There’s a documentary just out on DVD that I’m anxious to see. It’s Collision, a film about the debate tour conducted last year by Douglas Wilson, a Christian pastor, author, and senior fellow at New St. Andrews College in Idaho, and the redoubtable Christopher Hitchens. The question they were debating is a seemingly simple one: Is Christianity good for the world?
You get three tries at guessing Hitchens’s answer, and the first two don’t count.
Hitchens and Wilson have been all over my radio the last few days promoting their film, which is getting a theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles starting this week, and which is accompanied by a book they have co-authored, Is Christianity Good for the World? Saturday I heard them on NPR’s All Things Considered, and this morning they brought the debate (and the related soap-selling) to Imus in the Morning. All of which is all good with me, as I am a great fan of Hitchens, especially when he bares his teeth and bite a chunk out of some Christian’s ass.
Wilson, for his part, seems a likable guy, and I can see why he and Hitchens enjoy arguing with one another. There was a telling moment during the NPR interview, though. Hitchens claimed that he would not want to eliminate religion entirely from human society. Engaging religion, he said, is vital for one’s education, and for understanding many of the traditions of civilizations. Wilson, responding to the inverse scenario, proudly declared that, if faced with the last atheist on Earth, he would “baptize that guy.” So Hitchens sees value in talking to the believers, but Wilson sees no such value in having the atheists around at all. Too bad for him.
Hitchens wrote about the film, and about the secular vs. religious debate in general, in his column this week for Slate.com. Below is a brief excerpt.
Ever since I invited any champion of faith to debate with me in the spring of 2007, I have been very impressed by the willingness of the other side to take me, and my allies, up on the offer. A renowned scholar like Richard Dawkins, who is quite used to filling halls wherever he goes with his explanations of biology, is now finding himself on platforms with dedicated people who really, truly do not believe that evolution is anything more than “a theory.” I have been all over the South, in front of capacity and overflow crowds, exchanging views with Protestants most of the time, but also with Catholics and, in New York and the West Coast and Canada, with—mostly Reform—Jews in large and well-attended synagogues. (So far no invitations from Orthodox Jews, Mormons, or Muslims.)
I haven’t yet run into an argument that has made me want to change my mind. After all, a believing religious person, however brilliant or however good in debate, is compelled to stick fairly closely to a “script” that is known in advance, and known to me, too. However, I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe. I haven’t been asked to Bob Jones University yet, but I have been invited to Jerry Falwell’s old Liberty University campus in Virginia, even though we haven’t yet agreed on the terms.
You can get the book Is Christianity Good for the World? here, and the film Collision on DVD here. Think I’ll go order my copy now.