Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The stifling of intelligent debate

Having read some of the triumphalist comments by atheists doing the rounds on the internet about the alleged trouncing received by the representatives of the Catholic Church, Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan, in the Intelligence Squared debate, I was expecting to be dazzled by the brilliant wit and intellectual verve of their atheist opponents, Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens. As it turns out what was dazzling about the arguments of Fry and Hitchens was their paucity.

It was mostly familiar stuff. Fry accused the Church of being obsessed with sex, yet his own focus revealed his predilection for the topic, in particular (surprise) his own homosexuality. His main complaint seemed to be that according to the teaching of the Church he had been labelled as a ‘disordered morally evil individual’. But Fry neglects the Church’s careful distinction between the person and the act (popularly known as love the sinner, hate the sin). The Church does condemn homosexual acts as sinful, just as it condemns all adulterous acts as sinful, but it does not condemn homosexuals per se, just as it does not condemn adulterers.

Priests, nuns and monks who chose celibacy were excoriated for being ‘unnatural’, while homosexuals were praised for their healthy joyous attitude toward sex. (This is an odd turnaround for Fry who was himself openly celibate for a number of years.) Argument, in so far as there was argument, proceeded along the lines of - all priests are paedophiles, all homosexuals are wonderful. Yet, it seems to have escaped Fry’s notice that a significant proportion of the child abuse of which he complained was committed by priests who were themselves homosexual. But the debate never got that far.

Hitchens was at his most cringing when he declared that he would, with open arms, welcome Fry, qua homosexual, to baby sit his children while promptly dispatching in a taxi any individual in ‘holy orders’ who turned up at his door to do the same. This piece of wisdom was offered to the, by now, baying crowd (overwhelmingly London metrosexual?) and the grateful Fry as if it was a knockdown argument. But, as with Fry, something has clearly gone awry with Hitchens’ logic. If Hitchens would bar all religious from babysitting his children on the basis that some have committed sexual crimes, then, by his own lights, he would also have to bar all homosexuals, including Fry, from babysitting his children, given that some homosexuals too have been guilty of sexual criminality.

But, what may really be at issue, and what Archbishop John Onaiyekan put his finger on at the end of the debate is that there is an agenda here to silence the Church, or anyone else for that matter who speaks with anything less than fawning admiration for homosexual practice. As the archbishop observed no one is forced to follow the teaching of the Church, neither are they compelled to always speak favourably of its practices. Is the same freedom of speech being extended to Catholics, and others who hold a similar unenchanted view of homosexuality, by those on the opposite side of the debate? The message from the outbursts of Hitchens and Fry was that it most certainly was not, and that if they get the chance these promoters of atheism and homosexuality will ensure that the Church (and any others who oppose them) are silenced, by whatever means.

1 comment:

  1. It is clear that sexual abuse of children is endemic in society, but generally ignored - note the dramatic rise in reporting of sexual abuse committed by women. By focussing their attention solely on abuse committed by priests and religious, whilst ignoring widespread abuse elsewhere, aren't atheists like Fry and Hitchens colluding in this much more widespread abuse?


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