May 28, 2009

Frustrating Debate

There are several problems I have with this so-called "debate."

First, it becomes obvious pretty early on that Hitchens and Blackwell are talking about two totally different things. Hitchens' point, which is 100% correct, is that the First Amendment, among a variety of other legal and historical documents and other traditions, prohibit the establishment of religion, even a generalized religion like Christianity or "Judeo-Christianity."* Blackwell, however, is talking about a more generalized social background, and he is more correct than not within the boundaries of his claim -- a claim that the Christian religion has informed and continues to inform the morals of a very large number of Americans -- including those Americans who, while not sharing the spiritual faith of Christianity, nevertheless look to Christian teachings as a source of moral guidance (which, with some exceptions, are generally a pretty good source of morals). Why is the moderator too dim to realize this and interject some, you know, moderation into the discussion to prevent them from unproductively talking past one another?

Second, Blackwell's debating style strikes me as unfair. He begins, almost right off the bat, by chastising Hitchens for interrupting him and not allowing him to make his point. So Hitchens backs off and gives Blackwell some time to finish his point. And then Blackwell proceeds to run off the mouth for nearly six solid minutes -- having established the rule that no one can interrupt anyone else (and enforcing that rule to his own advantage again) he proceeds to monopolize the conversation. It's not really a debate if you're the only one talking. Again, the moderator did nothing to control this.

Finally, Hitchens was obviously stone-cold sober. He didn't use the word "fuck" even one time. This is totally out of character for him and denies the viewing audience a taste of his real personality.

* The phrase "Judeo-Christian" irritates me today. Judaism and Christianity are different religions. Judaism is not "Christianity without the Messiah"; they are simply not the same thing. In the two thousand years since Christianity broke away from Judaism both religions have evolved and changed and gone through powerful and divergent experiences. Christianity became the official doctrine of multiple global hegemons, and Judaism became the cultural scapegoat of Europe. And, any attempt to amalgamate the two as coming from the same historical, cultural, and spiritual tradition requires including Islam as well, since all three religions trace back to the teachings and traditions of the patriarch Abraham. I don't notice any "Christian Nation" advocates making any attempt whatsoever to include Muslims in this tradition which they esteem so highly.


Kaz Dragon said...

I think the three together are frequently referred to as "The Abrahamic Religions" for just that reason, and I think I've heard Hitchens use that phrase before. There's no easy wording for "Abrahamic Religions Sans Islam", though.

I think they usually leave Islam out since the USA generally has the opinion that Islam is bad, therefore you're arguing the points of the remaining "less bad" ones.

Burt Likko said...

I should add that where I think Blackwell falls short of being 100% correct in his description of America's social environment is that he implies that the Constitution is based on "Christian principles." Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and even democracy are things that are foreign to the doctrines of Christianity. Not necessarily incompatible, as a Christian can certainly respect a non-Christian's freedoms and can participate in a democratic government consistent with Christian teachings, but the Enlightenment-era liberal principles underlying the Constitution are different from the ethical and theological precepts of Christianity.

DaveBuck said...

I'm also urked when others say the U.S. was founded on JUDEO-Christian values. There weren't any Jews influencing anything here at that time.

I do think Hitchens overstepped when he said Franklin was an atheist. A very old Franklin proposed a resolution at the Constitutional Convention about opening sessions with a prayer. He wrote in his journal that only a handful were interested and it didn't pass. While he may have been a free-thinker, I don't think you can say he was an atheist.