Christopher Hitchens vs. Chris Hedges
The "Is God. Great?" Debate
King Middle School, Berkeley, May 24, 2007
a video and photo report
The American political landscape experienced an epochal re-alignment on May 24. A subtle yet far-reaching tectonic shift.
You probably didn't notice. But you will, eventually.
Because it was on that date in Berkeley, California that the radical left reversed what had been its immutable rejection of religion and for the first time embraced spirituality.
Why? Well, that's what we're about to find out.
Hedges on the left, Hitchens on the right.
The arena where this pivotal re-alignment took place was the King Middle School auditorium in Berkeley, where far-left "progressive" journalist Chris Hedges formally debated iconoclastic "neocon" pundit Christopher Hitchens. (Videos of the debate and photos from the event can be found below.) The topic of the debate was "Is God. Great?", a riff on the title of Hitchens' new book, God Is Not Great.
Surprising as it might seem in a contemporary political landscape where mocking religion is an established liberal pastime, and where Christianity and spirituality are most often associated with conservatism, it was Hitchens -- now loathed by the left for not toeing the party line over the Iraq War -- who attacked religion, while the neo-Socialist, anti-patriotic, radical Hedges volunteered for the seemingly topsy-turvy position of having to defend spirituality and the existence of God.
How did this strange state of affairs come to pass? In one word: Islam.
The left -- of which Hitchens was a part until recently -- has always been anti-religion. But now, they've become caught in a philosophical bind: how can they promote multiculturalism -- and by extension all non-Western cultures, such as fundamentalist Islam -- if they condemn religion in general? Neocon pundits have since 9/11 frequently accused the left of being in bed with Muslim extremists, a charge which the left has vehemently denied. But with every denial their position was becoming more and more untenable, as the verbiage and narratives of Islamic radicals and "anti-war" progressives have grown to become virtually indistinguishable.
Someone had to take the lead and resolve the dilemma that the left had created for itself. And so it was Hedges who stepped forward in this debate to test the waters for the first time, taking what is for him (and the left) a revolutionary position: that spirituality and religion -- with the noteworthy exception of organized Christianity -- is good.
Now, at no point did Hedges state that he was performing this amazing flipflop specifically due to Islam. He didn't need to say it -- because Hitchens said it for him. In fact, Hitchens repeatedly tore the roof off of Hedges' carefully constructed rhetorical edifice, saying aloud the exact thoughts that Hedges and the left didn't want anyone to hear.
OK, let's be frank: Hitchens absolutely mopped the floor with Hedges. It was an embarrassment, really. Scroll down to watch the videos of Hitchens' performance to see what I mean.
The proprietor of
the "Cranky Bastard" blog was also in attendance that night, and posted such an accurate description of the debate that I'll simply quote from it here: Hedges was there to try to debate, but by starting with a rebuttal, instead of an introduction during the time with that title, he put himself on the immediate defensive, a stance from which he could not wiggle. Also completely unfair for the lackluster Hedges was a monotonous tone that proved that it was his father, not him, who was the Presbyterian minister. Hedges could not fill a room, much less a sanctuary full of people to listen to his boring drivel.
I wasn't the only one who thought this way of Hedges. After his weak introduction, a man sitting behind me who would probably ordinarily want to agree with Hedges on some of his points said he was "full of bullshit". I could toast to that.
Hedges is merely a well-read and well-traveled man, but lacks any ability to put those experiences in proper context as was on full display when he dopily proclaimed that "biblical literalists do not exist". Uh what. He also fueled the flame heartily when he told the crowd, some of whom were actually there to see him (although just a couple), that "once religious stories are written, they decay into literature". You would have thought he had just done a ghetto "Yo mama" line. Hitchens, with all of his energy and passion, reminded Hedges that to say anything "decays into literature" is to not fully understand the value and power of the written word.
I believe, in an attempt to try to deflect some of Hitchens' ire (but really only to make him gleefully more "inhumane"), Hedges said that "to argue whether or not God exists is futile". Uhh, that is why you are here, right?
The conversation did not get truly twisted until Hedges went on his anti-corporation, pro-Palestinian suicide bomber rant. He asserted that these idiotic suicide bombers who blow up civilians are "affirming themselves through death". He said that they were woefully unemployed, to which Hitchy replied "God forbid a KKK'er (also a Christian organization) be unemployed", for Hedges would think it okay to noose black folks. Hedges' argument made me physically sick to my stomach. I found it hard to believe that anyone could feel comfortable putting out this kind of nonsense in front of other people. It is one thing to be a dope in the comfort and privacy of your own home, but quite another to take it to a stage in front of paying patrons.
Toward what was feeling like the end, Hitchy asked the "moderator" if we were nearing the end. She said yes, and he started fumbling around in his pockets. Out came a cigarette. Another collective gasp from an audience that must have really thought he would light up in a California public space. He is a rogue, but not an unlawful one. As soon as he heard the last word, he jumped out of his chair, as did I, to go puff ourselves into calm.