Monsignor Charles Pope Defends the Faith…UPDATED

from the “know it all” Know Nothings. In this case, the know it all is Patheos’ own Friendly Atheist.

I once wrote that treating atheists like they are stupid is a mistake. I still believe that. Of course, it’s also a huge mistake to let them pretend they have figured everything out, deciding to junk thousands of years of tradition, revelation, interpretation, and enlightened study of Christianity. The Flying Spaghetti Monsters & Sky Fairies ya-da, ya-da offense is getting played out.

Monsignor Pope’s charitable takedown is a fine example of how to defend the Faith while not dehumanizing the attacker. We’re going to have to get used to defending the Faith, despite the difficulties involved in doing so. Because pretending that Christianity is “old hat,” and even more ludicrous, that any one person can sift through over 2,000 years of world-changing beliefs, and world-changing ideas that have arisen from her, and then proclaiming that the world “knows all about it”, flies in the face of the following truth about Christianity that the modern “know it alls” seem to miss.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. –G.K. Chesterton

I don’t pretend to know it all. I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the riches in the treasury of the Catholic Church. It will take an eternity of lifetimes to plumb the depths of Christianity. Call me Grasshopper.

H/T Kathy Schiffer


The Friendly Atheist’s rebuttal to Monsignor Pope (be advised, language alert!).

Not related, but timely, Shameless Popery’s Three Arguments Against Atheism from Pope Benedict.

  • Faith

    That’s a wonderful, reasoned rebuttal. Thanks for linking it!

  • Mark Zanghetti

    I am really beginning to enjoy reading your blog but have one question, why would any Catholic object to signing that oath? I have only one answer, they have some work to do in their faith life and don’t want to deal with whatever issue it is because they feel it is too hard for them to deal with the issue, whateer it may be. How do I know this, it’s because I am a Catholic and struggle daily with many thing and can’t imagine that I am all that different from most in the pews

  • MumbleMumble

    But Monsignor Pope uses the faith to defend the faith. His arguments are cyclical. For example, he states there cannot be a legitimate argument for gay marriage, since Catholics find legitimacy in Scripture and Tradition, and these two areas denounce homosexuality. Clearly, an atheist would not look for legitimacy in Catholic Scripture, and could be inclined to determine what is legitimate based on other means, such as the US Constitution.
    This is a defense for the faithful, but it would do nothing to sway an atheist.
    This is a side-note, but the last section in red reminded me a great deal of the poem Ozymandias, by Shelley.

    • Frank Weathers

      Homosexuality per se, isn’t denounced by the Church, nor are homosexual persons. Homosexual acts, however, are sinful (as is adultery for heterosexuals, and other sexual sins) and as such, homosexuals are called to chastity, just as heterosexuals are. The Catechism elaborates, but you may find that to be unpalatable. Appealing to the U.S. Constitution may work in the case of courthouse type marriages, but given the free exercise clause in the First Amendment, demanding that the Catholic Church violate her beliefs and “marry” homosexual persons would also be a violation of the Constitution.

      You might be interested in Eve Tushnet’s thoughts on marriage.

      • MumbleMumble

        I apologize for not catching the distinction, but the end result is the same for homosexuals. No gay marriage. And for an atheist couple, to be denied this right based on the tenets of religion I can only imagine is the worst kind of frustration. This is only an issue for the courthouse type marriages. If gays are denied a marriage ritual at a church, I really don’t care all that much. It’s a church, and it can marry who it likes. But religious folks are extending their sphere of influence into the political realm, arguing that gays shouldn’t be married in any way, shape, or form, and they are defending this argument with Scripture. In other words, it is wrong, because it is wrong. This type of circular reasoning, as I mentioned before, will not win you any converts from atheism, and it certainly has no place in policy decisions.

        • Robert King

          This is exactly the question at hand: whether civil marriage and sacred marriage are in any way the same thing, or whether they are entirely different things called by the same name.

          It’s clear (as you recognize) that Msgr. Pope’s article was written for the faithful, that is, for those who accept Scripture and Tradition as an expression of the truth about God and the world. He assumes, as does his intended readership, that these are valid foundations for an argument, and then argues upon those foundations. If you accept his logic within the argument, then the only way to attack the argument is to attack the foundations.

          What he does not say is that these are the ONLY reasons for coming to such a conclusion. Rather, he chose the reasons he thought to be most persuasive to his intended audience.

          Nor does he say that these reasons are sufficient as a basis for law in a pluralistic society such as ours. (Others have presented secular arguments for traditional marriage elsewhere.) Rather, he argues to persuade those who already believe.

          Perhaps he is naive not to address those who do not believe. The internet is wide open, after all, and anything posted is available to all.

          But his argument, as he presents it, is not circular. Rather, it rests on foundations that you reject.

          • MumbleMumble

            I had kind of assumed that Pope was addressing Mehta directly, because it was a response to Mehta, but rereading it, I think you’re right in that it was not directed at an atheist crowd. I do think this is unfortunate, because I like the cross-communication. As it is, he is preaching to the converted, quite literally.
            This leads to a follow-up question I have, regarding civil vs. sacred marriage. I recognize that, based on Church teachings, homosexual acts are frowned upon, and marriage consists of a man and a woman. What I am curious about is the extent to which believers feel that this position should be extended into areas outside of the Church. Can you be Catholic and support civil marriage? There are non-religious based rights that are bestowed on couples who get legally married, and these rights are not all granted to same-sex couples, even ones in civil unions. So can you support equal rights for a group that you personally do not agree with?

          • Frank Weathers

            In the case of homosexual unions, the Church has a reasoned and grounded approach on this issue. You will find it in it’s entirety here.The concluding statement of the Church from that document answers your question,

            The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.

            And isn’t this why, though some call it unfair, the State has provided benefits to heterosexual married couples above and beyond single people? Because families create new citizens, stimulate the economy, and provide the supply of human capital that a nation needs? Perhaps. The State has decided to allow no-fault divorces too, but the Church doesn’t agree with this decision either (for many of the same reasons).

            Still, nothing stops Catholics from discussing these issues, like the Anchoress does here: Let Government Certify and Churches Sanctify.

      • Angie the Atheist

        Appealing to the U.S. Constitution may work in the case of courthouse type marriages, but given the free exercise clause in the First Amendment, demanding that the Catholic Church violate her beliefs and “marry” homosexual persons would also be a violation of the Constitution.

        Nobody is forcing the Catholic church to perform gay marriages, so that is a total red herring. I really get annoyed when powerful, autocratic churches play the victim card. Click the link on my name to see a video which counters several bad arguments against gay marriage.

        • Frank Weathers

          “Nobody is forcing the Catholic church to perform gay marriages” yet.

          Angie, somebody is forcing the Catholic Church to violate her beliefs on contraception, sterilization, and abortion currently. That would be the U.S. Government via the HHS Mandate. In the past, the government has stayed out of deciding what faith groups can and cannot believe, but maybe those days are coming to an end, despite the Free Exercise clause. Now, if the government allowed Catholics the kind of conscientious objection provisions that the Church (not just some “powerful, autocratic” organization [how many divisions does it have?] but all Catholic Christians, comprise “the Church”) is calling for, maybe Catholics could sleep better at night. As it stands now though, none of your arguments, whether cogent or not, that promise churches wouldn’t be coerced by the government to perform “gay marriages,” is a bit naive, if not downright unbelievable.

          • Mark H.

            In addition. within the last year or two, I’ve read news stories about:
            1. A pharmacist who was being sued because he was not comfortable helping a customer who wanted to buy birth control and asked another pharmacist to help her. The customer said she felt she was being judged.
            2. A wedding photographer who was being sued because he declined to take a job photographing a homosexual wedding service.
            3. A baker who was sued for declining to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple.

            It’s not unreasonable for Catholics and other religions to have concerns about government intrusion, especially in light of the current HHS mandate issue.

    • Robert King

      I suppose it depends on your reading of Mehta’s phrase, “legitimate arguments as to why they’re wrong.” Msgr. Pope reads it as “wrong to hold these teachings as Catholic.” Its sounds like MumbleMumble reads it as “wrong to be Catholic because these teachings are wrong by a standard outside the Church.”

      Msgr. Pope may be misreading Mehta – I think he is; Mehta finishes his post by encouraging dissenting Catholics to “get the hell out of there” rather than exhorting the Church to change her teachings – but he is clear about how he interprets the words, and by his interpretation it is exactly right to argue based on the sources of Catholic teaching: Scripture and Tradition.

      So yes, his article was written for the faithful. It would not sway an atheist, but it was not intended to.