An atheist and an evangelical walk into a bar... While probably the opening line of at least one joke, it's also a recurring image in the new documentary called Collision, which follows atheist pugilist Christopher Hitchens and conservative evangelical pastor Douglas Wilson through a series of debates. The film opens with a scene from one of those debates--in a bar, both men perched comfortably on bar stools, two beer taps jutting up between them. But it seems to me that the the film is misnamed. The thing about collisions is this: when objects collide, they change one another in some non-trivial way. Sometimes it's a crash, inflicting real damage. Sometimes it's just a change in trajectory, as in the collision of billiard balls.
But neither Hitchens nor Wilson seems to have been damaged by their meeting, which led to the documentary (however misnamed) and a good deal of public exposure for both. And if the film's substance is any indication, the exposure was largely positive--especially for Wilson who, prior to these debates, was probably best known for his controversial co-authorship of Southern Slavery: As It Was, which the Southern Poverty Law Center described as a "repulsive apologia for slavery." Apparently, Wilson's opposition to homosexuality is so strident that he is prepared to rehabilitate the Bible's endorsement of slavery just so he can preserve its condemnation of homosexuality.
None of this controversy appears in the film. Perhaps Hitchens didn't know about it; as he admits on camera, he doesn't like to research his opponents too much. In any event, the film presents us with two men who appear affable and earnest--the sort with whom one might enjoy having a beer if one likes energetic intellectual discussions. In fact, the relationship between the men is so congenial that I found myself almost wishing Hitchens would follow the unfair route of blaming Christianity for Wilson's more appalling views. Perhaps, then, there might have been a real head-on crash.
So what about a change of trajectory? Was either man inspired to rethink his conviction in light of their debates?... READ MORE