YouTube is knee-deep in debates in which the late Christopher Hitchens attacked religion in all its guises. Today I want to look at one such, and specifically the offering from his co-speaker against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world”. His co-speaker was Stephen Fry.
It is only fitting that I declare in advance that I am probably the only person in the world who enjoys QI, the TV programme, despite Stephen Fry. I used to enjoy his performing in tandem with Hugh Laurie, but I find his current professional performing persona frankly irritating and irksome. He does at least now fiddle with those damned QI cards less than in the early days. (No, I am not going to say what irritates me: perhaps another time.)
My coming at it from that direction makes it, I think, particularly telling when I say that I was deeply impressed with this speech. The principal reason is that he has allowed that performing mask to be stripped away. You may think that an obvious requirement under the circumstances, but I could name many who might not have done. Let’s watch it: his introduction begins at 21:10 and he starts talking at 21:28.
It appears to be a bald opening, but the speed with which the volume of applause falls off a cliff makes me wonder whether there was an edit-point there. I hope it was a bald opening, without preamble, just as with Matt Ridley a couple of days ago.
In The Face & Tripod I commend what I call “outflanking the subject”. There is a time and place for that, but this is neither. Not only is it appropriate for him to begin with a direct statement: the manner of its delivery instantly reveals the absence of his performing mask. The hallmark of sincerity is conspicuously displayed. The statement is pursued by a courteous caveat concerning his not attacking anyone’s personal spiritual convictions. He’s doing really well.
For the first minute or two he seems to be on a carefully choreographed path (this is a sound hump-busting tactic). For instance there’s an elegant anadiplosis at 22:12. But shortly after that, when he gets onto the subject of the church having attacked The Enlightenment, his own, personal, inner fervour takes over. This is not to say that it turns into a rant: it remains disciplined. There is neither script nor notes: he has mind-mapped this speech on his own structure. Therefore he can, and does, shoot from the hip in total security. He is trusting himself to use the spontaneous words that come to him at the time. It also means that he can get a little worked up without risking falling foul of one of my favourite quotes, from Ambrose Bierce – Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.
I can only guess at the nature of his mind-map, but there are several indications that his structure operates on a modular basis. There is, for instance, a clear module that runs from 26:52 till 27:28 – the Roman Catholic Church is obsessed with sex. He enjoys arguing that module, as does his audience. And it is instantly followed by another module that turns out to be his closing one. It starts with arguing that the humble Galilean carpenter’s son would not have approved of all that ecclesiastic wealth and ends with how he – Stephen Fry – might respect the church more if it used the wealth in ways that he approved.
I absolutely do not intend here to enter the arguments that he champions. In this blog I seek out logical fallacies only when they are used as rhetorical devices. There is no question but that Fry fervently feels his message; and in that respect he is the embodiment of my Cardinal 1.
I really enjoyed watching the real man.