Vanity thought #1518. Debate Animated

As I said, I’m not going to go through the debate about Catholic Church word by word but the organizers kindly provided a short animation summarizing the best arguments from Anne Widdecombe for Catholics and Stephen Fry for atheists, so let’s cover that.

The two other speakers, an African bishop and Christopher Hitchens, were excluded but it’s not a big loss. Perhaps I could say a few words about the priest but Hitchens’ facts I covered yesterday, I don’t want to watch the whole two hour affair again to check if he said anything else of note.

If you watch this short it might appear disjointed, jumping from topic to topic, and it should be expected from this video because it’s made of selected clips, but the rest of the debate was the same, everybody was making himself heard all the time and no one was obliged to follow up on questions. Even when the speakers were answering questions from the audience they were free to pick and choose what to answer and what to ignore.

This was the fault of the organizers, it put too much unnecessary pressure on the speakers, giving them too many questions to juggle and too little time to respond. Half the questions from the audience were not even questions but personal comments and gripes. There was one guy who said he just returned from a UN conference and there he submitted a list of five transgressions by the Catholic Church and the Church admitted it hasn’t done anything about them. It was a one sided piece of information, no one knew what he was talking about and whether it was factually correct.

The debate was organized more like a court proceedings, with time allocated to the prosecution and the defense to make their statements and the audience acting as a jury, but a lot of what was heard would not have been permissible in court, like that guy’s “testimony”. If he was allowed to speak as a witness the defense would have been given time to cross examine him and bring their own witnesses and experts. Otherwise he just made an emotional appeal that manipulated the hearts and that’s all.

Anyway, the animation, it starts with Widdecombe asking us to imagine the world without Catholic Church giving billions to charity. Very easy. In my world I do not see Catholic Church charities at all, they are not collecting them where I can see, and they are not distributing them where I can see. They are also not in the news, my world is already is as if Catholic charities didn’t exist. No big loss.

There’s also the mercantile dimension to this argument that doesn’t do anything good to Catholic Church’s image. I get it that they were trying to speak the language atheists can understand and measure – money, but when you treat people like that, if you appeal to their lower nature, don’t expect them to respond any differently and appreciate unspoken spiritual arguments in your favor. If you talk to them as if they don’t understand anything but money they’ll repay in kind.

Anyway, Catholic Church apparently contributes more than any nation. Sounds nice, but it’s a somewhat dishonest argument. Catholic Church is bigger than any other nation, save for China, and all these other nations have to invest in defense and what not so the comparison is inappropriate. Makes for a good soundbite, though.

Thankfully, Widdecombe quickly switched to the message of the Catholic Church, and that is of hope and salvation it gives to more than a billion of people. She used their lives as testimony that the Church is the force for good, but, as I said a few days ago, atheists usually discount cumulative affect of individual lives and go for doctrine instead, and not for Church’s actual doctrine but their interpretation of it. If they manage to twist something and make it sound bad it outweighs experiences of those billions of people. Reasonable? No, but it wins debates such as this.

Next came Stephen Fry, and he started (the animation started) by saying that he is going to take great pleasure in castigating the church, though he put it a lot more eloquently, earning himself applause from the audience. Where did the virtue of being dispassionate and logical go to? Why do the atheists applaud departure from rationality and diving into pleasure seeking rhetoric? What sort of debate is this where one side abandons its proclaimed strength and goes for emotional feel instead? It’s not a debate, it’s a propaganda exercise.

Fry then reminded everyone that Catholic Church IS a nation state, contrary to what Widdecombe stated earlier. Well, of course the Pope is the head of Vatican but Widdecombe and her fellow Catholics are not Vatican’s citizens, why did he not acknowledge that? He moved on to some UN conference where the then current Pope (it was 2009) issued a statement together with Muslim nations led by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the revealed religions of the world… Pure rhetoric – all the emotional triggers are there – head of state, joined with backward, repressive Muslims like Saudis, speaking for religions of the world. And what did he say? Unclear, something about blocking women’s sexual freedom. Doesn’t matter, the outrage was already planted in the audience.

What kind of sexual freedom did the Vatican block? Unclear. How many people would argue against sexual freedom for their own wives? Seven and a half billion, I guess, but it’s the Church who is the culprit. And what can Vatican ever block in the UN? It’s not even a member! Fry doesn’t have a coherent argument here at all, but with emotional triggers he got the audience by its heart strings.

“The Islamic world AND the Catholic church have never been anything other than implacably opposed to women’s choice in their own bodies and their destinies,” concluded Fry, and applause followed. As I said, most husbands would also oppose to their wives exercising absolute freedom with their bodies and destinies, too. Even in the modern world all such decisions are taken together, that’s what marriage is. It’s just Fry’s flowery words with no substance, but people loved it.

Once again, it was debate organizer’s duty to prevent such blatant abuse of the audience. You can’t stop people from reacting to emotional appeals but you can stop speakers from making them. Not by taking away their mike, of course, but by setting the appropriate atmosphere and elevating the level of discussion. Once again, the woman in charge thought that if it sounded good and felt good then it was okay. It wasn’t.., will continue tomorrow.

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