It may seem a little odd for a Catholic…

to be helping out an atheist blog, but since I believe the faith has nothing to fear from atheism (as distinct from atheists, who have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for murder in the name of their god), I think that one thing Catholics can do is always try to support and foster whatever is closest to the gospel in belief systems at variance with our own. So, given a choice between, say, a Muslim who warmly affirms Jesus as a prophet and who protests BBC blasphemies against our Lady and a Muslim who wants to kill innocent people, I will foster and support the good Muslim (while still, of course, pointing out that Jesus was more than a prophet).

Similarly, I will happily lock arms with a Protestant who opposes abortion or torture, or who argues for theism, the Trinity or the reliability of Scripture, while not watering down my commitment to the Catholic Faith.

And, for the same reason, given a choice between arrogant atheists with personality disorders whose spite prompts them to desecrate the Eucharist for the delectation of their fanboys, and atheists who are decent, thoughtful, interesting people who treat believers with respect and not contempt and vilification, I will support the good atheist. Which reminds me, Leah Libresco writes: is doing their annual nominations for favorite blogs in various categories, and I’m trying to get mine on the list for Favorite Atheist blog. A lot of the ones I’ll be competing with (like P.Z. Myers’s Pharyngula) have bigger readerships than mine and will pull a lot more nominations. But I figured what’s the point of being a blog with crossover appeal if I can’t get some support from Christian readers? I’d love for mine to make it through to the next round so it’s not too much of an epistemic closure-fest.

I’ve outlined how to vote here: and this might make a good pullquote if you decide to link to it:

Some atheist blogs speak mainly to people who are already atheists. That’s an incredibly valuable service; it’s a way to promote activism, aggregate news, and provide a safe space for people who may have been thrown out of their families and communities because of their views.

I’m going for something a little different here. This blog is meant to be a place for productive arguments and strange alliances between atheists and theists. In these comment threads, I can make common cause with a gnostic Christian while the atheists and Catholics have to team up to call him a heretic and me a lunatic [in the most respectful possible way]. And all of us are expected to defend the beliefs we hold, not just attack the beliefs we’ve rejected.

So if you’d prefer to see fewer belligerent jerks with personality disorders get rewarded for their appalling behavior and more civil conversations between good and decent atheists and Catholics (which can only be a win since the Faith has nothing to fear from atheist arguments, but plenty to fear from demagogue whipping surly mobs into an ignorant fury), I’d suggest you go support Leah, my favorite internet atheist.

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  • It is indeed hard to find atheists who aren’t really closet theists (but who find their God not from scripture, revelation, et al but from in a mirror). Thanks for the tip.

    Besides, anyone who can use “epistemic closurefest” gets my vote.

  • Materialist Man

    So what are the rules for atheists on this blog?

    • Chris M

      Rule 1 – no pooftahs!
      (is your name not Bruce?)

      • Dale Price

        “Materialist Man” is going to be kinda confusin’.

        Mind if we call you Bruce?

    • Mark Shea

      Don’t be an abusive jerk like you. Bye!

      • Chris M

        That would be rule 2.

  • brian_in_brooklyn

    Such a religiously irenic sentiment seems quite appropriate on the anniversary of the Four Chaplains.

    Good for you, Mark

  • Tim

    I tried to vote, but it requires a or account. I have neither.

    Sorry, Leah.

  • Jared

    I haven’t read her blog, but this post reminds me of my close friend John. We used to frequent a video game forum called escapist magazine, which had a surprisingly high “new atheist” fanbase. Occasionally, a Christian-bashing thread would pop up. John would be right there with me defending the Church, not because he agreed with me, but because he didn’t like people hating entire groups. He recognized that it’s the same discriminatory “logic” as racism, and that it was directed at his family and most of his friends. Awesome guy!

    • Manwe

      Escapist Magazine? Yeah, alot of anti-religious types there, that is why I stopped checking it out. No point in it when a video game forum turns into a bash Jesus fest.

      • Jared

        Yeah. Extra Credits was the only reason I went there regularly. After they moved, I was done.

  • Holy Prophet of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

    So, given PZ Myers is still alive, either Jesus doesn’t have his Father smite people for desecrating his body, or maybe (just maaaaybe) it’s just a wafer?

    • Mark Shea

      Or God is merciful, a trait difficult for people with social and affective relational and personality disorders to grasp.

      • Neil

        He didn’t seem very merciful in the Old Testament. I guess he’s in a better mood now.

        • Jared

          Catholics are not fundamentalists. Therefore, a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture won’t work in an argument against Catholics.

        • Mark Shea

          Same God. Different Fundamentalist. Do atheists never tire of reading the Bible like fundamentalists and then complaining that Catholics don’t read it like they do?

          • Neil

            I’m pretty sure the parts I’m talking about aren’t meant to be symbolic unless you’re a really squishy Episcopalian or UCC member who doesn’t care about the Bible anyway.

            • Jared

              You’re wrong. If you want to use the Bible to argue with Catholics, learn to read it like we do. (Mark’s got a good book on this, and Jeff Cavins has a wonderful DVD series).

            • Mark Shea

              The problem, of course, is that you are picking and choosing a couple of tales and concluding that God is “merciless” in the Old Testament when, mysteriously, the authors themselves don’t arrive at that conclusion, even when they themselves and their own people sometimes endure terrible hardships at what they plainly believe to be the hand of God. in short, you are demonstrating complete epistemic closure. The proposition that the OT picture of God is actually rather complex is not permitted to enter your head, because you have a brief for the prosecution to push, because you are a troll. For some reason, the OT Jews believed, in a world without anesthetic, that God was merciful. But since you are convinced you are 3000 years smarter than those worthless Jews, you simply brush that off. But you aren’t a bigot or anything. You are Bright and enlightened and, well, just *better*, aren’t you?

    • leahlibresco

      Desecration => smiting is not one of the tenets of Catholicism, to my knowledge, so this is a disproof in search of a proposition.

      • Mark Shea


        With respect, why would you suppose somebody who dons the superhero costume “Holy Prophet of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” is interested in anything remotely like a real conversation. When a bully comes to slum among the lower orders, he has no interest in what the untermenschen think. He is here to fire spitwads and laugh at the mental cripples who, he assumes, are Fundamentalists like himself. It’s called hubris. Hubris doesn’t care about your arguments and holds your respectful attitudes in contempt.

        • leahlibresco

          I don’t know this commenter, so I don’t know his intention w/r/t his username. He could be just trying to signal “non-believer.” Anyway, it took me about a minute to write a hopefully informative comment.

          • Mark Shea

            You’re a better person than I am, Leah.

        • leahlibresco

          Well, when I had the big long fight about P.Z. Myer’s desecration stunt on my blog, it was clear a lot of commenters genuinely believed some aspect of Catholic doctrine had been disproved.

          • Jared

            I’m glad I voted for you. 🙂 Good luck!

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    You aren’t talking about anything.

    I believe the phrase you seek is ‘obliquely referencing’.

    You’re welcome!

  • Manwe

    You know Mark, ever since you moved to patheos, I’m noting more and more atheists seem to make their way here. Is it a patheos thing?

  • *You know Mark, ever since you moved to patheos, I’m noting more and more atheists seem to make their way here. Is it a patheos thing?*

    This is a strange culture. I went all over Moscow in 90-91 frequently, and often gratuitously, telling people *Ya Katolik*, and despite 70 years of State organized and sponsored atheism the reaction ranged from polite to interested. A very important friend of mine there, an atheist, was enormously helpful to me and even told me some inspiring things about Fr. Alexandr Men, an Orthodox priest she and her friends had known and been impressed by. Not one hint of hostility or antagonism.

    But here – say you’re a believer and you get a **** storm from a lot of yahoos.

    Why is that?

    • Mark Shea

      I suspect it’s largely because the yahoos have never lived with the consequences of 70 years of atheism. They seem to have no sense of humility whatsoever. No living awareness of the possibility that their philosophy, when implemented, is a nightmare. So they talk like high school sophomores talk about how dumb everybody else is. Russian living under the Soviets had seen the New Soviet Rationalist Man and the bloom was off the rose.

      • My impression is also that educated Russians, and even the less cultivated, have better manners, for whatever reason. I mean that seriously.

        A stock character is the “bulvan”, the obnoxious oaf, the jerk, the loudmouth. Nobody wants to be a bulvan.

        • Thomas R

          Exempting the British many European atheists I’ve encountered online aren’t too bad. They’ll maybe do a couple beats about the Inquisition or whatever, but then you get along okay.

          To be honest when I first started posting online (1998-2000) most atheists I encountered were fairly tolerant. I kind-of do think 9-11 unhinged some of them or brought out some who were unhinged or something.

          • Joseph

            It’s the “new atheists”. Old ones were educated at schools and read books. Their positions were well thought out after much study. They were confident in their worldview and, true to form, were not concerned with those who did not hold to it.

            New atheists are educated via a failed public school system, the History Channel, Discovery Channel, prime-time television, movies, cartoons, video games, the internet, etc., but never authentic books (those that aren’t contemporary fiction that try to explain their system in allegory for the ‘new atheists’) or intense study.

            In a nutshell, the new atheists are stupid. That’s why.

  • “as distinct from atheists, who have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for murder in the name of their god”

    I haven’t murdered anyone in decades. Ever, actually.

    Kinda wondering how I am supposed to feel. I always thought (and have been told) I am a decent, thoughtful person. I’ve never (for instance) accused someone of having a personality disorder. Ever. Let alone for throwing a cracker into the trash.

    What is respect? What is vilification? Not in the real world–I already know what they mean there–but on this blog?

    • Mark Shea

      Ah! So only theists are to be perpetually called to bear responsibility for the actions of others who share some of their beliefs–including others who lived during the Bronze Age. Atheists are atomized individuals who have no connection to what others have done in the name of their religion.

      It’s remarkable how people who advocate free thought so often seem to worship the intellect so much and use it so little.

      I don’t bother hosting unserious trolls. Bye!

      • Brent

        You’re kickin’ them out left and right, Mark!!

    • Joseph

      “Let alone for throwing a cracker into the trash.”

      Such a kind, respectful person. Yes, you should be lauded for how wonderfully considerate you are. Refer to my earlier description of a “new atheist”. An old atheist wouldn’t have made the mistake of painting themselves as the perfect saint without a god and then turn around and intentionally insult someone by attacking a core belief of his. Thanks for proving my point.