Hitchens and Donohue on Hardball

God is Not Great author Christopher Hitchens and Catholic League president Bill Donohue showed up on Hardball yesterday to mull over the issues raised by the Time article. I'd write some commentary, but some things simply defy comment. I have taken the liberty of putting certain choice nuggets in bold:

MATTHEWS: I want to go to Christopher Hitchens. Christopher, you have been tough. You say this is a profound revelation, that this woman did not believe.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR, “GOD IS NOT GREAT”: Yes, and a very moving one, actually, and a very honest one, I have to add. She tried her best to believe. Her atheism was not like mine. I can't believe it and I am glad to think that it is not true, that there is a dictator in the heavens. So the fact that there is no evidence for it pleases me. She really wished it was true. She tried to live her life as if it was true.

She failed. And she was encouraged by cynical old men to carry on doing so because she was a great marketing tool for her church, and I think that they should answer for what they did to her and what they have been doing to us. I think it has been fraud and exploitation yet again.

MATTHEWS: Bill Donohue, your reaction?

BILL DONOHUE, THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE: This is laughable. I suppose next week we will find that Mother Teresa considered herself to be a sinner as well. The fact of the matter is the Vatican is standing behind this book. If this is such an embarrassment to the Catholic church, why in the world is the Vatican proud of this book? I am proud of it too. You have to understand, give me a quick anecdote--when she was in the United States, a professor came up to her and said, are you married?

Mother Teresa said, yes. I am married to a spouse who sometimes makes it difficult for me to smile. His name is Jesus. And that's because he is very demanding.

Look, any person of faith understands what I have just said, but if you are a dogmatic atheist, then you would have a very difficult time trying to understand this. Quite frankly, I'm not sure if I have enough time to educate Mr. Hitchens.

HITCHENS: I agree. That does sound like white noise, nonsense, to me, and I think to almost everyone else. If I told you last month--actually, you probably do know that this. All these letters were published in 2002. but if I told you in 2001 that Mother Teresa did not believe that Jesus was present in the Eucharist and couldn't feel--

DONOHUE: She never said that.

HITCHENS: Yes, she did. And father can tell you, has been very clever and honest in saying so, could not feel it in her heart, could feel it in the real presence, so called, of mass of the Eucharist. If I told you that, you would accuse me of slandering your so-called faith.

DONOHUE: Let me ask you this, Christopher, a number of years ago you wrote the thing against her, five and a half inches by eight and a half inches long, 98 pages, not a single endnote, not a single footnote, not a single citation. I have told you before, I'm going to tell you it again tonight, buddy, if you handed that in to me in an undergraduate class, you would get an F.

HITCHENS: You are not likely to be anybody's professor.

DONOHUE: When you make a serious charge against a--an Englishman has to be quiet when an Irishman talks. When you make a serious charge against a serious person, a public person like Mother Teresa, and you have no evidence, whatsoever, what in the world do you expect? You have to get an F.

HITCHENS: This is well below the F level. In my book I say that she took money from the Duvalier family in Haiti, not denied. She took money from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan in exchange for an olive wood crucifix. Not denied.

None of the factual assertions made in my book have ever been challenged. It actually got very respectable views in the Catholic press. For this reason, Mr. Donohue--the reason I got respectful reviews in the Catholic press was this; as Lord McCauley (ph) once brilliantly put it, the great strength of the Catholic Church used to be that it knew how to discipline fanatics and enthusiasts and zealots. It knew how to keep under control people who were too hungry, too fanatical.

Because of the opportunist chance that Mother Teresa offered them for publicity, they failed to restrain someone who really should have been seeking proper help that she never got. Instead, they exploited her to the very end and even gave her an exorcism, as you know. The archbishop of Calcutta has admitted it. He even had to give her an exorcism in 1997, because they had so much despair of her state of mind. It's a cruel exploitation of a simple and honest woman.

DONOHUE: At the end of the day, this is a woman who received 124 awards, who set up hospitals for AIDS patients.


DONOHUE: Listen--

MATTHEWS: Bill needs some time here. Bill, take 30 seconds.


MATTHEWS: Christopher, we have to give him 30 seconds, please.

DONOHUE: She set up hospices, the first one for AIDS victims here in Greenwich Village. She opened up 500 hospitals, hospices, homeless centers, health clinics, orphanages. That is why she is loved all over the world. In India, when they surveyed the people, next to Gandhi, she is regarded as the most revered person.

Now, all the whole world is wrong, and you, with your 98 page book, five and a half by eight and a half inches long--you have no citations. You have no evidence. Who is the world going to believe? Me or you?

HITCHENS: I turned out to be right though, don't I? I do not believe a word of it, and neither did she. I never expected that it would be just the two of us.


MATTHEWS: Let me end the citation with a citation that is relevant to this discourse, Jesus has a very special love for you, she wrote to someone. But as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and I do not see. I listen and I do not hear. The tongue moves in prayer, but does not speak. I want you to pray for me. Then I let him have a free hand.

So she must believe in something to ask somebody to pray for her or was that just rhetorical, Christopher?

HITCHENS: He was trying and failing to say that his church, in fact, an answer for everything. If you can't believe it, if it all seems to be radically untrue, nonetheless, faith will square that settle for you. She was trying for that. But as we now know, she failed. It can't be done. You can't make people believe in the impossible. All you can do is make people feel very guilty that they can't make themselves believe it.

DONOHUE: The only people that do not have doubts today are dogmatic atheists, people like you, Chris.

I would point out that that asinine and offensive line about Englishmen being quiet when Irishmen speak was repeated again, in a remarkably condescending way, during one of those CROSS TALK moments. He seemed to be really fond of that line. Donohue is little more than a buffoon.

And that line about Mother Teresa thinking hereself a sinner is one of those moments where Donohue gives himself away. It is a mainstay of both Catholic and Protestant theology that even the best of us are vile sinners, offensive to God. We can not overcome this condition. We can only acknowledge our wretchedness and accept God's free and undeserved gift of salvation.

Donohue must have been asleep the day they went over this during his bloviation classes.


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The only people that do not have doubts today are dogmatic atheists...

I think this is probably the only truly fully truthful line in that entire hardball discussion, and says a lot.

I find it exceedingly odd that he not only knows the page count, but the actual book dimensions.

For the sake of argument, it could be that Donohue's point about Teresa "considering herself a sinner" was sarcasm. In other words, of course she doubted God's existance from time to time & she also considered herself a sinner as well. So, finding out that she considered herself a sinner is no revelation at all. I don't want to give Donohue any credit but I think you may have missed something here. Then again...I didn't see the debate; I only read the transcript.

I am glad to hear Donohue has doubts, but that isn't a fully truthfull line and other than also revealing Donohue doesn't understand atheism it doesn't say anything.

By Explicit Atheist (not verified) on 29 Aug 2007 #permalink

It's kind of funny that Donahue had such a thorny stick up his posterior about Hitchens' book about Mother Teresa. Hell, it's a pamphlet he authored 12 years ago and was mostly a rehash of reporting he did for The Nation on the subject. And to top it off, it wasn't even relevant to the discussion!

That's what I love about Hitchens. His ex-Trotskyist neocon sympathetic asshattery aside, he is exceptional at driving godbags like Donahue to the point of incoherence.

Hey there... I found you by linking in from Google searching the Englishman must be quiet line from Donohue. You were the only other site I could find referencing that term, except for the video of the debate on Youtube.

So I wrote up a post at my obscure little blog, and thought I'd drop a comment here. I had the same exact take to the 2 things you noted in your post. Of course Mother Teresa thought she was a sinner. I mean she was Catholic wasn't she?! And it was just weird hearing someone claiming to be against bigotry on one hand (against Catholics) being so blatantly bigoted against Englishmen...

"DONOHUE: She set up hospices, the first one for AIDS victims here in Greenwich Village. She opened up 500 hospitals, hospices, homeless centers, health clinics, orphanages. That is why she is loved all over the world. In India, when they surveyed the people, next to Gandhi, she is regarded as the most revered person."

What the hell does this have to do with her belief (or lack of) in god? Which, unless I miss my guess, is what the discussion was about?

And it was just weird hearing someone claiming to be against bigotry on one hand (against Catholics) being so blatantly bigoted against Englishmen...

I think he was joking around there trying to charm Hitchens into going a little easier on him. Of course if the shoe were on the other foot Donohue would be all over it with that feigned outrage mode that he likes to go into. Another thing Mr. Donohue is good for is flying way out there into red herring lala land whenever he gets cornered.

As an Irishman, I'd be proud to shut up and let Christopher Hitchens talk anytime, though I think we'd disagree about Iraq.

On Mother Teresa, I think Hitchens has a point. She was presented as a saintly, serene woman, confident in her relationship with Jesus. What we now know (though I have not read her letters) is that she was a tortured soul, wracked with doubt about her lack of faith. Paradoxically, that probably makes her more attractive as a modern saint.

I just read an article by Hitchens on his book tour. He questions the figures about the amount of believers in the US. He was surprised by the number of atheists he met, most of whom were also surprised to see that their lack of belief was more widely shared than they previously thought.

He also said that there is not enough churches in America to hold all the people who claim to be regular church-goers.

A Patron Saint of Atheists? Why not?

DONOHUE: The only people that do not have doubts today are dogmatic atheists...

I bet Donohue is a dogmatic athorist, with no doubts about the non-existence of Thor, and a dogmatic asantaist, with no doubts about the non-existence of Santa Claus.

By Richard Wein (not verified) on 30 Aug 2007 #permalink

On the sinner thing, the more I look at it, the more I think you may have misinterpreted Jason. I think (purely from reading the transcript) that Donohue is being sarcastic. In other words, its obvious that Christians have doubts, as obvious as pointing out that they believe themselves to be sinners.


I agree with Jim and SteveF, the comment about "being a sinner" was certainly sarcasm, as if he had stated: "Mother Teresa considers herself a sinner! Alert the media!"

Donohue is little more than a buffoon. Yes--and one whose talking points are as shallow as he is.

By John Farrell (not verified) on 30 Aug 2007 #permalink

This would have been the FIRST comment instead of the 14th or so, but when I tried to post it yesterday, for some reason it simply wouldn't go through. So I apologize for what may appear to be repeating a few others here.

And that line about Mother Teresa thinking hereself a sinner is one of those moments where Donohue gives himself away. It is a mainstay of both Catholic and Protestant theology that even the best of us are vile sinners, offensive to God. We can not overcome this condition. We can only acknowledge our wretchedness and accept God's free and undeserved gift of salvation.

Well, it's hard for me, just reading the transcript, to be completely sure that Donohue meant to claim that she wasn't a sinner. I wondered if he was, in fact, trying (albeit badly) to say that the news that she had a crisis of faith was so normal that it was no more newsworthy than her having considered herself a sinner, because of course she was a sinner.

However, I do not have access to the video, and have not heard the tone of voice or anything like that, so perhaps you are completely accurate in your interpretation; if so, you are quite right to castigate him for that as well. Indeed, much of the rest of what you quote from Donohue shows a tendency to argue in terms of form, rather than substance (e.g., he blasts Hitchens merely for not giving any citations in his book, but makes no attempt to contest even a single point in it). He does come across as pompous.

It's frustrating that all this is so darned tight. It feels as if they're struggling to hold a full-course debate in the time it takes to play a pop song, and both sides' views get terribly inadequate airing. I would say that in the short time this ran, Hitchens definitely had the better of Donohue; frankly, I think that if it had run longer, I think Hitchens would have easily helped Donohue to make himself look even worse, since that seems to be almost all he needed to do thus far.

~David D.G.

By David D.G. (not verified) on 30 Aug 2007 #permalink

Donohue is completely unable to make rational arguments - he inevitably gets into mind games, threats, and bullying. The "chocolate Jesus" incident on the air is infamous where he bragged how he had a job and the person who'd made the sculpture (a Christian who was doing a rather exotic eucharist take) wasn't.

The whole professor line and mocking the column size is the same routine - he's dealing with irrelevant issues and trying to appear dominant - "If I was a professor", "I have a job" etc.

The man's a bully, pure and simple, with no answers for anything.

By DragonScholar (not verified) on 30 Aug 2007 #permalink

""The only people that do not have doubts today are dogmatic atheists..."

I think this is probably the only truly fully truthful line in that entire hardball discussion, and says a lot.""

is absurd as "The only people that do not have doubts today about the Zeus are dogmatic"

Why is it when an atheist push back evena little against tide of irrationality rather be swept away with it, they are militant or dogmatic? Yet thiests who debate without any factual knowledge and soley argue on emotion, inner faith, old unproveable stories are considered reasonable and wise.

As a ex-catholic and born again athiest I beleive not too much can be made of Donohue's comments referencing the old mother beleiving she may have been a sinner. It's all part of the standard catholic brainwashing technique that if you will only have faith you will overcome 'sin' and that doubting one's faith from time to time is also part of the package. It's part and parcel with fighting the forces of evil cause by, well, the forces of evil. Hitchen's is well versed in debating mumbo jumbo and theist have had a difficult time countering him with their myriad of myths, witches brew, wives tales, or what have you. As education increases knowledge around the world the peoples of the world may see religion for what it truly is: the root of all evil.

By justanoldguy (not verified) on 30 Aug 2007 #permalink

I don't think Donohue's remark could reasonably be dismissed as sarcasm. First, watching the show that night, it certainly didn't sound like sarcasm. It sounded like an angry reply to what Hitchens had just said. Second, in context it seems clear he meant it at face value. He is responding to Hitchens' assertion that Mother Teresa was an atheist just like he (Hitchens) was. Donohue thinks that is laughable, and then gives an example of something he finds equally laughable.

If Hitchens had said, “Mother Teresa sometimes doubted her faith,” then I could accept Donohue's remark in the “So what else is new&rdquo sense. Given what was actually said, I think I have it right.

First, I generally have little use for Donohue. He's a windbag whose tired "we poor Catholics are the last oppressed minority" line is exceedingly tiresome.

But I watched a clip as well as read the transcript and I'm afraid your (correct) assessment that Donohue is a buffoon is affecting your judgment. His entire point is that yes, people "of faith" frequently have serious doubts as well. This is no surprise to Donohue or anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with Catholic priests, nuns and brothers (who as a group don't put the premium on certainty of salvation so common among evangelicals). "The long dark night of the soul" - it's a cliche, a commonplace. Donohue's sarcasm is as genuine as his delivery and argumentation are inept.

To believe that Donohue genuinely thinks Mother Theresa did not consider herself a sinner is the position that truly requires an unsubstantiated leap of faith.


Hitchens said nothing about religious people sometimes having doubts. Hitchens bluntly called Mother Teresa an atheist and accused the Catholic church of using her shamelessly. Those were the statements that Donohue described as laughable.

It is possible that when Donohue said, “This is laughable” not in response to anything Hitchens said specifically, but rather to the whole Time magazine story. In that case I can only say he expressed himself very badly.

Oh well, a difference of perception here I guess. To me, Donohue's meaning was clear. It meant, "It's not news that a Catholic has doubts about God, any more than it's news that she considers herself a sinner."

As a one-time religionist who is fairly steeped in the relevant way of thinking, I'm confident about this. It's how someone like Donohue would be seeing the issues, and how he would want to frame them for his constituency out there in TV land. Whether it was terribly responsive to exactly what Hitchens had said isn't all that relevant. It's the message he went onto the show with, aimed at reassuring his flock in the TV audience, and it probably did some impact on them. Many Christians would pick up the analogy immediately.

You all seem to have more confidence in Donohue than I do, but perhaps you are right. I'm not really convinced though.

Mr. Donohue is a bombastic, school yard bully who uses yelling and fast talking to obfuscate the fact that religion itself is illogical.

If one believes that there was even a single miracle by a god, when he/she/it chose to intervene and redirect the course of natural events, then one must also say that he/she/it allowed every other tragedy, mishap, disease, and catastrophe to destroy hundreds of millions of humans through out history. So god is a mass-murderer by choice- by refusing to perform other mircacles to save countless innocents. He is the incarnate, evil, Kitty Genovese by-stander.

What thinking adult could possible respect such a diety, one who enlists puny humans to do his/het/its dirty work, and watches as they blow each other up? The best the gasping and grasping screamers like Donohue can offer us is Mysterious Ways ... as if that was some proven element of of classical logic.

There are three stages of mental growth for homo sapiens:
1- infantile
2- adunile
3- adult

The adunile has the body of an adult, but whose brain is still employing the magical, fable-believing make-believe world of the religiously indoctrinated child. The fact that a large percentage of humans exhibit this condition makes it not one less bit pathological.

I must now re-assess my views regarding Mother Theresa. She appears to, after all, been an adult, a very compassionate, giving and caring atheistic adult. Go figure.

By John Stanley (not verified) on 01 Sep 2007 #permalink

Donohue's a pompous ass. Especially with the Irishman-Englishman stuff. When I saw Hitchens on Hannity & Colmes, I thought he was one of the most aggressive guys I've ever seen. Then I watch this and I realize that at least he's British and knows enough to not get into long, long arguments with people. At least he tries to be understanding. Donohue has said a lot of hateful things about other people.

I can think of people I'd rather hear debate this topic -- topics, I should say, since Hitchens seemed to think they were debating whether M.T.'s lack of faith indicated the non-existence of God, while Donohue seemed to think they were debating whether M.T. was a good person.

Either way, Donohue was out of his element here. His real expertise is in arguing that something most people would find innocuous is actually deeply offensive to Catholics.

Hitchens had a point about the way men (her confessors) manipulated M.T. into believing her lack of a sense of God's presence was a spiritually elevated state. I wonder if in fact it was anything other than clinical depression.

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