How Revolutionary is Pope Francis, Anyway?

It’s hard, even for an angry, arrogant, militant new atheist like me, to not like Pope Francis. He seems to be saying all the right things for someone in his position, rhetorically easing off of gays, emphasizing the plight of the poor, and not being afraid to bring himself to the level of those in need, or those with whom he has little in common.

It helps that he’s so grandfatherly, with a warm smile and those standard-issue old-man glasses, whereas Ratzinger was so comically villainous.

Damon Linker, author of The Theocons and The Religious Test, wants progressives to temper their enthusiasm, however. Not because he sees Francis as nefarious, but rather he sees little evidence that a revolution of sorts is under way in the Church:

Francis’s renewed emphasis on the poor is certainly welcome and valuable, and there are circumscribed areas in which the Pope may achieve real reforms. But when progressive Catholics pine for change, they mostly mean that they want to see the Church brought into conformity with the egalitarian ethos of modern liberalism, including its embrace of gay rights, sexual freedom, and gender equality. And that simply isn’t going to happen. To hope or expect otherwise is to misread this Pope, misinterpret the legacy of his predecessors, and misunderstand the calcified structure of the Church itself.

Any pope who wanted to dramatically change the Catholic Church would have to do so through the processes and procedures of the institution — and it is an institution seemingly designed to thwart such ambition.

The problem, according to Linker, is one that is familiar to progressives in the U.S.: Even if we assume the most hyper-liberal intentions on the part of the Pope, he would be stymied by a massive church bureaucracy, one made up of clerics who have been appointed by his more conservative predecessors.

It’s disheartening when you think of it that way, that even an “Ideal Francis” is mostly powerless to change the Church all that much.

But let’s take a look at the other side of the coin, where Francis is no (ahem) saint, but just another evil apparatchik of an evil enterprise. Linker is not in that camp, either, citing, for example:

[T]he most serious charge against him — that he turned over two priests to Navy torturers — has never been substantiated. What is clear is that he refused to speak out publicly against the regime, even as he reportedly worked behind the scenes to help people flee the dictatorship.

Linker thinks that progressives’ best hope for Francis’ tenure is in his non-substantive contributions, in his rhetoric, which could set the tone for the slow trickle of new blood into Church leadership under his purview.

But interestingly, it is this very aspect of Francis that most worries my friend Miranda Celeste Hale, a longtime (and merciless) critic of the Church. Indeed, Miranda declares Francis to be the worst of the last three popes:

[I]f someone is a malicious ideologue, I much prefer that they be open about their maliciousness and their unwavering commitment to a rigid and regressive ideology. Francis doesn’t do that, though. He couches his callousness in pseudo-tolerant and pseudo-progressive rhetoric and hides his dangerous attitudes and beliefs behind a facade of avuncular populist everyman friendliness… Francis is manipulative. He’s a skilled abuser of rhetoric who knows how to say the “right” things at the “right” time. He’s good PR for the Church. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he’s neither an intellectual nor extremely intelligent. But he’s sly like a fox. He’s a gift to the Church, a perfect Pope for the Catholic Church of 2013.

I take her point. The Church is the Church, its dogma is its dogma, regardless of what the nicer Pope says. But I do think that, as Linker says, there is value in the head of the Church playing the part of being more open. The question is whether Francis himself will choose to lean into Bronze Age dogmas, like his predecessor, or ease off them. If it’s the latter, his rhetoric is not entirely empty, and he may begin the process of slightly altering the destructive course of this massive vessel.

If he doesn’t, then Miranda is right. He’s a nice hood ornament on an 18-wheeler coming right for us.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His personal blog is Near-Earth Object, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo. He is the author of a short (and cheap!) Kindle book on the atheist political movement, Under the Stained Glass Ceiling: Atheists' Precarious Place in Modern American Politics.

  • LesterBallard

    He mentions the poor; what exactly, is the net worth of the RCC? How much did that one Cardinal in the US sock away so it couldn’t be used to pay for sex abuse claims? Fuck the Roman Catholic Church.

    • Carpinions

      I believe at last best possible count, since I highly doubt the RCC has ever truly let someone count their riches, was something in the area of $150 billion US.

      For some perspective, that’s more money than all-dominating Intel Corp is worth. It’s half GM’s market cap. Apple’s market cap is something like $450-470 billion. Add *on top of that* the fact that Catholic membership is dropping, and you get an idea for just how rich they truly are.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    When he sells the Billions and Billions of dollars in art at the Vatican so as to care for the poor, and then explicitly endorses complete equality for women and LGBT folks then we can say he’s radical (although still a guy who believes in crazy superstitions and whose job has him wear very silly hats)!

    • EvolutionKills

      My favorite, and the silliest, of silly hats.

      I looks like someone glued a super fancy toilet seat to her forehead…

      • Mike Wyatt

        It is held up by invisible nylon strings which are controlled by her eyes and teeth.

  • Mitch

    They can change leaders all they want, but nothing is going to happen when the text (that is the foundation of your religion) remains the same.

    Plus, I wasn’t a Catholic, so matters regarding the RCC have never meant much to me.

  • deepak shetty

    Any pope who wanted to dramatically change the Catholic Church would
    have to do so through the processes and procedures of the institution

    The pope could invoke ex cathedra and simply state that gay people/women are equal or whatever. So all this talk about the Pope wanting but unable is probably not true.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Maybe he could, but the conclave of bishops would not elect such a pope. He’d have to hide his views for decades while rising through the ranks, then surprise them. I don’t see how a man with egalitarian views could even stand to be clergy in the RCC.

  • Miss_Beara

    Until he publicly says the women and homosexuals are people, sells billions and billions of Vatican art and other valuables and give it to the poor people he just loves to talk about and gives money to the sex abuse and Magdalene laundry survivors, I won’t believe one word he says.

  • the moother

    Every time I see this guy I always think, “He’s as lonely as the Pope in a gay bar.”

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    It doesn’t matter who is the pope, no one man can change centuries and centuries of bigotry and greed. Say that he’s a better pope, because he isn’t oozing evil like the last pope is like saying, “Try New Shit(TM), — Same old shit, but now with a touch of rose.”

    • Randay

      When he gets up to the standard of Pope Alexander VI, then I might think he is getting somewhere and might deserve some respect.

  • Carpinions

    “How Revolutionary is Pope Francis, Anyway?”

    If we have to ask the question, the answer is: not at all.

    As much as he or any pope talk about addressing poverty in poor countries while sitting in gold chairs in a globally recognized nation-state that has no want for anything, the RCC still holds onto its vaguely fascist political and economic undercurrents from mid-last century. They are patriarchal, reactionary, cloistered, entrenched beyond their own ability to save themselves, and generally incompetent.

    I expect at some point the Catholic community will undergo a sort of “Vatican 3″ reformation and liberalization, but who knows when that will be, and it likely won’t be until they’re down in size be a huge degree (say, 30 years from now), and someone will get fed up with losing and finally acquiesce enough traditionalism to bring them a couple centuries closer to the present.

    That or they’ll fade into obscurity.

  • A3Kr0n

    The time has long past for any reconciliation. There is no liking the Pope no matter how likeable he may seem at the moment. Out of the 25 schools in Wisconsin applying for school vouchers, 20 are Catholic schools that will be getting tax money. The money is going to kids that were already going to private school, too. Kids from parents who can afford to send their kids to private school are now getting tax dollars to do it. Private religious schools don’t take disabled children, either, or quickly find a reason to get rid of them if they do. Public schools must take all disabled students, and funding has been drastically cut, One school in Madison will apparently be teaching creationism, too. You’ve seen the video Richard Dawkins did on the catholic schools in England, right? That’s the way Wisconsin is becoming. There’s no liking the Pope, no way, no how.

  • Art_Vandelay

    How does an institution based on divine mandates from a God that has already laid down the law but hasn’t shown up to clarify or correct anything in over 2000 years actually reform anyway? In order to catch up to humanity, you basically have to admit the whole thing was a hoax in the first place. Otherwise, the whole thing goes to shit. I’d rather see people come around and start to reject these bronze age morals than just see the church move the goal posts and then proudly take credit for moving us in the right direction after holding us back for so many years.

  • rhodent

    The true test will come in the form of his appointments; they should tell us the extent to which he is truly a progressive (by Catholic standards) and the extent to which he’s conning the world. Of course, it will take time for that evidence to come in. Until then, I don’t think it really matters whether any of us chooses to give him the benefit of the doubt or assume the worst. The Roman Catholic Church isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (it counts roughly one six of the people in the world among its members and is growing on more continents than it is shrinking on), so it probably doesn’t even matter very much whether the atheist community makes an effort to commend or condemn his actions as the situation warrants.

  • iamfantastikate

    The Catholic Church is very good at modernizing according to local cultures (or stealing from them) when it knows it absolutely must–not as good as the Mormons, though–and I think this is no different. People are sick of the child-rapists and coverups, so the Pope gets to say, “We shouldn’t judge gay people.” Gotta keep those numbers up and the dollars rolling in, after all.

    It’s going to take a bit more, really. But probably not much more for some people.

  • Pofarmer

    T least in the U.S. church, a new set of very conservatively trained priests are coming on line, They are actively bringing back the worst of the old Catholic church.

  • randomfactor

    He’s a nice hood ornament on an 18-wheeler coming right for us.

    As we stand at the edge of a yawning precipice. One quick move out of his way and the cult is irrevocably committed to going over the edge. If he turns before them, we both make it to the end of the century. Maybe.

    In this country, at least. He can still do lots of damage elsewhere.

  • Keulan

    I agree with Miranda Celeste Hale. Pope Francis has the same bigoted, backwards views as Benedict XVI, he’s just better at hiding them and better at PR. Benedict XVI was like Emperor Palpatine (openly and obviously evil), while Francis is more like Senator/Chancellor Palpatine (still evil but manipulating people into thinking he’s a good guy).

  • Robster

    Regards the new improved pope Frank, the tired old thing’s a used car salesman. He’s selling nasty nonsense, to make it at least appear attractive and a saleable proposition, he smiles, like a used car salesman or politician. He says nice things with the sincerity of a salesperson and like the rest of his deluded ilk perpetuates the undesirable fraud that is organised religious belief. Deep down pope frank is bad news dressed up in tissue that will dissolve with a touch of truth.

  • Abraham Roloff

    Let’s recap what all the liberal people are excited about. (paraphrasing cause I’m lazy)
    1) “Atheists are redeemed by the blood of Christ too”
    So what? The texts already say that. He’s just parroting his holy book.
    2) “It’s not for me to judge gays.”
    Again, so what? He is again parroting the text. The unspoken remainder of that paraphrased verse is that “It’s for god to judge and then of course condemn those that are unrepentant.”
    3) “Emphasizing work with the poor.”
    Good PR and an order from the texts again anyhow, not some deep need to help uplift people. As long as the RCC is keeping a fortune for itself and mission work then this can simply be considered corporate double-speak.

    Nothing has changed but the tone.

  • eric

    It’s disheartening when you think of it that way, that even an “Ideal Francis” is mostly powerless to change the Church all that much.

    I think that’s too pessimistic. An ‘idea Francis’ could simply wait for a public speaking engagement and then, when he’s in front of the mike, say that he’s speaking ex cathedra and that God told him to perform reform #1, reform #2, etc.
    At that point the cardinals and other church bureaucracy below him have only three choices: (1) actually go along with it, (2) publicly go along with it while slow rolling any substantive change, or (3) declare him senile and overthrow/replace him.
    (1) is what they’d do if they were actual believers in the Pope’s connection to God. And it would be a huge win for liberal catholics. But everyone recognizes that the cardinals generally aren’t true believers, they’re politicians first. So this response is unlikely. (2) is far more likely, but let’s keep it in perspective: this would still be a fairly substantial victory for liberal catholics. It would mean that formal policy has changed, and the conservative bureaucrats are now fighting a rearguard action rather than having church doctrine on their side. (3) would be the worst case scenario for liberal catholics, and its probability is hard to quantify. But I have a hard time seeing it as more probable than (2).
    So, TL:DR version, I think the Pope does have the power to force substantial change. It would be disruptive to the church and his political power inside it, but if he really felt it was worth it, he could do it.

  • Gus

    I put no stock in his comments on gay priests and on non-believers that others seem to think mark him as more liberal. His words were carefully chosen, words that in no way conflict with Catholic doctrine and are completely in line with every other recent pope, but that are misinterpreted by non-Catholics and overly hopeful liberal Catholics. But there’s no change in attitude. Lets look to his actions when they mattered: he spoke out very strongly against adoption by gay parents and marriage equality in Argentina, far more forcefully than against a brutal dictatorship. That’s all you really need to know about the man on the issue of gay rights.

    As for the poor: I expect he is actually serious about that, in spite of the fact that he can’t just give away the Vatican’s wealth. I expect he cares far more for the poor than Mother Theresa ever did, if he’s anything like the Franciscans I’ve known.

    The things that will tell us who he really is on other issues, and if he’s changed his tune on gay rights, will be:

    1.) How he handles American nuns, who were investigated by his predecessor and harshly criticized. The best thing about the Catholic Church is teetering on the brink of being kicked out, and I’ve not heard Francis say word one about it (not that I’ve been looking, but I’d hope it would make the news I follow).

    2.) What new leaders he appoints. Assuming he lives a long life, even at his age he’s got time to make significant change possible by ensuring that the Cardinals selecting and working with the next Pope are much more liberal.

    3.) How he handles the Church’s sex scandals going forward. Will there be admissions? Honest apologies? Remuneration? Stronger policies to protect children? Or will the Church just keep blaming homosexuals? Will he repudiate those priests who do?

    4.) How he deals with some of the hatemongers in the Church, the people Benedict rehabilitated.

    Without action on any of those fronts, I will go on believing that the retirement of Benedict and his replacement with Francis was all a carefully calculated PR move to get rid of the Pope associated strongly with the scandals and replace him with a Pope with a kinder, gentler face (literally and metaphorically) who will get the media talking about anything but pedophile priests, Magdalene laundry’s, and Irish boys schools, without making a single bit of substantive change.

  • Rain

    Not very revolutionary, although he did win by popular vote so that’s something. I dunno what. At least they got to see Michelangelo’s famous paintings when they were looking up and rolling their eyeballs.

  • Gerry Mooney

    What bothers me is when he makes a progressive-sounding statement which is then “corrected” by Vatican spokesmen. Not a good sign.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    This nicer pope mostly sugar coats the same awful dogma. He’s not being dishonest. When atheists think him saying we can be good means he doesn’t think we’re going to burn, the fault lies with those ignorant of Catholic teaching. I give him props for saying out loud we’re not monsters, for living less ostentatiously than his predecessor, for shining a spotlight on economic issues, etc., but I don’t expect any policy changes from his regime.

  • John_in_Vegas

    Miranda is absolutely correct. We are merely waiting for the other shoe to drop. Right now, the media spin is going in his direction, but that will change the first time he is forced to personally retract a moderate statement he made. The bishops and the Pope’s handlers have done the walk-backs for him thus far, and that cannot last too much longer. It’s only a matter of time until egos and the world catches up with the truth.

  • SeekerLancer

    It depends on how you define the word, “like.” Do I like him more than Benedict? Sure. I don’t think he’s made the Catholic church much less of a rotten institution though.

  • pagansister

    Good personality, bit more comfortable with crowds, but changes for the better for the RCC? Not happening.

  • Mike Wyatt

    I believe Francis will make a difference. Why do I say this because firstly I’m a Catholic secondly I have been moving in the same direction for years and now I have a person who affirms everything I have hoped for. Thirdly you forget one important thing, the ‘Holy Spirit’. This vital third person moves the church. It is not at the whims and fancies of a bunch of like minded conservatives or liberals. The Holy Spirit moves and has it’s very being within the Church. Finally If you want to follow Jesus Christ you have to be prepared for a battle. Here is the test . In 5 or ten years time where will Paul Fidalgo or Miranda Celeste Hale be ? Where will the leaky sieve the Catholic Church be. The smart money would be on the Catholic Church which absorbs criticism and consistently applies the gospels of Jesus Christ. It has been, for better or worse doing that for 2000 years. That’s the credibility which will stand the test of time. Sorry Paul and Miranda but thanks for being the squeaky wheels that cry out for oil.

    • EvolutionKills

      Those changes are a testament to secular advancements and the Enlightenment, not your vaunted (and unverifiable) ‘holy spirit’. The Catholic Church didn’t stop burning heretics alive of their own accord.

      • Mike Wyatt

        would you like to share a mango? I have just cut one up and it is very juicy. When the Holy Spirit moves in your life as it does its like choosing to row a boat when you could sail with the wind……………..You could say the wind is unverifiable ……………but you see its effects ……………………I see the effects of the Holy Spirit everyday. However (eating mango) you can see my mango but you take my word for it if you want…………then again you could say I am just talking about some fictitous mango. which is a figment of my imagination. Pity I am enjoying it though. I enjoy my life in the Catholic Church thats for me a matter of faith, I can believe in the Holy Spirit because it is real and moving…………. I choose to sail with the wind. You keep rowing my friend………Hmmmm this mango is so lovely I wished I could know if you are going to come and share it. I will hold off a little but please hurry do your best. We have lots of time to waste time talking about this subject. The bitterness you feel could do with some sweetening. smile Mike

        • EvolutionKills

          Mango’s and the wind are real. They can be seen, measured, quantified, recorded, and understood at the chemical and atomic level. They are objectively verifiable aspects of reality, and very common. I can go outside and measure the wind, I can go to the grocery store and buy a mango. Do we have that level of evidence for the Holy Spirit? Not even close…

          Belief in the Holy Spirit does not make it an objective fact of reality. Your Holy Spirit is just as real as fairies, unicorns, Bigfoot, and celestial teapots orbiting around Mars. Can I prove that any of them do not exist? No, and neither can you. Is that reason enough to believe in any of them? Nope. If you are credulous enough to believe in the Holy Spirit, if your standard of evidence is that low, then why don’t you also believe in aliens, leprechauns, goblins, werewolves, vampires, witches, and the Loch Ness monster?

          Simple, you weren’t raised from birth to unquestionable accept the existence of faeries or Cthulhu as demonstrable facts of reality. You are suffering from a lifetime’s worth of confirmation bias. Unless you have something better than personal anecdotes, I have no more reason to believe in your Holy Spirit than I do in flying pink elephants.

          • Mike Wyatt

            Oh I’m sorry your Great arrogant excellence to have been raised from birth to unquestionably accept everything. You win,you are so high and mighty and above everyone . You have single highhandedly shot down everything that I hold dear like santa claus and the tooth fairy and and and especially pink elephants .Oh and those dear little aliens, leprechauns, goblins, werewolves, vampires, witches, and even the Loch Ness monster. I think about them everyday. On the pantheon a top them all must stand the angel at the top of the Christmas tree. Suck on that if you will. Life is a mystery go enjoy it. My one bias I will own up to is that Jesus was born in a simple stable at Bethelem and he attract 3 learned wisemen who travelled for miles following a star which they were compelled by all they could figure out by their limited finite intelligence that something phenomenal had happened. People were expecting a power packed performer to kick the Romans . No a simple child grew and came to understand His mission. Jesus Christ turned this world upside down and the world is wrestling with the facts. Thats where the Holy Spirit comes in to enlighten us. Be still and know I am God……………if you will and in your quiet moment Oh Arrogant One on steroids and pumping words . It took a simple child to help us never to lose
            the wonder and the awe. I meant the Mango for
            to help sweeten you
            from you bitter lemon ways.
            After all
            it must unquestionably be lonely at the top sometimes Oh Arrogant One .

            • EvolutionKills

              Funny, all I require is evidence for my beliefs. You refuse to provide that evidence, and call me arrogant for not believing without evidence.

              Please explain for me the difference between faith and gullibility.

              “Life is a mystery go enjoy it.”

              I do, I just don’t pretend to know things I do not know, unlike yourself.

              “My one bias I will own up to is that Jesus was born in a simple stable at Bethelem and he attract 3 learned wisemen who travelled for miles following a star which they were compelled by all they could figure out by their limited finite intelligence that something phenomenal had happened.”

              There is no evidence any of this ever happened, and might I also remind you that the two nativity stories in the Gosples have contradictions and numerous mistakes? The 3 wisemen is simply tradition, a number is never actually specified. The star was never noticed or commented on by any contemporary historians or astronomers, many of whom were in the area at the time of the supposed event.

              “People were expecting a power packed performer to kick the Romans .”

              Not at all. Many Jewish sects were expecting their messiah to be a persecuted man of simple means, not an all powerful comic book superhero.

              “Jesus Christ turned this world upside down and the world is wrestling with the facts.”

              All this requires is a belief in Jesus, an actual historical Jesus is not required to explain the success of Christianity. Think about it. A world in which Jesus was just a myth and never existed outside the fevered hallucinations of the faithful, would be identical to the world we live in now. Considering we have no evidence to support anything more than that, I see no compelling reason to believe otherwise. Because there are no facts, the Bible is a massively self-contradictory book filled with a ton of claims and presuppositions, but no evidence to support it.

              “Thats where the Holy Spirit comes in to enlighten us.”

              This is your cognitive bias running in overdrive.

              “Be still and know I am God……………if you will and in your quiet moment Oh Arrogant One on steroids and pumping words .”

              The irony of claiming to be God (or claiming to speak on his behalf) and calling someone else arrogant is lost on you, isn’t it?

              But I have to wonder, why does your God need to be defended by you? If he really cared, can’t he defend himself? Why doesn’t he make his ‘will’ as implicitly known as hunger or thirst? Is your god not powerful enough to accomplish that trivially easy task?

              You are too afraid to ask the big questions, the fundamental questions. There are certain places you are never allowed to let your thoughts wander, and I pity you because of it. Maybe one day you’ll learn the value of learning how to think, not just being told what to think.

              • Mike Wyatt

                I will come clean, I’m a teacher and my primary task is to encourage children of all ages to think for themselves. I know the difference between guiding and brain washing them and enjoy acknowledging their own discoveries. To me thats the joy I experience. The little Arabic children I meet most days have more insight into a life that can pass by the proud and the mighty. Why because they wonder and are awe inspired. Life is a mystery go and enjoy it.

                However we are not all arrogant immaculate conceptions such as yourself. There is a dialectic between nudging the extremes and finding ourselves and answering the big questions Who am I ? Where I am going? and for me Who is my Jesus? I do this as a traveling teacher far from home wandering through Asia and the Middle East. I now find myself in the cradle of all the major religions Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. My school is a Muslim one and I find the people here warm and loving and challenging. It would not be your cup of tea because you are one of a protected species living in ivory towers.

                As we are the products of our surroundings and the journeys and choices we make. Nobody has told me what to think.I have discerned the wisdom of others. I’m like a dwarf on the shoulders of giants. I believe in God I believe in Jesus Christ His son and the Holy Spirit. If I hadn’t answered the 3 vital questions personally I would not be able to stand tall and grow where I find myself planted. You my friend should weigh up your experience and know that comfort zones are nice places to rest in but no good to stay in. I have moved out of my comfort zone years ago and so I survive by discerning totally intuitively but I’m free totally bloody free.

                My gift is touching the people around me by dropping all my preconceived notions and holding on to the ones that work. I understand the position that you hold and it would work if you don’t have to mix and get close to people. You could meet people in your telephone box maybe. Your vacuum packed ideas and your perma-sealed rationality gives you a false sense of security. You could live inside your head quite comfortably I’m sure. The real thing is that life doesn’t fit so well into neat conceptions. You have to bend and be flexible to understand the logic of people’s lives and accept that we all are unfinished and far from perfect. The best we can achieve is to accept our limitations gracefully and know that to complete the puzzles and mysteries we discover we have to be connected with other imperfect beings who are also laboring to understand and grow where they are planted. That way we grow in wisdom. Most people would agree Wisdom kicks knowledge in the butt every time.

                Therefore I’m happy for what life has thrown up at me and the cards I have been dealt. Your pity for me is that I don’t think like you. Well I’m in the line of at least 7 billion other people who live on this planet who for better or worst are not likely to agree with your guiding fiction.

                NB:In the picture I’m sharing a turtle burger or two in my Reading room that is like a big recreation of the universe..

                • EvolutionKills

                  You are a shining example of how religious faith blinds people to reality. You are so utterly disconnected you see your irrationality as rationality, your illogical reasoning as logical, your lack of evidence as evidence. You have built such a beautiful house, and yet you fail to ever look out the windows, let alone step outside your door.

                  “Who am I”

                  I am myself.

                  “Where I am going?”

                  I don’t know, but I’m fine with that.

                  “and for me Who is my Jesus?”

                  After studying the origins of the Bible, of the polytheistic pagan origins of the ancient Hebrew people’s religion that they borrowed from their Canaanite neighbors (hate to break it to you, but if Abraham existed, he was a pagan). Studying the Bible’s composition and editing, the origins of the faith, and the contemporary religions that existed when it was created. Studying the evaluation of evidence, logic, reasoning, ethics, science, and philosophy. The most probable, the most likely and well supported conclusion, is that there most likely are no gods; and I’m sure enough to bet my non-existent soul on that. I’m also reasonably certain that Jesus is nothing more than a myth, and Christianity is a Jewish take on the contemporary Mystery-Religion trend of religious syncretism between Greek philosophies and pagan religions (there are parallel version dedicated to Osiris and Mystra among many others). Jesus to me is a myth, a fable, to be considered on the same level as Heracles, Achilles, or any other character of myth.

                  “It would not be your cup of tea because you are one of a protected species living in ivory towers.”

                  Right, because being the most hated minority in the most religious country in the western world leaves us really isolated and well protected. To say nothing of how well an atheists fare in the Middle East, where they can and are killed by their fellows for the simple non-crime of unbelief. I’m not saying we are anywhere close to having it the worst of of any group on this planet, but your willful ignorance does your credibility no favors.

                  “You my friend should weigh up your experience and know that comfort zones are nice places to rest in but no good to stay in.”

                  Staying in the comfort zone would being pretending to be another sheep in the flock and not making waves. Standing up for the Constitution, science, and reason in the face of religious ignorance and hate is the harder path to take. If I wanted nothing but comfort, I’d just blend in, maybe pretend to be a Catholic.

                  “My gift is touching the people around me by dropping all my preconceived notions and holding on to the ones that work.”

                  You haven’t dropped your ‘preconceived notion’ about the existence of the supernatural or of God. You’ve just surrounded yourself with other people who also believe in the supernatural and gods, imagine that.

                  “I understand the position that you hold and it would work if you don’t have to mix and get close to people.”

                  I doubt that, and you can keep your condescension. What is it about not believing things without evidence that fundamentally prevents an atheists from building meaningful personal relationships? So we’re probably not going to be popular at most churches, how does that stop us making friends and finding love outside of religion? See, this is what I’m talking about. Your logic is awful, it simply does not follow. You would be failed out of a community college Logic 101 course.

                  “The real thing is that life doesn’t fit so well into neat conceptions.”

                  No shit, and how well has religion handled dealing with their misconceptions? How well did your Catholic Church handle the truth of heliocentrism? How well did it handle geo sphericity? Or the germ theory of disease? As new evidence comes along, it will be added to the wider picture. Science can, and does, adapt to new information; it is a constantly self correcting process. Science admits when it does not know something, and it does not make claims of absolute truth. As opposed to religions which have made innumerable erroneous claims to absolute truth. Science has the much better record of describing reality as it really is. It’s not science’s fault that there is no evidence for your god outside of feelings, assumptions, conjectures, and thousands year old selectively translated hearsay. If there is ever objective, verifiable evidence that makes the existence of gods more likely than not, I’ll change my opinion. Until then, the burden of proof is on the faithful to prove that their claims for the existence of their god/s are truthful. Until them I’ll withhold judgement, but I’m of the informed opinion that they all most likely do not exist.

                  “The best we can achieve is to accept our limitations gracefully and know that to complete the puzzles and mysteries we discover we have to be connected with other imperfect beings who are also laboring to understand and grow where they are planted.”

                  The best way to do this is through objective and unbiased science, not by getting into disputes and muddling over different gods or interpretations of the same god/s.

                  “That way we grow in wisdom. Most people would agree Wisdom kicks knowledge in the butt every time.”

                  Wisdom
                  -the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.

                  Knowledge
                  -facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

                  How is one better than the other exactly, and who are these ‘most people’ you are speaking for? Also, wisdom is to be suspected if it is built upon bad or false knowledge and information. Fundamentalist Muslims think it is ‘wise’ to murder apostates, and they get this idea from their ‘knowledge’ of the Qur’an. Slave owners in the southern United States justified their practice through their ‘knowledge’ of the Bible. The ancient Hebrew justified their genocide of neighboring tribes by the ‘knowledge’ of their YHWH. ‘Knowledge’ built upon nothing but scripture is to be questioned as much, if not more so, than the scripture itself; not just because it can be so disastrously wrong, but also because it leaves people absolutely convinced of the ‘wisdom’ of their actions.

                  “Therefore I’m happy for what life has thrown up at me and the cards I have been dealt.”

                  Great, and ancient people might have found comfort in the idea of a flat Earth, that didn’t make the belief any more factually accurate.

                  “Your pity for me is that I don’t think like you. Well I’m in the line of at least 7 billion other people who live on this planet who for better or worst are not likely to agree with your guiding fiction.”

                  An Argument ad Populum, once again, this shows that you would be failed out of a Logic 101 course. The majority of people believing that the world is flat or that the universe revolves around the Earth does not make them right, it merely means that the vast majority was mistaken about the nature of reality. Belief in a god or gods does not change this, simply being in the majority does not make something true (this is ironically enough something the Catholic Church has always seemed to have trouble understanding). Most people don’t know enough about the nature of subatomic particles and the strong and weak nuclear forces to realize that nothing is really ‘solid’. That at the atomic level, the gaps between the subatomic particles that makes up atoms are quite vast. We merely perceive things as solid, as a way of our brains overlaying an understanding upon the world as we perceive it; but it is a perception that is fundamentally wrong, and we can prove it.

                  “NB:In the picture I’m sharing a turtle burger or two in my Reading room that is like a big recreation of the universe..”

                  I suppose it would be too much to hope that you are teaching them the latest and most scientifically accurate cosmology, and not ancient patently false fables about the creation of the universe by an anthropomorphic super narcissist?

                  Oh, and lest I forget, you still haven’t explained the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘gullibility’.

                • Mike Wyatt

                  The Difference between Faith and gullibility is simple.A person would be gullible to get sucked in by a lemon like you. Faith is the way I freely choose every time.

                  Rational thinking is the stick you arrogantly use to hit others over the head with while you are defensively painting yourself into a corner.Over time you have encrusted a few barnacles of belief on your harden exterior, perhaps from talking to yourself in a mirror.

                  Thanks for the dueling experience, it was mildly entertaining However your point of view is none of my business.

                  There is a point at which you can argue and duel and poke and prod and then you have to make a leap of faith. This is why some people like the idea of jumping from a bungy cord over a yawning gap. There are those who can ‘let go’ and there are those who can’t because they have a deep fear. Then again there are people like yourself who want to check the fibers in the cord and how it is constructed and to measure the drop and the angle of the dangle and to know how many rebounds it is likely to make and to decide there really isn’t any point in the whole exercise in the first place.You reason that only gullible people would want to jump anyway. This is called analysis paralysis. Unfortunately I play chess with people who are exactly like this. They take an eternity to make any decision and if so painstakingly.

                  Here is a story told by a well known New Zealand poet called James K.Baxter. It is a about a man who built a reinforced concrete tank and hid himself inside with his books and all he needed to live for an indefinite time. Each day he heard someone taking pot shots at him until soon holes started to appear gradually in his constructed refuge. It wasn’t long before his concrete tank started to disintegrate and the reinforcing and concrete started to crumble badly and the light shone in.

                  Not able to withstand such a barrage of missiles the man stepped out of his once carefully constructed hideaway to face his aggressor. He saw the person coming towards him and He was shining like the sun,His hands and body were lacerated and cut and there were holes in his hands and feet, yet He met and reached out to embrace this man who was a shut away.

                  Life has a purpose and a hope just beyond our understanding therefore I ask of you please tell us what is your definition of Redemption and Fear?

                • Mike Wyatt

                  Paulo Coelho says it all in a nut shell. Its like a dialogue with the deaf and blind.

                • Mike Wyatt

                  Faith is knowing that New Zealand will win the LV cup and the Americas Cup in San Francisco by the end of September and the All Blacks will beat Australia on Saturday …………..Why ?because they have the discipline and hard work and strategies and technological savvy in both sports.. Not bad for a small nation with 4 million people up against the big bucks billionaires in the other syndicates. We can punch above our weight because we have faith and belief in ourselves. We don’t suffer sour lemons like EVOLUTIONKILLS. too gladly. More a Killjoy if you ask me.

                • EvolutionKills

                  Gullibility
                  -Accepting things as true on little, no, or bad evidence; or maintaining belief in the face of contradictory evidence. Negative connotation.

                  Faith
                  -Accepting things as true on little, no, or bad evidence; or maintaining belief in the face of contradictory evidence. Positive connotation.

                  I fail to see how the addition of religion makes it any more respectable or unworthy of derision.

                  “Rational thinking is the stick you arrogantly use to hit others over the head with while you are defensively painting yourself into a corner.”

                  As opposed to what, you hiding behind your touchy feelings and the intangible things you imagine exist? Would I be better off if I accepted thing uncritically? Would I be better off if I sent the televangelists my hard earned money in the hopes of a miracle cure, so that they can afford their 2nd summer home? Would I be better off if I believed that thunder and lightning were signs of the god’s wrath? Would our lives be better back in the Dark Ages, when there was almost no higher learning and both superstition and church power ran rampant? Either you have a stunning level of willful ignorance, or you lack imagination; but probably both.

                  “There is a point at which you can argue and duel…eternity to make any decision and if so painstakingly.”

                  But if you see a line of people waiting to bungee jump, and at the base of the bridge you see a pile of corpses with smashed in faces? It’s doesn’t take a meticulous physics problem to see something is very very wrong, especially when you watch someone face-plant right in front of you. And if they are being encouraged to jump, to ignore the pile of corpses, to just have ‘faith’ that they’ll be alright and will come back up unharmed? Then jumping isn’t noble, it’s suicidal; and those encouraging the ‘leap of faith’ need to be opposed.

                  “Life has a purpose and a hope just beyond our understanding therefore I ask of you please tell us what is your definition of Redemption and Fear?”

                  Life has purpose because we give it purpose, not because it is handed down from on high. Hope is nice to have, but it doesn’t always exist. It’s a nice emotion, but can easily be exploited and misused. I try to have hope in tangible things, like my friends and family. Hoping that a god will end hunger or suffering in the world because you prayed for it is an empty delusional hope. Humans are complex emotional social animals, and we are not wired to think rationally or critically; they are skills that must be taught, we did not evolve them. Without sufficient skepticism and critical thinking, hope can leave the credulous open to abuse and harm. How many religions prey on that hope for the sake of material gain? Your own Catholic Church is one of the most egregious examples of this abuse institutionalized on a scale of such ghastly history and world spanning suffering as to almost defy understanding or comprehension.

                  I might give you a definition of Redemption and Fear, but after your dodge and your supremely flaccid response for Gullibility and Faith? I’m not sure if you’d understand the definitions if I gave them to you, and even if you did, I’m not sure you just wouldn’t misrepresent them anyways. You’ve shown yourself to have a supreme lack of intellectual honesty and critical thinking skills.

                  But don’t worry, just have faith that I’m nothing more than an intellectual blowhard that is out of touch with my feelings. Tell yourself that if it makes you feel better, but I’ll be busy over here trying to figure shit out instead of hoping that it figures itself out.

                • EvolutionKills

                  And since you seem to be all about emotion, I’ll let someone far more eloquent than myself give you a somewhat emotional (but still entirely rational) synopsis.

                  Science Saved My Soul – philhelens

                  Three summers ago I was staying in a caravan, a long way from the nearest city. It was usually pitch black at night. I had given my word I would not smoke inside, so at 1am I stepped outside for a cigarette. After a few minutes of standing in the darkness, I realized that I could see my hand quite clearly. Something I had noticed I could not do on previous nights. So I looked up, expecting to see the glow of the full moon.

                  But the moon was nowhere in sight.

                  Instead, there was a long glowing cloud directly overhead. The Romans called it the ‘Via Galactica ‘, the ‘road of milk’. Today we call it the ‘Milky Way’. For those who missed the lesson at school that day, the basic facts are these.

                  Remembering that 1 light-year is equivalent to 6 trillion miles, our galaxy has a total diameter of somewhere around 100,000 light-years. Our Sun is located toward the edge of one of the galaxy’s spiral arms, about 26,000 light-years out from the central bulge of the galaxy. It takes 200 to 250 million years for the Sun to complete one orbit of the central bulge. Surrounding the galaxy, above and below the disks in a spherical halo, there are approximately 200 globular clusters; which may contain up to a million stars each. The Milky Way itself contains 200 billion stars, give or take. These numbers are essential to understanding what a galaxy is.

                  But when contemplating them, some part of the human mind protests that it cannot be so. Yet an examination of the evidence brings you to the conclusion that it is. And if you take that conclusion out on a clear dark night and look up, you might see something that will change your life. This is what a galaxy looks like from the inside, from the suburbs of our Sun. Through binoculars, for every star you can see with your naked eye, you can see a hundred around it; all suspended in a gray-blue mist.

                  But through a modest telescope, if you wait for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and get the focus just right, you will see that mist for what it really is. More stars, like dust, fading into what tastes like infinity. But you got to have the knowledge, seeing is only half of it.

                  That night three years ago I knew a small part of what’s out there; the kinds of things, the scale of things, the age of things, the violence and destruction. Appalling energy, hopeless gravity, and the despair of distance. But I feel safe, because I know my world is protected by the very distance that others fear.

                  It’s like the universe screams in your face,“Do you know what I am? How grand I am? How old I am? Can you even comprehend what I am? What are you, compared to me?”

                  And when you know enough science, you can just smile up at the universe and reply, “Dude, I am YOU.”

                  When I looked at the galaxy that night I knew the faintest twinkle of starlight was a real connection between my comprehending eye, along a narrow beam of light, to the surface of another sun. The photons my eyes detect, the light I see, the energy with which my nerves interact, came from that star. I thought I could never touch it, yet something from it, crosses the void and touches me. I might never have known. My eyes saw only a tiny point of light, but my mind saw so much more. I see the invisible bursts of gamma radiation from giant stars converted into pure energy by their own mass. The flashes that flash from the far side of the universe long before the Earth had even formed. I can see the invisible microwave glow of the background radiation left over from the big bang. I see stars drifting aimlessly at hundreds of kilometers per second, and the space-time curving around them.

                  I can even see millions of years into the future. That blue twinkle will blow up one day, sterilizing any nearby solar systems in an apocalypse that makes the wrath of human gods seem pitiful by comparison. Yet it was from such destruction that I was formed. Stars must die, so that I may live. I stepped out of a supernova; and so did you.

                  In light of this inarguable fact, this hard earned knowledge. This partial, but informative truth. What place then, in the 21st century and beyond, for the magical claims of organized religion? The first religions were primitive by any definition; for reasons of limited population, communication, and plain old geography. They never grew to be anything other than a local concern. But religions mutate in time, and grow in sophistication as each generation of holy men learn what works and what doesn’t. What makes people obedient, and what causes rebellion. What ideas people can easily escape, and which will haunt them; until they have to pray just to stop the nagging fear.

                  When populations grew, due to the slow but steady growth of knowledge, as if confronted by abundant harvests, the religions went into an arms race with each other. From gods of wind and thunder and sea, the threats and incentives and claims of power escalate. Until every dominant organized religion has a god that is all powerful, all loving, all seeing; and words like ‘infinity’ and ‘eternity’ are deployed cheaply. While all other words are open to abuse until they mean exactly what the religions want them to mean.

                  That night under the Milky Way, I who experienced it, cannot call the experience a ‘religious experience’; for I know it was not religious in any way. I was thinking about facts and physics, trying to visualize what is, not what I would like there to be. There is no word for such experiences that come through scientific and not mystical revelation. The reason for that is that every time someone has such a ‘mindgasim’, religion steals it simply by saying “Ah, you had a religious experience.” And spiritualist will pull the same shit. And both camps get angry when an atheist like me tells you that I only ever had these experiences after rejecting everything supernatural. But I do admit that after such experiences, the moments when reality hits me like a winning lottery ticket, I often think about religion; and how lucky I am that I am not religious.

                  You want to learn something about god? Okay. This is one galaxy. If god exists, god made this.

                  Look at it, face it, accept it, adjust to it; because this is the truth and it’s probably not going to change very much. This is how god works. God would probably want you to look at it, to learn about it, to try to understand it. But if you can’t look, if you won’t even try to understand; what does that say about your religion?

                  As Bishop Lancelot Andrews once said, “the nearer the church, the further from God.” Maybe you need to run away from the mosque, away from the church, away from the priests and imams, away from the books; to have any chance to find god. Squeeze a fraction of the galaxy into your mind, and then you’ll have a better idea what you’re looking for. To even partially comprehend the scale of a single galaxy is to almost disappear. And when you remember all of the other galaxies, you shrink 100 billion times smaller still.

                  But then you remember what you are. The same facts that make you feel so insignificant also tell you how you got here, it’s like you become more real, or maybe the universe becomes more real. You suddenly fit, you suddenly belong. Y ou do not have to bow down, you do not have to look away. In such moments, all you have to do is remember to keep breathing.

                  The body of a newborn baby is as old as the cosmos, the form is new and unique, but the materials are 13.7 billion years old. Processed by nuclear fusion in stars, fashioned by electromagnetism. Cold words for amazing processes. And that baby was you, is you. You’re amazing. Not only alive, but with a mind! What fool would exchange this for every winning lottery ticket ever drawn?

                  When I compare what scientific knowledge has done for me, and what religion tried to do to me; I sometime literally shiver.

                  Religions tell children they might go to Hell and they must believe, while science tells children they came from the stars and presents reasoning they can believe. I’ve told plenty of young kids about stars and atoms and galaxies and the big bang, and I have never seen fear in their eyes. Only amazement and curiosity, they want more. Why do kids swim in it, and adults drown in it? What happens to reality between our youngest years and our adult ones?

                  Could it be that someone promised us something so beautiful that our universe seems dull, empty, even frightening by comparison? It might still be made by a creator of some kind, but religion has made it look ugly. Religion paints everything not of itself as unholy and sinful, while it beautifies and dignifies these errors, lies, and bigotry. Like a pig, wearing the finest robes.

                  In it’s efforts to stop us facing reality, religion has become the reality we cannot face. Look at what religion has made us do, to ourselves and to each other! Religion stole our love and our loyalty and gave it to a book, to a telepathic father that tells his children that ‘love’ means kneeling before him. Now I’m not a parent, but I say that those kids are going to turn out messed up. It cannot be healthy, for a child or a species.

                  We were told long ago, and for a long time, that there was only the Earth. That we were the center of everything. That turned out to be wrong, we still haven’t fully adjusted, we’re still in shock. The universe is not what we expected it to be, it’s not what they told us it would be. This cosmic understanding is all new to us, but there’s nothing to fear. We’re still special, we’re still blessed. And there might yet be a heaven, but it isn’t going to be perfect, and we’re going to have to build it ourselves.

                  If I have something that can be called a soul that needed saving, then science saved it, from religion. Some people find it really very depressing that the universe can only support life for another 30 billion years.

                  30…

                  Billion…

                  Years…

                  Are you fucking kidding me?

                  https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=r6w2M50_Xdk

      • Mike Wyatt

        How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet It seems to not only me that thin ks like this.

        Why dont all these people meet in a telephone box and have a meeting ?

        • EvolutionKills

          Right…

          Because thinking that the creator of the universe made you in his own image, wants to have a personal relationship with you, and you can spend eternity at his side if you telepathically tell him you love and believe in him? Oh yeah, ever so humble and not smug at all…

  • Tobias2772

    Regardless of how nice he is or what new social positions he supports, let’s not forget that he is still selling a bullshit myth that will cause millions of people to live their one life under an illusion for his aggrandizement.

  • Mike Wyatt

    Atheists are slow in being able to dialogue with others because they are smug and arrogant. However I admit one thing that Pope Francis said, to paraphrase some of his words ,that genuine Atheists are just as welcome because they are living according to their lights. Better to be a know it all Atheist than an insincere Christian. Not Frankie boys words exactly but at least I got the point. of what he was making.
    So don’t give up sour lemon Killjoy. There seems to be a little daylight for you.
    By the by Team New Zealand is still cleaning up on the water in San Francisco at the Americas Cup and the New Zealand All Blacks have just polished off Australia in the rugby.

    Passionless- Killjoy- the -self -styled -GodFlogger correctional- policeman for the whole of Cyber space would say that was just emotional. That man must count how many angels he can stick on a pin head in his free time and then pull their wings off.
    Don’t worry Killjoy oops! sorry, I mean EvolutionKills, every time someone farts they knock an angel of heaven and that will allow a few atheists to sneak in. Have faith and hope. lots of love you know who.

  • jhmdeuce

    “It’s hard, even for an angry, arrogant, militant new atheist like me…”
    Then why do you give a rat’s behind what the Catholic Church teaches or the pope says?
    Mind your own business.


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