Problems with the New Atheists

One of the positive things about discussions with atheists is that most of them insist on rational discussion. They say they want to discuss things reasonably. It’s disappointing therefore when the conversations sometimes end up with atheists descending to profanity, emotional rants, ad hominem attacks and blasphemy. Nevermind. Some Catholics are fond of irrational rants too.

If we leave the irrational ranters from both sides out of the discussion, it is important for atheists to understand the religion with which they are disagreeing. No doubt many of the new atheists have had negative experiences of Christianity. It could be that their only encounter with Christians has been with noisy and ignorant fundamentalists, schmaltzy emotionalist Evangelicals, hard bitten reactionary Catholics or hypocritical and indifferent Christians. The impression they have received about Christianity would, understandably, have been negative and easy to attack. Furthermore, they may well have been brought up by such people and felt betrayed and hurt and conned by such Christians.

In addition to these negative examples and experiences of Christianity, Americans–for all their claiming to be ‘a Christian culture’–are incredibly ignorant about basic, historical, classical Christianity. Read more.

  • littlejohn

    Your straw man attack on New Atheists is arrogant, to put it kindly. You don’t know what we’re thinking, and it’s pompous to pretend you do. Most of us thoroughly understand religion, scripture and the philosophy (such as it is) of religion. I, at least, was never damaged by some sort of negative encounter with religion. I am an atheist precisely because I do understand religion and its philosophy. I hold a philosophy degree from a church-affiliated college, as a matter of fact. I probably know the Bible far better than the overwhelming majority of practicing Catholics. I know the (easily refuted) arguments of Aquinas and Anselm. I am an atheist because I am very rational and very well-informed. Listening to a Catholic attempt to explain the notion of the Trinity, or the morality of “original sin” is enough to make any reasonable person’s brain hurt. If you want to believe nonsense about a talking snake, be my guest. But don’t treat those of us who don’t believe as somehow damaged.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      If you re-read the post you will see that I was careful to say ‘many’ atheists or ‘some’ atheists.

      I realize that there are some atheists who do understand the Christian faith, but your comment about original sin and ‘talking snakes’ indicates that you probably do fall within my description of not knowing what you are talking about.

  • M. Love

    “No doubt many of the new atheists have had negative experiences of Christianity.”

    No doubt some have, but I’d be willing to bet a large number of such “negative experiences” were trivial and non-coercive, serving mainly as a pretext for dismissing Christianity without seriously engaging its claims. That’s the way it was for me as an atheist: Christians never gave me any serious trouble, but I clung to the notion of “mean Christians” in order to justify my unbelief, itself motivated by a strong desire not to be accountable for my actions. Once I faced up to the flimsiness and dishonesty of this view, my path from atheism to Catholicism followed pretty much as you describe.

    An awful lot of atheist arguments, in my experience, are not so much honest intellectual positions as active efforts at self-deception. This accounts for their general awfulness, since they are not really aimed at persuading others so much as fending off theistic arguments in order to maintain the illusion of utter, unaccountable freedom.

    By the way, Father, the two-page posts (the “Read More”) are really irritating, especially since the comments only appear on the first page. Is there any way you can go back to longer, one-page posts?

  • Charles E. Mac Kay

    Looks as though somebody stood on somebody’s ego!

  • M. Love

    @littlejohn,

    “I know the (easily refuted) arguments of Aquinas and Anselm.”

    Excellent! Humor us and refute them, if you would.

    “I am an atheist because I am very rational and very well-informed.”

    No doubt. Here, then, is your chance to demonstrate your expertise and convince us of our error.

  • Brian Westley

    “it is important for atheists to understand the religion with which they are disagreeing”

    Since that’s all of them (not just your favorite religion), it wouldn’t appear to be a good use of my time. By the way, since you implicitly disagree with all other religions, do you understand all other religions? Or is this a requirement you only try to impose on atheists?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You are revealing your lack of understanding of Catholicism. We do not condemn all other religions as being wrong. Instead we approve and embrace anything in them which is beautiful, good and true. We begin with the assumption that the non-Catholic religion is true and good as far as it goes.

      To pick up your point, if you do not wish to understand the religion with which you disagree, then don’t pick a quarrel with me for pointing out that you’re intentionally ignorant about the things you are trying to debate.

      • http://SkeptimusPrime.com Dylan Walker

        To be fair I have known quite a few Catholics who think members of other religions are going to hell. I think instead it might be more apt to say you personally believe that other religions have truth in them.

        Most traditional Catholics think the pope is infallible, at least when he sits on the papal seat anyway, yet he claims to speak for the church when he tells people in aids ravaged Africa to refrain from using condoms. I don’t know your position on this, I wouldn’t assume just because you are catholic that you support him. I can only say I criticize him for it.

        I am an atheist who was once a fundamentalist christian, but my religious studies major was completed under quite a few liberal religious professors so I well know that there are as many versions of Christianity as there are members in churches.

        True, it would be more wise of us to ask each individual what they believe rather than brushing people in such wide strokes, but it is humans psychology and the desire to categorize everything that causes us to think this way. You were doing a bit of it in this post yourself you know.

        Certainly I think all theists are wrong about the most fundamental claim in their religion, but I don’t for a second make the mistake of believing they all think the same thing. Do try not to assume things about us.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          I would be happy for you to explore further the teaching of the Catholic faith. Then you will be able to comment on it with informed confidence. My position on other religions is not my opinion, but the formal teaching of the Catholic Church found in the catechism. The teaching of the Catholic Church on the infallibility of the Pope and how that works is readily available for any open minded researcher. I encourage you to look into the matter further so that you understand it fully. If you are really interested in the Pope’s teaching on AIDS in Africa and it’s effects in the world, then these facts are also available to those who seek and are willing to do more than read headlines or propaganda.

  • Glenn Juday

    “By the way, since you implicitly disagree with all other religions, do you understand all other religions? Or is this a requirement you only try to impose on atheists?”

    Confusion let loose.

    The Catholic Church believes that all humans have a rational soul and at least a capacity for conscience. As a result and in a mixture of human cultural invention and Divine favor, the phenomenon of religion developed universally across all the planet and all the way back in prehistory to the earliest humans. Catholics believe that they are the custodians of the fullness of Truth, not mixed with error, precisely because God had to transgress our limited and fallible capacities. God performed this action gradually and in a number of cultures, culminating in a particular one (Israel/Judea) a situation from the earliest times we have called the scandal of particularity (in Greek, scandalon means a stone you stumble on in the path).

    In response to this way in which God revealed truth, we live in a world in which some natural or historic religions are mixtures of partial truths or truths and errors. Catholics feel themselves under a solemn obligation to proclaim the truth with charity and sensitivity, and humility because our custodianship is due to no merit of our own. The Catholic Church respects any and all things that are good and true in any religion.

    The Catholic Church, unlike the dull sameness of atheism, is the most multicultural institution in the world today or that has ever existed, and adopts specific cultural traditions and insights from the religious background of the cultures and peoples where the Faith takes root. These are not cliches or “diversity goals” set by a committee, but the living vibrant reality across the planet that is obvious to all who take simple steps to look, or broaden their minds through travel.

    By simple logic atheists are the ones who proclaim that their worldview is superior and all others are categorically and totally, disastrously wrong about the most important question in life. There appears to be considerably less room in that perspective than the more broadminded and enlightened view of the Catholic Church. And given that the exclusive tool in the atheist toolkit is hard, cold logic, it is only logical that the responsibility rests on them to start from scratch and examine the truth claims of all religions one by one and refute each convincingly and definitively. It’s obviously a practical (and logical) impossibility. In reality atheists do no such thing, and instead simply take it on faith that it is not possible to find the truth in religion.

    Catholics are simply more honest and forthcoming that, indeed, we have a reasonable faith as well as a living encounter with the Fullness of truth, and so where human capacity is insufficient, we rationally entrust our faith to the one, true, and living God. If God had a pattern, either in our own lives or in history, of abusing this faith in Him, is it logical to assume the Catholic Church would have assumed the dimensions – demographic, sociological, historical, intellectual – that it has? That is, on the face of it, an unreasonable proposition, and adherence to it requires a certain amount of superstition.

  • M. Love

    “…it wouldn’t appear to be a good use of my time.”

    And yet, here you are on a Catholic blog. I expect your interlocutors on Buddhist and Muslim blogs expect you to have a more than superficial understanding of their beliefs, so why should it be any different here?

    I mean, I spent most of my 45-odd years as an atheist, though mercifully few of them as the “lol talking snake stupid xtians” variety. I’ve also read lots of atheist apologetics, so I have a pretty good understanding of where they’re coming from. I note a marked unwillingness to do the same on the part of many atheists, as here:

    “By the way, since you implicitly disagree with all other religions, do you understand all other religions? Or is this a requirement you only try to impose on atheists?”

    It’s a common atheist tack to demand exhaustive explanations of Christian theology from first principles on the spot. When this is not forthcoming (most of us having neither several hours to spare nor the patience of Job), the atheist declares victory and walks away triumphant.

    But it’s not as if it’s hard to find cogent defenses of Christianity. If we can exert ourselves to read Bertrand Russell, Thomas Paine, or Paul Kurtz, then you’d think it wouldn’t be that difficult for atheists to read Pascal, Ronald Knox, or Christopher Dawson. But they generally don’t, and that means these combox discussions are often ways of time for all concerned.

    • spellwight

      “And yet, here you are on a Catholic blog.”
      I’m interested in the misconceptions people have about atheists. You wrote about them, so I’m here.

      As in any group of people you have the good and the bad. In most conversations I’ve had with the religious, they are usually the first to bring up straw-man arguments, resort to name-calling and end with either “You’re going to hell” or a condescending “I’ll pray for you” or both. The only thing you need to qualify as an atheist is non-belief in any sort of deity. Any other political or personal opinion is their own so lumping all atheists together is laughable.

  • Brian Westley

    Ah well, since you continue to delete my comments, I guess that proves you’re afraid to debate me.

  • Bill

    Im sure Fr isn’t afraid to debate you

    I’m also sure he’d win the debate.

    • Brian Westley

      I’m sure you would think so; however, he keeps deleting my comments, even though they don’t violate his comment policy, so it’s pointless.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Brian, thank you for visiting this blog. You are always welcome. When your comments are civil or harmless they will remain. When they are rude, profane or personal attacks on me or others they will go.

        My experience in discussion with you in the past has not been fruitful, so I will not be engaging in debate with you at this time. However, if you have any genuine questions about the Catholic faith I am very happy to try to answer them.

        Have a good evening.

  • M. Love

    Well, Brian, at least one of your comments was a pretty bog-standard atheist “Ignorance is Strength” statement that kind of proved Father’s point. So he was probably saving you some embarrassment :).

    But seriously, the entire post was about atheists’ refusal to acquaint themselves with Christian thought while insisting on inflicting their ignorance on others. In no other field of life (politics, science, economics, literary criticism, history, etc.)is this considered acceptable practice. What special insights do you possess that exempt you from the responsibility to maintain at least a rudimentary familiarity with the topic you wish us to debate with you?

  • Rational Libertarian

    This guy is so right. It’s like all those people saying the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. They had not given even a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat.

  • Brian Westley

    “When your comments are civil or harmless they will remain.”

    Then explain why this comment was deleted (reconstructed from memory):

    “It’s a common atheist tack to demand exhaustive explanations of Christian theology from first principles on the spot. ”

    “it is important for atheists to understand the religion with which they are disagreeing” is a common theist tack.

    Have fun playing with your straw men.

    • M. Love

      Ah. That was the “Ignorance is Strength” post I was referring to. Essentially, you concede Father’s point. You don’t need to learn anything about Christianity because, well, uh … oh, look! Straw men!

      Let’s accept for the sake of argument that you’re correct, and that many Catholics on this blog are utterly ignorant of all other world religions. So–congratulations!–you’ve successfully made a tu quoque argument! Unfortunately, tu quoque arguments are fallacious, which seems strange behaviour for an apostle of reason, no? And of course, the great weakness of tu quoque arguments is that they implicitly concede their opponent’s point–in this case, that it is laudable to understand what you oppose.

      So. All that thrashing and reposting for zero gain. Why waste your time?

      • Brian Westley

        “Essentially, you concede Father’s point. You don’t need to learn anything about Christianity because, well, uh … oh, look! Straw men!”

        As I pointed out before, atheists don’t just disagree with one religion; the phrase “the religion with which you disagree” hardly makes much sense in that context. It’s like noting that someone is living outside the US and referring to “the state you aren’t living in,” as if there’s only one choice.

        But there are lots of choices. So how much do I need to know to reject Islam? Hinduism? Scientology? Jainism? Raelianism? Like I said, I don’t consider it a very good use of my time to learn about all these religions. Why should your religion get more consideration?

        I note that Longenecker has gone from an Evangelical to an Anglican to a Catholic, so why should I think he’s got the right religion now? Maybe he’ll change again. I also note that he thinks demonic possession is possible, which I find ridiculous. Why should I believe someone who believes in demons? Do I have to keep an open mind about angels, genies, and witchcraft too?

  • Brian Westley

    “To pick up your point, if you do not wish to understand the religion with which you disagree, then don’t pick a quarrel with me for pointing out that you’re intentionally ignorant about the things you are trying to debate.”

    Oh, and by the way, I already pointed out that “THE RELIGION with which you disagree” isn’t accurate, as I don’t agree with any religion. Yet you repeat your error. And I (and many other atheists) have pointed out some of your other ignorant statements about atheists, but that doesn’t seem to stop you from making such statements.

    And one last thing:
    “We do not condemn all other religions as being wrong. Instead we approve and embrace anything in them which is beautiful, good and true.”

    I wasn’t suggesting you consider all other religions completely wrong, but do you consider any other religion to be 100% true? If not, then (as I said) you disagree with those other religions.

  • humblevoice

    I don’t believe in a god and I don’t think people who believe in a god are any more foolish then those who don’t. If your environment provided circumstances which promoted belief you believe and if it didn’t you don’t that’s my easy to understand world view whether agree or disagree.

    My only beef is when a group of people begin to dehumanize the opposition for their views. For this is the true source of the worlds evil.

    Atheists go home to their families love and feel the same emotions Catholics, Jews, Muslims,Buddhists and everyone else feel. If you see that as an extension of your god then we believe in that part as its denial would be nonsense. We’ll just continue to call it something else if you don’t mind.

    Maybe the Christians reading this will disagree with the sentiment of brotherhood over creed. But that wouldn’t be very Christlike of you would it? And if you do disagree and quote the “I bring not peace but a sword” line I will have a little less hope for this world, but just a little

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your comment and for visiting this blog. There are people who dehumanize those who disagree with them on both sides of the argument are there not? My experience on this blog is that the atheists are far more likely to be close minded, unwilling to debate rationally, and resort to name calling, rude behavior and immature, insulting language. Individuals on both sides should debate in a civil manner.

  • jason hanson

    Greetings Fr. Longenecker,

    I’d like to take you up on your offer to explain your faith to anyone who is genuinely interested. I’m interested more in why you personally believe what you do than what specifically you believe in, although I suppose the two aspects cannot be disentangled. In particular, I would like to know what line of thought allowed you to come to regard your particular faith as the correct one. I realize that the comments section of your blog may not be the best forum for this, but perhaps you could address this in a future posting. Or if you have already done so in previous one, maybe you could direct me to it, although I’d prefer a discussion-style format where I can ask questions (I’m an atheist, but I promise I would be civil).

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for visiting this blog and for your polite enquiry. I think your specific question is “Why line of thought allows me to regard my particular faith as the correct one.”

      This is a good question, and to answer it I need to give you the Catholic perspective on the idea of revelation. Catholics believe that God reveals himself to humanity in two ways: 1. General revelation and 2. Specific revelation. General revelation is what any human being can perceive through observation of the world around him. So a primitive human may see the wonders of nature and feel a sense of awe and conclude that there is some other power bigger than he is who he can’t see, but who makes all things and directs all things. This general revelation will come to humans in many forms and in many ways. It results from a combination of the religious instinct in man and his observation of his world. Catholics regard this general revelation as a good thing and something which brings all people further towards the formulation of religion.

      Human beings then form religions from a variety of religious experiences according to their culture, history and shared experiences. They are good and noble attempts to understand and relate to the mystery of God, but they are partial and incomplete–rather like the first attempts at a scientific theory may be good as far as they go, but need to be refined and brought into focus–or like the prototype of an invention which needs to be developed and modified and perfected. We also believe that within many of the other religions there is bad mixed with the good–confusion and superstition and human weakness. It’s a mixed bag.

      Within the development of religion in the human race the experience of the Jewish people is remarkable and unique. Their religious development is of a different and higher order. The Greeks and Romans acknowledged that the Jews–for all their stroppiness–had a unique religious genius. Catholics believe God revealed himself gradually and in more focus to the Jews. The Old Testament records that developing revelation of God to the Jewish people, and we believe that development came into focus and was finally refined in a unique and superior way in the incarnation of God himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

      We believe Jesus Christ is God in human form, and that his life, teaching, death and resurrection are real, historical events that are unique in the history of humanity and unique in the history of world religions. As the life of Christ completes and fulfills and perfects the gradual revelation of God to the Jews, so it also completes fulfills and perfects the revelation of God down through the ages in all other religions and cultures. The other religious expressions, like Judaism, are partial hints and guesses at what was to come.

      They are good and useful and much in them is beautiful and true, but there is now a fuller revelation. God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is experienced through the practice of the Christian religion, and the largest, fullest, most ancient expression of the Christian religion is the Catholic faith.

      In saying this, we also believe that humanity is still seeking to fully understand and comprehend the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We don’t profess to understand fully and we don’t profess to follow what we do understand perfectly. We’re still working on it.

      You may well disagree with what I’ve written, but I have tried as best I can to explain why I believe Catholicism to be the fullest expression of God’s truth in the world.

  • Glenn Juday

    Dear Brian Westley,

    As I pointed out – atheism as a belief system is faith-based. It does not claim that a careful empirical review of all religions has led to a refutation of all truth in all of them. It simply starts from the proposition that religions cannot be true, then searches for a few obvious cases that confirm the bias, and takes it on faith that since egregious cases of non-truth exist in some, then one can safely conclude all share the same defects. This is a deficient use of reason and logic, the very tools elevated to the supreme position for guiding human life by most who claim to be atheists. It is not an attractive spectacle at all, and as you may have gathered, a number of people find the irony so extreme, they laugh as they consider it. In general, Catholics try not to be too overt about it, and certainly to respect the serious atheist who is stuck at a particular point in an honest search, but it is probably best that you understand that when it comes to the aggressive, cock-sure, go get ‘em atheist who expect Catholics to wilt before their devastating revelations, well they just can’t help laughing sometimes.

    The Catholic Church has ushered the Roman Empire off the stage of history, watched Napoleon imprison a pope and then waste away in his exile, overcome the world-class murderers Stalin, Hitler, Mao. The Catholic Church is vigorous in Asia, exploding in Africa, and steadily rebuilding its strength in North America, admittedly after a terrible period of largely self-inflicted disasters during the past half century. But the Catholic Church may be the only values based institution in all of American society to have emerged from the tumultuous past half century teaching the same truths she taught before and has alway taught everywhere she has existed at all times. Yet she has changed and is changing as she experiences the modern world and continues to innovate in reflecting on her mission and character in the life of today.

    Join us Brian. The Church is like a tardis. She is much larger on the inside than on the outside. You obviously have a high regard for seeking, and for thinking. You will find like-mined souls in the Church. Given the betrayals at the heart of the Church that she has survived and despite them is still thriving, do you really, honestly believe that even if you were to destroy the faith of a Catholic here or there that it would actually divert the Church from her course? Hostility to the Catholic Church is just such a waste of your life and talents. Join us. There is something, or rather Someone there, there. Imagine your life disciplined in the pursuit of the great questions and challenges, yet secure in a living relationship with the Author of all life and knowledge. It’s a dazzling prospect. It’s won’t cost you anything, and yet you will find yourself willing to pay any price to keep what you have found. Join us.

    • Brian Westley

      “As I pointed out – atheism as a belief system is faith-based. ”

      I’ll just point out that I disagree completely. Atheism isn’t a belief system any more than theism is a belief system; both merely indicate whether one agrees with the creed “god(s) exist,” but say nothing beyond that.

  • David

    Calling atheism a religion is like calling absence a sex position or bald a hair color.

    Why do religious people have to lie so much? Is there no honesty left in any of them? Or are they so used to lies that they are unable to tell the truth any more? I see all the twisted sayings written above and they reinforce to me that religion is a damaging virus. It makes good people lie intentionally.

    Atheism is not the belief that there is no God (I saw what you did there), it is the DISBELIEF in a God. Of course religiots will twist that into a belief with their lies.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      If you would like to discuss religion in a polite and intelligent manner you are welcome to continue to comment on this blog, but if all you can do is make insulting, rude and unsubstantiated assertions then your comments will be deleted.

      • Rational Libertarian

        Everything David said is bang on, and you give the typical Christian response, “Do as I say or I will suppress you”.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          I’m not suppressing anyone. I’m asking that they at least attempt to discuss matters in polite and intelligent manner. If people just want to rant and name call and insult others let them start their own blog. Why should I give them a platform?

          • Bernard

            Good for you Father, no one want to put up with their ignorant remarks. They should be deleted.

  • RickK

    You admonish atheists to understand the religions they criticize. Perhaps you should understand the atheists you criticize. When one looks at actual data, one sees that on average atheists know more about religion than the religious. This is a fact. Why do you suppose that is?

    For me, and for many, atheism is the natural outcome of an honest look at history, religion and mythology. The Bible, like many other ancient texts, is a mixture of fact, orally-transmitted history, myth and deliberate deception. There is no more reason to believe in Yahweh than there is to believe in Apollo or Ganesha or Thor or Baal. So a person who values truth, who asks “so what is the reality here?”, can quite naturally conclude from the available evidence that all gods are myth. Dawkins is quite right when he says: ”

    But religion isn’t about gods alone. God is a useful myth to Christianity, but other religions have achieved other ways of convincing the population that “someone is always watching” without having to resort to gods. And other societies have developed moral codes that don’t require a divine policeman. However, most use some form of supernaturalism or mythology to teach the common moral codes of that society.

    The question is: can we develop and transmit positive moral codes, can we encourage community and mutually-beneficial societies, can we define and build a just society without all the supernatural mythology? There once was a time when the only way to manage a large society was through dictatorial force of arms. But humans found other ways of creating healthy societies while giving power to the population. Our institutions matured. Can we now mature with respect to religion? Can we take what works, what is good, and leave the fantasy behind?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for visiting this blog and contributing to the comment box. I agree with you that there are many religious people who do not understand atheism. However, since there are far more religious people than atheists this would be common sense. I believe many atheists think they understand religion–and that is the problem. Too often their knowledge of religion has come from anti-religious books or websites. Just out of curiosity–have you ever read the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Surely if you were going to get information about anything you would ask a person who knew most about that topic would you not? You might well allow that the person was biased in their opinion, but they would actually give you first hand information about their beliefs.

      I encourage you to read this excellent post: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2012/08/misunderstanding-god-where-atheists-go.html

      which elucidates the four most common mistakes atheists make in their assumptions about Christianity. One of them I think you may have fallen into with your comment that Jahweh was on a par with Ganesh or Baal. But Catholic beliefs are not solely determined by the Bible. We are not Bible only Christians. In addition to the Bible we have 2000 years of theological reflection and philosophical work which has refined an developed the primitive understandings of God expressed in the Old Testament.

      For Catholics God is not simply Yahweh of the Old Testament, but is the ipsum esse–the ground of all Being or Being itself. The “Yahweh” of the Old Testament is a manifestation of God within the context and history of the Jewish people.

      I’m just scratching the surface here, but your post (with respect) rather proves my point that many atheists truly and sincerely think they know what Christians believe, but time and again their responses show that they don’t really have more than a superficial grasp of the subject.

      I certainly wouldn’t want to blame anyone for this, because popular understanding of many disciplines is often convinced, but not fully informed. Some time ago, for example, I was speculating about how quantum physics proved the existence of the supernatural, and then a physicist began to speak and I realized that my understanding was very limited and I was talking about stuff I didn’t really understand. So I quickly shut up. What I knew and understood was not totally wrong. It was just lamentably incomplete–and this is often what we find in our discussions with atheists.

      • RickK

        Of course you are creating a strawman out of my post and are apply the same shallow generalizations that you accuse others of, and you completely avoid the core of my post. I understand that to you God is not just the maurading, arrogant, insecure, vengeful creature of the Old Testament. But where is your catechism without the concept that humans live in a state of sin? Either that sin was purposefully created by your god or it was the result of original sin? Where is original sin without Adam and Eve? Where are Adam and Eve without the god of the Old Testament? Where is Catholicism without the mythology of the Resurrection of Jesus? Don’t try to be Karen Armstrong, defining your god to be so abstract that it ceases to exist or have meaning. Your religion is built on a foundation of myth. While you probably label that statement as “blasphemy”, no honest, rational person could deny that it is a perfectly valid conclusion that the gods and miracles of Christianity are just as mythical as the gods and miracles of Homer or Hinduism.

        Other societies have built solid moral codes that encourage people to be humble, to live modest lives and to be generous to others. And they’ve done it without any help from your god.

        It is a fundamental component of human nature to want to live without suffering. This is common sense instilled by evolution. And it is a fundamental truth of human social interaction that the best way to avoid suffering ourselves is to avoid inflicting suffering on others. The Golden Rule is far older than Catholicisim, Christianity, Judaism, or the other religions from which they grew.

        And it is clearly fundamental in human nature to make up myths and stories to support their beliefs and to reinforce their desired moral codes. But don’t think you’re achieving anything when you stand at your pulpit and condemn atheists for having the honesty to admit the truth and to call a myth a myth.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          This whole post is about the frustration a person like myself feels in debating with most atheists. You are expressing the problem pretty well, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you’re throwing ideas and concepts around here with a certain confidence as if you know about this topic. I accept that you really do think you know about the topic, and I expect you have done some reading on the topic, but your blanket comments and generalizations only reveal how shallow your understanding really is.

          We’re well aware of the complex nature of myth and how myth works within human culture and consciousness. We’re aware of the genre of both literary and religious myth and understand that the stories within the Old Testament and New Testament function on one level as myth. Myth is not simply ‘an untrue story’ or ‘a make believe story’. Literary myth may be fictional, but many factual stories and events also function within the human consciousness and culture as myth.

          Simply saying ‘Christianity is founded on a myth’ is rather like saying, ‘America is founded on the myth of George Washington and the story of cutting down the cherry tree.” And then dismissing the entire constitution, political system, patriotism and existence of the United States. Such a statement would be both truth and false.

          We’re also aware of the antiquity, complexity and challenge of Biblical interpretation and textual criticism. We’ve thought through the question of the Old Testament God, Adam and Eve, original sin etc. We’ve been doing it for 2000 years. The answers to these riddles–what answers there are can be discovered with serious study and research.

          I’m sorry if I don’t have any more time to debate these things, but you simply don’t know what you’re talking about. I know that sounds rude, and I apologize if you’re offended, but please try to be a bit more open minded and study the whole subject a bit more before you come to a blog like this and embarrass yourself further by revealing what you don’t know.

          • spellwight

            “Simply saying ‘Christianity is founded on a myth’ is rather like saying, ‘America is founded on the myth of George Washington and the story of cutting down the cherry tree.” And then dismissing the entire constitution, political system, patriotism and existence of the United States. Such a statement would be both truth and false.”

            Except we can see the original Constitution and see that it hasn’t been “interpreted” to death. We have multiple records of George Washington living and breathing. Though most people understand the cherry tree story as just that, a story, we have proof of the other great things this man has done for our country. We know our country wasn’t founded on that story, quaint as it is. We have his own writings, we have other’s original writings with and about him. We can prove he actually lived and did (most) of the things he’s credited with.

            What do we have of the bible? One book written by who knows who? Sure it says it was written by person A or B, but so does the Hobbit say it was written by Bilbo Baggins. It doesn’t make it truth. And how many variations of the bible are there now? I’m sorry, the Catholic Church has a history of killing people who didn’t agree and a more recent history of corruption and abuse so even if I were willing to learn more about a religion, it wouldn’t be Catholicism.

            Believe whatever you want, but most of us would just like you to stop imposing your version of how we should behave onto everyone else.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            My original post concerned atheists who come on this blog and discuss religion, but don’t know what they’re talking about. I’ll add you to the list. Instead of embarrassing yourself in public by writing about these topics why not do some research, come up with some evidence and then try again. Your bald assertions about Catholics killing people and no one knowing who wrote the Bible prove nothing but your ignorance on these matters. If, however, you would like to actually learn something about the Catholic faith, then why not have the courtesy and curiosity to ask a civil question rather than coming on this blog and making bald assertions which prove nothing but how little you know about the subject?

  • RickK

    Oops – editing error – the Dawkins quote was: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you. I’m familiar with the Dawkins’ quote. The vast majority of humanity in all places, and in all cultures and in all times down through the ages would disagree with Professor Dawkins and say exactly the opposite. I have far more trust in the universal experience of humanity in every age than in the opinion of one very biased Oxford don.

      • Rational Libertarian

        In what way is Dawkins biased?

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          As I am–by my pre-existing beliefs.

      • RickK

        Show me one definitive piece of evidence that proves that an afterlife exists. Show me one definitive piece of evidence that religious faithful enjoy divine favor. You can criticize Dawkins based on your beliefs, but you can’t provide evidence to refute his statement.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          If you have not done so already, I encourage you to read this article which discusses the question of “evidence” in religious debate:http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2012/08/misunderstanding-god-where-atheists-go.html

          Before I can provide evidence I need to know what sort of evidence you require.

          • RickK

            I answered your original “What do you mean by evidence” post, but before I hit save, you deleted it and replaced it with this post. So my answer ended up below.

            As for the arguments in the link you posted, again they are nonsense. Just because a myth catches on and is widely repeated doesn’t make it any more true. The fact that the story of the Resurrection grew in grandeur as later authors wrote about it – from Mark to John – is consistent with a tall tale growing steadily taller in the telling. Where are the testimonies of the Roman or Jewish authorities of this amazing miracle? Where are the hundreds of people who were told about it? The fact that millions later believed it means precisely NOTHING about the validity of the claim. In Europe in the 1500s well over half the population – millions of people – thought witchcraft was a real force in the world and that witches were practicing magic among them. Every last one of those people was wrong.

            In 1995 hundreds of millions of people in India were certain that the god Ganesha was divinely intervening to make statues in his likeness drink milk. Hundreds of people claimed to be witnesses, thousands claimed to have talked to someone who had seen it, and millions believed it all in the course of a single day. Of course by the time India’s pathetically small skeptical community arrived on the scene, the miracle had stopped.

            So… do you think something is true if enough people believe it? Or do you set your standard of truth a little higher than that?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I’ve written quite a lot recently about the historical reliability of the gospel and the evidence for the resurrection. If you’re interested you can look it up.

  • Mark Plus

    >If we leave the irrational ranters from both sides out of the discussion, it is important for atheists to understand the religion with which they are disagreeing. No doubt many of the new atheists have had negative experiences of Christianity. It could be that their only encounter with Christians has been with noisy and ignorant fundamentalists, schmaltzy emotionalist Evangelicals, hard bitten reactionary Catholics or hypocritical and indifferent Christians. The impression they have received about Christianity would, understandably, have been negative and easy to attack. Furthermore, they may well have been brought up by such people and felt betrayed and hurt and conned by such Christians.

    Well, you can’t blame atheists for the fact that the whole christian community has such poor “quality control” and lacks self-policing.

    • Rational Libertarian

      Thousands of religons have come and gone, and thousands still exist. Do you have a deep understanding of them all? I’m assuming you adhere to only one religon, so you must have a deep knowledge and understanding of every single religon that ever was and is to dismiss them all but one.

  • RickK

    Let’s say I believe you murdered your brother. My belief is absolute and heartfelt. I sit in quite contemplation every night and no matter how I question my faith, my belief is unshaken. I am convinced you are guitly of fratricide. What’s more, I am wealthy, and I have friends in various branches of the media and publishing. So I can get a lot of other people to believe as I believe. I write articles, I do media appearances, I convince people with the strength of my belief. Eventually, I’m able to bring millions to my way of thinking by painting a terrible and detailed picture of your murderous ways.

    My suggestion is, if you wish to defend yourself, your best defense is probably to use evidence to show that my belief is false, and that in reality you didn’t kill your brother. For example, you could prove you never had a brother, or that your brother is alive and well. You could take this evidence to an evidence-based courtroom and engage the leviathan of the government to shut me up.

    That’s what I mean by evidence – the kind that distinguishes truth from mere belief.

    • RickK

      Hume said it best: “If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates, then and not till then can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.”

      The miracles claimed by the followers of Jesus are no more likely, and are supported by much more distant, much less robust evidence than the miracles claimed by the followers of Joseph Smith, the Hindu god Ganesha, or the Prophet Muhammad.

      Actually, look at Joseph Smith and modern-day, mainstream Mormonism. Look at how this major global religion formed – a religion whose followers quite deservedly carry a reputation for morality that the Catholic Church should envy. Look at the well documented history of that powerful religion to learn how religions form. A failed con artist whose magical treasure finding business went bankrupt from lack of success decides to try a new scheme. He makes up some golden plates, convinces a couple gullible (or conniving) friends to go along with the charade, and he’s lucky enough to live in a time and place of rampant fervor for all things supernatural. Voila! A new religion is formed! Toss in some sex, some persecution and a well-timed martyrdom, and the religion is now a major force.

      We see it all documented before us. How much easier it must have been for Paul and the followers of Jesus to whip up greater fervor in a time of even less skepticism and greater belief in all things magical.

      I agree that Catholics have spent a long time pondering various rules about life, and many are captured in your catechisms. But it is a perfectly valid conclusion, based on the evidence, that the whole thing is based on a myth. Any rational person must conclude that the Nicene Creed is 95% utter hogwash, and it bothers me at a very deep level to hear a large room full of people chant their belief in this myth in perfect unison. As any executive on Madison Avenue will tell you – the way to get human beings to believe nonsense is just to repeat it over and over.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Lots of opinion here with no evidence to support it.

        • RickK

          Wow – how very dismissive.

          But I’m not making claims of a dead man coming back to life without any authorities noticing. So the burden of proof is not on me. If I claim a miraculous event, then you can demand evidence.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I have spent a lot of time over the last month giving evidence for the resurrection and the historicity of the New Testament. Check out my back posts if you’re interested. All the best to you!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I was hoping for a more concrete list. Do you admit the evidence of witnesses? Documentary evidence? Archeological evidence? Anecdotal evidence? Do you admit forensic evidence? Chronological evidence? Expert evidence? Do you admit evidence from people have spoken to witnesses or only first hand witnesses. If you admit witnesses must they be backed up by some other form of historical, archeological, scientific or eyewitness evidence? Must every source be checked? If so by how many other cross references?

      Just checking. “Evidence” is such a vague word on its own.

      • RickK

        Let me help you get past your stalling – the only evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is found in the documents and stories used by the authors of the Christian Gospels. Everything else is derived from that. And none of it is written by anyone who actually met Jesus.

        So the evidence of Joseph Smith’s gold plates is much stronger (direct eye-witness testimony) than what we have for the resurrection of Jesus. And the evidence of the milk miracle of Ganesha is even stronger.

        And please don’t start quoting examples that support that Jesus or Christians existed – I’m not disputing that. And don’t bother with evidence supporting the historical accuracy of the Bible – proving that Canaanites existed doesn’t prove Baal or Moloch existed.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          You can check out my back posts if you’re interested. I covered all that stuff for some other guy.

    • Rational Libertarian

      You’re dismissing opinions as not evidence (and rightly so), but you adhere to a religion with almost no evidence to support historical claims, and absolutely zero evidence to support supernatural claims.

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        I spent a lot of time over the last month on this blog giving evidence for the resurrection and the historical reliability of the New Testament. Check out my back posts if you’re interested.

  • RickK

    Ahh, ok – so you criticize atheists for not knowing enough about your religion. Then when an atheist actually engages you about some of the basics of your faith (like the truth of original sin, the truth of the Old Testament, or the truth of the miraculous resurrection of Christ) you say “go read my earlier posts” and brush off with “All the best to you.”

    So you’re not even attempting to refute the perfectly reasonable conclusion by atheists that Christianity, like every religion before and since, is founded on myths.

    Well done!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Some other guy was saying the same stuff as you about a month ago. If you’re really interested in my answers you can check out the back posts–they’re under the tag of ‘apologetics’.

      It sounds like you don’t really understand that much about ‘myth’, and you probably don’t understand what we believe about original sin either, and I doubt very much if you have much understanding of the complexities of Biblical criticism, interpretation and scholarship that help us to understand an ancient and complex document like the Old Testament.

      So why not take the time to learn more about how Christian theologians understand the concept of ‘myth’, study the methods and conclusions of Old Testament scholarship, and check out what Catholics believe about original sin. You sound like a smart guy. Why not read up on all this a bit more so you can discuss it in a knowledgeable way?

      The whole point of my post was that so many atheists come along with superficial knowledge and attempt to debate these matters, and all they do is show how much they don’t know. Like Terry Eagleton said reviewing Dawkins’book, “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology,”

      I wish you all the best! Have a great evening.

      • RickK

        Stop being dismissive. You’re dodging by saying “you just don’t understand”.

        It’s not that complicated. You believe your religion has a divine mandate and that the primary figure, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and thereby proved that he was the son of God. Is this statement wrong? Does it matter to Catholicism if Jesus was just a philosopher, if he was not divine, and if there is no God? I think it would matter, don’t you? So this is a simple and fundamental question, no?

        I believe Jesus was a philosopher of a kind that was not uncommon back then – a Jewish apocalyptic prophet. That’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion. It is perfectly reasonable to make similar conclusions about other historical examples of supposed divine intervention. I treat your claims about Jesus’s divinity just as I treat the claims of Joseph Smith regarding the angel Moroni, just as you would treat the claims of Fred Jones of Peoria if he claimed to be the son of Odin. That’s a reasonable conclusion given the evidence.

        And to address the claim that “it must have been true for so many people to believe it”, I offer you the golden plates of Joseph Smith. A small, petty deception or even just a misunderstanding is all that is needed to create a powerful, global religion. We’ve watched it happen.

        In the meantime I (and many atheists) will opt for what we feel to be honesty and truth: that Jesus of Nazareth was a charismatic Jewish apocalyptic prophet who gained a small following. And the story of his miracles is no different than the stories of the miracles of other religious figures – deceptions or misunderstandings that have been inflated into grand tall tales by generations of believers.

        And you will note – I am not denying the existence of Christianity or Catholicism. I’m not denying that religion is a powerful force for binding a community. I’m not denying that great things have been accomplished in the name of religion – humans united in a shared purpose are capable of great (or terrible) things.

        I’m just explaining why this particular atheist rejects the claims of gods and divinity that he’s heard so far because they simply don’t stand up to reasonable skepticism.

        If you can’t engage in simple terms to address objections like mine, then you certainly have no basis on which to stand on your pulpit and criticize atheists. Like your quantum physics example, perhaps it is you who should stick to what you know.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          Thank you for your explanation of your thinking about Jesus of Nazareth. I’m familiar with your position. The idea that Jesus is merely a good religious teacher has been one of the standard understandings of non-Christians from the beginning. If one has a shallow understanding of religion in general, a rudimentary grasp of the New Testament in particular, a simplistic understanding of the Catholic faith, and a temperamental or intellectual bias against the supernatural, then your position is understandable. You have a great day!

          • Rational Libertarian

            You are so disingenuous. You say any insult will be taken down, yet your (poorly) veiled insults are aloud. Typical Papist. Your religion is a lie, and it only gained so much ground through violence and oppression.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            More assertions with no evidence. I don’t remove all insults. I remove ones that are intentionally rude, profane or blasphemous. Witty or subtle insults I am happy to publish.

          • Rational Libertarian

            Allowed, sorry.

          • RickK

            Interesting how you criticize others for making assertions without evidence as you steadfastly refuse to engage in an evidence-based debate yourself. All you say is “you have to understand more to really appreciate religion”. What do I have to do? I attended church for years. I debated in Bible study classes for years. I’m continually doing charitable work and donating to charities right alongside my Christian and Jewish friends and neighbors, and there’s absolutely between my contribution and theirs, or between the satisfaction they take from the work and the satisfaction I take from it. I’ve read Dulles, Lewis, Geisler, Armstrong, Ehrman, Albright, Finkelstein and yes, the Bible itself.

            So based on our exchange, I can safely conclude that your inability argue for the existence of God or the divinity of Christ is not the result of MY shallow understanding of religion or philosophy, but is in fact the result of your shallow imagination that can’t possibly comprehend that someone could understand the same facts that you do, in the same depth, and come to a different conclusion.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Allow me to repeat what I have already said two or three times: I had another guy on this blog a few weeks ago with the same shallow objections and questions which he thought were real smart because guess what–he read the same books you have. I took the time to answer his questions and put my case in various blog posts. You’ll find them under the apologetics tag. If you want my answer to your questions they are already there. Go and read them.

            I can understand completely that someone will look at the same evidence that I do and come up with an atheistic conclusion. This is nothing new. People have come up with the unbelieving conclusion from Judas onward. While I believe evidence is necessary for true faith, I do not believe evidence convinces anyone. Faith is more than evidence, but it is not less than evidence.

            What you don’t seem to have picked up yet is that I don’t debate with people on this blog. I don’t debate with Protestant fundamentalists. I don’t debate with atheists. I don’t debate with Mormons. I don’t debate with pagans. I do, however, attempt to answer anyone’s questions to the best of my ability. If they are truly seeking the truth, then I’ll spend all the time in the world to help direct their search with what little knowledge or wisdom I may have.

            People who just want to disagree or pick a fight or something–I don’t waste my time. If they want answers, let them do the research. He who seeks will find!

            All the best to you!

  • http://All4 ReasJack

    My problem with your original post is this: Whenever I engage in conversation as an atheist with believers of various kinds, I can set my watch and wait. Invariably some variation on the same objection is made. “Well sure, everybody knows what’s wrong with the crazy ways of the misguided, but you have failed to realize that there are those of us with special discernment. You fail to acknowledge how we are special, we who have focused our attention properly to see the REAL meaning of (and here you can plug in god, scripture, faith, Christianity, Islam, ghosts, or conspiracy theories–whatever is specifically informing the conversation at the time) .” This argument is waved about like a totem regardless of the species of believer. We are accused of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”, and of confusing the obviously false religions with “true religion”. But that’s the problem. Every disparate irreconcilable religious position has a corresponding apologist using this argument. It is so all-purpose as to serve no purpose at all. New atheists do not take it seriously, a characteristic we share with a preponderance of old atheists. Although we understand why you would like that to be “the problem with us”.

  • Shoals Skeptics

    You state, “For a convinced atheist to therefore engage in a rational discussion about God they will have to make a long journey to overcome prejudices of which they are probably unaware.”

    Not true. First, “convinced atheist” is a misnomer. It represents a vast misunderstanding of the term. Lets get this straight: atheism deals with “belief” in a deity. Gnosticism deals with “knowledge” of gods. I am an atheist not because of all the negative fundies, irrational Christians, or hypocrites. The acts of these kids of people simply caused me to investigate the foundation of my belief. I looked closer and closer. I finally pulled the curtain back and saw the man in there.

    I am an agnostic because I do not “know” that gods do not exist. My surety is upwards of 99.99% but I cannot honestly claim knowledge of something that, for now, remains unknowable. So I (and any other honest atheist) call myself an agnostic atheist. I do not “believe” in gods but do not “know” they do not exist.

    As for the “long journey” comment: Most (or at least many) of us had a very long and painful journey to come to disbelief in our chosen god. It is uncomfortable to give up a belief that you have invested so much time and energy into. Remember the slight regret you had when you discovered Santa wasn’t real? Multiply that discomfort a thousandfold and you will have some glimmer of what many of us went through.

    We can no have a “long journey” back to belief any more than you can re-believe in Santa Clause.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I understand your position. This is why, in the original post, I was careful to say ‘some atheists’ or ‘many atheists’. I am more interested in the person who moves from religious belief to atheism than the person who assumes atheism as an ignorant default setting. What interests me in the journey of the former theist is the attitude of the searcher during the search. What sort of religion did that person used to follow? How was he brought up an what religion did he reject as he began to be an agnostic or atheist? I’m interested in this because I was brought up as a fundamentalist Christian and moved away from that, but ended up as a Catholic. I suspect, therefore, that my paragraph in this post about the effect of anti-Catholicism may have a role to play in the search that some former Protestants go through. Having rejected a form of Protestantism they verge toward atheism–never considering that Catholicism might provide a satisfactory answer because along with their Protestantism they were also taught that Catholicism was definitely wrong.

      Thank you for your comment and for visiting this blog.

  • Korou

    Hmmm. Well, coming upon an old thread, but worth making a point.
    I can’t hoonestly say that it’s true that Dwight Longenecker doesn’t debate with people. He certainly seems to, and not always successfully. I think I’m probably the atheist he’s referring to from about a month before this post, and it’s amusing to see how he remembers the conversations.


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