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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 4

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A continuation from part #3.

I sometimes wonder about the utility of debates.  Each side makes its jabs or points, and opponents may even run away from issues they would rather not admit.  Too often the target switches from the topic to the persons, themselves.

MISS ATHEIST

Where have I mocked anyone’s sacrifice? It seems that you have resorted to making up something in order to attack me.

FATHER JOE

Impugning the values of Christianity is to mock the sacrifices of believers. I am not surprised that you fail to see this. Many atheists fail to see any overriding importance to religion, although a few acknowledge it as a power (even if in potency) for good. Religion can also be disfigured or corrupted. The more worthwhile and truthful a religion the more monstrous it becomes when mangled and misdirected.

MISS ATHEIST

I find that anyone who dies because someone else thinks that their religion is the only right one is a tragedy.

FATHER JOE

Look at what you write. I am sure you are thinking of the Moslem extremist killing a Christian when the threats of forced conversion have failed. The followers of Islam do believe that their religion is true. But note that the Catholic and Coptic Christian also believe that his faith in Christ is true. He dies because he believes his religion is the right one and that it is worthy of sacrifice. Belittle the faith and you mock him. Martyrdom is a tragedy but it is a powerful and even inspiring witness for the Christian. Catholic or Christian martyrdom means dying while forgiving your murderers. This is a far cry from the Islamic view of martyr put forward by the Koran and extremists as someone who dies killing the infidel (enemy).

I am unsure as to whether or not anyone is currently targeting atheists, but the radical Moslems are battling Christianity, not only because they believe in forced conversions but because they have declared war against what they call “the nation of the Cross.” The reason for the murder is not just because of their interpretation of faith but about how it fuels a hatred of others who are different. Moslems can attack the Church with the sword while atheistic secular humanists resort to verbal propaganda and legal manipulation.

MISS ATHEIST

Atheists vary with that they think about religion. I think anyone should have the right to worship as you wish but you do not have the right to force your religion on others and I will always stand against that.

FATHER JOE

The problem with what you write is how you might think religion is pressed upon you. The Church in the United States makes much of our legacy for religious liberty. The American bishops feel that recent measures by the current administration undermine the ability of believers and the Church to live out their faith. Abortion is not merely a religious issue but a human one. The sanctity of life is essential and basic; strip it away and all other rights disappear. Homosexual unions and no fault divorce touch upon how we define human sexuality and the meaning of marriage and the family. How we treat immigrants and the poor speak about our appreciation of human dignity and the right to work with a livable wage. The Church is attacked for intrusion on all these points. Now the Holy Father is facing assault for reminding us that we must be good stewards of the planet and our environment.

Religion is more than worship. Faith cannot be locked behind doors or trapped between the walls of a church. Catholics are not forcing their worship upon you. You are not being compelled to participate at Mass or to receive Holy Communion. No one is forcing you to kneel before the tabernacle in the sanctuary. How does any of this apply to your right to worship or not to worship?

How does a display of a Menorah or a Cross or a Crèche or a Buddha really hurt you? Even if they are not always my religious symbols, I see in them elements of our cultural richness and diversity. I respect them and the good people behind them just as I hope they would do the same for me. No, the real issue is that some do not want people of faith to share their ethical views as citizens in the public forum. I am similarly grieved that ISIS has destroyed ancient archaeological sites and idols, not because I placed faith in them but because they were part of our human legacy and history.

MISS ATHEIST

So, I *do* exactly what you would wish I would do. It would be nice if you would do such a thing too, to defend the rights of all men and women to practice any religion that they choose or none at all.

FATHER JOE

Here you are wrong about me and my faith. But you are wrong about a great many things.

MISS ATHEIST

You don’t do that, you try to claim that atheists are no better than Stalin or Mao.

FATHER JOE

No, I did not say that. Rather, I refuted the claim that atheists have no blood on their hands. Just as the recent Popes have made “mea culpas” for the sins of Christians in the past, we all have to acknowledge our faults and shortcomings.

MISS ATHEIST

Your church spends millions on trying to remove the rights of others to worship or not worship as they choose.

FATHER JOE

And how is it that we do this? Again, what is worship and what is religious practice? The deception here is yours.

MISS ATHEIST

Christians spend millions trying to convert each other. I always found it bizarre when my church sent people to countries that were almost entirely Catholic— so much for wanting religious freedom.

FATHER JOE

While your former church may have done so, the Catholic Church does not actively proselytize. We do not stand outside of synagogues or mosques seeking to convert Jews and Moslems. We do not try to steal the congregants from other Christian communities. Indeed, even when we go door to door, our efforts target fallen-away Catholics and the un-churched. If people are happy in their church, we pray with them, share our love for the Lord and then go to the next door. It is true that people from other churches often come to us, entering our catechetical programs. We respect their decisions. After a year of instruction, they are free to become a Catholic or walk away. We place no force upon them other than instruction and dialogue. We respect their faith journey. Parents are urged to raise their children in the faith but when it comes time for Confirmation, it must be the decision of the youth. Faith cannot be forced. I would urge you to read the Vatican II document  on religious liberty and the universal Catechism freedom of conscience. While we are not responsible for the bigotry of other denominations; Catholicism is a religion that has matured over the last two thousand years just as we have seen an organic development of doctrine. The deposit of faith is fixed but our understanding is not.

MISS ATHEIST

There is no evidence of any Christian “holocaust” and to try to make believe such a thing devalues the term holocaust and those people who really were exposed to hatred and genocide. I’m not sure where the Israeli prime minister made any reference to a Christian holocaust, though he did claim that making a deal with Iran would cause a second Jewish one. Perhaps you can show me the correct quote.

FATHER JOE

I can appreciate the sensitivity of Jews in regard to the label “holocaust” but denying the mass murder of Christians and others is just as heinous as those who deny the Nazi murders that targeted an entire people. The early Church suffered persecution first under the Jews and then under pagan Rome. Believers died like flies. Hitler’s regime killed six million Jews and at least 11 million others rated as sub-humans, like the Slav Gypsies. Pope Francis was criticized recently by the Turks for mentioning the murder of 1.5 million Armenians under the Ottoman Empire. Almost a million Cappadocian residents were also killed (Greek Orthodox). As many as 7 million Ukrainians died under Stalin. As many as 3 million Igbos (many who are Christian) have been starved or killed outright in Nigeria. There are many other terrible efforts to murder populations of people as well. The Irish Catholics view the Great Famine as an act of genocide, given that they were dispossessed from their own land by the British government. Food was exported when people were starving.

We read in the news from Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia) (AFP) (AFP) – “Pope Francis called for an end to what he said was the ‘genocide’ of Christians taking place in the Middle East and beyond.” Whatever word we use, the horrific nature of what is happening should not be dismissed.

CNS News reports: “‘Christianity in Mosul is dead, and a Christian holocaust is in our midst,’ said Mark Arabo, a Californian businessman and Chaldean-American leader. In an interview with CNN’s Jonathan Mann, he called what’s happening in Iraq a ‘Christian genocide’ and said ‘children are being beheaded, mothers are being raped and killed, and fathers are being hung.’”

There are images and videos all over the Internet. If you fail to appreciate the gravity of this contemporary horror then your bigotry has strained your relationship with the human family and the needs of the hurting. In light of such blindness, I suppose it is the sensitivity of PM Benjamin Netanyahu to the plight of Christians in the Middle East that gives me cause for hope, especially as he connected the lines between the evils of Hitler and the threat from Iran and ISIS. Many of us were moved by his address to Congress and his Christmas message to Christians. This time Christians and Jews must stand together and become fully aware of the danger that threatens us… particularly if we do not want the mistakes of the past repeated in the present.

MISS ATHEIST

You again make false claims about atheists and me in particular. I am indeed about charity and justice. I find that justice is very important, and that is one of the reasons I find that the Biblical god is anything but just or fair; damning people for the actions of others. I give to charities to help my fellow humans. What does it say about Christianity when you make false claims?

FATHER JOE

I can judge your words but I do not know you or what charities, if any, you support. But if there be any false claims, they are yours… especially in denying the horrific suffering of Catholics and Coptics under ISIS. But it should be added that Christians are suffering in Africa and Asia as well. Your comment was longer than my initial post, forcing this elongated response.

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MISS ATHEIST

I was on the national mall for the atheist gathering. I know that your claims of all atheists making strawmen attacks are false, for a strawman attack would mean the words of the speakers weren’t true, and that is not the case. Which speaker cursed your god’s name? Which speakers were “dropping the “F” bomb? I’m sure there were people in the crowed, but on stage? Again, I was there and I do not recall this happening. Care to support your claim with names and quotes?

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FATHER JOE

You want me to object to ridicule and obscenity by giving them a forum on my blog? That will not happen. I am a big fan of the show Mythbusters with Adam Savage. Savage is a vocal atheist. Just mentioning him, we can look at his speech at the so-called Reason Rally on the Mall. Among his facts he lists “E equals MC-f-cking-squared.” Why the vulgarity? He hurts his point about civility and shared values. Then you add his beliefs, as with “You cannot teach kids about sex by telling them not to have it.” What’s the alternative, saying it is okay? Next he states, “I believe that people have an inalienable right to choose what to do with their own bodies.” There is a truth here but what about the bodies of unborn children?

MISS ATHEIST

Carl Sagan may have been an agnostic, but he said you were wrong just as strongly as any atheist. He pointed out that your religion is based on false claims, no more worthy of belief than the claim of having a dragon in his garage. What he considered a possible god was not the god of Christianity, an existential entity that controls the flights of birds; his god was that of Einstein, the sum total of physical laws of the universe. He may have worked with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (when was this? And what was the difference made in the world since I cannot find one mention of this on the Internet?), but again, I have donated money to Christian charities. I don’t damn people doing good works just because I don’t agree with all of their claims.

FATHER JOE

Sagan was wrong to criticize the Church for the destruction of the great library at Alexandria, but I have no issue with him or anyone else in expressing views in a civil manner. It is precisely that civility that we are currently lacking in the exchange of ideas. Note here that you immediately discount my beliefs and compare theism to claiming a dragon in the garage. You do not acknowledge a reductionism in what constitutes proof and reasoning. You do not acknowledge how truth is strained through varying hermeneutics. Catholicism would claim that ours is a “personal” God but also the author of the universe and of the laws that we can discern through observation or extrapolate through higher mathematics. We would not claim that the laws of the physical universe themselves constitute a deity as this would be a form of cosmic pantheism. You seem to question every assertion I make as if this were a college dissertation, even Sagan’s collaboration with the Church for science and peace. Before his death he was also helpful with the Vatican’s plans to modernize its observatory.

I could load you down with questions, but I accept your word that you give to charities, even Christian ones. If I were to wear your hat I would immediately ask which ones and how much? I suppose in that sense the respect here is not really mutual.

MISS ATHEIST

It seems that you have a problem with atheists who dare to show you wrong, Father Joe. You want nice docile atheists that sit down and shut up when told. Those days are long gone, and we have no problem in saying that the emperor has no clothes. We aren’t afraid of the stake anymore and we’ve never been afraid of your impotent god.

FATHER JOE

No, I have a problem with atheists who lack civility and suffer from hubris. I am somewhat incredulous that there should be such venom against a deity that you say does not exist. I am also unaware of any great list of martyrs for atheism. It is unfortunate that people of religious faith should have sometimes opposed each other in violent ways; but for most of human history atheists were not even on the radar.

The news is currently reporting about the so-called Devil in Detroit. While there are Satanists and occultists excited about this, the major proponents for the statue are atheists. It is a ploy to strip Judeo-Christian symbols like the Cross and the Ten Commandments from public memorials. It is actually quite a cunning plan, although as a Catholic I have to wonder if there might be a demonic manipulation behind the scenes. This statue is made to shock and upset Christians, especially with figures of children looking up at it with trust. The group that fabricated the $100,000 idol insists that they do not really worship Satan. Rather, their leader says, “We believe in a metaphorical, literary construct of Satan. He’s a symbol for rebellion, a symbol of human nature, the thirst for knowledge.”

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See part #5 that continues this topic.