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Hitchens-D’Souza: A Primer

Jason Coleman | Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This evening, Christopher Hitchens, the famous, and sometimes infamous, British-American journalist and anti-theist will debate Dinesh D’Souza, a star of the Conservative right movement in the states. This event has been billed “The God Debate” at Notre Dame, and certainly should prove interesting for everybody in attendance. However, many students I have talked to don’t know too much about either debater, much less what positions they generally hold and should be expected to argue tonight, so I took it upon myself to do a little research and watch some of their past debate.

I’ll begin with the more well known of the two debaters, Christopher Hitchens. As a journalist he has written for The Atlantic and The Nation, and currently pens columns for Vanity Fair. In addition to his columns and magazine work, he has penned a myriad of independent works, including “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” the piece in which he laid out his extensive argument against major monotheistic religions.
In an age where writers and thinkers are largely expected to hold one particular view steadfastly throughout their career, Hitchens has unapologetically gone from being a socialist to somewhat of a libertarian, and from a Nader supporter in 2000 to a slightly leaning Bush supporter in 2004. He has alienated many former colleagues over his support for the Iraq War but remains at odds with other conservatives that play to the Religious Right.
Dinesh D’Souza, on the other hand, has been a fairly consistent conservative thinker from his Dartmouth days through his time as a Reagan advisor and into a number of conservative fellowship positions. D’Souza is certainly an unabashed Christian apologist, with the groundwork of his argument put forth in his 2007 book, “What’s So Great About Christianity.” For his part, D’Souza argues the compatibility of religion and technology, the benefits of Christian moral values in the United States and the importance of Christianity on history. While he has inspired much controversy on numerous points, past debates have shown him to be more than capable of handling himself.

The “God Debate” tonight is not the first time these two have debated the effects of religion on society. In 2007, they debated at the decidedly religious King’s College in New York City. Again, in 2009, they debated in front of an audience of nearly 7,000 at the University of Central Florida. Both debates played out similarly. D’Souza was generally calmer, acting in more of a college debate style, making points in order and looking for direct rebuttal to each. Hitchens is much more cavalier and perhaps more rhetorical in his presentation. While his arguments are less organized, they often cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

As for the winner of each debate, every review online has largely been more indicative of the writer’s predisposition, it seems. Atheist bent blogs and magazines declared Hitchens the winner, and religious writers awarded D’Souza the victory. Looking forward, what does that mean for tonight? Most audience members will probably judge the winner based on their own initial bias. This isn’t to take the air out of the event, but to note that the content of the debate may be more important and informative than simply seeing who can land the most knockout blows down the home stretch.

Although both individuals are larger- than-life public intellectuals, neither are the type of academic thinkers that carefully outline key issues, attempt to create some agreement on definitions and move forward cautiously and courteously. Rather, they are giants of their own particular view who defend it vigorously with little regard to the academic thoroughness in the debate. However, would students have been lined up out the door to snag a ticket to see two old professors slowly consider every point before moving forward? Nah, that would have been much too boring.


Jason Coleman is a senior accounting major. He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.