Monday, November 29, 2010

What Tony Blair did wrong in his debate with Christopher Hitchens

A few days ago, Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens met in Toronto to debate whether or not religion is a force for good in the world, with Blair of course arguing the affirmative.

Being a Catholic blog, my main critique will be of Tony Blair's presentation of religion and how well he did and a rebuttal of some of Hitchens' points.

My overall reaction is that Tony Blair could have done better. Hitchens used many of the arguments he has used in past debates, and the main theme he was espousing was that religion is unnecessary, and indeed can be contrary, to world peace.

Here are some things I think Tony Blair did wrong:

1. Blair was too conciliatory
Often times it was hard to tell if Blair was arguing that religion was a force for good or whether religion can be just as good as non-religion. He spent far too much time affirming that non-religious people can be "just as good". I think he should have left it up to Hitchens to make these types of points. In fact, much of the time Blair seemed to make points in support of Hitchens' position and Hitchens even acknowledged this at one point.

It was really up to Blair to show why religion does GOOD in the world, not why it isn't really that bad. Hitchens even joked that he was bargaining down Blair from his original position.

2. Blair defended ALL religion
Another mistake I think Blair made was that he lumped all religions into one big category. Now this may have been necessary given the broad topic. But I think it would have been wiser to defend one religion. The reason for this is that by defending all religions, Hitchens took advantage and brought up Wahabism as an example of a religion, which Blair is then forced to defend.

Blair should have taken Christianity as his main religion of defense, since he is Christian and knows more about it than other religions.

3. Blair kept saying religion has done bad things
Again, I'm not saying he's necessarily wrong, but I think Blair spent an inordinate amount of time repeating that religion has caused a lot of problems in the world. This point can be, and was, made by Hitchens, and I don't think he needed any help.

4. Blair equated Humanism with Religion at times
Of course humanism, the secular kind anyway, is inherently atheist. Hitchens advocated in the debate that humanism was the correct path instead of religions. However, instead of indicating the problems with humanism, Blair basically said some people might do good because of humanism but some people do good because of religion. He failed to differentiate the two.

I think Blair needed to make stronger points and not try to be so conciliatory and non-offensive. He did not show strongly enough why religion was UNIQUELY able to be a force for good in the world, rather than a "possible" force.

However, I do think there were odds stacked against Blair to start with, which I will explore in my next blog post.

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