DOBBS: We will be back in just a moment. We will be back with best selling author Christopher Hitchens. He'll join us for his perspective on the controversy that erupted from his debate with Civil Rights Activist Al Sharpton. Mitt Romney says Sharpton's remarks about his religion are bigoted. Christopher Hitchens, live here next. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The controversy over Al Sharpton's remarks about presidential candidate Mitt Romney's election and religion emanated from a debate at the New York Public Library, held with Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens, of course, is the author of the brand new, best-selling book, "God is Not Great". He joins us here now, and we're delighted to have his perspective on this controversy.
Good to have you here. Congratulations on how well the book is doing. I know that's what was driving this discussion with Al Sharpton. Let's take, if I may. Before we start, let's remind everybody of what Al Sharpton actually had to say. So, could we hear that again?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: And as for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so, don't worry about that. That's a temporary -- that's a temporary situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: What was your reaction when he said that?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, AUTHOR, "GOD IS NOT GREAT": Well, I -- as you can say, he's a bit of a crowd pleaser. In fact, that's one of the best-known things about him. And he was trying to be funny.
But he was reacting to a point that I made seriously, which was, it surprises me that Governor Romney is not asked more often, nor at all, about the fact that his church was officially racist until at least 1965. It only changed its so-called revelation...
HITCHENS: ... that black people were of a different species, and an inferior one, when the Civil Rights Act was about to pass. And they would have been in the same position at the Mormons of Utah were when they wanted to practice polygamy before being outside the law.
DOBBS: And then Reverend Sharpton, coming back to say, as the one Mormon. Those who really believe in God will defeat him.
DOBBS: Here's what he said in his statement, when this was brought to his attention today: "In a review of the transcript of the debate at the New York Public Library with author Christopher Hitchens, clearly indicates it was Hitchens that attacked the Mormons."
He then said, in response, Mitt Romney said this, "I can only, hearing that statement, wonder whether there's not bigotry that still remains in America." An extraordinary thing for someone to say. "Extraordinarily bigoted kind of statement. I find it really quite extraordinary."
A lot of extraordinaries.
HITCHENS: There's nothing ordinary for this. And, for Governor Romney.
Well, I must say I think it's bizarre that he finds the question surprising. And there is the fact of the matter. If you remember, Senator Byrd used to have to answer a lot of questions about the fact he used to be a Ku Klux Klansman, as you know.
The Romney family is not just -- members of the Mormon Church and senior people in it. For a long time, that church was officially racist. And there were some doubts as to the sincerity of its repudiation.
DOBBS: Well, how would you -- let me ask you this. Mitt Romney...
HITCHENS: If there's any bigotry, then, well, the question remains with the governor.
DOBBS: Is there -- are you suggesting that there are sufficient bigotry to go around? Did you -- that is, from your perspective, that Mormon Church, bigotry against women; and the Catholic Church, since they cannot hold the priesthood; bigotry on the part of Al Sharpton, because of his statement about true believers...
HITCHENS: He couldn't be a member of the Society of Jesus unless you could prove you hadn't got a Jewish great-great grandfather. There are all kind of -- for me, religion and bigotry are more or less the same thing.
DOBBS: And do you believe...
HITCHENS: And there's never more so when they're attacking another faith. They really -- when you see people of faith, as in this case, the so-called Reverend Sharpton, and an elder member of the Mormon Church. I don't know if he's actually an elder. A senior member for sure. You see how the Christians love each other, don't you?
DOBBS: Well -- well, Mitt Romney did say that he sees a battle of -- a warring among religions in this country. There has become such a blurring of lines now between the separation and church and state, from the standpoint of religion in this country, once a fundamental doctrine, that this is becoming a sectarian verbal violence, at the very least.
HITCHENS: Well, I don't see any sign of, any violence in the discourse, as yet.
DOBBS: Verbal violence.
DOBBS: When you start talking about bigotry. That gets to be to a pretty high level. And there's a certain righteousness. I mean, when you think about the misstatement that Al Sharpton made, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
This is a man who just a short time ago was righteously and indignantly calling, because of the misstatement by Don Imus, the radio talk show host, demanding his ouster. And here he is, and making a statement in which he's accused of bigotry.
I mean, have we gotten overly righteous in this country?
HITCHENS: Well, I certainly think the row about Imus was largely preposterous. But it can't be denied that what he said was hateful and intended to wound. And it was not a small criticism, unbelievably -- not a small criticism at all. Unbelievably unfunny. So, you know...
DOBBS: And I didn't -- nothing struck you...
HITCHENS: Well, he was trying to be funny. But this is a question of what's the most he can be saying in this case, Sharpton, I mean? He's saying, which a lot of Christians say, Mormons are not really Christians.
HITCHENS: They have not no right to call themselves Christian, because they are founded by this very bizarre mountebank, Joseph Smith, who claimed to have had a later revelation than that of the Bible and one that transcends that. Now that, for a believing Christian, must surely be blasphemy.
It's not for me to arbitrate. But Hugh Hewitt has written a very interesting book on this subject, as you probably know, about the possibility of a Mormon candidate. And these are questions that all Christians in the south take very seriously.
DOBBS: A lot of people take these questions seriously. I approach it as -- from a very secular standpoint. Primarily concerned about, obviously the Constitution, separation of church and state. I think many Americans view it that way.
To hear a discussion, this early, in a presidential debate, about religion, one or the other, casting aspersions, or having aspersions cast against their faith when there are so many important issues. It's truly remarkable.
HITCHENS: Yes, it's the wrong way to phrase the question. I agree. To have people of other faiths denouncing each other, saying they're not really a believer, because in my book, all faiths are essentially the same. They all rely on an affirmation of something that can't be proven.
It's interesting, is it not, how much the religious people don't like one another and how many wars have been fought, not between atheists and believers, but between believers and believers.
DOBBS: And it looks like we're just getting warmed up during this presidential season, where religion is going to play a role, depending on your perspective. From mine, a very unfortunate role. I think perhaps, from yours, how would your characterize...
HITCHENS: My subtitle is that religion poisons things. And I think this is a very good case for saying so.
DOBBS: And before that subtitle comes the title of Christopher Hitchens' best-selling new book, "God is Not Great". Good to have you here.
HITCHENS: Very nice to of you to have me back.
CNN Transcripts, May 9, 2007