Field of Science

Hitchens Fry the Catholicks

Just in case you haven't already seen it on Pharyngula, I present the Intelligence Squared Debate - Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry vs. The Catholics. While it's a whole 45 minutes of your precious time (I hope your time is precious), it is well spent whether you're interested in debates on religion or not, just because both Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry are such eloquent and forceful speakers.

My own take on the question of whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the World or not is that I don't know. I am not really religious (in fact, I make Dawkins look like a choirboy), but I have to say that in answering the question fairly, one must weigh the good things that the Catholic Church does against the bad things that it is responsible for. The bad things include both sponsoring and failing to properly punish clergy who rape children - when it is known that the raping happens again and again, the Church should know to do something radical to prevent it, which it has not done (e.g. shutting down those positions of authority altogether). But those unquestionably bad things must be weighed against the good things the Church works, and I don't know what those are, or what the magnitude of them would be. It could be that many a child's life and virginity is saved in the sanctity of churches and by clergymen around the globe. I don't know. It could also be that whole societies would fall into disarray should the Catholic Church suddenly cease to exist. I find that unlikely, but I admit I don't have the data to deny it.

If I had to venture an educated guess, I'd say that yes, the Catholic Church is a force for good in the World, but not nearly as much as it is a force of poverty, superstition, rape, murder, death, misery, and the propagation of falsehoods.


  1. The other question that needs to be answered in order to evaluate this is if you are taking into account historical effects, or only considering ongoing actions. If you count history, i.e. the Inquisition and the Crusades, then its hard to imagine the sum being anything but negative. If you are only considering ongoing actions, then I agree it is probably a tough call.

    IMO the biggest crime on present-day Catholicism's rap sheet is not so much the child rape (as horrible as that is) but the anti-condom propaganda in HIV-ravaged parts of Africa. The Catholic church bears direct responsibility for hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result of this. It would be hard for any organization to do enough good works to balance that one...

  2. First point: one of the four speakers do mention this question of whether the motion means "right now" or in the past, too. I think the most relevant question is what the Church does now.

    Secondly, the anti-condom policy is actually a direct choice of the Church, as opposed to raping priests, and, as you say, it most likely has resulted in the deaths of many people, and is therefore a much worse problem than the otherwise horrible one of priests raping children. Just wanted to make my view clear.

  3. Ah, I was browsing via a VNC session from a Unix machine to a Windows machine, so I couldn't watch the video.

  4. I like your summation. I may nick it. :D


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