Crushed by the Ditchkens-Fry express…
Apologies for not posting on the Intelligence2 “The Catholic Church is a force for good” debate as I had promised the other day. But what with the news about the Anglican Provision, I’ve been hard at work.
It was a crushing, humiliating defeat for the Catholic side. I’m guessing the good Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, was expecting good will and a civilised conversation, not the drubbing and hostility that he was faced with that crowd. It looked for all the world like the poor man did not know what had hit him when the Hitch went at him with full force, with Stephen Fry behind. Ann Widdecombe struggled with the debate manfully, but the audience was against her and she was not match for the Christopher Hitchens-Stephen Fry-public-entertainer duo. Neither of the two on the Catholic side had even considered stooping to the entertaining nastiness (and goodness, it was funny) or the ad hom/fem attacks later hurled at them by the baying crowd.
But over on Comment is Free, a new Catholic champion has emerged. James Hannam, an historian, asks why Catholics are so bad at making their own case, when the Catholic Church so clearly is a force for good?
Catholics also need to know more about what the Church does and has done. Even as solid an atheist as Matthew Parris has admitted that Christian aid organisations are more effective in Africa than their secular equivalents. He realised that it was precisely because they were missionaries as well as aid workers that they were able to empower local people. Christianity is a social liberator.
And we Catholics should read our history. Christianity is the single most important element in the development of modern western society. Everything that we hold dear from science to women’s lib are inconceivable outside a Christian or post-Christian society. They have never appeared in any other environment. Catholicism is not the whole story but it is a substantial part of it. Even though it has been left behind on some issues, its contribution remains foundational.
Besides, it is inherently unfair to judge the Church only on whether it is a force for good only in this world. Atheists may scoff, but its core mission is to bring people to God, not bring food to people. Charity work is important but it should not be judged in isolation. Still, the Intelligence Squared motion did not look at the big picture and there was little the Catholic participants could do about it. Letting your opponents set the terms of debate is never a good idea.
Finally, Catholics do need to find better defenders. Expecting an archbishop and Ann Widdecombe to take on Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry was asking for trouble. We need someone who can play hard ball.
Because despite all I’ve said above, if I had been on the panel speaking for the Church, I would probably have given Hitchens a taste of his own medicine. It would have been best to have laid into him for his influential support for the Iraq War, opposed by the Catholic Church, where the death toll in a few short years has exceeded reasonable estimates during centuries of Crusades. It is bad enough losing the debate, but to lose it to a man who cheered on the neo-cons during their illegal invasion and disastrous occupation really sticks in the craw.
My colleague Andrew M Brown who was also at the debate, had an excellent post on his Telegraph blog.