Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Catholic Church: A force for good?

This is a highly amusing debate that features the question, Is the Catholic church a force for good? The whole debate is filled with deep and insightful moments, but Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry decisively prove their worth, and indeed Ann Widdecombe and John Onaiyekan are severely out-matched.

However, of particular note here is that Fry is easily the mvp of the evening. His immeasurable wit and brutal honesty completely catch both his opponents and the audience off-guard, and that's very much to his credit.

Onaiyekan spends the first half of his first speech detailing how widespread and long-lasting Catholocism is, and goes on to demonstrate how the church and its followers do good in the world.

Unfortunately, one of the examples he chooses to elaborate on is the Church's involvement in supporting health institutions across the world, in particular for treating HIV and AIDS. According to a study he cites, apparently 26% of the health institutions in the world that are directly involved in the treatment of HIV and AIDS are run by the Catholic church.

Sadly, he neglects to mention how much the church – and indeed, these very institutions – actually exacerbate the problem of HIV and AIDS around the world, particularly in Africa by teaching that condoms are not only evil, but even going so far as to say that using condoms will increase a person's chances of getting HIV -- which is an egregious lie of the worst sort.

Hitchens, not missing a beat, remarks that one day the church will be forced to apologize for being flat-out wrong on this issue:
[One day the church will have to admit that] it might have been an error to say that AIDS is bad as a disease, but not quite as bad as condoms are bad, or not as immoral in the same way.... The preachings of [Onaiyekan's] church are responsible for the death and suffering and misery of millions of his brother and sister Africans and he should apologize for it. He should show some shame.
Unfortunately, Widdecombe comes to the stage next and makes the mistake of complaining, against Hitchens' charges that the Catholic church has committed unforgivable offenses against humanity, that Hitchens “seems to think that the Catholic church should have had some unique insight which demonstrably was lacking in society as a whole.”

Fry, rightfully so, cannot let this one go. And in a moment of sheer brilliance, he exclaims with perfect and comedic timing, “The truth is complicated, it's hard. And what is the point of the Catholic church if it says 'Oh, well we couldn't know better, because nobody else did.' Then what are you for?!

But that wasn't even Fry's most brilliant moment of the evening. It's a long debate, and if you don't end up watching it — though you certainly should! — you must at least hear Fry's analogy of the church as a whole, because it's one of the most profound, spot-on statements I've ever heard:
It's the strange thing about this church, it is obsessed with sex. Absolutely obsessed. Now they will say, they will say, 'we with our permissive society and rude jokes are obsessed.' No, we have a healthy attitude. We like it, it's fun, it's jolly. Because it's a primary impulse, it can be dark and difficult. It's a bit like food in that respect, except it's even more exciting. The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese. And that, in erotic terms, is the Catholic church in a nutshell.
This is an incredible, poignant debate that definitely comes highly recommended. It's just a shame that Widdecombe and Onaiyekan – especially Widdecombe (in fact, I felt a little bad for Onaiyekan, who seemed like a very genuine, sincere individual who wanted a real discussion) – were so severely out-classed.

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