“Voltaire was asked to condemn the devil on his deathbed, and all he said was: I don’t need more enemies!”

I just finished watching the open forum and discussion programme Q and A on ABC1 and was delighted my man Christopher Hitchens was one of the panellists! The other guests included Waleed Aly, Father Frank Brennan, Sally Warhaft and Anne Henderson. You can download and watch it from the ABC website.

To say it was a stimulating discussion would be the understatement of the century. Their discussion topics ranged from natural disasters, to why people feel the need to be religious, to the nuclear threat of the Iranians, freedom of women (or lack thereof), the rights of homosexuals… and for some bizarre reason a discussion on why "talent" means Roman Polanski can "get away" with it.

The first topic was spearheaded by an audience member who asked Chris why he thought when good things happen God gets praise, but when bad things happen such as natural disasters, it's merely referred to as Gods will that we can't understand. Chris drew comparisons to ANZAC Day in Australia with the war memorials across towns in the United Kingdom and the lack of such memorials in three towns described by the Church as "blessed". Unfortunately yet another example of the same kind of unfortunate, one sided thinking.

Of all the panellists, naturally I thought Christopher Hitchens was the star and centre of the show, but I was really impressed with Waleed Aly's (pictured above) comments as well. When the discussion of nuclear arms was raised, Chris made the comment that the new Hamas logo contains a mushroom cloud and that any organisation that uses torture and rape to advance their agenda should answer for such crimes, Waleed added and rebutted by saying no discussion can legitimately take place about Iran without discussing Israel's own nuclear weapons and abuses. In my view, I think they were both right, but as Sally Warhaft said it would take an age to address the question, so I'm going to leave it at that! Does Waleed Aly have any books in print I can get copies of?

Father Frank Brennan (pictured above) seemed like a genuinely nice person and I appreciated his obviously heart felt opinions, but he lost me when the issue of homosexuality was raised and he simply could not say the Catholic Church condemns it and considers it a sin, even when he was asked directly. Unfortunately that was also the only time I was unimpressed with Waleed as well; he may be a member of a vast majority of rational, moderate Islamic people of whom I know many, but when asked if his own religion officially condemned homosexuals he talked about politics instead. That said on Father Franks part, he did make a critical point that conversation is what we need which I found refreshing if only because that's what I've been saying myself here for years!

I thought Anne Henderson (pictured above, far right) didn't get enough airtime, but to be honest I was somewhat offended as a non believer by her assertion that you needed to be a member of a religious charity organisation in order to do good. It may have not been her intention, but as Chris pointed out organisations such as Amnesty International do valuable work helping people around the world without the need for celestial oversight.

One of the other highlights was towards the end when a young women openly addressed the panel by saying she could walk the streets of Iran without fear of persecution and that all the things Chris was saying about eliminating poverty by giving freedom to women were exactly what she experienced. He replied that her saying that was an insult to all the women in that part of the world who have been raped, tortured, imprisoned and who's testimony is deemed of lesser value in court.

If you just read my crappy review here you could be forgiven for thinking the discussion was heavy and full of anger, but aside from the one brief incident the atmosphere wasn't hostile. Having watched so many interviews with Chris on American shows where the American anchor rapidly deteriorates into a rude shouting match it was nice to see the conversation remain civil with plenty of humour and laughs thrown in. For subjects like this, you really, really need it.

I have to say, compared to Richard Dawkins who I mostly agree with on issues of atheism and Sam Harris who I seem to agree so wholeheartedly with it's scary, I agree with less of what Christopher Hitchens says but overall I thought he still had the impeccable wit and talking points down with his performance in Australia. I just wish he were coming to Adelaide.

One other talking point they did raise which I did find heartening was the possibility of an atheist Prime Minister in Australia. They all seemed to think an atheist President of the United States was out of the question but for Australia having an atheist PM would be possible. I hope they're right.

Aside from the final line that Chris delivered which I paraphrased at the very beginning of this post though, I think Sally Warhaft (pictured above) had the best line of the evening and it'll be the one I'll end my terribly worded and constructed review on:

“Palestinians need a state. Israelis need to feel safe”

Oh yeah, and I forgot one other thing :)