Toronto has become quite the staging ground for what’s left of western culture.
First, we had Hollywood North, a.k.a. the Toronto International Film Festival, which rivals, and may even surpass, Cannes for celebrity sightings.
Now we have Oxford West, in which two famous Brits will go at it hammer and tong over this $64,000 question: “Be it resolved, religion is a force of good for the world.”
For the affirmative: Former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, who has come out of the closet as an unapologetic Roman Catholic; and for the negative: Christopher Hitchens, the world’s foremost godless heathen.
It will be High Noon for organized religion, (Exalted Noon?) or more accurately 7 p.m. Nov. 26 at Roy Thomson Hall, this year’s edition of the Munk lectures, sponsored by our most eminent gold digger, Peter Munk. Maybe he should have had them debate that other famous theological question: Is it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?
Here in Vancouver, where Justin Bieber is next up, we can only watch from afar, with awe.
Blair is the author of the No. 1 bestselling memoir on the stands at the moment, and Hitchens is notoriously the author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which singlehandedly spawned a movement called the New Atheism. These guys got game.
Actually, I don’t know if religion has anything to do with it, but Blair looked fabulous — fit and hearty — on Letterman the other night, while Hitchens looks just terrible: Overweight, haggard and grim. It doesn’t help that he is undergoing chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, but years of excess have taken their toll.
It also doesn’t help that he’s arguably among the world’s most hated men: Long a left-wing gadfly, he was abandoned by the left for throwing his support behind the war on terror. Whereas the right doesn’t know what to do with him since he’s spent most of his adult life bashing the right’s favourite poster girl, Mother Theresa, for being a sanctimonious hypocrite. He’s an equal opportunity curmudgeon.
I’m not sure who is adjudicating the debate: Pope Benedict? Bill Maher? Osama bin Laden by remote, from his cave? Madonna?
And I’m not sure how you score points — Jihad: Zero? Christmas: 8 out of 10? Speaking in tongues: just weird?
Never mind. Break out the good sherry, this is exactly the kind of cultural imperialism we need more of: MMA for nerds! Intellectual Smackdown! Nobody asked me, but this beats So You Think You Can Dance, Eh? all to … heck.
Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;