What a New Pope Means for Atheists

This is a guest post by Dave Muscato. Dave is the Public Relations Director of American Atheists.

***

Yesterday, the papal conclave elected a new leader for its crumbling, obsolete, and hateful syndicate.

For the last eight years, a German scholar, Joseph Ratzinger, has been a man whom Forbes Magazine called the fifth most powerful person on Earth. Ratzinger is clearly no ordinary scholar — one estimate puts his personal income at $200 million annually — and here at American Atheists, we are glad to see him step down. His tenure was riddled not only with horrifying sexual abuse of children, but countless deaths attributable to the Church’s stance on condom use in AIDS-ridden regions, in addition to outright uncivilized policies on LGBT civil rights and women’s role in society.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President, America had great concern that, as a Catholic, Kennedy would be under undue pressure to adhere to the influence of the Catholic Church. Kennedy assured the nation by saying, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute… where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials…”

We could not agree more. Our mission at American Atheists is to advocate for the complete and total separation of religion & state, so that no religion — majority or otherwise — can attempt to control public policy. Separation of church & state is ideal for everyone: None of us, regardless of our religion (or irreligion), wants the ideals of a different religion or value set thrust upon us.

Pope Benedict XVI was a terrible leader. Under his direction, the Catholic Church lost incalculable face in light of its revolting cover-up of child abuse within its ranks. If a cult religion in the United States allowed some of its leaders to molest children, there would be rioting. People would be up in arms! It is our position that the size or age of a church does not grant any special immunity to criminals among its ranks. Why are these priests not in prison? In a country where a full 80% of Catholics say they would be more likely to use their own consciences to address “difficult moral questions” rather than follow the teachings of the Pope, why are Catholics so obstinate about clinging to this label?

According to the New York Times, 53% of American Catholics think the Church is out of touch with the needs of Catholics today and a whopping 54% of American Catholics want Benedict’s successor to be more liberal in his teachings than he was. Will they get their wish?

We agree with Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association on this one: It is our position that it doesn’t really matter if the new pope is liberal or conservative. If Pope Francis I is liberal (and all signs currently point to “No”), we could see more civilized policies on LGBT rights, women’s rights, condom use, stem-cell research, abortion & birth-control access, separation of church & state, and science education. If the new pope is conservative, we will see even greater numbers of people leaving the Church. According to the National Catholic Reporter, for every American the Church adds, four people leave. We could not be more proud of them for standing up to injustice.

Will the new pope be more or less of a bigot than Benedict XVI? Time will tell, but in the end, we’re continuing to fight the good fight.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    I could wish that the election of a new pope were irrelevant to most everyone on the planet, Catholics and Atheists alike. Unfortunately it is not.

    One thing he gets is far too much consideration and publicity from the major media. I can’t wait for it all to die down.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      The Pope is a man whom many want to hear but few listen to.

      • Mairianna

        Did you see the crowd’s reaction when he came out on the loge? For a second, I thought the Beatles had landed in America! Women were weeping, kids were waving crucifixes…. It was kind of….gross!

  • A3Kr0n

    pope pope pope pope pope pope pope pope pope pope pope

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    Pope Francis I: An atheist’s first impressions – http://t.co/8QARn4F4H7

  • Rain

    “I invoke the Lord to send his Spirit on senators who will be voting, that they do not act in error or out of expediency, but according to what the natural law and the law of God shows them,”

    He thinks he has magic powers. And he doesn’t notice that they fail. A highly superstitious pope. He’s looking to be like the Pat Robertson of popes.

    • SeekerLancer

      I do think it’s kind of funny that they elected a guy who not only lost the gay marriage fight in his country, but did so in a country that’s 70% Catholic. You have to wonder if they even realize how pathetic and impotent that looks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-De-Fleuriot/611844223 Mike De Fleuriot

    “American Catholics want Benedict’s successor to be more liberal in his teachings than he was.”

    Can they not do this themselves, do they really need this pope to do this for them? Is this what it means to be a theist, doing something even if you know it to be wrong, just because your leader told you to do it. Seems this was a defence offered in a series of war trials a long time again, “I was just following orders”

  • Gus Snarp

    How long before he starts blaming all of the world’s problems on atheists and comparing us to Hitler? Will it take a full year?

    From what I’ve heard, this is my view of the new guy: a Latin American Jesuit who didn’t sign on to Liberation Theology, perhaps the best thing the Church has going for it, and who thought gay marriage and adoption laws were reason to loudly and angrily rant against the government, but remained silent and, depending on your viewpoint, perhaps complicit with a murderous dictatorship.

    This marks him as an extreme social conservative, so expect more of the same or more backwards movement by the Church. Now I’ll be most excited when the media stops with the loving portrayals and weeping joyful Catholics and gets on with life.

  • http://twitter.com/Opinionatedcath Opinionated Catholic

    LOL Well I did get a good laugh out of the 200 million dollar comment.

    I generally have a far more positive view of the Benedict Reign than some Here I expect. I think history will treat him very very kindly as to the reforms he put in place

    • baal

      What reforms? I saw him double down on orthodoxy and didn’t see an increase in financial transparency or bulls on submitting priests to secular criminal proceedings when relevant or somesuch.

    • Pattrsn

      Yes but you also believe in talking snakes, magical priests, and demons.

      • Zombie Christ

        Don’t forget he believes he gets to eat the body of his zombie savior in cracker form every Sunday, and then gets to wash it down with a large gulp of the dude’s blood….yep, nothing whacky there….no sirreee….

    • McAtheist

      And if history isn’t kind to him he can roll around in his $200,000 until the bad feelings go away

    • Carmelita Spats

      Reforms? The Handbook for Hiding Pedophiles or the creepy Pedophile Priest Coloring Book? See…http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2007/12/01/coloring-outside-the-lines.html
      Quote, “Many of the book’s cartoon-sketch drawings, which were created by a
      church volunteer, are light in tone and narrated by an angel looming
      overhead. But on one page, the angel warns of an online predator—with
      chest hair exposed—who attempts to chat with a child; on another (shown
      above), the angel implies that children should make sure they’re never
      alone in a room with a priest.”

  • C Peterson

    Anybody who suggests that the pope means anything to atheists fails to understand what an atheist even is- something that American Atheists is repeatedly guilty of. Atheists share no common viewpoints other than the simple lack of belief in deities.

    Humanists should care about the views of the pope and the Catholic Church. Antitheists and antireligionists obviously care. But atheists? No. And personally, I resent American Atheists for giving the appearance of speaking for atheists in general; they certainly don’t speak for me. It is a very confused organization, and this jumbled essay reflects that, randomly wandering between humanism, secularism, anti-Catholicism, and atheism without coherently connecting them at all. Honestly, I can’t figure out what the “good fight” they’re fighting even is.

    • Pedro Lemos

      Maybe the Pope election doesn´t mean anything for atheists in USA, where the majority of the population is protestant, but for atheists in a country like Brazil, where 64% of the population is catholic, his leadership can be extremely influential to the government and culture in general.

      Though I personally won´t care about anything that comes from Vatican, nobody is an island. Livind in society means we depend on other people, and if their view points are influenced by someone who thinks and says things like “gay marriage is an attack to God´s plan”, then, yes, I think his election can be of some relevance to us. I´d immagine in Argentina things are gonna be even worse for atheists now that the Pope is their compatriot.

      I´m an atheist, and I don´t care about the views of the Pope and the Catholic Church. But I do care avout the influence these views are gonna have in my neighbours and my country. Ignoring that would be alienating myself.

      • http://twitter.com/sabbytabby Sabrina Galyen

        Well said Pedro, I could not agree more! Bickering about a definition of your ‘non-belief’ is a waste of time because only you can define it. Fighting to stop the religious from infringing on my lifestyle choices and legislation is worth fighting for. I am thankful we have American Atheist. At least someone is drawing a thick black line between church and state.

        • C Peterson

          It isn’t a waste of time at all. I think what AA is doing is harmful to all atheists. It’s nothing to do with technicalities of definitions, and everything to do with inaccurately stereotyping atheism and atheists.

          Fighting to stop religious infringements is certainly worth fighting for. Tying that fight to atheism, however, is a very bad idea.

          • http://www.facebook.com/xox.matt.xox Matt Searles

            In what sense is highlighting the discrimination, cruelty, and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, ANTI-atheist? Do you think the theists are going to oppose the words of the magic book? Of course not, but someone’s got to stand up for compassion and human rights. The theists can’t, without being hypocrites, so in some sense, the only people who CAN fight for moral progress are atheists.

            • C Peterson

              It is anti-atheist to assign any active beliefs at all to atheism, as it both misrepresents what it means to be an atheist, and places expectations on atheists that may hinder their ability or willingness to be open about their atheism.

              In fact, theists can stand up for compassion and human rights; many do. What AA is advocating for, in the name of atheism, are matters for humanists and secularists- who may be, but need not be, atheists. I’m not complaining about AA fighting for humanistic ideals, or for the separation of state and church. I’m complaining about their doing so in the name of atheism. (In fact, the above essay doesn’t do that too badly, except in its use of the ill-considered name of the organization American Atheists; the post headline, however, makes that mistake.)

              • http://www.facebook.com/xox.matt.xox Matt Searles

                So… you’re telling me, by definition, it’s incompatible for atheists to have an active stance on crimes committed by theists? Atheism is the rejection of belief in deities, and by logical extension, rejection of any reasoning predicated on theology. When hatred and discrimination is preached from a theistic position, it becomes a topic in which an atheist has every right and reason to oppose, “in the name of” if you will, atheism.

                • C Peterson

                  I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that it’s an inaccurate stereotype to treat all atheists as having similar views on theism, religiosity, humanism, secularism, or other matters.

                  Atheists have a perfect right to take any position they want, but never in the name of atheism.

                • http://www.facebook.com/xox.matt.xox Matt Searles

                  You’ve asserted atheists have different views on humanism etc, but can you reject the contention “Atheism is the rejection of belief in deities, and by logical extension, rejection of any reasoning predicated on theology. When hatred and discrimination is preached from a theistic position, it becomes a topic in which an atheist has every right and reason to oppose, and oppose “in the name of”, if you will, atheism.”?

                • C Peterson

                  Can you reject the contention “Atheism is the rejection of belief in deities, and by logical extension, rejection of any reasoning predicated on theology.

                  I do, indeed, reject that contention. Atheism is the lack of belief in deities, and that is all it is. I would not presume to tell an atheist what other beliefs might or might not be considered an extension of that.

                  When hatred and discrimination is preached from a theistic position, it becomes a topic in which an atheist has every right and reason to oppose, and oppose “in the name of” atheism”?

                  When hatred and discrimination are preached from any position, it becomes a topic that any moral person has every right and reason to oppose, not just atheists. Yet a right to oppose does not imply an obligation to oppose. It is inappropriate to claim any belief or action in the name of atheism.

                • CottonBlimp

                  Being gay doesn’t imply any specific political agenda, but there’s a particular agenda I would expect of an LGBT organization.

                  Yes, atheism only means “lack of theism” in a void, but we don’t live in a void. AA generally represents the values of the social organization of atheists in America rather than pure atheism itself; even if you want to reduce this to a matter of nit-picking semantics, they acknowledge this fact right in the name.

                • C Peterson

                  No, atheism doesn’t mean lack of theism “in a void”, it means lack of theism. And that’s all.

                  You are correct, being gay doesn’t imply any specific political agenda. And any LGBT organization that represented gay people as having any particular political perspective would be doing themselves and their cause harm.

                  AA can certainly go about representing the values of most atheists without framing things in terms of atheism at all. Plenty of other organizations that are mainly atheist manage to do so.

                • CottonBlimp

                  “No, atheism doesn’t mean lack of theism “in a void”, it means lack of theism. And that’s all.”
                  It implies more than that in a cultural context is my point, as does being gay (or black or trans or disabled or a woman etc).

                  “AA can certainly go about representing the values of most atheists without framing things in terms of atheism at all.”

                  Which seems to be what they’ve done here.

                • Randomfactor

                  Bit late to be filing trademarks on the word “atheism.”

                • http://www.facebook.com/xox.matt.xox Matt Searles

                  /*
                  Can you reject the contention “Atheism is the rejection of belief in deities, and by logical extension, rejection of any reasoning predicated on theology.

                  I do, indeed, reject that contention. Atheism is the lack of belief in deities, and that is all it is. I would not presume to tell an atheist what other beliefs might or might not be considered an extension of that.
                  */

                  Perhaps we have a definition problem. My definition is “Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.” (Wikipedia – Atheism)

                  There’s a world of difference between lack of belief, and rejection of belief. You seem to be arguing from the premise that all athesists are weak-atheists (or agnostic atheists if you prefer) and seem to have conflated all atheistic positions with your personal position.

                  My point is that, as an atheist, who rejects the belief in the existence of deities (strong-atheist), any argument for discrimination on theological grounds must also be rejected. The theological component of the argument can only be rejected by atheists, and hence, morally, must be, for the sake of our brothers and sisters who are being discriminated against on theological grounds.

                  /*
                  When hatred and discrimination is preached from a theistic position, it becomes a topic in which an atheist has every right and reason to oppose, and oppose “in the name of” atheism”?

                  When hatred and discrimination are preached from any position, it becomes a topic that any moral person has every right and reason to oppose, not just atheists. Yet a right to oppose does not imply an obligation to oppose. It is inappropriate to claim any belief or action in the name of atheism.
                  */

                  I agree on all but “It is inappropriate to claim any belief or action in the name of atheism.” but have addressed this in my comment above.

                  [Apologies for using /*, I can't see how to include text formatting]

    • advancedatheist

      Blame Madalyn O’Hair for that. She defined “atheism” as a “lifestyle’ with an ideological agenda:

      http://atheists.org/about

      “Your petitioners are atheists, and they define their lifestyle as follows. An atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An atheist accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth – for all men together to enjoy. An atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An atheist accepts that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help lead to a life of fulfillment.”

      • C Peterson

        I certainly do place much blame with her. She was as dogmatic and inaccurate in her beliefs as most religionists- besides being a pretty nasty person by most accounts. She didn’t do atheism any service, and her legacy continues to harm us.

    • Gus Snarp

      Is it your argument that atheists have no interest in church/state separation? No interest in public acceptance of atheists? No interest in educating others to be atheists? No interest in the head of an organization that boasts billions of members and has political influence beyond its numbers that seeks to affect government policy with religious motives and who spreads hateful lies about atheists and atheism?

      • C Peterson

        It is my argument that associating atheists or atheism with any interests is not helpful to either.

        • Rain

          American Atheists probably feel like they should do something besides sitting there doing nothing. Having interests and taking a stand on them is doing something. Not to mention it gets them publicity too. Especially headline issues.

          Claiming to speak for all atheists makes that job seem even more righteous. Plus they get to speak for more people than just themselves, which is always nice when one is an organization that wants to speak for a bunch of people.

    • Claude

      What? While I heartily agree that “atheists share no common viewpoints other than the simple lack of belief in deities,” do I understand you to mean that the Pope is of no consequence to AA’s mission of reinforcing the crumbling wall between church and state? After the Vatican’s recent meddling in our domestic politics I’d think you’d “care” about who becomes Pope!

      If, as some sources report, Pope Francis is generally unsympathetic to Church involvement in politics, and not just in regard to revolutionary movements like liberation theology, that will be a good thing.

      • C Peterson

        do I understand you to mean that the Pope is of no consequence to AA’s mission of reinforcing the crumbling wall between church and state?
        No. What I object to is associating that goal with atheism.

    • C S

      Perhaps you ‘atheists’ should all get together at one of your ORGANIZED atheist conventions and come to a conclusion with each other on exactly what ‘atheism’ means. Oh, and what happened with the 2013 reason rally? Didn’t last years reason rally where a good number of atheists decided to meet up in an organized fashion and bash Theism do a good enough job? No round 2? I’m shocked!

      • MattD

        The massive abuse and scandals major religions have been suffering lately is a better educator then a million rhetoric spewing followers.

  • Roger Dahhhhltry

    Meet the new Don, same as the old Don….

  • pagansister

    Absolutely nothing will change for those who are Catholic. This man will not change anything regarding ABC (including condoms), allowing same gender marriage, women priests, marriage for priests (which there is already with converted Anglican priest who were married), etc. Same old, same old. Can only hope he MIGHT start clearing up the child abuse mess by seeing that those who committed those acts as well as those who kept it secret (bishops, and up) are brought to light and actually punished—not just hidden away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

    It’s not only that the pope will not change policies on homosexual marriage, contraception, abortion, and women priests, but that the pope does not have the authority to change these things. This is why after 2000 years these things haven’t changed.

    • JohnnieCanuck

      You are a little opaque. Who gives or denies the Pope authority? Catholics? Cardinals? Maybe even God?

      If he is neither willing nor able, then why make him Pope?

      • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

        The pope cannot change dogma. He has the authority to change doctrine but usually doesn’t. The changes in Vatican ii were not of dogmas or doctrines but disciples of the Catholic Church. He cannot change Tradition with a capital T but can change tradition with a small t. Yes there is a difference

        • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

          Sorry not disciples but disciplines

        • MattD

          He cannot change Tradition with a capital T but can change tradition with a small t. Yes there is a difference
          Explain the difference so an outsider to your faith understands.

        • JohnnieCanuck

          And yet dogma changes. Most recently, Pope Pius XII put on his infallible hat and declared the Assumption of Mary to be dogma. Because his god told him to.

          You know, when someone tells me I have to believe under punishment of heresy as he does, because a god told him so, I have my doubts. What if he’s just a power hungry human and he never did hear a voice in his head telling him this?

    • pagansister

      WHO does give a pope the authority to change policies? GOD? Yes, that is right—2000 wasted years with no “leader” with the balls to change totally outdated “tradition”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

        Exactly, it does come from God.

        • Drakk

          Yeah, and since when has that guy ever shown up for work?

          • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

            Always. Just take off your blindfold and take your fingers out of your ears

            • MattD

              Ditto.

    • Carmelita Spats

      BALONEY…If you want to be a stickler, then Jeebus only picked JEWISH males to be disciples…He never mentioned an Argentinian of Italian descent….During the 1980s in Central America, the VATICAN allowed missionary nuns, like the Maryknolls, to take birth control pills due to the high risk of being raped…Many of them were raped…After 2,000 years, EVERYTHING has changed. Peddle your lies elsewhere.

      • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

        Read acts of the apostles. Then we will talk

        • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

          There was a change starting with st Cornelius

        • MattD

          Reject your faith in the same manner you do to all the others out there. Then we will talk.

  • ORAXX

    What does the election of a new pope mean for Atheists? I’ve no idea. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I find the new guy to be about as relevant to my life as the Kardashian sisters.

  • C S

    What a pope means for new atheists, especially the FRIENDLY atheists who claim they can be skeptical and FRIENDLY at the same time? It means one can see through the lies of those who call themselves FRIENDLY, just look at what the FRIENDLY atheist says here:

    “Yesterday, the papal conclave elected a new leader for its crumbling, obsolete, and hateful syndicate.”

    Crumbling, obsolete, and hateful syndicate as if all Catholics are somehow Hateful.

    It also means atheists can continue to do what they do best, and that is disrespect and bash a religion that they disagre with:

    ORAXX says ” I can’t speak for anyone but myself but I find the new guy to be about as relevant to my life as the Kardashian sisters.”

    Matt S who probably can’t even justify MORAL FACTS says this “The theists can’t, without being hypocrites, so in some sense, the only people who CAN fight for moral progress are atheists.”

    Yes Matt, and we must fulfill this ultimate goal to humanity that the unconscious, purposeless, meaningless, valueless universe gave us, right? Because there are supposedly ‘oughts’ in this universe that we must strive for, correct?

    I think the Pope just becomes another target for hateful atheists who live their lives only for the sole purpose of bashing people who have a different viewpoint on the nature of reality.

    Just look at all the hate and negativity here in this comment section, it definitely speaks volumes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.grimm.14 Paul Grimm

      This. You can’t bash an atheist set of beliefs because they don’t have a common set of beliefs

      • JohnnieCanuck

        Actually, we do. Just one, though, as far as I can tell:

        There is a lack of evidence for a god.

        Some might claim that no god exists, others only that it is highly improbable. In either case, they’re still atheists.

        Got evidence?

    • Bad_homonym

      The first quote you mention is from AA not friendly atheist. Get it right Troll!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=624546088 Stephen Sywak

    CS–the “hateful SYNDICATE” it the organization of the RC Church. It is NOT the religion, it is NOT “Catholics.” So, neither Catholics or the Catholic faith are being bashed there. But, hey–if it makes you feel like you’re making your point, have at it.

  • r.holmgren

    “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute… where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials…”

    Yes, and Kennedy’s wife and marriage experienced the consequences when one’s relationship with God remains on the shelf.
    thesauros-store.blogspot.com

    • Dezzydez

      What are you talking about?

  • James

    Really? “crumbling, obsolete, and hateful syndicate.” Bloody amateur.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X