Few would be surprised that the British contrarian who was asked to be the devil's advocate and oppose Mother Teresa's sainthood doesn't think God is great.
The Reverend Al Sharpton traveled to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue last night to prove him wrong — or at least to try.
God's greatness — actually, Christopher Hitchens's book, "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything " — was in question as the author and the reverend spent some 90 minutes arguing over the almighty for a soldout crowd.
To Rev. Sharpton, who nicknamed his interlocutor "Brother Hitchens," the almighty is a spirit with whom the reverend has a personal relationship, and religion helps to explain the unexplainable, to provide humanity with a moral compass.
To Mr. Hitchens, religion is, to pick from the many terms he used last night, sinister, nonsense, dangerous, solipsistic, and innately awful — obscuring philosophical and scientific truths with dogma.
"We find this wonderful truffle and open it and look at the chocolate and throw it away and then munch on the wrapper," Mr. Hitchens said. "I don't understand it."
Mr. Hitchens attacked the supernatural, and then he attacked the man sitting less than five feet away. "I have to say it in your presence, sir, I think that the title reverend is something people should be more concerned to live down than live up," Mr. Hitchens said.
Shortly afterward, Mr. Sharpton, a Pentecostal minister ordained at age 9, told his sparring partner: "I think you probably had a bad Sunday school teacher."
A man who likened religion to toys, as Mr. Hitchens did last night, probably won't be found in Sunday school anytime soon.
"I will not play with the toys. Don't bring the toys to my house. Don't say my children must play with the toys," he said, adding, " Enough with clerical and religious bullying and intimidation."