Six degrees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2012, 12:00am

Christopher Hitchens' recent death silenced a booming voice of reason at the peak of the polemicist's fame (and notoriety). The hard-drinking, chain-smoking writer (below), who died of cancer aged 62, was his succinct, unpitying self to the end: 'I have been taunt- ing the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.' The antitheist might have left us sooner had it not been for the undivided attention of Dr Francis Collins ...

The biker, guitarist and evangelical Christian is one of Washington's most powerful, least famous people. When President Barack Obama handed Collins the reins of the United States' science budget, fellow boffins voiced concern that the new director of the National Institutes of Health might use his faith to smother their research. Doing little to quash such fears was the appointment of Collins, made a few months later, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, at the Vatican ...

The Vatican has had a hard time of it in recent years, what with all the sexual abuse scandals. Adding to its woes, in 2010 the Italian press published transcripts of conversations between one of the Pope's close aides and a member of the Vatican choir that allegedly revealed them to be involved in a gay prostitution ring, with the aide, Angelo Balducci, heard giving precise physical details of the men he required. Balducci was a pallbearer during the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II ...

The late pontiff has been a divisive figure on his fast track to sainthood, with advocates pointing to his championing of human rights and his involvement in the fall of Soviet communism while critics deride his inertia in the face of the explosive abuse scandal. One memorable accusation saw him labelled 'Garrulous Karolus the Koran Kisser', by Holocaust denier Hutton 'Red' Gibson ...

The 1968 grand champion of American quiz show Jeopardy! believes the Second Vatican Council was a 'Masonic plot backed by Jews' and that the Holocaust was a plan to get all the Jews in Germany to relocate to Israel, where they could fight the Arabs. 'Go and ask an undertaker ... what it takes to get rid of a dead body,' he said. 'It takes one litre of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million?' Perhaps it was these eloquent musings that informed a drunken anti-Semitic outburst to police by one of his sons, the actor Mel Gibson ...

When a profanity-laced recording of the actor lambasting the mother of his youngest child went viral, sympathisers were few. 'It's not as if Gibson was issuing a cry for help. On the contrary, what he is issuing is the distilled violence, cruelty and bigotry - and sexual hypocrisy - that stretches from the Crusades through the Inquisition to the 'concordats' between the church and Hitler and Mussolini,' wrote author and bon vivant Christopher Hitchens.


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