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Atheism has done little for women’s dignity

That’s the point Tony Blair should have made in his debate with Christopher Hitchens

By on Monday, 13 December 2010

Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens at the Munk debate last month (Photo courtesy of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation)

Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens at the Munk debate last month (Photo courtesy of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation)

I happened to listen to the repeat of the Blair/Hitchens debate in Toronto on the theme “Religion is a force for good in the world” on Radio 4 at 8pm on Saturday. This subject has probably been done to death but I make no apologies for my own pennyworth.

Christopher Hitchens, despite his debility, was on form, proving that if the devil does not always have the best arguments, he often has the best tunes. It is always easier to attack than to defend and Hitchens made the most of this psychological advantage. Tony Blair, the “people’s ex-premier”, appeared a little hesitant, emotional and repetitive by comparison. It struck me that the two men have reversed roles: Hitchens began life as a serious journalist of the Left but over the years has become an entertainer; all those public platforms have tempted him to use his sharp intellect to roll out the witty rhetoric and play for applause (and he got a lot of it in Toronto). Our Tony, on the other hand, started life as a long-haired entertainer (remember those photos of him at Oxford with his pop group?) but has gradually become more serious as he has grown older.

I thought there was one point where Blair could have got underneath his opponent’s hard carapace: when Hitchens attacked religion for doing nothing for women’s dignity. The way to bring about “the empowerment of women” was to take them off “the animal cycle of reproduction”, he stated. He also mentioned “clerics” who stood in the way of women bettering themselves. Blair had a golden opportunity here to go on the attack: what had atheism to offer women but ever easier “reproductive rights” – ie ever easier access to contraception and abortion? What had the most atheistic society in the world, China, done for women’s dignity in enforcing their “one-child” policy?

In thinking of the arguments that Blair didn’t make here, I was reminded of the testimony of Steven Mosher, one-time student of social anthropology at Stanford University and an unthinking atheist and supporter of “women’s liberation” like everyone else around him. As part of his research he went to China in the 1980s where he got on well with the local Communist committee and was invited to witness a forced late-term abortion. I won’t describe what he saw, merely the electric effect it had on him: in the space of a few minutes he went from an insouciant attitude of “abortion is a women’s right” to being profoundly and unhesitatingly pro-life. (His atheism began to fall apart later, when he got to know pro-life workers in the US who were almost all Christians; now a devout Catholic and father of eight, he works full time for Human Life International.)

If Blair had engaged passionately at this juncture in the debate, showing how Christianity has always defended women’s dignity, no more so than in this atheistic era, he might, as I have said, have knocked Hitchens off his contemptuous perch, at least for a short while. But he didn’t and he couldn’t. Why? Because throughout his parliamentary career and after, he has always taken the line that “I don’t personally like the idea of abortion but women must have the right to choose”. His voting record on pro-life issues is clear. He is a compromised man – and the opportunity was lost.

  • Casey

    Atheism doesn't have an ideology.

    All atheism is just the rejection of the belief in a god or gods.

    It doesn't command anyone to do anything in its name, it doesn't tell you to be nice or to be mean. It is just the rejection of the belief in gods, simple as that.

    You are committing a fallacious argument in terms of correlation = causation(… ). Some bad people are atheists sure, that does not imply that all atheists are bad people. Just as some bad people are also religious, it doesn't imply that all religious people are inherently bad.

  • Christopher Olah

    Rather bold, to accuse people of lieing, when you were mere key strokes from conformation. If you search “Hitler Catholic Church” you will find numerous articles confirming this. To quote one (…):

    > The evidence shows that:

    > A) The Catholic church hierarchy, acting under Vatican orders, played the decisive role in making Hitler the dictator of Germany.

    > B) Subsequently, the Catholic hierarchy was active in Nazi movements outside Germany, for example in the Balkans, where the church was the institutional base of the Nazi puppet State of Croatia.

    > C) Although at Yad Vashem, in the year 2000, Pope John Paul II described the Nazis as having “a Godless ideology,” in 1933, when it mattered, the Vatican ordered German Catholics to love, honor, obey and protect the Nazis.

  • Christopher Olah

    > Name any Catholic priest, bishop or lay person who has ever, in any way, violated an individual to force them to do ANYTHING – from attending Sunday Mass to buying birth control pills?

    As it turns out, numerous Catholic priests have raped children…

  • Christopher Olah

    >Atheists reading the Catholic Herald – that is the $1MILLION question and no mistake.
    >Rather like WC Fields who was once asked why he was reading the bible. The atheist WC Fields answered: 'I'm looking for loopholes!'
    >Sad, isn't it?

    More probably, there was a rather offensive article and accompanying commentary that was linked to on some atheist website., perhaps?

    But I realise that that is not as satisfying an answer.

  • IConrad

    > You can look at Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity's 500 homes worldwide and see the enormous GOOD they do for orphans, the sick, the dying, and the homeless.

    You mean the way the Teresa missions keep their wards separated from all human comfort, deny them access to their families, and give only the bare minimum of care, creating cesspits of loneliness, inhumanity, and suffering? Yeah, let's do without that, thanks.

    As to “refusing to allow women to be used as objects of sexual gratification” — you mean how they “protect” women from their own sexuality? Yeah, let's do without *that*, too, thanks. And as to recommending civil divorce — that's an outright lie, sir.

    As to worshipping Mary — she is 'worshipped' for being “pure” — unlike “Eve” and *every other woman in history*. Can't win for losing indeed.

  • Noone

    So, China's one-child-per-household policy is an Atheist policy? Wow, nice straw-man there.

    Ok, I'll play: tell me, what does telling people in Africa that they must not use condoms giving women?

    AIDS, that's what. Not dignity or empowerment there. You people make me sick.

  • Xujhan

    Hang on, what? Name any Catholic who has ever violated someone?

    Can do!

  • QuothTheRaven

    Have you ever actually met an atheist in real life? (Almost certainly yes, but did you know about it?) Is it really that hard for you to comprehend that human beings are capable of love and compassion without recourse to the supernatural?

  • QuothTheRaven

    Life evolved the way it did because it could work with how the physical laws of the universe operate, not the other way around. If they had been different, life would have arisen differently or possibly not at all.

    Lacking a belief in the supernatural is not “incredible,” given an abject lack of evidence for such. The default stance of an atheist is not “I believe there is no god,” but “I see no reason to believe in a god. If new evidence comes to light I will revise my conclusions accordingly.” If there is a God, the ball is in His court, and has been sitting there since the beginning of time.

  • QuothTheRaven

    What is telling is that The Origin of Species, along with all works relating to evolution, were in fact banned in Nazi Germany.

    Really, it's people who want *power* that we should be worried about, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

  • QuothTheRaven

    How embarrassing that the thing about Muslims taking over the UK is simply untrue, and a result of the UK having its own right-wing paranoia turn them into a scapegoat just like here.

  • God

    Religion… disgusting.

  • steelypip

    Here is an example of how the Catholic Church supports women: St Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix has had its Catholic status revoked because it performed an abortion to save the life of an 11 week pregnant woman with pulmonary hypertension. If the church had it's way then the hospital would have let both the woman and foetus die. The church has also excommunicated the members of the hospital's ethics committee that allowed the operation to go ahead.

  • Bassofkramer

    “What had the most atheistic society in the world, China, done for women’s dignity in enforcing their “one-child” policy?”

    attacking “atheists” is not the same as attacking atheism. This article should be taken down before FRANCIS PHILLIPS is embarrassed.