Ideologies collide in search for religious truths

Renowned author and self-described atheist Christopher Hitchens goes toe-to-toe with conservative evangelical pastor Douglas Wilson in a new documentary, Collision.

The film tracks Hitchens and Wilson through a series of debates held across the United States as they debate the question: “Is Christianity good for the world?”

Head-to-head · Christopher Hitchens (left) and Douglas Wilson debate the purpose of Christianty in Collision. - Photo courtesy of Lobeline Communications

Head-to-head · Christopher Hitchens (left) and Douglas Wilson debate the purpose of Christianty in Collision. - Photo courtesy of Lobeline Communications

Interspersed with grainy candid footage of the two authors, the film presents not only a clash of worldviews but also one of lifestyles: Wilson, the kind Idaho family man, versus Hitchens, the acerbic public intellectual. The camaraderie and respect that exists between the two in spite of profound differences is remarkable to watch.

Both thinkers represent pure strains of their respective ideologies. Hitchens argues consistently that religion “can’t be believed by a thinking person” and that the precepts of Christianity are fundamentally evil. Wilson counters by arguing that Christianity is objectively true, beautiful and good and that every position, including that of Hitchens, is a faith-based position.

By describing religion as mankind’s “first and worst” attempt to understand a frightening world, the ever-witty Hitchens outright rejects the notion of a celestial dictator and the scapegoating of sins that abolishes individual responsibility. Wilson argues persistently that Hitchens uses Christian morality to attack Christianity, and Hitchens does little to refute this claim.

For the most part, this is vintage Hitchens. Those who are already familiar with his best-selling book, God Is Not Great, will not find anything new in these debates. What makes the film worthwhile is the honesty and quality of the arguments, and the sincerity of belief on both sides of the religious divide. In one scene, Wilson shines new light on the parable of the Good Samaritan and Hitchens expresses genuine appreciation of this new perspective. These are not stiff ideologues; both Hitchens and Wilson are receptive to unexplored insights and interpretations.

There are plenty of problems with this documentary. Flashing subtitles and captions often prove distracting when their purpose is to better define the terms being discussed on screen. The quality of the footage ranges from mediocre to YouTube and the candid shots in bars and cafés are riddled with background noise. For a documentary that is all about the dialogue between these two men, it is a shame that so often its obscured by technical distractions.

That said, this is a film worth seeing. Religion remains one of the preeminent variables shaping and dividing the world we live in, especially in the United States, where a rising tide of unbelief challenges an overwhelmingly religious population. The questions raised in this enthralling 90-minute film are important, and watching first-rate intellectuals go for the jugular is entertainment of the highest order.

Collision promises a battle royale between Christianity and atheism and delivers on every punch. Although it is unlikely that the arguments put forth by Hitchens and Wilson will change many minds, the quality of the debate will doubtlessly open them to alternate points of view.