power is not miraculous but in fact the most natural, normal thing in the world. That’s not to say that everything that happens by His power seems normal to us, or even seems to follow the normative patterns of His work, but when we’re talking about Almighty God you’d think we’d be a little less anthropocentric and stop telling Him how He does or does not work, eh? 🙂

    Einstein’s quote reminds me of an episode of Futurama, in which Bender is ejected into the vacuum of space, where the bacteria on his backside evolves into a tiny society that sees him as God. Not actually being God, Bender mucks it up; but out in space, he is spoken to by a nebula or some such thing – i.e. God – who tells him that if he does things just right, it will seem to his little people that he was never there at all. “The miracle is that it all works, that there are no miracles.”

    Thanks for some fun food for thought. If you’re interested, I reviewed the debate on my blog too. Since then, my commenters have straightened out some places where I misspoke.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      Jeff:

      A good working definition of miracle might be: suspensions of the natural order. When the laws of the universe as we no them cease to function. By that standard, there have been no miracles.

      How can one claim a secular state when they outfit their soldiers with religious slogans? Your point about the only truely non secular state being a theocracy is taken, but to my mind, if there isn’t a clear and obvious separation of religion from state, then you don’t have a secular society – even if some forces of government are operating religion cynicaly, and for political reasons.

    • Shamelessly Atheist Says:

      Well, Hitler’s actions speak volumes. He banned atheist and free thinking organizations in 1933. Any accusations of Hitler being atheist or even sympathizing with them is pure unadulterated crap.

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