• Our Blogger

    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Jason on Ask a Priest
    Lauren on Ask a Priest
    rtosny2019 on Ask a Priest
    rtosny2019 on Ask a Priest
    rtosny2019 on Ask a Priest

Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 2

11822504_10153100550568435_7671604810005683182_n

A continuation from part #1.

Certain atheists must think that all Christians are gullible idiots.  They delight in espousing evolution as if that alone nullifies the message of Genesis and a Creator.  Unlike Fundamentalists, Catholics do not insist upon a 6,000 year old world or view the extinction of dinosaurs as the fault of an Ark that was too small to contain them.  It may be that these monsters were long gone when the first man stood upright.  Of course, the Jurassic Park movies and DNA research would suggest a modern meeting between these two creatures that alternately controlled the world.  Catholics believe that the Bible is inspired and contains salvation truth.  This is not the same as cosmic or archeological truth.  It is as the old saying would remind us, “The Bible does not teach us how the heavens go, but rather how to go to heaven.”

We are finding it the case in contemporary society that atheism is both on the rise and is more willing to actively engage believers. Previously, their attitude was largely one of silence. Those that spoke out were frequently associated with “godless Communism.” However, now that Asian Communists are largely and wrongly off our radar and the Red Threat has been exchanged for Islamic Extremists, many feel it is safe at home to espouse an atheism that places theism under the gun. It is a bit perplexing that atheism has become increasingly evangelical, seeking new avenues to spread its message, making converts, and ridiculing believers as stupid or uninformed. Given that they do not believe that God exists, is this not literally (from their perspective) a lot of talk about NOTHING? Why not allow the faithful to believe in God just as little children believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? What difference should it make to them?

Have atheists been personally wronged by people of faith? I remember one complained to a crowd that it was unfair that Christians, Jews and Moslems had recognized holidays and there were none for the atheists. An old man in the assembly shouted back, “But you do have a holiday!” Taken aback, the atheist critic stopped and asked what that might be? The old man answered, “The first of April, April Fool’s Day!” He quoted the Scriptures saying, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). Instead of a “live and let live” attitude, there are militant atheists who feel offended by any expressions of religious faith. Their ire erupts at the thought of public prayer, displays of the Ten Commandments, menorah’s, crèche’s and sometimes even Christmas trees. They are active in online social media and in law, doing all they can to restrict or eliminate the religious witness. These critics portray believers and especially Christians as ignorant fools who threaten modern liberties and sensible thinking. Believers are imaged as deluded or out of touch with reality, seeking to enslave minds to a fundamentalism that opposes the findings of experiential sciences. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially given the many great minds that have benefited Western culture, even though they were people of faith.

Is this payback time for all the times that Christians mocked or challenged people without strong religious convictions? I cannot say. Certainly the elements of respect and common courtesy have been strained on both sides of the debate. I cannot imagine how a person would want to live in a world without a God or without an existence beyond this world where mercy and justice is substantiated. Similarly, it seems the atheist is unable or unwilling to view religion as anything more than wishful thinking and empty myth. They become angry at what they interpret as muddled thinking and delusion. They wonder why we cannot be more like them. Christians might wonder why these men and women have been deprived of the gift of faith. Have they closed every window to their souls?

The mockery and inflammatory language really does not help. We saw much of this on the mall in 2012 when atheists gathered from across the U.S. The Reason Rally speakers and signs paraded all sorts of vulgar language and images. God’s name was taken in vain and more. There really was very little about reason or logical thinking. It was meant to shock and insult.  One participant was dressed in a costume that depicted Jesus riding a dinosaur.

slide_216911_811230_free

While there are some decent atheists who engage in respectful and civil dialogue, we are seeing the emergence a much more vulgar and shocking movement. They mock the message and the messengers. While they do not believe in God they employ language which insults him. The try to use the Bible in their attacks but often do not have the tools to understand or interpret God’s Word. Not only is the meaning of various texts twisted beyond recognition, obvious half-truths or exaggerations are expressed to make Christianity look silly and impoverished. Why the condescension and arrogance? The motives of Christians are questioned and the faith is discussed as a scam to rob simple people of their hard-earned money. Believers in the pews are disparaged as ignorant or mentally ill. Having noted their many assertions at gatherings, these are the kinds of things we hear:

“We should not be forced to abide by myths and fairytales!”

“Catholicism is a superstition at war with reason and science!”

“Christians would force their oppressive nonsense upon the rest of us, forcing us to live by their rules!”

“Religion is a delusion that lies to people so that they never grow up!”

“Christianity would have people suffer here and now for an imaginary pie in the sky in a life to come!”

“Our minds must be liberated from the shackles of religion!”

“Religion is never the answer but the root cause of our many problems!”

“People of faith are like lemmings jumping off the cliff or drowning themselves in the sea!”

The irony in all this is that the critical atheist has narrowed the parameters of truth even as he ridicules the believer’s understanding of reality and ability to logically reason. The believer has already been prejudged as a fool and religious slave. They cannot imagine how any person of even mediocre intelligence could disagree with them. Atheism as a belief of its own, has replaced popes and bishops with certain scientists, authors and media celebrities. Most atheists are not first class minds but like other types of believers, following others who are more persuasive and charismatic. Religious people may by and large fall into the same game park. Astrophysicists and mathematicians may impress them with facts and jargon that they, themselves, could never comprehend left to their own resources. An analogy might be cars and computers. We might like to drive cars and surf the internet on computers. But how many of us could build a car or computer from scratch or even repair one? We all have our pet ideas but also rely upon differing authorities who claim to see further or more clearly than the rest.

While Catholicism would insist upon a complementarity of truth, there is definitely a prejudice from atheists as to what they regard as acceptable. Many reject philosophy altogether while others will acknowledge certain Marxists and/or materialists. I have noted in discussions their quotes from Bentham, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Rand, Russell, Sartre, and Schopenhauer. Rosenberg, Singer and Harris are still alive and speak for themselves. They tend to reject theology as a legitimate area of study and categorize Christian philosophers as tainted, not true philosophers but as theologians in disguise. Unfortunately, this throws out a great deal of the intellectual inheritance from Western culture: Augustine of Hippo, Frederick Copleston, René Descartes, Étienne Gilson, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Jacques Maritain, and Thomas Aquinas, etc. While outside the Catholic tradition, contemporary philosophy must take into consideration the contributions and genius of Immanuel Kant, i.e. about matters like human knowing and the philosophy of God.

Science is divinized by certain atheists, but not by all, as the only genuine source of truth. But we are often quick to assume that mankind has the capacity (or at least a few individuals) to pierce the deepest mysteries. There might also be a reduction of truth to the mathematical or that which can be empirically proven. Because of assumptions and missing links, critics have sometimes charged atheists with fabricating a non-theistic faith or religion. This undermines their claims of objectivity and critical or logical reasoning. Should truth be reduced to the methodology of experiment, trial and error, or a math that requires what may be fictional multiple dimensions to make the sums come out straight?

There is a wonderful intellectual tradition that has been fostered by the faith. The posture of the creature to the Creator is not merely one of fear but of awe. Claims may seem unsubstantiated, but ours is a faith seeking understanding— not a faith at war with truth or reason. Of course, the believer has a heightened appreciation for the nature of mystery. We encounter one whom we will never completely comprehend. The finite is called into relationship with the infinite.

The slurs against Christianity often shock and confuse me. There seems to be a terrible disconnect from the faith I know and live out each day. The message of Christ and the apostles is one of sacrificial love and boundless mercy. We are to forgive beyond measure. We are to place the needs of others before ourselves. Fear of the Lord does not mean running away from God in terror. It means a reverence toward God as the source of our lives and the gifts we cherish. It is true that we are servants of the Word, not its master. We do look to God and not to man as the arbiter of our discipleship and morality. But the face that God shows us is one where everyone is loved and everyone is deemed to have an immeasurable dignity. During the first days of Christianity, there was a heresy where some claimed that the apparently harsh God of the Old Testament was not the gentle God of Jesus in the New. This falsehood was condemned. There is but one God and he does not change. However, while human nature and sin remains the same, the minds and hearts of men were changing and being prepared for the fullness of truth in Christ. Ours is the God of love and forgiveness. He sends his Son so that he might be in solidarity with us, both in the sorrowful and in the joyful. God is not out to smite us but to call us back to him as his children.

Is religion only empty myth? Invisible does not mean non-existent. We cannot see the air either but it makes possible our breathing and the wind. When God does show his face, he does so through one who has entered the human family. While the Gospels give us different theologies and traditions, they also testify to the hundreds of witnesses to Christ’s teachings, miracles and his resurrection. The apostles and so many others were willing to witness with their lives. Men and women would not die for a lie. They had seen, touched and eaten with the Risen Christ. The eye witnesses and their accounts affirm the validity of Christian claims. They knew his risen presence and had a real personal and corporate relationship with him.

But, as I have so often taught, faith is a gift. It cannot be merited by good works or manufactured with education and printed degrees. This being the case, atheists might still debate or even deny the faith; however, they should do so objectively. Atheists shame themselves when they offer attacks against persons, demonstrate overwhelming disrespect, and employ visual and verbal ridicule or mockery.

The website Athiests.org states that “WE ARE ATHEISTS BECAUSE…

“Godism had to be fought when humankind made its successive steps toward science, liberty, and reform.”

“Godism was invented in the earliest days of mankind’s ignorance.”

“Godism is consistent with crime, cruelty, envy, hatred, malice, and uncharitableness.”

tumblr_m1g2k6ZGDN1qd7hayo1_500Critics see the faith in the very opposite way that believers do. The Church makes possible virtue, compassion, love, good works, and charity. Indeed, the faith is no enemy of ethics but a necessary guide. The Church urges a study of both divine positive law and natural law, promoting inquiry and logical thinking upon the nature of things and the order we find. The charges made against Christianity and believers are not realized in the Church but are made manifest in her enemies and their intolerance. The argument is made that all things religious must disappear. Believers are told that they can practice their faith within the walls of their churches but not outside. Christian morality is dismissed and believers are punished for rejecting a secular modernity and its new values. Thus, prayer is stripped from schools and contraception education is inserted into the curriculum, with condoms replacing abstinence training. Employers must pay for abortifacients in health plans in stark contradiction to the Gospel of Life which they believe. An instance of this intolerance was recently taken to absurdity with bakers in Oregon fined 135,000 dollars for refusing to bake wedding cakes for lesbians, and then stamped with a gag order, suffering the loss of job and home. Knights of Columbus halls are told that they must rent to homosexual wedding receptions or face legal action from the government. Now Catholic schools and parish ministries are being informed that they must allow those who live deviant lifestyles or who advocate abortion to be employed. An atheist professor goes on YouTube and urges teens to steal the consecrated host from churches so that he can shows pictures of desecration online. The lists go on and on. Where is the real hatred and bigotry? It seems to be on the other foot. Many atheists teach a false freedom. They have toleration for their own and those who share their agenda; however, they interpret any freedom in Christ as a bondage that cannot be tolerated.

See part # 3 that continues this topic.