Monday, June 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens at the Gate

Went to see Christopher Hitchins (a onetime intellectual hero of mine) at the Gate Theatre last Sunday where he was debating his latest book, "God is Not Great" (what a clumsy title) with John Waters.

The raison d'etre for this book at this time seems questionable - I could understand it being controversial 25 years ago but most of what he referred to would be commonplaces to any semi-educated person today. Of course there are Islamic fanatics who would willingly blow us all to perdition and we must be politically aware of this and ensure it doesn't ever happen. But a lot of it was banal stuff about how deluded people were to not accept evolution and how you don't need to be a Christian to do good deeds. Hitchins made much of his regular blood donations - his proof that you can do good without religion.

All in all the whole thing was a travesty. Firstly it was chaired by Brenda Power who was plainly in awe of Hitchins and allowed him to ride rough-shod over the whole proceedings. John Waters, a regular church goer apparently, was strangely subdued and allowed Hitchins to sneer and patronise him without much in the way of robust response. Waters' main argument was that the desire in man for religion and a life of the spirit indicated that it was intrinsic to our nature. He conceded that organsied religion had failed to satisfy this spiritual hunger. While Waters was speaking, Hitchins was smirking and playing shamlesssly to the audience.

The rot set in during a chaotic Q&A. The first question (admittedly rambling) was asked by Derek Dean (late of the great Freshmen showband). He was plainly not happy with Hitchin's theories but got cut off rudely when he tried to persist with his question in the face of Hitchins refusal to engage with him. He got no help from the Hitchins fan in the chair. When a question arose that Hitchins wasn't happy with he just said "fuck off - next question" and was appaluded for his efforts - both implicitly by the impotent Power and explicitly by the baying audience. The one interesting question about how his advocacy of Bush (a great God botherer) and his policies in Iraq tied in with his thesis he just plain refused to answer - and again got the apporval of the audience. How strange, maybe it was packed by members of the Irish humanist association or some such coterie of cranks.

But Hitchins went way down in my estimation. Galloway's description of him as a drink-soaked popinjay may indeed be true. He is fluent, articulate, and even witty occasionally (but with flashes of truculence when challenged) but he now smacks of somone whose metier is the chat show and the smart-arse quips - a shallow idle fellow whose given up on intellectual rigour to be a performing seal for TV.