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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.

  • PhilipH

    So you think that the universe created itself out of nothing, with all its laws and complexity? Could you explain how. Even if that were possible purely by chance, why should it not be just simple or random – like the product of most explosions or random events? And where do the laws that allowed it to create itself come from? It seems to me that it takes great faith to believe in that.

  • ryan

    atheism and secularism and femenism do sweet f.a. for those little women in the womb, 50% of all abortions. k.m.a.

  • junglist_grans

    Some funny and truly scarry stuff here –

    The Catholic Church's teachings are actually so far ahead of things its amazing. One of the single most wrong lines I've ever read on the net.

    This catholic church who – 0
    opposed the distribution of condoms even to protect against aids. (Murders)
    oppose equal rights for lesbians and gays. (homophobes)
    Covered up and even enabled wide spread child sex abuse (Pedophiles)
    etc etc etc…

    As for your comment about having more kids – do you not think the planet has enough people on it yet. The single most unselfish thing you can do for this planets future is to have less children.

  • Albear8

    Hey! God is a men. And He prefers men. It's obvious. Look, He only accepts men to lead His flocks of sheeps. And if God Himself cannot take care of the dignity of women, why should Blair or Hitchens do?

  • M Wenske

    Christianity has upheld the dignity of women by defending them from unwarranted divorce at the drop of a hat, from the abandonment of widows common in ancient Judaism, and in modern times the Church refuses to allow women to be used as objects of sexual gratification.

    No woman is ever told to stay in an abusive marriage. Separation in the Church is recommended in these cases, and at times civil divorce.

    As far as the Magdalen Homes, that is an aberration. 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.

    The Church is simultaneously villified for “worshiping” Mary along with your false accusations. Can't win for losing.

  • M Wenske

    Oh, yeah, how about Hitler.

    Fine company you keep there, paulsays.

  • M Wenske

    Fetuses are human. And they are genetically complete at conception.

    You are genetically complete, though your life cycle is not fully completed. Do you care to have yourself aborted?

  • M Wenske

    The only countries in Africa that are making progress with the AIDS problem are the countries that focus on abstinence BEFORE marriage and fidelity IN marriage.

    Throwing condoms at men does not help. Changing behavior does.

    Having multiple sex partners and a piece of latex does NOT protect one from AIDS.

    We do not oppose civil rights for homosexuals. We want them to have the same rights as we have. For example, to marry a person of the opposite sex. What they do not need is SPECIAL rights.

    No, I think the world doesn't have enough people. But then, I'm from Texas.

    Also, I realize the racism involved in calling for the abortions, sterilizations, and contracepting of women in Pakistan and India, when the U.S. states of Pennslyvania and New Jersey have the same population density.

    Notice the white, upper class women are not target for population control, but the poor women of color are.

    Notice how the Catholic Church is standing up for the rights of women who want children to have them, and for those conceived to be brought to life.

  • M Wenske

    Contraception in killing your culture in England dear. How embarassing for you that the Moslems are taking over your country!

  • M Wenske

    Used as objects of sexual gratification; thought of as disposable- get a new model in the civil divorce, etc.

  • paulsays

    Hitler had support of the Catholic Church in Nazi Germany.
    Fine company you keep there, M Wenske

  • paulsays

    This is a massive problem for the Church, and it shows the failure of authority and totally immoral cover-ups. On the other hand most parish priests do strive to do a good job and live a hard life.

    It shows a problem with the systems in place, and an atmosphere of avoiding the law to keep the image of the Church upheld. I don't think celibacy helps either. What I am saying is that its not papal teaching or doctrine for these events to occur. The Catholics on this board are not For abuse nor are the the majority of priests out there Child Molesters, so it seems unfair to challenge them for misfortune in their organisation rather than what they believe or want us to believe.

  • paulsays

    Us Catholics are not as progressive as we make out. I keep saying it, but of course no one is willing to agree.

    'For example, to marry a person of the opposite sex.'

    Do you mean you support gay marriage?

  • Eric Conway

    Atheist air-heads cant have it both ways. Both atheism & Catholicism are belief's & have practical effects. Atheism is'nt just a harmless belief/thought process. The 20th century century shows if allowed to grow unchallenged atheism is a deadly ideology. The most deadly of them all. It's not just harmlessly irrational. Think gulags, death camps & killing fields. Think Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol-Pot. Catholicism gave us science, philosophy, universities. Atheism gives us irrationality & mass murder. QED.

  • paulsays

    The Nazi party and the Catholic Church had strong ties.

  • paulsays

    we share 90% of our genetic code with bees so I don't see your 'genetically complete' argument as very strong. We have the instructions to build a human, the genetic blueprint, but no actual Human.
    As a first trimester fetus (which is what i was talking about) I wouldn't have cared or known about being terminated, because I wouldn't have been conscious and my brain would not be developed enough to think. No 'spark' of life, if you want to think of it that way.

  • louella

    Actually the Protestant Reich Church was the offical Church of Nazi Germany. But of course the ultimate aim of the Nazis was to replace Christianity ie a 'Jewish' religion with the paganism and Aryan gods of pre-Christian Germany.

  • louella

    What if only your love dwindled and your spouses love didn't! Then they would have to put up with the pain of separation….maybe after giving you the best years of their life. This is the lottery secular women have to put up with……..and there is no dignity in it!

    And what about the effects on the children?! Atheists 'partnerships' are so callous and chilly! Catholic marriage is so great in comparison.

  • Eric Conway

    No they had'nt. In your case it would appear that historical ignorance is bliss. As atheists, the Nazis had a particular hatred of Catholicisn. They saw the Catholic Church as a bulwark against their plans. That's why they threw the Church out of the education system, so that they could indoctrinate the population with their irrational/hate-filled atheism. After the Jewish population, the biggest number of victims of the Nazis were Catholic's, particularly Catholic Priests ( Fr. Kolbe being a good example ). Factually, atheism was the most efficient killing machine of the 20th century. A legacy Dawkin's & Co. can be proud of !.

  • Eric Conway

    Again, nonsense on stilts. You merely prove that atheism is a crutch for dangerously closed minds. Catholicism, by contrast teaches that we are reasonable/rational human beings, with free will. We have the benefit of science/history to prove the effects of atheism in action. Bad ideas have bad consequences, & none have worse consequences than atheism in action. To repeat ( for the especially slow to grasp it ), the 20th century has shown us that if atheism is not confronted & attacked at all levels it inevitably results in genocide. Free will means of course that individual Catholics can/will choose evil also ( predatory homosexual Priests being among the worst ) ; but as Catholicism is grounded in rationality/reason it's overall impulse is for good. Compare & contrast. The evidence is in, the jury have decided.

  • Ratbag

    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?

    The Catholic Church denying women what newspeak calls 'reproductive rights?' Our Holy Mother Church has given women the right to say 'NO!' to put men in their place when it comes to such matters. If the man carries on regardless and with no consideration for the woman, it is called RAPE!

  • Ratbag

    No, he didn't.

  • Ratbag

    Atheists could be compared to a male dog surrounded by trees – they haven't got a leg to stand on!

    Of course they get angry because they can't support their twisted logic. Please remember, fellow Christians and especially Roman Catholics, that militant atheists are finely balanced people – they have chips on both shoulders!

    I walked past the window of Waterstone's bookshops. Spot the oxymoron. A book called 'The Atheist's Guide To Christmas'.

    What's happened to 'Winterval'?

  • Ratbag

    Bull's sphericals, paulsays! The Roman Catholic Church did more to rid the world of Nazism. Priests, nuns and laypeople were murdered by them, including St Maximillian Kolbe and St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (St Edith Stein). Father Hugh O'Flaherty undermined the Nazis that occupied Rome by spiriting away Jews and others in danger via the Vatican.

    Stop reading the black myth and start reading the facts!

  • Ratbag

    You are beneath contempt.

  • Ratbag

    Why don't you turn your attention to the Church of England or other Protestant denominations who have done worse. No. Your beef is with the Catholic Church, you invalidating bullies!

    I'm delighted we are getting on your nerves and rising your ire. Bring it on!

  • Ratbag

    Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes etc. are big multi million pound businesses. Their methods are scary, inhuman and contemptible covered with the monosodium glutamate of credibility. One former manager of these killing factories left in disgust and is now lifting the lid on this tragic, disgusting industry.

    I wondered when these atheists would crawl out of their rock after the pasting they got during the Pope's visit to the UK?!

    The Roman Catholic Church wised up to this evil ages ago and, like a strong rock, will not budge.

    It's a pity the world is refusing to do the same.

    Let these militant atheists swallow the MG all they like. At first, it tastes good…then the after affects of this chemical flavour enhancer cuts through…

  • Ratbag

    US Catholics are assertive, progressive and have good working brains and plenty of commonsense… unlike some!

    They are pulling the rose-tinted spectacles from the world in exposing Obama for the pro-abortion fanatic he really is.

  • Ratbag

    junglist_grans is just plain sad and misunderstood. A victim of a throwaway society.


  • Ratbag

    Ha ha ha ha ha – you're funny!

  • Ratbag

    Here, here, louella! I so agree with you. You've smelt the coffee so often …

    I don't think atheists brew their own coffee to wake up to and smell. 'you wanna know why?

    They use that awful, cheap instant stuff which smells like those cheap cigarettes that flood backstreet pubs up and down the country that are stuffed with sawdust and fibreglass…

    That's what they are smelling… no wonder their beliefs stink!

  • Ratbag

    Have you ever met a woman who goes through IVF. It's devastating!

  • Ratbag

    It's amazing how women want respect from their men yet show of their boobs.

    Some women ought to to have bicycle valves fitted to their charms the next time they go to Harley Street and be supplied with free air pumps when they go flat. They are so sad and shallow that they think having bigger breasts will get them places. I dread to think where!

    Cows in the field have more dignity about how their udders are displayed… respect, cows!

  • Nesbyth

    Technically speaking, 'atheism' simply means not believing in God but in practice it can mean seeing people as higher evolutionary apes; and once you see people like that and you are in charge of a government (and if in that role you become intoxicated by POWER) you feel free to push them around, shoot them, send them to gulags, torture them, insist on abortions etc. If man is not seen to receive his dignity from God, he soon ceases to receive it from man…Hitchens may be anti-abortion himself but he has no objective principles to defend his position against those who disagree with him.

  • Nesbyth

    One of Francis Phillips' phrases struck a chord which was that Blair is “a compromised man” when it comes to abortion if you look at his voting record.
    Indeed I think that Blair as “a compromised man” is the best description I've heard and highlights the way he seems to operate. Therefore he can never debate in any meaningful way, unlike Hitchens who has conviction in his arguments.

  • louella

    Even if you don't believe in God…..Mother Nature and the biological laws will ensure that aborting societies are wiped off the map. Already ….all nations with legalised abortion are in demographic meltdown. Justice will be served!!

  • Tom

    What a silly article. Did we watch the same debate?

  • paulsays

    Granted I think I made a mistake. Links between the Nazi party and the Church at the time were mixed, but with many in the Church not at all liking what was happening. Poor research on my behalf.

    However, the Nazis were not an regime in which atheism played a part of the ideology, they were simply an influential group that some Nazis would have wished to dissolve, whereas other Nazis did not take issue with.

  • paulsays

    mistake acknowledged

  • paulsays

    mistake acknowledged

  • paulsays

    There is much less to attack. Many more liberal protestant denominations have good messages, and are able to alter their message if it has become obvious they are wrong. I also admire the democracy is some Churches such as their synod which they make some decisions through.

    I am baptized and confirmed a Catholic, and I want to speak out for the large, but silent group in the Church that do not agree with all of its messages. To praise it and stand up for it where it is doing good and to criticize it were it makes mistakes.

  • Ratbag

    Tony Blair in a debate about Catholicism, eh? Whose smartypants idea was that? It's like inviting the Burmese junta to debate for the motion that democracy is a jolly good thing!

    Mr Blair could not debate his way out of a wet paper bag on the Roman Catholic Church.

    Archbishop Fulton J Sheen (God rest him) would have wiped the floor with Christopher Hitchens – where are our Foulton J Sheen's today????

    Although the great Archbishop has gone to his heavenly reward, his writings and TV series live on and are as fresh today as they were when they were first published and broadcast.

  • paulsays

    as usual you fail to provide facts or evidence, I believe you are just saying what you might want to be the case, and not what is actually happening.

  • paulsays

    he does not have principles from a celestial being. But he would argue that you don't either.
    The concept of you refer to, of social-Darwinism, is one openly disputed by Richard Dawkins and incompatible with Christopher Hitchen's ideology as he describes himself as a socialist.

    The concept of capitalism, which gives monetary worth to your abilities and character is much closer to the idea of social-Darwinism than the views of these atheists at the very least. The ultimate expression of this would be in the Philosophy of Objectivism, which places rational self-interest as the purpose of one's life. It seems you are suggesting without God we are not intelligent enough to form a moral God; that the minute one stops a belief in the supernatural they stop feeling the need to be morally responsible!

    In the same way that you can argue that someone without God has the ability to take as much power as he can, I could argue that someone with a belief in God could live the most immoral life, equally as mean as the godless man – because he knows he can always be forgiven by God.
    The atheist on the other hand has to live with his tortured conscience and that alone, if he has committed immoral actions, this I feel would be much worse.

  • Phil Steinacker

    Paul, that is a damnable lie. Or else it's merely an undocumented, unprovable, and stupid lie.

  • Salmon

    It was not a needless provocation, but an obvious reponse to EditorCT's ill-judged challenge. The list of catholic priests who have violated individuals is very long – and people very are angry. It does go beyond womens' rights to a discussion of human rights in general but that's where EditorCT took it. Part of the problem is that those abuses were commited by official represententatives of the catholic church. What was it about the doctrine that made that possible? And the fact that these abuses were, and still are, covered up, makes this an 'institutionalised' abuse.

  • Jlee06

    You religious fanatics forget that women are forced to reproduce by religion, whether or not women want children. To the church, a women's body is nothing more than a vessel for a “male king”. China's one-child policy is not the result of reasonable atheism, but is instead the result of tyranny, bureaucracy, and everything else that tries to tell people how to live their lives.

    Yes, atheists read the Catholic Herald because atheists READ. Atheists are open to different books, ideas, points…But we aren't open to unreasonable ideas. Give Betty Friedan the credit she deserves for founding the women's movement and stop speaking on behalf of women.

  • Casey

    I'll just leave this here…

  • ik

    Hitler was definitely a religious man, he almost entered the priesthood. To see several defenses of religion he put up in Mein Kampf see:

    But you will likely choose to ignore this and accuse others of lying when it's your own blatant ignorance that's to blame.

  • Casey

    If not agreeing with the assertion that a deity exists is a belief system, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.