Hitchens vs. Blair: Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

The title of my post refers to the book by Christopher Hitchens–sometimes described as the “poster boy” of atheism, a description he loathed–and the former prime minister of the UK, Tony Blair, a Catholic convert. The contents of the book are a transcript from one of the famous Munk Debates held regularly in Canada. You can listen to the debate on line from the BBC World Service website, but what you won’t get is what’s included in the second part of this slim volume: interviews post-debate with Hitchens and Blair.

Whether you’re a believer or an atheist this concise opus ought to interest you. In fact it should be required reading for everyone in the world. You can guess which of the two argued more convincingly, to my mind. One thing Blair said and with which I agree entirely is that religion will be a prime topic, perhaps the greatest issue facing humanity in the 21st century. Since religion is not likely to go away any time soon, we should all work toward making sure it is a force for good (or, if not for good, at least a neutral force or one not focused on worsening already strained situations in many parts of the world, notably the Middle East).

Sadly, Hitchens died recently: I was planning to ask him for a blurb for my upcoming book (“Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James”, which touches on similar themes. Luckily for Hitchens, he did not believe in Heaven or Hell. Immortal? Perhaps not. But for now he lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of those who are not people of faith, but rather humanists and good people who don’t need faith–or the fear of Hell–to be good.

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