Guests: Rev. Al Sharpton, Christopher Hitchens
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Religion and politics don‘t mix, so let‘s mix them.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL. It‘s a hot summer evening here in Washington, and we‘re coming to you from the HARDBALL plaza in the heart of Washington. Our guests tonight, the Reverend Al Sharpton and author Christopher Hitchens on the two things we‘re taught not to bring up in polite company, religion and politics.
First some big news today. The Senate killed President Bush‘s immigration plan. After months of deal making and frustration, supporters fell 14 votes short of the 60 needed to keep the bill alive. The White House today moved closer to a constitutional showdown with Congress, rejecting their subpoena demands.
But we begin tonight with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens, the author of “God Is Not Great.” Christopher, you knew when you wrote this book...
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR, “GOD IS NOT GREAT”: Hold it up a little.
MATTHEWS: I will be glad to hold it up for pecuniary reasons.
MATTHEWS: When you wrote this book with this title, you knew it was inflammatory because?
HITCHENS: No! Not a bit of it. It‘s a mild and furry (ph) title.
It just says what everyone knows.
MATTHEWS: And what‘s that?
HITCHENS: That God is man-made, and it was one of our biggest mistakes.
MATTHEWS: How so?
HITCHENS: And that we‘ve made a—we‘ve made a self-inflicted wound for ourselves. We‘ve told ourselves we wouldn‘t have morality if it wasn‘t for a celestial dictator who can convict us of thought crime, who knows what we‘re thinking even when we‘re asleep and who doesn‘t leave off with us even when we‘re dead. In North Korea, you have to praise and thank the lord and his son all the time, incessantly, but at least you can die and get out of North Korea. Out of the religious and theocratic world, you can‘t escape. It‘s the origin of totalitarianism. It attacks our self-respect. It undermines our sexuality, teaches us to disrespect women and to fear...
MATTHEWS: Do you feel undermined...
HITCHENS: ... our reproductive organs.
MATTHEWS: ... sexually?
HITCHENS: I‘m sorry?
MATTHEWS: Do you feel undermined sexually by God?
HITCHENS: Not by God, no. I feel disgusted at the disgust that all monotheisms show for especially the sexuality of the female and for the fear and guilt that they‘ve inculcated in millions of children down the years, for the lives that have been ruined by shame and inflicted usually by unqualified elderly virgins.
MATTHEWS: Let me bring the Reverend Al Sharpton here, in his unusual role, a defender of decency. I‘m just kidding. But obviously, you‘ve got to take a very establishment position here, Reverend. You usually are something of a critic and a protester. Here you have this man here offering the perhaps unsavory argument that there is no God.
REV. AL SHARPTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think that Mr. Hitchens makes a very unusually effective attack on how religion is practiced. But from my readings of his book and our last discussion, he really has yet to establish what that has to do with the existence of God. I mean, you could assault the American—United States Constitution, it doesn‘t mean we shouldn‘t have government.
God is not limited to the denominational practices or the hypocrisy, or for that matter, the obedience of how people practice a religion. God is force itself. And I think that his attacking of organized religion does not address the subject that he raises, Is God great? And to assume that God is reduced to whatever we think or not think he is, is to miss the point of what God is.
MATTHEWS: I‘ve a question for you from one of our e-mail correspondents, Christopher. It‘s directed to you from John Fisher of Fort Smith, Arizona. “Do you believe in absolute truth, the concept that there is a standard of right and wrong? If yes, where did this standard come from? And if no, morals are relative. If that‘s the case, should criminals be even prosecuted?”
HITCHENS: Well, I‘m not a relativist. It‘s Jesus of Nazareth who
says you have to be without sin to cast the first stone. On that standard,
we couldn‘t convict Charles Manson. If only non-sinners could be on
juries, we‘d be nowhere. On the other hand, the Old Testament says, Eye
for an eye, tooth for a tooth—very barbaric. This is the—this is the
these are two bad poles between which we have to, with our innate morality, our innate sense of what‘s right and wrong, decide these things.
Is the questioner telling me that the people of Moses got all the way to Mount Sinai under the impression that murder and theft and perjury were OK, only to be told to their shock at that moment by God that‘s not kosher, after all? Of course not! They knew that already! Everybody knows...
SHARPTON: ... hear the witty diversions of the question. The question is, What do you believe, Mr. Hitchens? And he gives us a tour of Jesus...
HITCHENS: I‘m not ducking that.
SHARPTON: ... Moses. I mean, he still has not said...
HITCHENS: I said God is man-made.
MATTHEWS: But do you believe in absolute values, was the question.
SHARPTON: The question was, Do you believe in absolute values? And if not, then how do we prosecute criminals? He didn‘t ask you what Jesus did or Moses did. Again, he offers nothing but cute little critiques of little inconsistencies. Tell us, then, how do we...
HITCHENS: No, no. I‘m saying...
SHARPTON: Answer the question, Christopher.
HITCHENS: I began. I was just getting my trousers off, getting my throat clear. I‘m saying that religion doesn‘t help us decide this question.
SHARPTON: But they didn‘t ask you about religion...
HITCHENS: I will go on to say that I think our innate morality is good enough, that our understanding, that children don‘t have to be taught the Golden Rule, that everybody knows in the society...
SHARPTON: Do you believe we should be governed by...
HITCHENS: There is no society ever found or analyzed or known of where murder, theft, perjury and the rest of it were considered to be OK. We don‘t need the heavenly permission (ph), we don‘t need the fear of an almighty Big Brother or dictator to know this for ourselves. There are people who don‘t know it, psychopaths and sociopaths. The claim—the religious claim these people are made in God‘s image, too.
SHARPTON: ... our prosecuting them, I think, was the question. If we‘re dealing with our only—our only innate sense of morality, the question then is that, for those that you call psychopaths, then how do we bring them in line, when their innate morality says, That‘s not my morality?
SHARPTON: I mean, if everybody is innately...
HITCHENS: That‘s easy.
SHARPTON: ... in charge, then what is the basis of the absolute?
That‘s the question.
HITCHENS: That‘s easy. That‘s easy. You couldn‘t legislate the 10 Commandments because you couldn‘t prosecute someone for coveting his neighbor‘s cattle or wife. You couldn‘t do that...
SHARPTON: I didn‘t ask you about the 10 Commandments.
HITCHENS: ... though it‘s considered to be a deadly sin.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask a question...
HITCHENS: You couldn‘t prosecute—nobody prosecutes anyone any longer for adultery or for coveting another woman or man in their hearts. You couldn‘t...
MATTHEWS: OK, let me—let me...
MATTHEWS: ... interesting sweet spot here. Here‘s a comment made by Hillary Clinton just the other day at the AFSCME, the labor convention, about her need of a belief in God.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I think that a science class should be about science. I think philosophy classes and history classes and social studies classes should be broad-ranging and looking at different points of view because that‘s what the debate should be about. But in science, let‘s stick to science.
I mean, one of the problems with the current administration is that they have confused us. I consider myself a person of faith, a religious person, and I don‘t see any conflict between believing in the power of the Almighty to have created this extraordinary world we‘re part of in ways that I can‘t possibly understand, and going to the museum and seeing a dinosaur.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Just recently, Hillary Clinton, who you just heard from, in the audio, said that she need her faith, her Christian faith, to get her through the embarrassment of her husband‘s behavior in the White House.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of that?
HITCHENS: Well, so did her husband, if you remember.
HITCHENS: For the whole of that period, he would not appear without holding a Bible, with the cross on the outside so people didn‘t wonder what book it was, and he never went anywhere without Billy Graham and Jesse Jackson. He couldn‘t have got through without faith, either. Shows how cheap it is.
As for her saying it‘s—that the universe is more complicated than she can understand, that‘s right. Certainly, it‘s more complicated than she can understand. Why does she say she has faith that God made it, then? A nonsensical statement made by a senator from New York City. It shows how religion rots the mind.
SHARPTON: Well, I think, again...
HITCHENS: And the morals, too.
SHARPTON: I think that...
HITCHENS: And the morals, too.
SHARPTON: ... to just have the subject matter on who and why and the politics of it does not address the issue. The forms the universe is in, the laws of nature, the fact that we‘re sitting here with gravity holding us down—we didn‘t decide that. And I think that...
MATTHEWS: Who did? Who did?
SHARPTON: I believe God did. I believe personally, unquestionably, equivocally that there‘s a God and a supreme being. And all of the cute talk from Mr. Hitchens—Mr. Hitchens still believes there‘s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he‘s a man of faith.
SHARPTON: He believes in the unseen and the un—I mean, something it is impossible to believe. He believes that, so he just has his faith misguided...
HITCHENS: With Iraq, you can actually use the argument from design (ph) because a regime that had such weapons, that had gone to a great deal of trouble to conceal them, had a ministry of concealment, in fact, and that had used them several times, could decently be assumed to be still involved with them.
SHARPTON: But it was not in...
HITCHENS: Why do you pretend...
SHARPTON: ... Clinton an Billy Graham, which never happened, by the way. But you cannot...
HITCHENS: What do you mean, it never happened?
SHARPTON: I did not see Billy Graham and Jesse Jackson tour anywhere with Bill Clinton. But again...
SHARPTON: ... neither did we see your weapons of mass destruction.
HITCHENS: I rest—I rest—I rest my case. Anyone who looks up that theory can see him with both of them all the time. But why are you pretending you care about evidence when you‘ve already said...
SHARPTON: Of course we...
HITCHENS: ... you just think that God made the law of gravity? You know nothing about either subject...
SHARPTON: Well, then, tell me how...
HITCHENS: ... take it on faith.
SHARPTON: You of the great intellect, then tell me, are we in our own mind was born and decided we‘d hold ourselves down, Mr. Hitchens?
HITCHENS: Don‘t be silly. The burden of proof...
HITCHENS: OK. OK. All right. I amend that. Don‘t be so silly.
HITCHENS: You‘re claiming to know more than you can know.
SHARPTON: No, no. I‘m asking—every time a question is posed to you, you go back and attack some other variable that has not been...
HITCHENS: No, no.
SHARPTON: I‘m asking you, the mighty, brilliant Hitchens, who‘s never answered a question, tell us, then, what it is that you say...
HITCHENS: I put my...
SHARPTON: ... brought all of us into being.
HITCHENS: I put myself in the safekeeping of the audience, in that case. (INAUDIBLE) of your questions. The atheist does not say that it can be proved that God does not exists, it said it cannot be proved that he does. So those who say that they know are claiming to know more than they possibly can. They not only claim to know he exists and was the creator...
MATTHEWS: What do you say...
SHARPTON: I asked you—since you attacked me saying God didn‘t make gravity, I asked you. I didn‘t ask you what “the atheist” said. I asked you, Then how did we get gravity? You (INAUDIBLE) an analysis of the atheist. We‘re not talking about the atheist, we‘re talking about you, Mr. Hitchens. You attacked my statement that God made gravity. If he didn‘t, then who did? Or what did?
HITCHENS: Don‘t tempt me by changing the subject.
SHARPTON: No, I‘m not trying to tempt you, I‘m trying to get an answer from you.
HITCHENS: Don‘t tempt me to change the subject from God to Hitchens.
It‘s too much.
HITCHENS: I was in the middle of a careful sentence. The atheist...
SHARPTON: A careful dodge, is more appropriate.
HITCHENS: The atheist does not say we know, they say we don‘t know.
SHARPTON: You are not “the atheist.” You‘re Christopher Hitchens.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back...
SHARPTON: Answer the question.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll be right back with the Reverend...
HITCHENS: Atheists such as myself...
MATTHEWS: ... Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens. His book is...
MATTHEWS: ... “God Is Not Great.” We‘re on the HARDBALL Plaza.
You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re outside here in the 95-degree heat. At least in Washington, it‘s not the heat, it‘s the humidity. As we say in Washington...
HITCHENS: It‘s the (INAUDIBLE)
MATTHEWS: Well, we could say the mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun, but we won‘t.
Anyway, here at MSNBC, we want you to get your question in to MSNBC.com. We have some questions here for Reverend Al Sharpton and for Christopher Hitchens. This is for you, Christopher. It‘s from Glen Horsewood—I think that‘s the way you pronounce it—Murray Hill, New Jersey. “With regard to your stance on the Iraq war, surely you must find it curious that as an atheist intellectual, you share the same position as the most religious and arguably the most unlettered president of our time.”
HITCHENS: No, all it shows is that religion has nothing to say on these questions. I mean, the church of which the president is a member, the Methodist church, was opposed to the war. Catholic church was opposed to the war. Almost all churches were opposed to it. Christianity has nothing to say either way.
What you can say and must say is that Iraq is currently being reduced to barbarism by the parties of God, who are trying to do to Iraq and to each other, fellow Muslims, what they did to Afghanistan and Somalia. That‘s what happens when you let the parties of God have a free hand.
SHARPTON: I think that what you just saw was the convenient way of maneuvering rhetorically around things. When Bush behaves in a way he approves, religion had nothing to do with it. But when people behave in the way he disapproves, they were inspired by their religion. So I think you can‘t have it both ways. You can‘t say religion is behind everything, but that Bush is very religious, but religion had nothing to do with the fact that he made a decision that Mr. Hitchens happens to agree with, even though most of the world now knows that it is not a religious vision but a personal hallucination that Mr. Bush and Mr. Hitchens had that led us into the war in Iraq.
HITCHENS: Well, I‘ve lived to see the Reverend Sharpton denounce rhetorical maneuvering, so that should be enough for me this evening.
SHARPTON: And there‘s more to come...
HITCHENS: When the president says that God or religion mandates faith-based initiative, say, which I think is a violation of the Constitution, or when he insists on saying “God bless America” amid the collapsing scenery of his administration, or when he intervenes in the death of Terri Schiavo in the name of religious belief, then I think he is acting on that basis.
MATTHEWS: But what about...
HITCHENS: The secular—the secular case for the removal of Saddam Hussein was complete...
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go back to...
HITCHENS: ... long before any religious nutbag...
MATTHEWS: ... his religious case...
HITCHENS: ... got involved in it.
MATTHEWS: According to—you can read through a lot of the president‘s texts and statements to find a religious coloration, and we all know that. But according to two Palestinian people he met with, he said that he was on a mission of God to go to Afghanistan, and again, when he went to Iraq, it was also on a mission of God, a somewhat messianic notion. Do you deny that...
SHARPTON: “Axis of evil”—what is that but a religious connotation?
But of course, it doesn‘t help his argument...
HITCHENS: Surely that would recommend it you, Reverend, that someone would invoke...
SHARPTON: ... his “axis of evil.” I would recommend...
HITCHENS: It‘s your problem, not mine.
SHARPTON: I would recommend to you that if someone uses “axis of evil,” they are using a religious term, but that doesn‘t fit your argument, so you divorce that.
HITCHENS: Excuse me...
SHARPTON: It hurts book sales
HITCHENS: I‘m sorry...
SHARPTON: The fact of the matter is that many people misuse religion.
It has nothing to do with the reality of God.
HITCHENS: No. My book sales are quite unhurtable. And it‘s odd to me -- (INAUDIBLE) at your expense. You don‘t like people mentioning God.
HITCHENS: Neither do I. But I think you did.
SHARPTON: You haven‘t mentioned God. You‘ve mentioned religion. You‘ve mentioned religious figures. You have not addressed God. That‘s my point. Your book says “God Is Not Great.” You‘re talking about people that may or may not have misused their belief in God. You‘re not addressing God. I‘m not...
HITCHENS: Do you want to let...
HITCHENS: The majority of people who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were Shia Muslims. I‘m not a Shia Muslim, but I still think it‘s good to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Now do you understand? Do you begin to understand?
SHARPTON: But that has nothing to do with us addressing God.
HITCHENS: I don‘t...
HITCHENS: You‘re the one who calls on God, Reverend. You make a living out of it.
HITCHENS: It‘s your job to do that.
SHARPTON: No, I am living out of it. I‘m not making a living, I am living out of it.
HITCHENS: You‘re the guy who proves...
SHARPTON: Of course, you would not know the distinction...
HITCHENS: You‘re the guy who proves—you‘re the guy who proves...
HITCHENS: You‘re the guy who proves that you can get away with anything in this country...
SHARPTON: No, I believe...
HITCHENS: ... if the word reverend is in front of your name!
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s not...
SHARPTON: If the word reverend would get us—immunize everything, then none of us would...
MATTHEWS: It‘s time to make...
HITCHENS: Tell it to someone who‘ll believe it!
MATTHEWS: Let‘s bring in the crowd here and see what they do believe.
SHARPTON: ... we have.
MATTHEWS: Christopher, you raised the question—how many in the room here, in this outdoor place under God, believe in God?
MATTHEWS: How many do not?
MATTHEWS: The HARDBALL plaza is like nowhere else on earth!
HITCHENS: Don‘t you believe it. There‘s a change in the zeitgeist going on right now in this country. People are fed up with...
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask...
HITCHENS: ... religious coercion...
HITCHENS: ... with lectures from religious bullies...
MATTHEWS: OK. OK.
HITCHENS: ... with nonsense about the supernatural...
MATTHEWS: I accept that to this extent...
HITCHENS: ... stultify their children in the schools...
MATTHEWS: The title of your book, Christopher, is “God Is Not Great.”
HITCHENS: Yes, it is. I believe that idiom comes from the Islamic religion, that “God is great.”
HITCHENS: No, it doesn‘t.
MATTHEWS: Where does it come from, God is great?
HITCHENS: Those who...
MATTHEWS: No, who uses the phrase “God is great”?
SHARPTON: (INAUDIBLE) answer the question.
HITCHENS: “God is great” is the belief of those who think there is a God...
MATTHEWS: Who uses the phrase?
SHARPTON: Where did the term come from? Let me help you.
MATTHEWS: I have never heard it in Christian liturgy.
HITCHENS: It is...
SHARPTON: We say it all the time. God is great, God is good, all the time, all the time.
HITCHENS: ... sure they do.
MATTHEWS: OK. You do? I don‘t...
SHARPTON: I figured I would help him.
MATTHEWS: I‘m not familiar with that.
MATTHEWS: Do you think...
MATTHEWS: ... your biggest argument in raising this book at this time
you have come out and debunked and been an iconoclast with people like Princess Diana and Mother Teresa and people like that. You have been very tough on a lot of icons.
But the icon of God is your biggest target so far, let‘s be honest. Is it because of 9/11, and because those people, those 19 people who were the hijackers that took the planes into the World Trade Centers, they were in fact screeching with almost orgiastic pleasure as they hit the buildings, because they believed they were going to heaven? Is it that level of religious testimony that scares you, of belief?
HITCHENS: Well, it certainly does scare me. They were the most faith-based people in the country at the time, yes.
I think that the term “faith-based” should earn less respect when we find out where it can lead us and when we realize that our main enemy is a faith-based one, the main enemy of civilization, in fact, whether it‘s Iran, or the mad Jewish settlers on the West Bank who think they can bring on the messiah by stealing other people‘s property, or the idiots in this country want to teach creationism, stultifying children in school.
SHARPTON: But the problem with that is, what about those that have their faith have made them do noble things, that their faith drove them to...
MATTHEWS: Like quitting drinking.
SHARPTON: Or to feed people...
SHARPTON: ... or—or to give medical care to people...
SHARPTON: ... or to liberate people enslaved?
I mean, you can‘t use one example, and act like all religious people or people of faith...
HITCHENS: OK. No, that‘s a good point.
SHARPTON: ... would be motivated to do evil things.
MATTHEWS: It‘s part of the 12-step program for a lot of people.
HITCHENS: That‘s a good point, but you have to answer my challenge, then.
You have to name an ethical statement made or an ethical action taken by a believer, say Dr. King, that couldn‘t have been made by a nonbeliever, like Bayard Rustin, or A. Philip Randolph, or the many black secularists who actually did organize the March on Washington, whereas many African-American religious people opposed it.
SHARPTON: OK. Well, if I would be able to answer that, first of all, I have not said that people that are nonbelievers can‘t do great things.
You are the one that is saying people that are believers are some idiots and so silly.
SHARPTON: I have respect for people not having that belief.
Sure, Bayard Rustin did well. And so did Dr. King. And, if Dr. King‘s motivation was religion and his belief in God, you are attacking that. I‘m not attacking Mr. Rustin.
MATTHEWS: Yes. I think turn the other cheek and love thy enemies...
HITCHENS: Whereas there are things—there are evil things only religion can make you do.
MATTHEWS: We will be right back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens.
MATTHEWS: ... be back when we return. We‘re out here at the Plaza.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back here at HARDBALL Plaza, which is hot-ball plaza today.
We have got some questions from the audience for Christopher Hitchens...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: ... and for the Reverend Al Sharpton.
First question. Ask the question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question—Rick (ph) from College Park, and question for Reverend Sharpton.
President Bush said, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, that God guided him in his decision to invade Iraq. When you look at the situation Iraq is in today, and the mess that it‘s in today, does that suggest that Bush is lying, or does it suggest that God does not really guide people when they say God guides us?
SHARPTON: Well, I think that, if you look in...
SHARPTON: If you‘re going to go use that as an example, the conflicts in the Bible, the pharaohs and the kings all believed their gods were leading them, and others believed their gods.
So, to have a distortion of a head of state in his faith and in what God was telling him is as old as governments themselves. I think Bush was misguided, not God being misguided. I don‘t think we should confuse the two.
MATTHEWS: Do you think all gods are the same; there‘s one God and everybody talks to the same person?
SHARPTON: No. I think that there‘s one God. I don‘t think we‘re all talking to the same person. Obviously...
MATTHEWS: Which people are talking to the right God?
SHARPTON: Well, I think—I think...
SHARPTON: I think that, the way I honestly believe—no jokes—is, I think you that will bear fruits. I think you look at the fruits of what happens, and you see what happens.
The problem is not all of us talking to different gods. The problem is different gods talking back. I think some of us have gods that are not “the God” and are based on some other kinds of things, which are hooked to dogma and denomination...
SHARPTON: ... of and which I don‘t debate with Chris about some of them can be very evil. It doesn‘t make God nonexistent.
MATTHEWS: Why did God make this so—make your hit list so recently, Christopher? I mean, you went after Princess Diana, as I said. You have gone after Mother Teresa, a lot of other icons in history.
SHARPTON: He‘s building his way up.
MATTHEWS: Why did you decide on God at your age now, to go after him?
HITCHENS: Well, the—a lot of the original arguments were against the way in which people make things to worship, as you say, icon.
The biggest icon, the most mistaken one they make is the idea of a deity. And, actually, the Reverend Sharpton has accidentally helped me out in his last answer. We make so many of them, it absolutely proves that God did not make man, that men made God.
The religious universe looks exactly as it would look if a mammal species made a god for each one of itself, and then went to war about which one was the right one, retarding...
MATTHEWS: Why does everybody make the...
HITCHENS: ... hugely—hugely retarding civilization...
MATTHEWS: Why do millions and millions of people, hundreds of millions, billions of people, make the same mistake you don‘t?
HITCHENS: Because they‘re afraid of death, and because they‘re made a false offer that an exception might be made in their own case if they right propitiations—it‘s a hucksterish offer, but it gets made—and because people look at astrological charts and they think, well, maybe the stars are arranged with me in mind.
And, so, people tell—the religious tell them, you‘re a worm and a clot of blood and a piece of dust, but the universe is designed with you in mind. It appeals to the worst in us.
MATTHEWS: We will be back with...
HITCHENS: It‘s bound to succeed.
MATTHEWS: ... with a pile of dust named Christopher Hitchens and the Reverend Al Sharpton.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: We will be right back in HARDBALL Plaza. It‘s going to be wild.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
A clot of blood.
SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Scott Cohn with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks closed little changed, after the Fed, as expected, left interest rates unchanged. The Dow Jones industrials lost about five points, the S&P 500 down a fraction. The Nasdaq did manage to gain three points.
In leaving a key interest rate where it‘s been for the past year, Fed policy-makers said readings on core inflation have gotten modestly better in recent months, but they still said inflation remains the top concern.
Thirty-year mortgage rates dipped slightly this week to a nationwide average of 6.67 percent. It was the second straight weekly decline. Oil prices climbed, as inventories fell this week. Crude rose 60 cents in New York, closing at $69.57 a barrel.
And General Motors agreed to sell Allison Transmission to private equity partners The Carlyle Group and Onex Corp. The $5.7 billion deal gives GM some much-needed cash for its core automotive business.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
MATTHEWS: We‘re back here on the HARDBALL Plaza with the Reverend Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens, whose newest book is “God Is Not Great.”
Let‘s go to the next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
Zack Mason (ph) from Miami, Florida.
In particular, this question is for Chris.
One of the big problems in the 21st century for the American people is that issue of fear. Now, when you‘re sitting at a table—I believe in God, all right? And there are many people who are atheists who are my friends. I, forget the pun, can break bread with them.
But the issue here today is, why—if you‘re going to make policy in the Middle East, one of the biggest components of that are religious leaders. And, yet, here today, you are saying, let‘s use these belligerent words. Let‘s say use cold and capricious words and say, this is the way it has to be written.
How do you respond on that?
HITCHENS: I don‘t understand a blind word you‘re saying.
SHARPTON: Well, neither does the president he supports in Middle East policy. So don‘t feel bad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fair enough.
HITCHENS: It seemed like a waste of a question to me. Are you saying that, because there are so many religious people, one should not speak what one feels about religion?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, what I‘m saying is very clear-cut. There are people who believe in God, myself included.
HITCHENS: Yes, I—I know that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you‘re saying, those people are in this fringe group; we don‘t know what‘s going on.
So, if you‘re going to do that, what evidence, what proof are you bringing to the table? In the case of these words, the words you use, it‘s just fear. It‘s a fear component. That‘s not what the American people need right now. And I think Reverend Sharpton would agree with me on this.
MATTHEWS: You‘re not claiming your book is therapeutic.
HITCHENS: I‘m sorry. Your question is still gibberish. I‘m terribly sorry.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let‘s move it on.
HITCHENS: Next. Next.
MATTHEWS: Next question, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Jeff (ph) from Washington, D.C.
Reverend Sharpton, is it hypocritical of you to criticize the Latter Day Saints, when you don‘t criticize your own faith?
SHARPTON: I do criticize my own faith.
I think that a lot of people that are in my own denomination have been very inactive. They have been very apathetic, and, in some cases, outright cowards. But I still believe in my faith.
Again, my religion is personal. My belief is God is personal. It‘s not based on any denomination. I can talk about the contradictions in people in my own denomination and in other denominations, without it at all having to do with my faith, unequivocally, in a supreme being. One has nothing to do with the other.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s listen to something you said, Reverend Sharpton, before on the topic of the LDS Church. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SHARPTON: And, as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat himself anyway. So, don‘t worry about that. That‘s a temporary...
SHARPTON: That‘s a temporary situation.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: “Those that really believe in God will defeat him.” What did you mean?
SHARPTON: I was really talking about—Mr...
SHARPTON: Chris here had gone through this litany of what all religious people had done. And I believe religious people, for the large part, will be the majority of the voters, according to polls, anyway...
SHARPTON: ... and that he will be defeated. It won‘t be because of his denomination. It will be by the same people that he thinks—I mean Chris—has no real good judgment in the world.
But I went and met with the Mormons. I met with Elder Ballard. I met with others.
MATTHEWS: But do you believe they really believe in God?
SHARPTON: I believe...
MATTHEWS: It sounded like—it sounded like you didn‘t.
SHARPTON: ... they believe in God. They don‘t believe in God in the way I do, but neither does any other denomination. But I believe they believe in God.
HITCHENS: If I could say a word, because it‘s largely my fault that Reverend Sharpton made that intervention, but, whereas you can see he was trying to be amusing.
I mean, I had said, look, with George (sic) Romney, you have to ask this question, which people decline to ask, because they‘re embarrassed, because they don‘t want him to reply, are you questioning my faith? And the question would be this.
Until the mid-1960s, the Mormon Church was an officially racist organization that—worse than the Ku Klux Klan, that openly said black people didn‘t have souls, could not serve at the altar in its churches, were barely admitted to membership.
They made the change just in time for the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which, to me, casts a real doubt on the sincerity of the revelation that they said makes them make the change.
I think it‘s high time Governor Romney was asked. I think it‘s a legitimate question. And I think he should be asked it by you and everyone in the press when you do your candidate soirees next time.
MATTHEWS: The problem is that we have—also been said to us, in the media, that, if we begin to ask questions of deep religious belief like that—and that, of course, has social consequences, to say the least—could we have vetted John F. Kennedy on transubstantiation? Could we have vetted any Catholic on exorcism?
How do deep do go in—how far do you penetrate?
HITCHENS: Yes, but I think you could have done—fortunately, for President Kennedy, the Second Vatican Council was impending, so, for example, the church was about to drop its charge that all Jews were responsible for the killing of Christ.
HITCHENS: All Jews forever were indicted for deicide. Official anti-Semitism was just leaving church doctrine. If it had not, of course the president should be asked.
George Romney was of the—Mitt Romney, excuse me—and his father and grandfather—he‘s from a major dynasty in this church—they were the age of reason when it was an officially racist organization.
HITCHENS: I want to hear them repudiate it...
SHARPTON: I think a legitimate question...
HITCHENS: ... or stop saying that religion makes people behave more nicely, then.
SHARPTON: I think a legitimate of question of denomination of leaders on issues is appropriate.
I think to probe a candidate‘s personal religious beliefs, I think, is something that‘s going over the line of their personal belief and their privacy. I think, if you have a question on the doctrines of a church, you should ask the leaders of the church.
MATTHEWS: Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. This is for Mr. Hitchens.
In the same debate where Dr. Sharpton—Reverend Sharpton got in trouble for saying that about the Mormons, you defended Stalinism by saying that Stalin would have been crazy not to have taken advantage of the situation where he was thrust into us a place where he was over a group of people who were indoctrinated into religion. You said that he would be stupid not to abuse that power.
I‘m wondering how you could defend Stalinism.
HITCHENS: Well, it wasn‘t a defense of Stalinism at all. I mean, I‘m sorry if I—I think you are the only person who got that impression, I if may say so. That wouldn‘t make you wrong, of course.
But I said—it‘s in the answer to the question that is often asked:
What about secular tyranny? What about secular bullying and cruelty, of which there‘s, of course, been a lot? I said, well, very often, it builds on religion. Russia, until the revolution, was led by a czar who was an absolute ruler of an enslaved people, and he was also the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
There were millions of people willing to believe that the leader of Russia should be, in some way, semi-divine. I said Stalin would be stupid if he didn‘t exploit this kind of credulity and civility that was already made for him—for him to inherit from the era of servile Christianity.
And I went on to say what I believe, which is, if you want to have an argument on this, you have to point to a society that adopts the ideas of Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, and Spinoza, and Einstein, and Galileo that‘s fallen into tyranny, before you can have a level playing field with the Inquisition, with slavery, with the Crusades, and all the crimes of the religious.
HITCHENS: I hope—I really do hope I‘m clear now.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, it used to be, when we were growing up -
I‘m a bit older than you, but—and as well as older than Christopher, but it seems to me, back in the 1960 campaign, one could argue that religion had no place in politics. And John Kennedy was able to say: “My religion is irrelevant. Simply, my patriotism should be the issue.”
And yet, today, you have the Roman Catholic Church, through its bishops, challenging the rights of Catholic office holders to take positions for abortion rights. They say you basically have to be for imprisonment of people involved with abortion, or else you‘re not a Catholic and you will be excommunicated.
It is—it seems to be an era—not just because of Islam—where it‘s very hard to keep religion out of politics today. And Mormonism was not even an issue with George Romney, the father. Now it‘s an issue with the son. What are we doing in this world that we keep bringing religion into the public political marketplace. Why does it keep happening?
SHARPTON: I think that more and more religion leaders and religious groups—when the fact that someone is a member of the group, they don‘t want the beliefs or the dogmas of their groups misunderstood.
MATTHEWS: Why are the religious leaders jumping into the political marketplace and saying to politically elected people, who were duly elected, you cannot take that position and be in our church or we‘ll excommunicate you.
SHARPTON: But I think they would see it the reverse. I think they would say that if you‘re a public official and are telling people you‘re with us, we have the right to say no, that is not what we preach, because we will be here longer than your term in office.
MATTHEWS: They‘re going beyond than that, reverend. They‘re telling them they cannot communicate with god. They‘re separating people from god.
SHARPTON: I don‘t agree with it.
HITCHENS: A morally serious person should welcome excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. By what right do they claim to lecture us on morality. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who was found to have aided, facilitated, promoted and covered up the rape of children is a refugee in the Vatican from the jurisdiction in which he should be standing trial. Let‘s hear from the church whether they can denounce that before they dare lecture us on morals.
MATTHEWS: Reverend Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens are both coming with us. We‘ll be right back here on the hot HARDBALL plaza.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and author Christopher Hitchens, author of “God is Not Great.” Christopher Hitchens, What do you make of the fact that the support for the president on the war in Iraq support seems to be peeling away. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, George Voinovich, Mitch McConnell, a lot of top Republicans are starting to talk as if they will not persist with this policy.
HITCHENS: Well, you should remember that Governor Bush, as he then was, and Mr. Cheney ran against Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman on exactly this point in 2000. They said we don‘t think American troops should be used for nation building. We‘re against humanitarian intervention. We‘re Republicans. We‘re isolationists. We don‘t like this kind of thing. Their hearts have never been in it. This should have always have been a cause of the secular left, the liberation of Iraq, and the liberation of Afghanistan.
HITCHENS: The Christian Right—I have to say this—have been quite good keeping the question of Darfur alive, the human rights of Darfur, the right to life people in Darfur, and also people in North Korea. But their hearts are not in regime change or using the U.S. Army for these things and it shows.
MATTHEWS: You‘re not answering the question.
HITCHENS: It should be a cause of the left.
MATTHEWS: Do you think this war was a good thing for us to fight?
HITCHENS: I think it was a just and necessary war. Yes.
SHARPTON: Again, I don‘t think he answered the question again. The question was why Republicans are peeling off. The question wasn‘t why they ran against Gore and Lieberman.
HITCHENS: Their hearts aren‘t in it.
SHARPTON: Their hearts wasn‘t in it. But their mouths wasn‘t in it either until they got stuck. They announced they were going in after weapons of mass destruction. They didn‘t say they were going in for nation building and humanitarian purposes. So now he‘s all of a sudden said their hearts are not. Neither was their mouth. They didn‘t tell us this was a nation building effort.
HITCHENS: Yes, they did.
SHARPTON: They told us that we were in imminent danger. That‘s why we were going. We were not in imminent danger. That is why people are running from it. And, as far as what they‘re doing in Darfur, I salute that. But let‘s not forget Joe Madison and a lot other people that are not on the right that was raising the issue of Darfur way before some of the Christian right. Everybody, right people ought to be dealing with Darfur, no matter where they are.
MATTHEWS: How many people in this audience agree with the argument that it was necessary for the United States to bring the American Army into Arabia to invade Iraq? How many people think it was necessary? How many think it was a mistake to take the American army into Iraq? Well, the atheists over here behind you have betrayed you, sir.
SHARPTON: Just like the Republicans on Capitol Hill.
HITCHENS: As I began by saying, this ought to have been the cause for the left, but the left has been isolationist. It‘s a great pity. I know a lot of people think that what the reverend has said is true. But actually, if you look at the president‘s speech to the United Nations on the 11th of September 2002 about Iraq, you can see it‘s only about one-fifth about weapons of mass destruction. It is about emancipation of Iraq, the attempt democracy to the region, and the inevitability of the confrontation with totalitarianism.
Just as people don‘t want it and want to have a quiet life doesn‘t bother me. They‘re going to have a confrontation whether they want it or not.
SHARPTON: And I guess that also means when Colin Powell went to the United Nations and held up those photos, those were humanitarian photos of why we wanted go and rescue Iraqi children. They made a case before the world of weapons. Let‘s not lie about that. They were --
HITCHENS: They were correct to do so. Iraq was and had been for a long, long time an outlawed WMD state, the only one to have actually used them in combat several times, against neighbors and against civilians.
SHARPTON: We were not in imminent danger.
MATTHEWS: Next question, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is for Mr. Hitchens. the Gaza Strip is in a state of chaos today. You have been very critical of Israel over the years. My question to you is, since Israel withdrew almost years ago from unilaterally from Gaza, can you still hold them responsible for the situation in Gaza Strip. Thank you.
HITCHENS: Not wholly, no, because there is now a Palestinian civil war, largely between the religious and the—it‘s a bit much to call Fatah secular, but it can‘t be described as clerical.
Here‘s the problem to begin with: there are two nations in Palestinian of approximate equal size. For a long, long time, the U.N., the U.S., the European Union, the Palestinian leadership and most Israelis and American Jews have thought two states, half each. It‘s rational, it‘s reasonable. It works. It‘s made impossible by the parties of God. The extreme Zionists say no, God gave us all the land. The extreme Muslims say yes, god gave the land, but it happens to be to us. And American Christians weigh in on the side of the Zionist extremists.
It‘s another case where religion has made a civilized solution completely impossible.
It‘s made impossible by the parties of god, the extreme Zionists say no, god gave us all the land. And American Christians weigh in on the side of the Zionist extremists. It‘s another case where religion has made civilized solution completely impossible.
MATTHEWS: Next question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was wondering if you could talk about whether you think President Bush should pardon Scooter Libby?
HITCHENS: Certainly the president should pardon Scooter Libby. He‘s committed no crime. He‘s the victim of a bogus investigation into a non-offense with no victim. The prosecutor couldn‘t find that law that mandated his appointment had ever been broken. That‘s the Intelligence Identities Act—
MATTHEWS: You don‘t believe in God. You don‘t believe in juries either? The jury has condemned this guy as guilty.
HITCHENS: Excuse me, Christopher, If I rang up Tim, your bureau chief, Russert.
MATTHEWS: He‘s not my bureau chief. Go ahead.
HITCHENS: Let‘s say your colleague. To complain about something you said, which is what Mr. Libby did do. He rang Tim Russert to complain about a Matthews remark, which he though emphasized too much the Jewish nature of the pro-war forces. Why is that an imprisonable offense? Why does the law have to make any notice of it at all? The law had not been broken.
MATTHEWS: What I know is that he was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.
SHARPTON: I think the question, Chris, is a man convicted by the jury of his peers, whether the president ought to wipe away that jury‘s decision and pardon him? We all in a pretrial arguments have been had. I know you messed them. But what you‘re giving them now he needed months ago. That‘s been rejected.
The question he asked is whether, in light of the conviction of a jury that said it is a crime and you‘re guilty, should the president wipe it away?
MATTHEWS: How many people believe that Scooter Libby, who has been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, should go free?
Thank you. We‘ll be right back with the Reverend Al Sharpton—one hand went up—and Christopher Hitchens here on HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and author Christopher Hitchens at the HARDBALL plaza. It seems to me that you gentlemen may agree on something about God and religion and war. And that is that politicians use god for their own profane purposes.
SHARPTON: I agree with that. I think that that is true. And I think that people should not confuse god with those that represent him or misrepresent him. That‘s my only—my main disagreement with Mr. Hitchens and his book “God is Not Great.” I‘ve read it. It‘s well written, but I think that the premise is something I disagree with. God should not be confused with those that misrepresent him.
MATTHEWS: Since the time of Constantine and (INAUDIBLE) Wars have been fought in the name of god. Is that why religion is bad, because it‘s been used by bad leaders?
HITCHENS: Well, if it is true—and that was the premise of the first question—then we make it easy for them by saying that we want to be told about faith. We want to have a supernatural dictatorship, that we think the faith is to be revered rather than suspected. So if we are exploited, and if politicians exploit us, it‘s because we‘ve asked for it.
The thing is to get over that, outgrow the myth that the universe cares about us, that it was designed with us in mind, that it‘s all about you and me. It‘s not. Look at the beauties of science instead. Think about the constellations of philosophy, the glories of literature. Get a life. Get off your knees and stop groveling and stop whaling.
MATTHEWS: Well, the question for all of us is, when you ask a person to give their life for their country and to at least risk in a very treacherous situation—a very dangerous situation like the war front, how do you do you do that without religion? Reverend?
SHARPTON: I don‘t think you necessarily need religion, but you do need a belief in something more than just nice literature and science and philosophy. And I think that there is a purpose in life. And I think that connecting to that purpose is how people connect to god. Some need denominations, some don‘t. And I think that even in the highest levels of science, to me it only confirms what we don‘t know and that there had to be a superior being that orchestrated all of this.
I am not against science. I think science proves there is a god.
HITCHENS: You better not be. You better not be against science, sir.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a religious objection to anyone running for president right now—objection to anyone‘s religious beliefs among the candidates, anyone?
HITCHENS: Not just for that reason, no. Your question.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a problem with Mitt Romney, for example?
HITCHENS: I have a problem with the racist cult organization of which he is a member. Yes, I want to hear him—
MATTHEWS: Would hold that against him in voting for him?
HITCHENS: Certainly. Of course I would. I want hear him give a clear answer. He hasn‘t yet. Nor have you guys asked him. Your initial question, I don‘t want to be accused of ducking it. It‘s about to be the Fourth of July, your question insults all the brave Americans who fought for a secular constitution that separated church—
HITCHENS: The assumption is that without the belief in god, they would not have fought. This is not true of Thomas Paine.
MATTHEWS: Only god can figure out my assumptions, Christopher and you‘re not god. If there is no god, you must not be god?
HITCHENS: Are you asking me or telling me.
MATTHEWS: No, you told me you knew my assumptions. I asked an open question, which is how do you ask a person to give up their life if there is nothing else.
SHARPTON: Well, I‘m the piece maker here. You are not god.
HITCHENS: The assumption was how do people fight for their country without god. The answer is, the American revolution set up the first and only republic that separates church from state. I say, Mr. Jefferson build up that wall. Happy Fourth of July.
MATTHEWS: It separates us from a specific religion. Anyway, thank you very much Reverend Al Sharpton, and Christopher Hitchens, author of “God is Not Great.” Tomorrow on HARDBALL my interview with actor Bruce Willis. See you then.
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