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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Christianity versus the New Atheist, part 7

A continuation from part #6.

MISS ATHEIST

I’m glad you agree that megalomaniacs are the same, religion or not. Which shows that your claims that atheism is somehow at fault for millions of deaths is simply not true. You make claims that megalomaniacs somehow find comfort in the vacuum of atheism. How does that work? Or is this just one more vague claim that you can’t support, using it to tar atheists unfairly? And I wonder, just how can puny humans “exploit and corrupt religion” when this god of yours supposedly kept people from doing that by killing those who would do such things. It is notable that your god mysteriously doesn’t do what it is claimed to have done in its myths.

FATHER JOE

All I was trying to say is that deaths at the altar of atheism or religion are both heinous. I would no more condemn all atheists or communists for atrocities under Stalin and Mao than I would blame the Pope and the Church for the many sins of those who claimed to be Christian. Did I say that megalomaniacs find comfort in the vacuum of atheism? Actually, I think the message of any religion or philosophy can be twisted or corrupted. Errors in thinking may have a greater proclivity for such manipulation but no ideology or belief system is immune. I am trying to recall, did I actually say that atheism is a vacuum? Yes, it is true that God is deleted from scenarios; however, it seems to me that something else is always deposited in his place— like nature itself or mankind. It is in this sense that it can become a form of faith, albeit without a supernatural deity.

I believe that God makes possible through grace the reform and transformation of believers. However, we must also be disposed to God’s intervention. There is no guarantee that every believer will become a saint and go to heaven. God will not force his friendship upon anyone. Catholic doctrine stipulates that in Christ all are redeemed. But this is different from the question of salvation. There is a universal call to salvation. This does not mean everyone is saved. While Christ has conquered sin and death; this does not mean that sin and death have been utterly undone. This latter expectation must wait until the final consummation of the world.

MISS ATHEIST

I can criticize humans as a group when they kill, and again I can point out that your religion advocates killing others. You might have an argument if the bible wasn’t always showing this god killing and insisting that its people kill. Atheism is nothing more than concluding that there is no god. There is no morality attached to it. Atheists vary greatly on what their morality is, it is not atheism that makes people want to kill others. I don’t and thus we have evidence that your claims that atheism does make someone somehow amoral are false. What is there about Marxism that says to commit genocide? Marx saw religion as a complex thing, that it could be bad but it also could be good, a solace to the working class. It was when Lenin came that atheism was added. And then Stalin was a lunatic and if you wish to go there, one can say that people also can corrupt and exploit atheism.

FATHER JOE OFFERS QUOTES:

Karl Marx

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

“Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again.”

“The first requisite for the happiness of the people is the abolition of religion.”

Vladimir Lenin

“Atheism is the natural and inseparable part of Communism.”

“Our program necessarily includes the propaganda of atheism.”

“Religion must be declared a private affair. In these words socialists usually express their attitude towards religion. But the meaning of these words should be accurately defined to prevent any misunderstanding. We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned. Religion must be of no concern to the state, and religious societies must have no connection with governmental authority. Everyone must be absolutely free to profess any religion he pleases, or no religion whatever, i.e., to be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule. Discrimination among citizens on account of their religious convictions is wholly intolerable. Even the bare mention of a citizen’s religion in official documents should unquestionably be eliminated. No subsidies should be granted to the established church nor state allowances made to ecclesiastical and religious societies.”

Josef Stalin

“I believe in one thing only, the power of human will.”

“The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”

FATHER JOE CONTINUES

My religion is the Catholic faith. Catholicism is not a book religion as treated by some of the Protestant denominations. Even before there was a New Testament and a complete Bible, the Catholic Church was preaching the Gospel, celebrating the Lord’s Supper and making converts. It was the Church and her bishops that determined the canon of the Bible. We believe that the Holy Spirit preserves the Church in the truth regarding faith and morals. Just because certain matters were tolerated in Scripture or because sinful men compromised their faith in history does not detract from the truth of the faith. It is what it is, even when men fail to live it out. Focusing not upon Scripture or past history, tell me who today or what group does the Catholic Church want killed? The Church is a living thing. Look at the here and now. My religion does not advocate killing others. Indeed, she is attacked for defending human life and dignity from murder in euthanasia and abortion. She admits wrong and asks for forgiveness in regard to past wrongs committed by Christians. The famous “mea culpas” of Saint John Paul II and now the present pope speak to this. She argues for peace in a world racing toward war. Now there are militant Moslems who argue for forced conversions and Jihad or Holy War. Pope Benedict XVI said in Turkey several years ago that this concept must be rejected. He was charged with attacking the Koran and over a million people around the world protested and made death cries against him. The Church would try to protect you as much as any of its own against such challenges to human freedom, conscience and life.

You contend that atheism is merely the claim that there is no deity. However, like religion, there is no generic brand. It is most often informed and promulgated in various defining ways. Technically some believers may be practical atheists; they live as if there is no God. Other atheists believe in the laws of nature and it is to this group that the Church actively dialogues and seeks collaboration for an ethical society. Then there are atheists who buy into the fads and fashions of a secular and somewhat hedonistic society, all with little or no real mental reflection. There are also atheists who literally raise man to the divine dais. Science can manipulate man and prolong his life. Ethics become merely the laws we agree upon through legislation or judicial activism, regardless of precedent or claims of a natural law and order. Communism was often connected to atheism in the popular mindset, but unrestrained Capitalism combined with a liberal secular humanism can make an equal claim upon atheism. I have not made a great study of the question but I can talk about those whom I have encountered. Traditionally there has been the atheist who approaches the issue with a clear head and in a logical manner. Often he is more an agnostic than a full-fledged atheist. He will politely debate the question. He will contradict you but not insist upon converting you. However, it seems that such a one is being replaced by a more aggressive or activist atheist. The discussion is not enough for him. He feels that religion rots society like blight. He dreams of a utopia that has cast aside religion and its restraints. Frequently this atheist is also a lobbyist for abortion or gay marriage or other matters opposed by Christian churches. Agnosticism is a sub-category of atheism. Such a person just does not know if there is a deity or not. He does not see how it changes things one way or the other. He may ask the question, is there a God? But he is doubtful of a definitive answer. How would we know? How could we communicate? His perspective frequently vacillates. Religion is viewed as the enemy.

Religious people are defined as stupid or gullible or wrong-headed. Their churches or temples or synagogues or mosques are attacked as bastions of ignorance. Religion is faulted for all the major crimes of past history. Religion and believers are denied influence upon society by rules that protect secular humanism by criminalizing religious influence as a violation of Church-State protocols. Religion is equated with the obsolete and backward moving. Such an advocate views himself as enlightened and as if he has a proprietary hold on rationality. He and his kind are increasingly aggressive and want to force their views down the throats of others. Their attitude toward believers is anger, mockery and dismay. “How can you believe? How can you be so thick and stupid? Look at all the suffering and death in the world! Do you really believe a good god would allow this, if he existed? Where is he hiding? Why is it that he does not show himself?”

Some atheists show no interest in religion or arguing about it. It is just not a matter on the table. I have known other atheists who see value in the Ten Commandments, at least those dealing with human interaction, and find wisdom in the words of peace from Christ. Jesus becomes an important sage or philosopher, but not Messiah, Savior or Lord. This is reckoned the only life we will ever know; and within this understanding they try to live a happy life and to be a good neighbor. These atheists may sometimes practice religious rituals or go to church. But it is not to worship an invisible God, but to sustain family and social harmony. Cultural Catholics might fit into this category, men and women who approach the altar only at Christmas and Easter. It speaks to a cultural identification and an attachment to various familiar rituals.

MISS ATHEIST

Per a Pew research report, there are 67 million Christians in China (as of 2010), quite a few for being “persecuted.” It does seem that the Christians whose church got bulldozed weren’t entirely blameless, if they did indeed take more land than they requested. That may or may not be true, and we both know that Christians aren’t always honest and upright citizens. Is it okay to take something that is not yours? You also complain that the communists somehow dismiss the values of the Gospel. Now what are those values, since Christians don’t agree about what they are at all? As I have pointed out, the gospels do say to kill those who aren’t Christians. That’s as much of the gospel as “do to others as you would have done to you,” an idea older by far than Christianity. Indeed, communism is what Jesus preached. The big C communists did screw that up, though from human failure rather than that the idea was bad.

FATHER JOE

So after all the misdirection you are a supporter of Communism?  There are indeed millions of Christians in China. They have suffered their churches being destroyed and crosses torn down. The Roman Catholic Church is still illegal on the mainline and Catholics are forced into the so-called Patriotic Church. But I am sickened at this discussion as you would now side with the atheistic Communists against suffering people of faith. Communism ultimately says that nothing is yours. In one town local agreements for a church were nullified by the Communist party and the new facility was bull-dozed. I suppose you would cheer such a dark eventuality. Our Lord did not preach Communism. Communism makes the person the property of the state and yet we belong to God. Your true colors are now shown.

MISS ATHEIST

Hitler was indeed a Christian. He certainly didn’t seem to want to destroy the RCC when he was having his picture taken with the cardinals and didn’t bomb the Vatican or even bother it. What secular religion did Hitler want to start? I’m well read about Hitler and the Nazis and it seems that having “Gott Mitt Uns” on one’s belt buckle doesn’t seem very secular. Indeed, he was quite enamored of the idea that the Jews killed Christ, something that is quite biblical as is Paul’s insistence that the “Hebrews” are quite awful people. I’ve read “Mein Kampf,” a piece of crap but certainly it is Hitler’s manifesto.

FATHER JOE

Hitler spoke out of both sides of his mouth. His grandmother may have had him baptized but he was not much of a Christian. Like so many politicians, even Stalin, he used religion for political and pragmatic purposes. Catholic League President, William A. Donohue wrote in February 4, 1999: “Hitler was a neo-pagan terrorist whose conscience was not informed by Christianity, but by pseudo-scientific racist philosophies. Hitler hated the Catholic Church, made plans to kill the Pope, authorized the murder of thousands of priests and nuns, and did everything he could to suppress the influence of the Church.” He spoke of Christianity as “the Jewish Christ-creed with its effeminate, pity-ethics.” This paganism has a greater kinship with a liberal secular modernity than it does with Catholicism. Hitler’s plans included the establishment of a state religion with himself as its head.

MISS ATHEIST

Hmmm, you claim that totalitarian movements are somehow on the increase with the rise of atheism. Where is the evidence supporting this? It seems that you are quite ignorant on what secular humanism is, when you try to lump it together with rampant commercialism and materialism. But that is not surprising at all.

FATHER JOE

I make no claim to personal infallibility. However, the rise of secular humanism has emerged hand-in-hand with a rampant commercialism; indeed, persons are frequently reduced to commodities. When the spiritual is denied, everything is limited to the material. I suspect that many tyrants found atheism appealing in that it released them from the restraints of a moral code that they rejected. Communism could make people pawns of the state and unrestrained Capitalism could categorize people as assets or liabilities for profit. You fall short in appreciating this because you care more about swinging mud than pondering serious questions of philosophical meaning.

MISS ATHIEST

Oh, and now we get the typical and false claim that atheists are only rebelling— anything to imagine that atheists don’t have plenty of reasons not to believe in any gods. I certainly have no problem in standing up against humans who want to claim that their imaginary friend disapproves of things that they personally hate, and does their best to use ignorance and fear to make people obey. As I have said, Christians want to claim that only their version is the truth, and without evidence. Humanity constantly gets better and goes beyond what was called the “truth” a thousand or a hundred years ago, and religion has to keep up, claiming that their holy books really did say what humans now believe, trying to retcon their hidebound ignorance into modern mores.

FATHER JOE

Well, YOU are rebelling. You would tear down structures of faith that go back into time immemorial. You rebel and resist religion and, by your own attestation, would make impotent the religious voice in our society. If what you said were true, there would be a commonality in values between the Church and a modern secular humanism.  However, upon issue after issue, there is a conflict.  Until now you seemed to acknowledge this disconnect.  The Church is not fabricating teachings or altering the past to catch up with the secular present and future.  The issue is that civilization is increasingly on a different moral trajectory from the Church.  The Church’s teachings both reflect religious themes and a particular philosophical understanding about what constitutes humanity and its place in the created order.  While elements of this might be shared with those outside the Church, the real fight is with those who have a wholly different assessment regarding human identity and the basic meanings associated with natural law and existence, itself.

Most of this dialogue has avoided the reasons for atheism. That is unfortunate because such would make for a more dynamic and reasonable discussion. But this is less about atheism than it is the attack upon religion and people of faith. You should acknowledge that believers in gods or in men are all vulnerable to human weakness, villainy and inordinate desires. Catholicism does not use fear to make our point. Rather, we employ a reasoned defense of truth. The Church has never settled with imperfect contrition. It is so much better to love God than simply to fear the fires of hell. Catholicism has embraced learning in all its forms: theology, philosophy, science, language, art, music, etc. We employ the entire human experience to make our point and to help seekers to acknowledge the divine spark. Atheists will sometimes say that believers have no evidence; but in truth what happens is that they redefine what constitutes evidence. That is a slippery way to refuse believers any ground for their argument. At the same time, the atheist has gaps in his own appreciation of reality. He must trust in the brains of smarter atheists because few men can unravel the twists and turns of quantum physics or decipher the math of string-theory.

The deposit of faith is set but there is no dishonesty in the development of doctrine. God respects where we are and how much we can understand. Hopefully our theological reflection draws us ever deeper into the divine mystery. The seeds planted in the Gospel are real… blossoming into profound teachings about the sanctity of human life, the dignity of persons, and the need to be good stewards of the gifts given us.