Religious Debate - Sample Essay

The interview is centred on a discussion between political commentator and television host of Fox News Bill O’Reilly, and British evolutionary biologist and Richard Dawkins. It takes place on the Fox News Channel, and is a spontaneous transaction, unedited by the network. It has a main audience of many millions of Americans (as the show is aired in the US), but is also available on the internet so can be viewed by people interested in politics and religion globally.

The purpose of the interview is to inform the audience of the participants’ views, and to entertain. Richard Dawkins is on the show to be interviewed, to get publicity for his book ‘The God Delusion’, and to present an intellectual face. On the other hand, Bill O’Reilly is there to host the show and question Dawkins on his book and belief system, and to challenge Dawkins’ views, whilst still maintaining a friendly face. It is important for the context of the interview to mention that Dawkins is an atheist, and O’Reilly a devout Christian.

This difference of opinion is the source of conflict in the interview; the contrasting viewpoints make the interview more entertaining, likely one of the reasons Bill O’Reilly was chosen to host the interview. At the beginning of the interview, O’Reilly uses an interrogative, “Do you believe in God? ” to make the audience feel more included in the discussion and to introduce the topic, before going on to tell us about the percentage of people in different countries that do not have a belief in God. He puts a lot of emphatic stress on the statistics regarding Great Britain – “44% do not believe in God in Great Britain.

” He emphasizes ‘44%’, as it is differs greatly from the statistics for America (12% do not have a belief in a higher power), and emphasises ‘Great Britain’ to shock the audience and to show his own shock at this statistic, as Britain would be considered similar to America (especially in comparison to the other countries used as examples), and the predominantly American audience would probably find this surprising. This adds additional interest to the interview, making it more entertaining to the audience.

There is a regular use of features of spontaneous spoken language; for example, the use of elision (‘coulda’ – line 11 & 12), and in particular the use of ellipsis (e. g. “Don’t think it…” – line 12-13 ), show that the transaction is spontaneous, not scripted. There are also many examples of non-fluency features, such as voiced pauses (‘umm’ – lines 20, 108 & 153), fillers (‘y’know’ – lines 11, 20 & 39, ‘I mean’ – lines 53, 111 & 142) and false starts (“but it had (. ) it had” – line 21), which shows that the speech is spontaneous, and can give the speaker time to think of and formulate his next point whilst still holding the floor (e. g. RD: ‘…not because he was an atheist I mean, Hitler and Stalin both…’ – line 154).

Fillers and filled pauses can also be used as a hedge, to weaken the force of something said. An example of this is where O’Reilly suggests a link between mass-murderers and atheism; he uses a false start, a filler, a filled pause and an unvoiced pause when making this point (“…pau- point to the worst mass murderers (1) in err (1) modern times,” – line 108) to soften the blow and come across as less confrontational to Richard, who, as an atheist, may find this offensive.

This has the effect of entertaining the audience with a controversial point, whilst keeping a positive, friendly face by remaining polite. This hyperbolic statement, not to mention breach of Grice’s Maxim of quality, is used, I think, to further shock the audience and to generate more interest. Also, he indicated that Japan was a European country – “In Europe, the rise of atheism…of the population are non-believers, [in] Japan 65%”. Whether this was an accidental mistake or he genuinely thinks Japan is in Europe I do not know, but it causes him to lose face by appearing ignorant, not to mention again breaking Grice’s Maxim of quality.

The overall register of this interview could be described as rather informal. This is shown in the use of the concrete noun ‘guy’, especially in describing Jesus (“Jesus was a real guy…” – line 33). He also uses the verb phrase ‘throwing in [with Jesus]’ – line 40, using an idiom to describe his religious beliefs, again adding to the informal register, and linking to O’Reilly’s purpose of entertaining the audience by showing a friendly, approachable face, which also makes the audience more likely to side with him.

As O’Reilly and Dawkins have conflicting views, O’Reilly seems unwilling at times to let Dawkins make his points, often cutting him off before allowing him to make a valid contribution to the discussion. For example, when Dawkins says that “we have to be humble… “ – line 60, O’Reilly interrupts him by telling him that being humble is a Christian virtue, attempting to both discredit Dawkins and put himself (as a Christian) in a favourable light in the same breath (despite the fact that the virtue of humility predates Judeo-Christianity).

When Dawkins tries to dispute this, using the polite idiom ‘of course’ to acknowledge some validity in O’Reilly’s point and the conjunction ‘but’ to indicate a contrast in opinion (“of course it is, but-”) O’Reilly simply interrupts him again and changes the topic (“Alright well when you guys figure it out…” – line 71). Another example of this is when Dawkins is trying to defend atheism – “We’re [scientists] working on it [explaining how ‘it all got here’], physicists are working-“ – O’Reilly again interrupts him, saying, “Ah, when you get it then maybe I’ll listen”.

This indicates that he knows his own argument is weak and wont stand up to scrutiny, and so doesn’t let Dawkins respond to it. This is a clear attempt to save face (and credibility), and not appear lacking in knowledge in front of the audience, who may see a gap in his knowledge as a lack of validity in his argument. This is another good example of the conflict created by the opposing views, which makes the interview more interesting, and is therefore more entertaining for the audience.

When confronted with a point from Dawkins that he doesn’t know how to respond to (“You can’t prove that Zeus is not, you can’t prove that Apollo is not” – line 102), O’Reilly responds again with his avoidance techniques, using humour and swiftly changing the topic to attempt to save face (“We saw Apollo man he’s (. ) he was down there (b) he’s not looking good. (1) Now (2) we also differ in the sense that…” – line 105).

The false start goes to show that he is struggling to think of a response, and the long pauses before and after the time adverbial ‘now’ go to show that he is unsure of how to continue. In the section starting at line 130, Bill uses repetition of the pronoun ‘all’ when discussing the founding fathers of the United States three times – “almost all of them (1) they all said a prayer…they all reference the deity”. This use of repetition (along with the emphatic stress on two of them) has the effect of adding conviction to what is being said, reinforcing the message and underlining the idea.

It also adds to the conflict in the interview by showing that he rigorously disagrees with Dawkins who (on line 118) says that, “some of them were religious some of them were not” (again using emphatic stress and repetition to get his point across). I think it is interesting to note that Dawkins repeated the indefinite pronoun ‘some’ twice, once with emphasis, and in his response to this O’Reilly repeated ‘all’ three times, twice with emphasis – possibly trying to outdo Dawkins and reinforce his own point more.

Towards the end of the interview, Bill uses a face-threatening tactic as a last attempt to discredit Dawkins and his views, and to persuade the audience to take his side – yet another source of conflict in the interview. When Dawkins says that “Hitler and Stalin both had moustaches but we don’t say it was their moustaches that made them evil. ”, O’Reilly replies with “[laughs] I don’t think they had any moral foundation, any of those guys. ”.

He laughs at Dawkins’ ‘amusing’ analogy, but this is little more than a hedge to soften the blow. His comment breaks Grice’s maxim of relevance, as it had no real relevance to what Dawkins had said, and served to suggest that Dawkins supported them [Hitler and Stalin], again trying to make the audience take his side rather than Richard Dawkins’ through associating him with such evil people. This caused Dawkins to interrupt him, using the simple declarative sentence, “I don’t either”, in an attempt to save face.

At line 163 the conflict comes to an end, which is shown in O’Reilly’s attempt to be polite, congratulating Dawkins on his success and saying that his ‘book is fascinating’. However it is important to note the adjective ‘fascinating’; it implies that he finds the book interesting, but not that he agrees with it, and so subtly disagrees with Dawkins’ views whilst maintaining a polite face. The interview ended with a co-operative adjacency pair at line 164; BO’R: (…) thanks for coming on in here.

RD: Thank you very much indeed. Both participants are very polite, thanking each other in an effort to appear keep up a friendly, professional face, indicating that the conflict (and the interview) is over. Dawkins uses the post-modifying intensifier ‘very much’ and the affirmative adjective ‘indeed’ when thanking him to show himself in a favourable face, causing the audience to see him in a positive light, sympathize with and consider his views, and possibly to buy his book.