Can Evangelical Atheists Make Common Cause with Christians?

The Catholic faith teaches that we can make common cause with anybody of good will. Not about everything, of course, but about things we agree on. So, for instance, an atheist who believes in liberty and says, “I disagree with every word you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it” is somebody Catholics can work with. (An atheist who wishes to smash belief and murder believers, not so much.)

Recently, a group of atheists have complained to the UN that they are being persecuted “around the globe“. They complain that “atheism was banned by law in a number of states where people were forced to officially adopt a faith.” They noted that “In Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan ‘atheists can face the death penalty on the grounds of their belief.’”

Now, you may have noticed a certain common thread linking the countries where atheism is criminalized and even subjected to the death penalty. You may also have noticed that “the globe” basically means “the Islamosphere” and that the likelihood of somebody being arrested or killed for their atheism in America, Europe, Russia, Australia, or New Zealand is lower than the chance of being killed by lightning. Indeed, in some despotic countries, such as England or China, it is religious believers–well, actually *Christian* religious believers when it comes to England–who stand a high chance of being punished at law by the tin-plated atheist dictators filled with delusions of godhood. The worst that happens to atheists outside the Islamosphere is that you get unfriended on Facebook for being a socially maladept jerk who can’t see why people don’t recognize your superiority to them and who laugh off fellow atheist Phil Plait’s exhortation “Don’t Be a D–k” as the ravings of somebody who is soft on Reason and Science.

Still and all, outlawing and killing atheists for their atheism is bad and the Church, which teaches that belief must not be coerced, is agin it. It is also, by the way, agin the punishment and murder of Christians for being Christian. Islam and modern atheism are both, in their own curious ways, reactions against and derivations from the Christian tradition. Both have hived off with favorite mystical doctrines from the Christian tradition and set them up as the Only Things That Matter. (Monotheism and the sovereignty of God for Islam; the goodness and utility of human reason and the sciences for modern atheism.) So the question is, can people in either system find the wherewithal to look outside their cramped mental universes to the find things in the Catholic tradition that will help supply what is missing (and therefore frustrating to a flourishing human person). In many ways, Islam is actually *more* open than modern atheism, which is enjoying a bit of a resurgence and which therefore is feeling its oats and is full of cockiness and evinces little capacity for self-doubt. A number of Islamic leaders have actually had discussions with Pope Benedict. Benedict, to be sure has also had conversations with certain prominent European atheists, but these guys have very little impact on the “New Atheists” who are basically the simple-minded carnival barkers like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett who gin up the Internet troops with pious nostrums and mantras in the service of their religion.

What’s fascinating to me is that, in the conflict between Islam and the new atheism, everybody on both sides uses the language of Victimism. Speech defending the Muslim policies of persecution against non-Muslims is always cast in language that portrays the persecutor as the victim:

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the council on Monday there was a “rising trend” of Islamophobia, adding: “We condemn all sorts of incitement to hatred and religious discrimination against Muslims and people of other faiths.”

This is from the Islamosphere’s *freest* state. Meanwhile, in the West, we likewise see a curious timidity about acknowledging where the problem is–and this includes from atheists who complain that they are persecuted “around the globe” when what they actually mean is “Muslims persecute atheists in Muslim countries”. They do this partly because they are too cowardly to single out Islam as the central force for religious persecution in the world today and partly because, in their bigotry toward Christians, they want to play the game of “If you’ve seen one Abrahamic belief, you’ve seen them all.” The sensible thing, of course, would be to make common cause with Christians on the matter of freedom of–as well as from–religion. But that would require, you know, making common cause with religious believers and one may get cooties or even, Flying Spaghetti Monster forbid, start to see them as good and intelligent people and not buck-toothed morons from the Ozarks. It will be interesting to see if atheists are able to overcome their own bigotries in order to make common cause with Christians regarding the intolerance of the Islamosphere.

  • Ashley

    “Speech defending the Muslim policies of persecution against non-Muslims is always cast in language that portrays the persecutor as the victim:”

    “Gay brownshirts”, anyone?

    “The worst that happens to atheists outside the Islamosphere is that you get unfriended on Facebook for being a socially maladept jerk …”

    I guess I imagined the death and rape threats that an atheist girl in Rhode Island received from Christians and Catholics when she tried to get her local school board to remove a Christian prayer banner from her public school. I must be wrong about the 20+ states that still outlaw atheists from holding public office, or the people who have been denied custody of their children here in the USA because they are atheists. And I must have been dreaming when my (public) high school vice-principal, a Christian, clotted me on the side of the head and threatened to kill me when I told him I wouldn’t bow in prayer during a Christian song at an assembly.

    Please feel free to return to your fantasy world where Christians are always the victim who just want the mean atheists and Islamers to leave them alone.

    “…and which therefore is feeling its oats and is full of cockiness and evinces little capacity for self-doubt.”

    You must be the least self-aware person in existence.

    • Mark Shea

      See, this is the sort of whiny bigotry you really need to confront. Idiots sending emails to an annoying girl is not state persecution. It’s morons on the internet doing what morons on the Internet do. Likewise, archaic laws on state books that nobody pays attention to (sort of like laws against spitting on the sidewalk in Seattle dating from the 1917 Influenza Epidemic) are not really the same thing as rigorously enforced anti-atheist jailings and death penalties in the Islamosphere. And your sad personal experience with a popinjay in high school does not really translate into America the Theocratic Police State.

      Soooo, anyway, I take it you are not really interested in making common cause with Christians on the matter of religious liberty? Too bad. We’ll leave the light on for you if you change your mind.

      • Brian Westley

        Likewise, archaic laws on state books that nobody pays attention to

        You’ll need to explain that to Herb SIlverman; when he applied to be a notary public in South Carolina in 1992, his was the only application (out of about 33,000 that year) that was refused, because he had crossed off the god oath on the form. Even though Torcaso v. Watkins had invalidated exactly these kinds of constitutional religious requirements 30 years earlier, North Carolina officials actually tried to defend their unlawful religious test over nearly ten years and spending $300,000 in public money. The state lost, of course.

        You might also be interested in this writeup by law blogger Eugene Volohk from 2005, where he describes how child custody cases often favor the religious parent at the expense of the nonreligious parent:
        http://www.volokh.com/posts/1125342962.shtml

        Now, I’d be interested in common cause with Christians on the matter of religious liberty, but given your past remarks about atheists, probably not with you in particular.

        • Mark Shea

          Wow. A notary public in NC 20 years ago. That’s like the Holocaust! And that Volokh post sure proves… something. Does it prove that atheists are discriminate against or that atheists are often socially maladept jerks who alienate custody judges? Hard to say.

          I’ve worked with plenty of perfectly nice non-believers. But the general rule is that the more vocal the atheist, the bigger the jerk. Learn from Phil Plait.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            “Does it prove that atheists are discriminate against or that atheists are often socially maladept jerks who alienate custody judges? Hard to say. ”
            Didn’t you just write an article about looking past bigotry?

            I also have to note that Phil Plait rarely, if ever, talks about atheism. Is that your recommendation, for atheists to just shut up about it?

            I agree with you that many atheists (and theists as well) act like jerks, especially online. But it seems to me that any critic of religion is labeled as a jerk, no matter how gentle the criticism. I think this is the reason why you observe that “he more vocal the atheist, the bigger the jerk.” It is simply the nature of the beast: vocally disagreeing with someone’s core beliefs is going to be perceived as “jerkish.”

            • Mark Shea

              It is not bigotry to note, as Phil Plait did to the great consternation of atheist jerks, that atheists have a well-deserved reputation for being dicks. When you tend to have a large preponderance of socially maladept jerks in your demographic, you should not be too shocked if that is reflected in things like custody cases. Until you’ve really distinguished “religious prejudice” from “This judge, who is not particularly interested in religious matters, found against you because you were an arrogant butthead”, you have not really proven your case that atheism is being systematically oppressed in custody courts. It could just as easily be that arrogant buttheads who show up in disproportionate percentages in the atheist community are being oppressed in custody courts.”

              No. My recommendation, like Plait’s, is “Don’t be a dick.”

              No. It’s not true that any critic of religion is labelled a jerk. Leah Libresco was one of my favorite bloggers as an atheist. She was interested, open-minded, able to talk about issues of faith without talking as the though the faithful are morons, able to use her intellect without worshipping it: a total pleasure to talk with–and extraordinarily rare. I was, in a funny way, sorry to see her convert because she left the field of internet atheism so barren of kindred spirits. I’ve known other atheists in my time like her, but increasingly, under the influence of militant carnival barkers like Dawkins and Maher and similar ignoramuses it’s hard to have a conversation. I wish there were more like Leah.

              That said, I am grateful to hear that you’d be willing to make common cause with Christians in the interest of religious liberty. Good for you!

              • OverlappingMagisteria

                The fact that you immediately assume that custody cases must be because the atheist parent was a “socially maladept jerk” is prejudiced and bigoted. I realize that is very difficult to see this in yourself, but I recommend that you be a bit more introspective.

                • Mark Shea

                  I engaged in no such assumption. It *may* well be that the custody stats are really due to religious prejudice against atheists. My point was that it *may* well be that the stats have nothing to do with atheism and have everything to do with some other factor. All Brian did was cite an ambiguous statistic as “proof” of state-sponsored oppression. I simply pointed out that he had not proven his point since we don’t really know what accounts for that statistic. He’s like the man who says, “Between 1941 and 1945, there was a huge uptick in Japanese incarceration rates in the US. Clearly, this means there was a Japanese crime wave.” Or perhaps other factors are being overlooked in that analysis? Until that question is answered, that statistical “fact” is useless.

                  • Brian Westley

                    So you didn’t bother to look up any cases and read what some of the judges said about the atheist parent in those custody cases.

          • Brian Westley

            “Wow. A notary public in NC 20 years ago. That’s like the Holocaust!”

            Who made that comparison? Oh, YOU just did, in order to mock religious discrimination by US government officials, something you seemed to want in your criticism of Ashley. I guess your interest wasn’t genuine.

            As I said, there’s no point in involving you, personally, in any sort of Christian/atheist joint project on religious freedom, because you mock atheists for having a greater chance of losing custody in court fights.

            Stay classy.

            • Mark Shea

              No. I did, in order to laugh at the paucity of evidence for all the butthurt whining of atheists who have to point to “Somebody was mean to me once in high school” and other rarities in order to try to pretend that “we’re persecuted around the globe” actually has meaning. I mock atheists for their whining hypersensititivity and attempts to seriously compare life in a Christian/post-Christian culture with life under Islam. Not all atheists behave with such stunning silliness. But a lot do, particularly on the Internet. Life is tough. Deal with it, Darwinian.

              • Brian Westley

                “No. I did, in order to laugh at the paucity of evidence for all the butthurt whining of atheists who have to point to “Somebody was mean to me once in high school” and other rarities in order to try to pretend that “we’re persecuted around the globe” actually has meaning.”

                So losing custody of one’s children is “whining”.

                “I mock atheists for their whining hypersensititivity and attempts to seriously compare life in a Christian/post-Christian culture with life under Islam.”

                The only one doing that is you, in order to distort what atheists have been saying. You’re dishonest.

                • Mark Shea

                  Clever attempt to misdirect, Brian. No, pointing to some guy in NC 20 years ago not getting a job is whining when you are trying to make that seem like America is a Theocratic Police like the countries mentioned in the article. So is “somebody was mean to me once in high school.” It is not whining to lament losing a custody battle but, more the point, it is also not proof of persecution of atheists, as I pointed out.

                  Which means that it is you, my friend, who are being dishonest.

                  • Brian Westley

                    “Clever attempt to misdirect, Brian”

                    The one doing the misdirection here is you.

                    You point out to Ashley that her examples weren’t instances of government action, and when I do provide such examples, you dishonestly make up a ridiculous comparison as if I had compared my examples to the holocaust, and attempt to blame atheist parents for being discriminated against in child custody cases.

                    That’s why you’re dishonest. Your appeal for some kind of common cause with atheists is laughable in the face of your attitude towards actual atheists.

                    • Dave P.

                      Brian:

                      If you’ve been through these comboxes enough, you’ll see atheist commentors who are treated respectfully and treat others respectfully. “A Philosopher” is a gentleman (or, perhaps, a lady).

                    • Mark Shea

                      Your example was one (1) incident from 20 years ago, and another example that proves nothing. The reality is that “around the globe” is rubbish. Atheists could make common cause with Christians to confront that. But first they have to stop pretending to be martyrs in countries where they just aren’t martyrs.

                      Look, Brian. I realize that in some parts of America there are cultural prejudices and practices that annoy atheists (as for instance, the irritating culture of Evangelical piety at the Air Force Academy). There are irritating cultural prejudices that annoy Catholics too (“Are Christian or Catholic?” is still a question heard all over the South.) But you just have to learn to roll with it a bit. It’s just not the same thing as being jailed or beheaded for failure to profess Islam.

                    • Brian Westley

                      “Your example was one (1) incident from 20 years ago, and another example that proves nothing”

                      I didn’t attempt anything near an exhaustive list; it was an example I knew off the top of my head.

                      And you still continue to ignore atheist parents losing child custody, as if that’s trivial.

                      “It’s just not the same thing as being jailed or beheaded for failure to profess Islam.”

                      And I never SAID it was the same. YOU are the only one attempting to compare Silverman’s case to the holocaust, and then only to ridicule and belittle it. I suppose if you were required to fight a court fight for a decade to become a notary public because the state government (including the governor) refused to grant any public trust to a Catholic (which would mean the official state position was that no Catholic could be elected to any school board, city council, or state office), that you would consider that not worth bothering with, and simply accept your second-class status.

                      Most atheists don’t act like doormats.

                    • Beadgirl

                      ” that you would consider that not worth bothering with, and simply accept your second-class status.”

                      That’s not at all what he is saying; I’m sure he does not object to atheists suing for their legal rights, or fighting prejudice. He is simply saying that the prejudice atheists may experience in this country is nothing compared to what they experience in certain other countries, in either scope nor kind. In fact, the fact that the would-be notary public was ultimately vindicated through the U.S. legal system demonstrates that atheists are not second-class citizens in this country. Are there individuals who treat atheists as such, even members of the government who abuse their power to do so? Sure, just as there are such individuals who are anti-Catholic. They do not speak for the government as a whole, nor for the country as a whole.

                      As for the issue of losing custody because of one’s lack of religious beliefs, I don’t have nearly the time to read every case cited in that article, but I will make a few points: 1) the “best interests of the child” is a notoriously fuzzy test, and the author of the article himself admits that there are other factors involved besides religious belief; 2) judges are human and imperfect and sometimes really awful and biased, and their decisions stand not because they are right or the law supports them but because of all sorts of practical or procedural issues; and 3) that article also cites cases were custody was denied because a parent was too religious, which tells me that when a man loses custody because he is an atheist it is more likely because he got a crappy judge (and maybe a crappy lawyer), and not because the United States government oppresses atheists.

                    • Rosemarie

                      +J.M.J+

                      >>> In fact, the fact that the would-be notary public was ultimately vindicated through the U.S. legal system demonstrates that atheists are not second-class citizens in this country.

                      Exactly. Some Christians in the US have experienced attempted government intrusion on their religious freedom, only to prevail later in the courts. Does this prove that Christians are second-class citizens in the US?

                    • Theodore Seeber

                      Brian- the custody issue is decidedly non-trivial. The complaint is that you are trying to make it trivial, implying causation when you only have correlation. I thought atheists were supposed to be more rational than that.

                    • Brian Westley

                      “In fact, the fact that the would-be notary public was ultimately vindicated through the U.S. legal system demonstrates that atheists are not second-class citizens in this country.”

                      But this was decided 30 years earlier in Torcase v. Watkins, yet government officials *still* decided to violate Mr. Silverman’s religious rights and forced him to fight a court fight for nearly 10 years.

                    • Brian Westley

                      I see you too haven’t bothered to read up on any custody cases Seeber. It’s not just correlation, judges have outright stated how they prefer the religious parent over the atheist parent solely due to the other parent following a religion.

                    • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com Beadgirl

                      “But this was decided 30 years earlier in Torcase v. Watkins, yet government officials *still* decided to violate Mr. Silverman’s religious rights and forced him to fight a court fight for nearly 10 years. ”

                      Well, yes, as I pointed out, there is no guarantee against running into a government official (or even a group of them) who lets his personal biases guide his actions. It happens to people of every belief or non-belief, and it will continue to happen because people are flawed. That does not mean that the U.S. as a whole is anti-atheist — especially because these people lost, and the rule of law prevailed. You can’t really claim that the U.S. Government as an entity is against you if, using the tools/laws/resources of that government, you win.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        Likewise, archaic laws on state books … are not really the same thing as rigorously enforced anti-atheist jailings and death penalties in the Islamosphere.

        Neither are are U.K court rulings that a hospital is allowed to have a reasonable dress code, which you likened to a “despotic country” with “tin-plated atheist dictators filled with delusions of godhood.” You do realize that around the same time the U.K court decided that an airline attendant WAS allowed to wear a cross necklace? Or are you just cherry-picking to suit your rhetoric?

        I agree with you that religious persecution is much more of a problem in the Middle East and that other countries in Europe and America enjoy a very high level of religious freedom. I am sure that you and I can both find common cause against the persecution of both Christians and atheists in those countries.

        • Mark Shea

          Excellent!

  • Roz

    Well-thought and well-spoken, Mark. I especially enjoyed the following which is going into my internal Rolodex for future use:

    Both [Islam and atheism] have hived off with favorite mystical doctrines from the Christian tradition and set them up as the Only Things That Matter. (Monotheism and the sovereignty of God for Islam; the goodness and utility of human reason and the sciences for modern atheism.)

  • Claude

    Mark, if you want to make common cause with atheists you might start by not belittling them.

    Now what could this bag of cats could do together to fight state Islamic tyranny? I’m all ears.

    • Mark Shea

      Says the guy who sprang to the defence of Garry Wills belittlement of Catholics and their “fake” Eucharist.

      • Claude

        If you don’t want admirers of lifetime Catholic and man of conscience Garry Wills in your religious liberty posse, fine. I’m agnostic, anyway.

        • Noah D

          lifetime Catholic and man of conscience Garry Wills

          You mean ‘the Real Presence is a fake and Last Rites are meaningless’ Garry Wills? No, I’d rather not have the kind of ‘lifetime Catholicism’ or ‘conscience’ in my posse. Better someone who disagrees directly with the Church, but doesn’t pretend to be a part of it.

          That’s called honesty.

          • Claude

            Here we are talking about Garry Wills again instead of Mark’s innovative approach to coalition building by giving potential partners the finger. The Islamic tyrants must be quaking in their boots.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    I’m not disposed to make common cause with anybody who belittles and or be-spittles my Faith. I’ve encountered too many patronizing jerks in blog comment columns to welcome cooperation.

    Would that be you, Ashley and Brian? Or not?

    • Brian Westley

      Would you agree Mark Shea is being a patronizing jerk in this blog entry, Pavel?

      • http://chicagoboyz.net TMLutas

        Actually, he is not. In the comments he seems to have taken a bit of a turn that I wouldn’t encourage but the post itself is not particularly jerky.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    Atheism is a deadly error. I’ve seen it take over a whole country and run it into the ground. It meant spiritual, cultural, social and personal death. It took what is potentially the richest country in the world and turned it into a bloody madhouse.

    And then atheists who know nothing about it have the balls to tell me that atheism had nothing to do with the Soviet Union.

    The Inquisition was a kindergarten tea party compared with the Organs of State Security. They’re still digging up the bodies.

    Atheism in the west is a disease of a morbid and dying culture. The Enlightenment notables were at least mostly Deists. But that was centuries ago, wasn’t it?

    Atheism is a constricted, strangulated, impoverished world view that looks at reality though the narrow slits of mask. All I hear from atheists these days is bile, self-pity, and juvenile self-adulation. I have not come across one interesting mind amongst you contemporary atheists. I find no sense of mystery among them, of great questions unanswered, of awe and reverence, only a kind of mechanical curiosity amongst the best of them.

    Carry on.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      It will be interesting to see if atheists are able to overcome their own bigotries in order to make common cause with Christians regarding the intolerance of the Islamosphere.

      The above quote is from Mark’s article. I do hope you realize that the sentiments within apply to Christians as well.

    • Will

      Ah, but That Doesn’t Count, because Communism is “really” a religion. Or Communists aren’t “real” atheists. Or something.

    • Psy

      “The Inquisition was a kindergarten tea party compared with ….”
      Great, downplay killing off my ancestors which many were Catholic, ironic isn’t it?

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    Write me a great, or at least an interesting atheist poem. Drag it out of your guts.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    And stop blubbering about your great suffering. Couldn’t get the job your wanted? You don’t know what suffering is.

  • Ed the Roman

    Dear atheists: call us back when you have created a piece of choral music that can leave a general audience in either awed silence or thunderous applause. The Red Army Chorus singing Borodino does not count.

    • Advocate

      Sorry to say, but the Red Army Choir singing the old Soviet National Anthem is pretty stirring. The piece is, however, nationalistic rather than ideologically atheist.

      • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

        Try the Kuban Cossack Chorus, especially if you understand Russian.

        NOT FOR ME
        A version of a Russian song

        Not for me will there be spring,
        Not for me Don’s current rushing,
        Young girls’ hearts unhindered sing
        Love’s ecstasy – but not for me

        Not for me will gardens grow
        Nor will the valley’s blossoms show,
        Nor song bird greet the winds that blow,
        It will sing – but not for me

        Not for me the humming torrents
        Flowing diamonds of the currents,
        There the maiden spreads her ringlets,
        Rises up – but not for me

        Not for me the Easter seat
        Where at the table dear ones meet,
        Christ is Risen! – voices greet
        The joyful day – but not for me

        Not for me will flowers bloom,
        The rose unfold her fragrant bosom,
        To pluck a flower you may come -
        It will be spring – but not for me

        But now for me the bullet’s wail
        That makes the tender flesh turn pale,
        The bitter tears, the warmth that fails,
        O brother dear – they wait for me

        Pavel
        January 11, 2013

      • Alister

        I’ll agree there: “Gimn Sovetskogo Soyuza” is really quite stirring. So much so that the Russian Federation asked S.V. Mikhalkov to rewrite it into the current anthem.

    • CBrachyrhynchos

      Verdi’s: Aida, Rigoletto, Macbeth, and La Traviata come immediately to mind. Carmen usually brings down the house. Prokofiev and Bartok are a bit more esoteric.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    These are the people that the Bolsheviks tried to destroy with artillery, poison gas and flame throwers:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHCwjHhUvIc&feature=related

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    “Да, не хлебом единым жив Человек!”

    And one of the commenters writes: Yes, Man does not live by bread alone!

  • Kristen inDallas

    Mark, generally love your collums… but I think this one could have used a little more wait and a little less hate. The topic – how can (if possible) Atheists and Christians work together to overcome religious persecution in countries that don’t much care for either of us – is a good one. I do hope you’ll try again after a bit of time to let it simmer, and I will look forward to reading it.

    I’m not sure what your thoughts are on deleting posts after they’ve been published, or if patheos requires them to stay up for posterity, but this one might be a good candidate for thinking about. One of your great gifts is in understanding and clearly explaining the truths that the church does teach. “Still and all, outlawing and killing atheists for their atheism is bad and the Church, which teaches that belief must not be coerced, is agin it.” Those truths just become a little (erm) less effective when burried in the middle of an article about whether or not atheists are obnoxious. Please don’t take this as idol worship, but you CAN write a better post – one that inspires your Catholic readers to be the type of person Christ would want us to be, rahter than one that gives us an excuse to be less.

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF6a1-6-dJc

    Proshchaniye Slavyanki

    This is the real Russian national anthem

  • Jack

    “I disagree with every word you say,”

    So what common ground do you expect to find?

  • http://pavelspoetry.com Pavel Chichikov

    This is how to bring people together. God bless his soul:

    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20130227/DA4N77IO2.html

    • Brian Westley

      You realize Cliburn was gay, don’t you?

      • Beadgirl

        And no gay person can ever do anything good? Where’s that in the Catechism?

      • Noah D

        So what? It’s got nothing to do with his musical talent. In this case, appreciating his art is not giving approval to his sin. He played Rachmaninoff, not ‘Hair’.

      • Brian Westley

        The “god bless his soul” part seemed out of place, given what Catholicism says about their god’s attitude towards gays. And is playing “Hair” a sin in contrast to playing Rachmaninoff or something?

        • Beadgirl

          “The “god bless his soul” part seemed out of place, given what Catholicism says about their god’s attitude towards gays.”

          Not really, given that the Catechism states about gay people: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. ”

          We ask for God’s blessing on every soul, including our own, because we are all sinners one way or another. Don’t confuse what you *think* the Catholicism says with what it *actually* says.

  • http://soulsagabooks.blogspot.com/ Brian

    In response to the question asked in this post’s title, yes. postmodern atheists and Christians can make common cause, depending on what that cause is. Simon Blackburn already has.

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/atheist-scholar-ally-reservations-benedicts-fight-against-relativism

    As Mark pointed out, the new atheism and Islam both descend from Christianity. Atheists emphasize the Christian doctrines of man’s rational intellect and the inherent goodness (i.e intelligibility) of the universe. They also retain vestigial Christian morals as a matter sof received custom.

    Muslims hold to God’s oneness, omnipotence, and holiness. They also insist (as Christians should) on the absolute duty to place God at the center of one’s life. On the other hand, they tend toward a less exalted view of human reason, particularly when it concerns matters of faith.

    Islam is like the flip side of atheism’s coin because each error accepts and denies opposite articles of Christian doctrine relating to God and reason. Thus, atheists’ chances of productive dialog with Christians is much higher than with muslims. As we’ve seen, a widespread ideological conflict is brewing between these two belief systems. Considering their numerical disadvantage (about 13% atheist compared to 21% muslim worldwide), allying with Christians makes tactical sense for atheists.

    For any atheist wishing to strategize on ending persecution, the first drink is on me.

  • Psy

    It seems to me Christians and Muslims have much more in common with each other.

    • Andy, Bad Person

      Oooooooooooooh, burn!

    • Noah D

      You know what? In some cases, we do. In my experience, the devout Christians and Muslims in my college classes have more in common than we do with the secular humanists: a deep regard for tradition, and a sense of joy.

    • Gary Keith Chesterton

      My Hindu friend understands me much better than my nominally Christian friends do. He takes his religion seriously, I take mine seriously. My Christian friends who do not take theirs seriously are left scratching their heads.

  • Jack

    @ Mark
    I meant the “don’t be a dick, kumbaya, get along gang” circle jerk which is an empty statement and also does not deal with the ” I disagree with everything you say” issue.
    What’s the title of the article you’re trying to link?

    • Mark Shea

      Only a truly socially clueless Trad could imagine that saying “Don’t be a dick” is tantamount to singing kumbaya. Read any of the pieces. The point is that he knows that Catholic can enter into dialogue with atheists, which means that some common ground can be affirmed.

      • Jack

        Good for you, you still haven’t said anything.
        So enlighten this simpleton. What’s this common groung?

        • Mark Shea

          I already touched briefly on it in the piece. Benedict’s conversations also discuss points of commonality. It doesn’t really take a lot of thought to notice where modern atheism borrows from the Catholic tradition and is dependent upon it, nor to notice where Catholics and atheists can make common cause in certain ways. Since you seem bound and determined to ignore that I don’t see why I should imagine that I am so special that I can break through that wall of willed ignorance. You have the final word, Mr. District Attorney.

          • Psy

            How exactly is a lack of belief in a god or gods borrowed from Catholicism? The only common ground is see I that Muslims detest atheist as much as you do.

            • Mark Shea

              Think real hard, Psy. It may be that you have other beliefs incorporated into your intellectual makeup besides that one act of negation.

              • Psy

                You are going to have to spell it out for me cause I have no idea what you are not saying.

                • Mark Shea

                  Psy: If you are a typical postmodern Westerner, you owe all sorts of intellectual debts to the Catholic tradition about things it would never occur to you to doubt as “self-evident” but which are, in fact, bit of mysticism you’ve uncritically absorbed from your heritage. Here is but one: http://www.mark-shea.com/HE36.html There are lots of others, including the conviction that the universe operates according to knowable law and that the human mind is capable of discerning those laws. Without that fundamental act of faith science couldn’t (and didn’t) take root. http://m-francis.livejournal.com/128694.html?thread=511414

                  • A Philosopher

                    the conviction that the universe operates according to knowable law and that the human mind is capable of discerning those laws.

                    This was indeed a very important idea that the Christian tradition inherited from the Greek philosophers.

                    Look, Mark, you know I agree with a lot of the central points you make in your original post. But I have to say, you’re not coming out of this discussion smelling like roses, yourself. You’re mixing in with the right points a good helping of goalpost shifting, gratuitous triumphalism, and privileging of rhetoric over reason. I don’t care so much myself about whether I/we are being treated fairly in the discussion — nothing bad is going to happen to me because some guy (shock!) was unfair on the internet. But I do think it’s bad for you. And I also think it’s a bit of a regular pattern on the blog. I think you’d be well-advised to tone down the rhetoric, and especially to make a punchy point at the expense of the messy subtleties, a few notches all around.

          • Jack

            One, it’s judge. Two, all past, present, future objections are over ruled.

            “This was indeed a very important idea that the Christian tradition inherited from the Greek philosophers”
            Going to deal with this Mark, you porous membrane of willed knowledge?

  • Reactor

    Back in the 1990s Ignatius Press put out a book by Peter Kreeft called Ecumenical Jihad. Subtitled “Ecumenism and the Culture War”, it advanced the proposition that “many of our former enemies (eg Muslims) are now our friends, and some of our former friends (eg humanists) are now our enemies” and advocated an alliance of militant Catholics and Muslims against the forces of godless secularism. The volume seems to have been dropped from Ignatius’ catalogue.

    Does the Catholic Church need allies?

  • Reactor

    Five seconds of Googling and there it is

    Doesn’t seem to be on the Ignatius Press website though.

    Does it need the sin of pride, haughtiness and cold contempt for unbelievers of good will?
    It’s not a question of need. It’s a question of God meeting people where they are.

    No-one’s advocating pride, haughtiness or contempt for any individual, atheist or Muslim. On the other hand, Pavel Chichikov above describes atheism as a “deadly error” responsible for “spiritual, cultural, social and personal death”. Wow. Spiritual death. Doesn’t get any worse than that, does it?

    And aren’t Pavel’s words in line with the traditional teaching of the Church? If our atheist is on the ball, he could quote pronouncements like the following, which must surely make even an unbeliever of good will balk:

    “This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it. … When all restraints are removed by which men are kept on the narrow path of truth, their nature, which is already inclined to evil, propels them to ruin. … Here We must include that harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatever and disseminate them to the people, which some dare to demand and promote with so great a clamor. We are horrified to see what monstrous doctrines and prodigious errors are disseminated far and wide in countless books, pamphlets, and other writings which, though small in weight, are very great in malice. … Some are so carried away that they contentiously assert that the flock of errors arising from them is sufficiently compensated by the publication of some book which defends religion and truth. … Is there any sane man who would say poison ought to be distributed, sold publicly, stored, and even drunk because some antidote is available and those who use it may be snatched from death again and again? The Church has always taken action to destroy the plague of bad books.” (Gregory XVI)

    or

    “Atheism in legislation, indifference in matters of religion and the pernicious maxims which go under the name of Liberal Catholicism are the true causes of the destruction of the States” (Pius IX)

    or

    “the liberty of thinking, and of publishing, whatsoever each one likes, without any hindrance, is not in itself an advantage over which society can wisely rejoice. … Whatever, therefore, is opposed to virtue and truth may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favor and protection of the law … the State is acting against the laws and dictates of nature whenever it permits the license of opinion and of action to lead minds astray from truth and souls away from the practice of virtue” (Leo XIII)

    or

    “But tear the very idea of God from the hearts of men, and they are necessarily urged by their passions to the most atrocious barbarity” (Pius XI)

    or

    “As you know, once religion is taken away there cannot be a well ordered, well regulated society” (Pius XII).

    Stuff like that might incline our atheist to wonder just where this common ground lies. “Oh, but that was before Vatican II. We’ve deepened our understanding since then.” Very well, put yourself in the shoes of an atheist who’s aware of Muslim persecution of his fellow atheists. He might point to Vatican attempts to form a voting bloc with countries like Iran and Libya to counter United Nations efforts on population control and reproductive rights for women. If he’s stumbled across some traditionalist Catholic websites, he might regard JPII’s invocation “May St John the Baptist protect Islam” or that pope’s kissing of the Koran with as much alarm as any traditionalist Catholic!


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