I came across this a while ago (possibly via Stephen Fry – not sure). It’s a series of YouTube videos making up video of the “Intelligence Squared” debate from 2009. The motion for debate was “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world”.
First up was His Grace John Onaiyekan, the Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria:
I would say perhaps the most cogent point he made was that “the church” does not refer simply to the institution of the Church, but to a community of Catholics worldwide (1.2 billion people, he said). He went on to say that they consider anything done by those people to be done largely due to “the spirit that guides them”, and then that the Catholic Church is doing more than these numbers would suggest – though he provides no evidence for that claim, other than to say that 26% of aid agencies worldwide are Catholic. He then tries to disown the bad deeds done, by mentioning the “apology” given by Pope John-Paul the 2nd for misdeeds done by “people who claim to be … Catholics and working in the name of the Church”.
Not a persuasive argument overall. Basically if you agree with him, you’d agree with him – that was my impression anyway.
Next up – against the motion, natch – was Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens pretty much gives a litany of misdeeds of the Church, and says basically that the charity work of the Church (which he dismisses in a few words) does not make up for it. He goes on to take issue with the “evasive and euphemistic form that [the apologies] take”. He goes on to single out incitement by priests in Rwanda, the Church’s efforts against condom use and the resultant morbidity due to HIV in Africa, and the Church’s nomophobia (using Stephen Fry as an example of someone “not condemned for what he does …[but] what he is”. He’s not shy of insulting the Church institution either.
Overall I have to say that Hitchens seemed persuasive to me – because I hold a similar view. I’m not sure there was a lot of weight to the argument itself though.
Then we go on to Awful Tory Lady – Anne Widdicombe MP. This woman left the Church of England in 1992 when it allowed the ordination of woman priests. So from the get-go we know she’s barmy.
In the spirit of open disclosure, I will say that not only do I (surprise surprise) come down on the same side of this debate as Hitchens and Fry, but that I find this woman’s voice and manner unbearable. Seriously her voice makes it a near-physical ordeal for me to listen to her. Her overall approach is that if she says something enough times with enough arrogant force, it will be true. Facts? That thousands of Jews were hidden in Churches from the Nazis … Thousands doesn’t really cut it, lady.
And “we didn’t know” in reference to the abuse of children by priests is just as bad.
She then proceeds to do the inverse of Hitchens and just list a bunch of good things the Church has done, and echo the Archbishop’s comment that the Church is Catholics worldwide, rather than just the institution. And her closing thing is that their message is one of hope and salvation, rather than just its works on Earth. Rather begging the question, innit? If they’re right then that’s important, but if they’re not, and there isn’t a god or heaven, their quest for salvation is pretty flimsy argument against their misdeeds.
And then we have Stephen Fry. Further disclaimer: I think Fry is a wonderful wonderful human being, and find myself tending to agree with pretty much everything he says. His speech is the one that I found most persuasive – and enjoyable; he speaks of “a belief in the Enlightenment … a belief in the eternal adventure of trying to discover moral truth in the world”. He made possibly the most relevant point: the others tended to list things good or bad done by the Church, as though we could put them on ends of some sort of an ethical set of scales and see which is the greater; by contrast Fry spoke about people being tortured and burned for owning a Bible in English – and that Thomas Moore who did a lot of that was sainted last century, and in 2000 was (rather ironically) made the patron saint of politicians … Widdicombe was nodding and saying something at that point; I think the irony might have escaped her – impacted off her arrogance). He emphasised that their “crime” was owning the word of god in their own language; clearly the Catholic Church is not really about disseminating the word of god, but owning the power that book has given them.
And follow this link for more Stephen Fry: the unedited speech from this debate. And we can always do with more Stephen Fry. 8)
After the debate and some audience questions (“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?!” from Stephen Fry) there’s a vote, which shows an overwhelming swing to Hitchens and Fry (for what that’s worth).
Overall I thought there was quite a contrast in styles between the two sides of this debate, but moreso between Stephen Fry and the others. Now I have to go and find a wonderful video interview/talk by Fry and post that. Now you should go and watch this other wonderful Stephen Fry Video