Wednesday, June 20, 2007

God is not Great

Last night I attended the latest leg of Christopher Hitchens' tour promoting his new book 'God is not Great'. The scene was the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road where he was joined by the book's dedicatee, Ian McEwan, whose role for the evening was compere and questioner.

McEwan, a long standing friend of the evening's focal point, started off asking questions which allowed Hitchens to outline the main thread of the book. Later he asked the questions the true believer might have attempted, though the exchange remained more coffee house than Newsnight.

For me Hitchens is a joy. I've little doubt he has regard for his own intellect; whether more than is modest is probably down to your taste. However, he cannot be faulted for his command of the subject, which makes him all the more a formiable adversary, particularly when paired with frauds and hucksters like Falwell and Robinson. He was guilty of too often throwing around comments like 'maniac' and 'nutcase' much to the empty-headed delight of some of the braying toffs in attendance. If there were some in the audience not yet 'converted' then this wasn't the language that would win them round. And it does disappoint because he needn't do it; his arguments hold and his deconstruction of his opponents' stances more so. Though I did raise a grin when he described an encounter with an evangelical on some radio talk show in America's Deep South. His interlocutor was apparently left stricken when Hitchens corrected him on a point of church history. "It comes to something when I have to tell these fuckers what they believe, or what they don't believe," he concluded with obvious relish.

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