A Rejoinder to Dr Grayling


A.C.Grayling is one of London’s chattering class who espouse a shallow secularism and dress it up as philosophy. I commented on his most recent outing the other day.

Carl Olson at Ignatius Insight has engaged with Grayling’s thought, and written an excellent counter argument.

Take time to read this. Carl’s work is thorough, modest, incisive and well written. His article shows why secular atheism–rather than being on the ascendent–is a weary, shallow and ageing creed.

I am not particularly troubled by these graying academics like Dawkins, Grayling and Pullman. What worries me is their offspring. You see, most of these ageing humanist academics have actually been educated within a predominantly Christian culture. What tolerance, urbanity, wit and learning they have is their inheritance from a world view they try to reject.

They have been nurtured within a Christian culture and have benefited from it–even though they deny it. To see if their philosophy is valid we should look at what it has produced. Has forty years of secular, humanistic education produced a generation of enlightened, selfless, ascendent human beings? Has secular, humanistic education produced leaders in the arts and sciences and humanities? Have they produced a culture that values life, love, learning and all the noble aspirations of humanity? Have they produced a breed of ladies and gentlemen who aspire to higher things and exist together in a society of manners, wit, courtesy and nobility?

It doesn’t look that way. Instead I see a culture that kills unborn children, treats the sexual act as animal recreation, obliterates marriage and despises the family. I see a greedy, materialstic and empty culture brewing with rage. The young academics I meet are not urbane secular humanists. They are either hedonistic brutes or nihilistic, self centered pessimists. The other young people I meet are stoned out of their heads, rolling in their alcoholism and despair and committing suicide in record numbers.

This stark choice is nothing new. In the ancient pagan world there were two basic responses to the fact of death: Stoicism and Epicureanism. One said, “We’re going to die. Hang in there and do something noble (whatever that means) with what little time you have. The other said, “We’re going to die. Let’s have a party.”

Christianity came along and said, “Cheer up. There’s some good news. Death has died. We’re going to live forever. Let’s claim this reality by doing something noble, then let’s have a party.”

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  • On this I fully agree with you particularly with what you say about the fruits of such teaching over the past generation or so. Can I commend the work of Alister McGrath? He’s taken on Dawkins in print pretty effectively, notably in the lengthily entitled ‘The Twighlight of Atheism: the Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World.’

  • Anonymous

    Fr, I can see the reason the hits to this site have gone thru the roof. Your arguments are sound & easy to understand. Asking God that they be further disseminated.

  • bernadette uk

    Too right, Fr Dwight. And succintly summed up as well. I don`t know if taking these secular fundamentalists on is the right path, though. It`s certainly good FUN.. but I just think, with time running short, we are being called to Holiness and that means sometimes being crucified intellectually, emotionally, EVEN spiritually. It`s a nightmare.. but we have the victory. I just wish it was SOON. God Bless you and Thank God for you and the Holy priests there are in 2007 to inspire and lead us. You are all Bishops in your own right.

  • I don`t know if taking these secular fundamentalists on is the right path, though. Perhaps I’m biased, since I do take on secular fundamentalists (an apt description) on a regular basis, but I do think that taking on attacks and defending the Church is not only the right path, it is required of those who are able, especially those who have been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church. So, for example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed. (CCC 1285)How that is done, of course, can take many different forms. But the main goal of addressing someone like Grayling, as Fr. Dwight and I have in different forums, is to show those who are paying attention that 1) good answers exist, and 2) secularism and atheism not only don’t have good answers, they rarely even ask good questions.

  • bernadette uk

    Yes, Carle.olson.. we are called to give reason for the hope we have – it`s faith and reason that give wings to the truth we profess.. I agree. what I`m trying to say (with difficulty) is that there is a sea-change taking place at the moment.I believe – take it or leave it – We have reached a point where mere intellectual argument is not going to win it. Our faith is so rational that it does bear scrutiny, so for those who want to destroy it or win the argument, all that is left is to HATE it/us. So, many people are going to be looking for evidence of Holy Lives. Holy lives involve crucifixion of some sort… intellectually, emotionally, spiritually.. a kind of dying to oneself and, it seeming as though the secular fundamentalists have won. It`s happening right now here in the UK. We have just passed legislation called the Sexual Orientation Regulations which, in a nutshell, make Catholic schools, and Catholic teaching illegal. Our Bishops don`t think so. They think we have won “concessions”. So.. what is our response to be ? I can only arrive at one answer – we must for the time being, be crucified with Christ. We can argue with these people until we are blue in the face. They are convinced they have the moral high-ground and that we are nasty bigots. The answer, according to Jesus is that we pick up our cross and follow Him – FOR NOW. I am greatly consoled by PJ11s Novo Ineunte Millennium as well.. his words are becoming more real and prophetic by the day and I would encourage anyone feeling devastated or desolate at what has happened here in the UK lately to pick up a copy and read it again. It`s epic. So.. argue, yes, where wisdom leads.. otherwise…. keep quiet. Many of the saints did. It costs.We will NEVER ever defeat Satan on intellect. He is far more accomplished at that game than the brightest human being on the planet. Where we will win hands down is through Holiness.. by the qualities of the heart, not the mind…. holiness, obedience, love, forgiveness, truth, wisdom – qualties which wordly intellect will scoff at. We might as well get used to it and start living it.

  • Bernadette:We have reached a point where mere intellectual argument is not going to win it. There’s no doubt that hearts are not changed by intellectual arguments alone. But I think you may be proposing a faulty and unnecessary “either/or” dichotomy, in which an “intellectual” defense of the faith is conflated with rejecting the witness of suffering and holiness. Not at all! The lives of many of the saints says otherwise. Would we be better off if Saint Augustine had not defended the faith, or if Saint Thomas had decided that reasoning would get him nowhere with Muslims and other non-Christians? Yes, things are very bad. But we mustn’t sell people short. We do that when we don’t take up opportunities to present a reasoned explanation of what we believe. And we also do that when we fail to appreciate that many people do indeed long for common sense and logic. That is NOT to say that logic alone saves; of course not. But we mustn’t ignore the fact that reason and right thinking can be an avenue for the Holy Spirit to reach minds and hearts who long for reason and for meaning–and thus long for the Author of Reason and Meaning. And, btw, this is very much the approach of our Holy Father, whose witness is one of both holiness and intellect, for the glory of God and the good of Christ’s Mystical Body.Again, each of us are called to witness in different ways, always keeping in mind that the Cross is for ALL of us. My heart and prayers goes out to those in Britain and Europe who do indeed face dark hours. May God continue to shine His light into the black despair that threatens the West.

  • bernadette uk

    Who says that a Holy witness is selling people short ? It`s the most powerful witness we can give. Because in our spiritual, intellectual emotional – even physical- poverty… guess what, God moves in POWER and claims the victory. Knowing that we can win on all those levels and yet still surrendering to the cross ( often in silence) is the lifetime’s journey of every baptized Christian. One of our great English heroes, St Thomas More, remained silent in his defence of our Catholic faith until he was committed for trial ( i.e. when it was by worldly terms too late – he was headng for execution by then). My God, what a witness. What a hero. If only I had the holiness to keep my mouth shut like he did. Discernment is the key: WHAT to say and WHEN to say it. And above all, when to say nothing and to embrace that cross. I agree, it`s tough.

  • Bernadette, St Thomas More did indeed keep his mouth shut for some of the time, but he also was a staunch apologist and defender of the faith, using his razor sharp mind, lawyer’s skills and wit to defend the faith publicly. He did both, and so proves both your and Carl’s excellent points.

  • bernadette uk

    Fr Dwight. You have the last word. I can now go to bed in a holy silence. God Bless you. And all who read you.

  • Who says that a Holy witness is selling people short ?Not me! I’ve looked through everything that I’ve written, and didn’t find it anywhere. 😉

  • I’m probably not sharp enough to engage atheist intellectuals in debate, so I will leave that in more capable hands. However, I am a pick up the pieces kind of person. When the atheist, or anyone, is going through the dark night, or sorrowing, or mourning, or in the gutter, I am the one they talk to. I can present all the wisdom of the Gospel way even in nonreligious terms. Then the Holy Spirit guides me for the moment of boldness to proclaim Christ.I can discuss atheism vs. faith based on personal witness, but I am not an intellectual giant by any means.Atheism works when your life is going well, but there is no atheist Beatitudes for when things don’t go well. The Magnificat has something to say about lifting up the lowly and casting down the conceited and haughty.Bernadette is onto something – love, radical love, whether contemplative or apostolic, is a powerful thing, and it gets past the pride of reason. The world loves Mother Teresa because she was radical Gospel love.