When Christopher Hitchens debated Al Sharpton

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Christopher Hitchens, the sharp-tongued, British-born writer died of complications from esophageal cancer this week, and was remembered by his friends and sometime intellectual sparring partners, including MSNBC host and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who had his own showdown with “Hitch” back in 2007.

Hitchens, an avowed atheist, and Sharpton debated in front of a sold-out audience at the New York Public Library on May 7th of that year, as the Maynard Institute recalls:

“The question under debate (‘Is God great?’) and the speakers — two men who are often depicted in harsh caricatures by their critics — might have caused some to expect something like a circus,” Chan wrote for the Times on May 7, 2007. “Perhaps surprisingly, it turned out to be the public intellectual event of the evening, a bit like Bertrand Russell vs. C. S. Lewis.

“Taking the atheist position was Christopher Hitchens, the journalist and author of a new book arguing that ‘religion poisons everything.’ In defense of God was none other than the Rev. Al Sharpton, a man of the cloth who is perhaps even better known for his political and civil rights activism than for his training as a preacher.

The title of the Hitchens book: “God is Not Great,” and he argued that religion “poisons everything,” from individual relationships to international ones. Sharpton and Hitchens went several rounds, and in the end, gained a mutual respect.

Reflecting on Hitchens’ passing, Sharpton told the Christian Post:


“I found him very intelligent. He was certainly an intellectual of the highest order, but we vehemently disagreed on issues of faith,” Sharpton told CP. “And I think that even though he was a nonbeliever I could love and respect him despite that I felt he did not believe in the principles that I guide my life by and the things I believed in.”

WATCH: Flashback — the Sharpton-Hitchens debate, part one:

And watch more of the debate here.