What an Atheist Would Say to Pope Benedict XVI

At yesterday’s Papal Protest (sponsored by American Atheists), several people gathered to hold “peaceful demonstrations… to protest the papal agenda for cultural, social and political hegemony.”

Herb Silverman, the president of the Secular Coalition for America, was one of the attendees and speakers.

These were his remarks (reprinted with permission):

A Catholic News Service article mentioned that Pope Benedict XVI will be paying close attention to what people have to say in the United States. “This pope is a great listener,” said papal spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. Well, I think this is just terrific, because I hope he will listen carefully to our words and perhaps even act on some of them. This is what I would say to the pope if I have the opportunity to meet him.

Pope Benedict, I would first like to defend you against some scurrilous allegations. I don’t believe the pope is the Antichrist, as many Christians do — including Pastor John Hagee, Sen. John McCain’s spiritual advisor, who also called the Catholic Church the whore of Babylon and a cult. It is not the whore of Babylon, and is no more a cult than is Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, or any other religion that values faith more than reason.

I was thrilled when you said, “A world marked by so much injustice, innocent suffering and cynicism of power cannot be the work of a good God. A God with responsibility for such a world would not be a just God, much less a good God.” Unfortunately, you didn’t claim these as your own words, but as arguments used by atheists. Still, I give you credit in this instance for accurately portraying my view.

As a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, I support your free speech right to promote your beliefs, just as I supported the rights of the American Nazi Party (the American version of the Hitler Youth) to march in Skokie years ago. I have always felt that the best counter to bad or hateful speech is good speech, not censorship. If you agree with these free speech views and the importance of dialogue with those with whom you may disagree, I hope you will invite some of us to the Vatican to better understand our perspective.

I would like to express my appreciation to Ellen Johnson and American Atheists for bringing diverse groups together for this event. As President of the Secular Coalition for America, we also encourage different nontheistic groups to put aside the 5% on which they disagree and cooperate on the 95% with which we agree. So, Pope Benedict, I consider it progress that you, too, have begun to look for ways to cooperate rather than continue fighting against factions with whom you have doctrinal differences.

Unfortunately, your cooperation with other Christians is for the purpose of defending the faith against secularism, which you declare to be a fundamental problem of modern society. You have even made it the goal of your papacy to counteract secularism, claiming that atheism was responsible for some of the greatest forms of cruelty in history, citing leaders like Stalin and Mao. I would point out that the cruelty under such regimes was made possible not because its leaders were atheists, but because its leaders were granted unquestioned power and loyalty. Dissenters were banished, imprisoned, or killed. Such actions, whether propagated by secular or religious regimes, are inexcusable. Democratic countries that tolerate dissent are the countries most likely to promote human rights for all people. These happen to be the secular governments you decry, not the theocratic governments you apparently would like us to emulate.

You have the right, Pope Benedict, to argue that our secular country should become more theocratic, but we have an important ally: our Constitution, our godless U.S. Constitution, which gives us the right to worship one, many, or no gods. We proudly promote freedom of conscience for all people. We will defend secularism against theocratic attacks, whether such attacks come from fundamentalist Islam or from your Church. Such attacks motivate us even more to keep our government secular.

You said you are greatly disturbed because atheists put their faith in human reason and freedom. I, too, would be greatly disturbed if human reason and freedom had led to atheist Crusades, atheist Inquisitions, atheist Witch Burnings, or atheist Suicide Bombers.

You said in an encyclical that many people reject religious faith because they no longer find the prospect of an eternal afterlife attractive. Not true. We don’t find an eternal afterlife unattractive, we just find it unbelievable. You say that fear of God is ultimately at the root of modern atheism. But how can we fear a god whose existence we don’t accept? We do fear many of God’s defenders, those inspired by God to destroy infidels and heretics.

You also decry moral relativism, which undermines your pronouncements on absolutism. Yes, we generally are tolerant of other points of view coming from those who wish us no harm. We are also willing to change when new evidence warrants. Otherwise, we might be stuck defending some outlandish claims written thousands of years ago. We are mindful of the words of Lord Acton, speaking about papal absolutism: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Even your Church has shown inclinations toward relativism. In 1990, as Cardinal Ratzinger, you were still maintaining that the actions of the Church at the time of Galileo were justified because it took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching. However, in 2000, your predecessor finally apologized for the Church’s treatment of Galileo. Though several hundred years late, after such overwhelming scientific evidence that even your Church could no longer deny, this is still progress away from absolutism. Your Church also apologized in 2000 for excesses in the Inquisition, for Witch Burning, and for its silence during the Holocaust.

Now, Pope Benedict, I would like to suggest that you take action on a few obvious items so that a future pope (if the papacy still exists) does not have to apologize for them. If you care about human rights, please support stem cell research that likely one day will lead to cures for many diseases. And stop denigrating gays and lesbians simply because they want a loving sexual relationship. Even though you oppose a woman’s right to choose, at least drop your opposition to the use of condoms. You must realize that comprehensive sex education programs make abortions more rare. Do you want a future pope to apologize for all those who died from AIDS because your Church preferred death without condoms to life with condoms?

Your Church can look rather foolish when its reasons keep changing while your conclusions remain the same. It used to accept the wisdom of St. Bonaventure, who said: “Since only the male was made in the image of God, only the male can receive the godlike office of priest.” After such claims of female inferiority became a bit embarrassing, even to the Church, the story changed to, “Only males can hold positions of leadership in the Church because all the apostles were male.” By that reasoning, I am more qualified to be pope than you. All the apostles were married Jews, just like me. So either your Church must again change its reasoning, Pope Benedict XVI, or I would like future consideration to become Pope Herb I.

The next peaceful protests will be held this weekend.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://fideism.googlepages.com fideism

    Well-written opinion piece there. I would only change the part saying all apostles were married Jews to most apostles instead. The apostle Paul never married.

  • che carsner

    Um dude.. Paul wasn’t an apostle… He claims he was, but since he never actually met Jesus, and was most likely docetic (Hebrews chapter 8.. verse 4 for the clue) in his belief about Jesus, I think its safe to say he wasn’t an apostle. Unless you don’t believe that all of the ‘letters of Paul’ were in fact written by Paul.. but that’s another discussion.

  • http://auryn29a.livejournal.com Auryn

    Wow. That’s pretty good. I’d probably just say, “Hey, Pope. ‘sup?”

  • Jen

    that’s a good speech. however, I saw pictures of the protest, and I think the message was lost in the method. It seeemed to be more about mocking religion than talking about grievances with specific policies of the RCC. it fed right into the “angry atheist” stereotype, and quite frankly seemed to deserve some of the negative publicity it got. this is why religion has such a foothold, b/c even when the secular community is right, their methods of spreading their message too often obscures the method itself. I thought the proest by the liberal catholics was actually better b/c it focused on the issues. after all that’s what’s really at stake, not whether or not someone is religious or not. like it or not, religion will be always be around in some form. we can’t get rid of it, but we can keep it from encroaching on our lives, like they’ve done in Europe.

  • K

    Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

  • http://fideism.googlepages.com Fideism

    che carsner,

    Ah mybad. Back when I was a Christian I was taught that Paul was an apostle. I didn’t consider that other Christian sects might not take him at his word (seeing as much of the New Testament is attributed to him anyway). Since he claimed to be (seeing Jesus in a vision “counted”), that was enough for my parents/teachers/preacher and that’s what they told me as well. I’m not disagreeing with you, but just saying that the argument of married Jews likely would not work very well unless both parties agreed on Paul’s status. I don’t know what the Catholic view on it is, however… Not that I care.

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  • Michael B. Dwyer

    Nice article, Mr. Atheist. I would like to congratulate you on presenting your arguments devoid of the hatred against Catholics and bias most – if not all – atheists and liberals suffer.

    I’d like to add a few corrections, if you don’t mind, to your article:
    1.- To your quote “….no more a cult than is [sic] Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, or any other religion that values faith more than reason.” While technically, it’s true, I’d also invite you to read, for example, “Summa Theologica” ( written by St. Thomas Aquinas) in which faith is debated under strict philosophical reason. As a matter of fact, the Holy Catholic Church is a fierce defender of “reason illuminated by faith”. So you see, we embrace both: reason and faith; unlike most liberals, who only embrace ‘reason’.
    2.- “You also decry moral relativism, which undermines your pronouncements on absolutism. Yes, we generally are tolerant of other points of view coming from those who wish us no harm….” The Holy Catholic Church does NOT promote a theocratic government. Rather, it defends human rights. Unfortunately, by ‘human’ we mean unborn babies. There is an absolutism from the left when it comes to abortion, an intolerance to treat an un-born baby as a human being, to give that baby the same rights even the worst of criminals is given. The Church is tolerant; it is intolerant to those atrocities and crimes the intolerant left tries to shove down societie’s throat.
    3.- “Now, Pope Benedict, I would like to suggest that you take action on a few obvious items so that a future pope ….” The Holy Church does NOT denigrate gays. It does stand against homosexuality, which is a sin. It also stands against war, injustice, murder, fornication, pornography, etc., etc. We fight the sin, not the sinner, following the examples of our Savior Jesus Christ. As far as stem cell research goes, it would be awesome if we could cure sick people, but NOT at the expense of KILLING BABIES! And sadly for you, no human being, no man, no woman, has the ‘right’ to choose whether an INNOCENT human being lives or dies. So abortion will never be tolerated by God’s Church, no matter how big your hatred is. Babies are first, since they are innocent!
    Let me throw a question at the ACLU and other liberals out there: Why aren’t women allowed to look at the ultrasound at the abortion clinics before an abortion? If – as you say – tolerance is the base of your actions, why not tolerate this?
    4.- “Your Church can look rather foolish when its reasons keep changing while your conclusions remain the same.” Yes, my dear atheist Jew, this is very true. We might look foolish to atheists, but that’s because your predicaments and reasonings are based on ignorance. Why, if you only took the time to study the Bible and the Cathecism, you would soon become a Catholic. And I’m not joking when I say this. For, to know God is to fall in love with God.

    I’ve added the above arguments in the hopes of promoting a friendly debate. I apologize if someone feels insulted after reading my words.

    I would only like to add that the biggest mistake modern atheists make is to base their belief that God doesn’t exist in the actions of other men. Pope Benedict is only human, and the Bible says “all humans sin”. So stop basing your entire life (and salvation) on the actions of other human beings, but rather try to seek God.

    If anyone has lost his or her peace after reading these words, rejoice! It’s your natural calling to become one of God’s children.

    Peace, and may our Redeemer Jesus Christ bless you all.

  • MercuryBlue

    che carsner: Paul was indeed an apostle. Paul was not a disciple, which is, I think, what you’re thinking of. The disciples are those who followed Jesus in person, which could mean the Twelve or could mean all the hundreds of them. The apostles are those who spread Christianity, none of whom need to have met Jesus.

    Mr. Dwyer: how is it that you can say that studying the Bible will make me a Catholic, when a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine says if I study the Bible, it’ll make me her flavor of Christian? I don’t expect either of you to be right, of course—I used to be Catholic.

    There is an absolutism from the right when it comes to abortion, an unwillingness to treat a woman as a human being who shares a right even the worst criminals have, that of bodily integrity—the right to keep anyone from making use of any part of her body, including her uterus, against her will, regardless of the cost to anyone else. Intolerance, if you like, but putting ‘intolerance’ where I said ‘unwillingness’ screws with your grammar.

    Yes, of course babies should be protected. Humans in the earliest stages of development aren’t babies until such time as it’s possible to separate the developing human and the developing human’s mama without killing the smaller of the pair.

    The Holy Church is free to oppose X behavior practiced by its own members, and to oppose X behavior practiced by anyone in a manner that causes harm. Harm to the soul of anyone but a practicing Catholic does not count. Sexual behavior between adults who consent to every point in the process, none of whom is cheating on anyone else, harms…who, exactly?

    The actions of other human beings are a contributing factor to my atheism, but they are not the source of it. The source of my atheism is my love for astronomy and mythology. Marvelous and beautiful as so much art is, it still had to begin existence within the confines of the artist’s mind. Most of the beauties of the sky were quite literally unimaginable until we could see them. Art with no artist, that came into existence without the limitation of needing to be imagined first, and that is therefore not art at all (because art needs an artist), merely beauty, and the more marvelous therefore. One can of course say that God imagined everything or else it could not exist, and I cannot prove one wrong, but one is therefore saying everything is art, created by an artist or an Artist. Why must all beauty be art?

    And that there’s historical truth in myth I can’t deny, given Troy, but no one claims that the events of the Iliad and the Odyssey happened exactly as Homer described, gods midbattle and all. So why should I, why does anyone, assume that the events of the Bible happened exactly as their various authors/transcribers described?

    Oh, and does anyone have any idea why I got an email alert for Mr. Dwyer’s comment, when I don’t know how to track comments on a thread without replying to it, and I hadn’t replied to this one?

  • Maria

    as a former catholic, I feel the need to answer some of this.

    Nice article, Mr. Atheist. I would like to congratulate you on presenting your arguments devoid of the hatred against Catholics and bias most – if not all – atheists and liberals suffer.

    right, that’s why the media is going ga ga over the pope.

    I’d like to add a few corrections, if you don’t mind, to your article:
    1.- To your quote “….no more a cult than is [sic] Mormonism, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, or any other religion that values faith more than reason.” While technically, it’s true, I’d also invite you to read, for example, “Summa Theologica” ( written by St. Thomas Aquinas) in which faith is debated under strict philosophical reason. As a matter of fact, the Holy Catholic Church is a fierce defender of “reason illuminated by faith”. So you see, we embrace both: reason and faith; unlike most liberals, who only embrace ‘reason’.

    how about the part where Aquinas says unbaptized babies go to hell? pretty reasonable eh?

    2.- “You also decry moral relativism, which undermines your pronouncements on absolutism. Yes, we generally are tolerant of other points of view coming from those who wish us no harm….” The Holy Catholic Church does NOT promote a theocratic government. Rather, it defends human rights. Unfortunately, by ‘human’ we mean unborn babies. There is an absolutism from the left when it comes to abortion, an intolerance to treat an un-born baby as a human being, to give that baby the same rights even the worst of criminals is given. The Church is tolerant; it is intolerant to those atrocities and crimes the intolerant left tries to shove down societie’s throat.

    which atrocities are those? tolerating those different from us? as for criminals-how long did the church support the death penalty?

    3.- “Now, Pope Benedict, I would like to suggest that you take action on a few obvious items so that a future pope ….” The Holy Church does NOT denigrate gays. It does stand against homosexuality, which is a sin. It also stands against war, injustice, murder, fornication, pornography, etc., etc. We fight the sin, not the sinner, following the examples of our Savior Jesus Christ. As far as stem cell research goes, it would be awesome if we could cure sick people, but NOT at the expense of KILLING BABIES! And sadly for you, no human being, no man, no woman, has the ‘right’ to choose whether an INNOCENT human being lives or dies. So abortion will never be tolerated by God’s Church, no matter how big your hatred is. Babies are first, since they are innocent!
    Let me throw a question at the ACLU and other liberals out there: Why aren’t women allowed to look at the ultrasound at the abortion clinics before an abortion? If – as you say – tolerance is the base of your actions, why not tolerate this?

    a blastula stem cell is NOT a baby, for the 12 time. I’d like to cut abortion way down too, contrary to popular belief, some of us aren’t so black and white about it-you know what a good way to do that is? BIRTH CONTROL, which you all oppose. I think people would “tolerate” you a lot more if you weren’t so hypocritical-the very thing that could cut down abortion you oppose. at least the godlessprolifers website supports birth control and education! you should take a cue from them. pro choicers and pro lifers could actually work together to cut down abortion if prolifers weren’t so dead set against birth control and sex education (btw, from personal experience: abstinence only education doesn’t work!)

    shall we talk about the AIDS problem in Africa? the ultrasound might be a good idea, but it shouldn’t be b/c of religion. As for gays, the last time I went to church I walked out in disgust b/c the priest was denegrating gays, so yes, you do denegrate them. I was a member for 20+ years. I’ve heard it all.

    4.- “Your Church can look rather foolish when its reasons keep changing while your conclusions remain the same.” Yes, my dear atheist Jew, this is very true. We might look foolish to atheists, but that’s because your predicaments and reasonings are based on ignorance. Why, if you only took the time to study the Bible and the Cathecism, you would soon become a Catholic. And I’m not joking when I say this. For, to know God is to fall in love with God.

    I’ve added the above arguments in the hopes of promoting a friendly debate. I apologize if someone feels insulted after reading my words.

    I would only like to add that the biggest mistake modern atheists make is to base their belief that God doesn’t exist in the actions of other men. Pope Benedict is only human, and the Bible says “all humans sin”. So stop basing your entire life (and salvation) on the actions of other human beings, but rather try to seek God.

    If anyone has lost his or her peace after reading these words, rejoice! It’s your natural calling to become one of God’s children.

    Peace, and may our Redeemer Jesus Christ bless you all.

    umm, I’ve had all these catholics tell me we’re all God’s children, but according to you you have to be catholic to be so. the idea of God or a higher power doesn’t bother me so much, as an agnostic I’m quite open to it-but the idea of YOUR God scares the crap out of me. I agree modern atheists make mistakes. Everyone does. But at least when they don’t want to admit their mistakes it’s b/c of human fiobles-not some ancient holy text that is supposed to be dogma and we are supposed to blindly obey. and why are you bringing up that someone is an “atheist jew???????” If someone would only fall in love with your religion after reading your text, how come it makes me want to run away?

  • Mark

    Why is a fetus not considered humans? IF Socrates was right that what makes us human is our souls.

    We all started out as fetus therefore we had a soul and it made us humans.


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