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A Tale of Two Hitchens

Hitchens brothers

Over the years, I’ve written often about the late Christopher Hitchens, who over the last decade has probably been the world’s most prominent atheist. When we learned of his terminal cancer, I did a piece on the CNN blog, urging Christians to pray for Hitchens—and to my astonishment, this benign recommendation was met with an extraordinarily negative reaction from atheists. But that’s a story for another day.

What I'd like to write about today concerns a recent vacation on which I took two books with me, Christopher Hitchens’s memoir Hitch-22, which I had begun and wanted to finish, and his brother Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith, a stunning account of the younger Hitchens’s journey through militant Trotskyite atheism to a robust Christianity. It was a fascinating, and I must admit rather unnerving, experience to overhear, as it were, the brothers Hitchens debating with one another in my own head. Things got so intense that Christopher Hitchens actually appeared in one of my dreams during the vacation!

Whereas Christopher has a rather baroque literary style, his brother writes soberly and directly. His fundamental theme is this: though the atheists claim just the contrary, the collapse of Christianity carries in its wake dire consequences for civilization itself. Peter Hitchens was a foreign correspondent in Moscow during the waning years of the Soviet Union, and he experienced a culture in deep crisis. There was political corruption of every type on every level of the system; there was widespread drunkenness; abortions far outnumbered live births; and a suspension of common courtesies—exchanging common signs, holding doors, etc.—was everywhere in evidence. How does one begin to explain this almost total ethical collapse? Peter Hitchens argues that it followed ineluctably from a conscious and brutally enforced Soviet policy in regard to religion. From the earliest days of the regime, that is to say, even before the rise of Stalin, the Soviet government launched a systematic attack on religion, especially Russian Orthodoxy. Priests and nuns were, in great numbers, put to death or arrested, and the few that were allowed to live were consistently harrassed, mocked, and humiliated. Furthermore, religion was constantly pilloried as “unscientific” and “backward,” the stuff of crude superstition and pre-modern mythology. And religious instruction was strictly disallowed in the educational system. In fact, it was routinely characterized as a form of child abuse, a poisoning of the minds of the young.

Peter Hitchens suggests that there there is a clear causal relationship between this brutal anti-religious strategy and the civilizational breakdown that was universally on display in the Soviet Union by the early 1990’s. This is precisely because the moral matrix that one tends to take for granted is in fact a consequence of certain very basic religious convictions, including and especially, the belief in God as a guarantor of moral absolutes. Once God has been jettisoned, or at the very least marginalized, morality becomes relative. And once morality is relativized it devolves, finally, into a function of oppression, the behavioral system instituted by and for the powerful.

Now what Peter Hitchens sees in the work of his brother and the other popular atheist writers—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, etc.—is a tragic repeat of the Soviet program. All of the “new” atheists call for the elimination of religion as something poisonous; they all characterize it as “pre-scientific” and “superstitious;” and in perhaps the most damning parallel, they, to a person, describe religious education as a species of child abuse. His conclusion is that this sort of aggression, though often presented as an enlightened strategy, would result in precisely the same kind of moral collapse that Hitchens witnessed in the Gorbachev era Soviet Union. The “new” atheists, he thinks, don’t realize that the very ethical principles that they point to with such vigor (Christopher, for example, is in a constant state of high dudgeon over any number of moral outrages around the world) are mortally threatened by an attack on God. Without a transcendent referent, morality becomes as vacillating and capricious as the human will itself. Christopher Hitchens and his colleagues, Peter argues, don’t see that, in making ethical appeals, they are implicitly accepting the very cultural matrix that they are explicitly trying to undermine.

Peter Hitchens sees, in point of fact, some disturbing signs in our own western societies that the breakdown of religion is having just this ethically de-stabilizing effect. In a culture where an absolute and transcendentally grounded moral code has been jettisoned, “nursing has become less dedicated, wives more inclined to leave their babbling husbands in care homes to be looked after impersonally by paid strangers…and soldiers readier to save themselves while their comrades lie in pain within reach of the enemy.” Traditional morality, grounded in a keen sense of the divine command, called people consistently beyond themselves and their own desires, even when that call involved the total sacrifice of the self. Atheist morality devolves, almost inevitably, into a species of might makes right, the will of the stronger becoming the criterion of good and evil.

We’ve all had ample opportunity these past several years to hear the reflections of Christopher Hitchens. I think it would be a fine idea indeed to listen now to his eloquent brother.
 
 
Originally posted at Word on Fire. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: Urban Christian News)

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Geena Safire

    There are three main categories of arguments in favor of being or acting religious: it is comforting, it is useful, or it is true. This article falls into the category of being useful.

    I disagree with the younger Hitchens and Barron regarding the major source of the despair gripping Russia.

    • Vasco Gama

      Why do you disagree? (is it a personal dissatisfaction,
      something emotional or do you have any reason to support your disagreement?)

    • Raphael

      What, then, do you believe is the source of Russia's despair?

      • Paul Boillot

        No Toblerone?

    • bbrown

      Not how I see it.

      These categories are not mutually exclusive. Barron and Peter Hitchens (and ironically Christopher as well, although it's unintended) make a pretty good case, one more piece of evidence in a massive cumulative case, for the truth of Christianity.

      • Geena Safire

        I respectfully disagree. There is no way to add these up to make a cumulative case for God. They cannot be added.

        Usefulness is only proof of usefulness. Comfort is only proof of comfort.

        No matter how useful something is, that contributes exactly nothing to whether or not the thing to which you attribute it is true. The same goes with how comforting something is.

        Just because people attributed the return of the rain to the gift of the gods didn't mean that the gods caused the rain nor that they even existed.

        Just because people attributed disease to God's punishment for their sins didn't mean that this was actually the cause of disease or that God actually existed.

        And the arguments for the existence of God... No, not a massive case.

        • bbrown

          Thanks Geena for the respectful reply.

          Well, I do think the cumulative case for the truth of Christianity is massive; the more I study it the more I am convinced of this.

          I agree that material comfort does not equate in any way to truth. In fact, Christians are not promised comfort, but rather a call to self-sacrifice where persecution is guaranteed. There's no incentive to Christianity if it's happiness or comfort you want. There are other goods though that are independent of circumstances and run deeper, such as joy, purpose, meaning, and a reorientation to all of life, a new vision if you will.

          "Usefulness" can have different meanings and connotations I suppose. If it fits human nature and betters it I would tend to think it's more likely to be true. The heritage of Christian charity, for example, seems to argue for the truth of the belief system. If the doctrine was one of forced conversion or spread through violence, I'd be pretty loathe to think it contained much truth.

          • John Bell

            How can the case for Christianity be overwhelming when the most basic requirement - the existence of a god - has zero evidence and is most certainly not true?

          • John, thanks for the comment. You claim that "the existence of a god...is most certainly not true."

            Such a strong claim requires strong evidence. What evidence do you have to back up this staunch certainty?

          • John Bell

            I am certain that god is a fiction because all the gods ever proposed over the thousands of years they have been discussed have failed to produce one tiny shred of evidence of their existence. Nothing. All it takes is a little common sense to see that there are no gods.

          • "I am certain that god is a fiction because all the gods ever proposed over the thousands of years they have been discussed have failed to produce one tiny shred of evidence of their existence."

            I of course disagree with you. There is tons of evidence for the existence of God, including the existence of a contingent universe, the presence of objective morality, the logical necessity for a First Cause, the fine-tuning of the universe, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, etc.

            But for the sake of argument, let's assume you are right about the lack of evidence. Would that then give you certainty that God doesn't exist? It might make you believe he is highly unlikely, or at best invisible and unreachable, but I struggle to see how you could arrive at certainty.

            Let's not forget the old adage: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Be careful not to make a fallacious argument from ignorance.

          • Methodological Naturalist

            I struggle to see how you could arrive at certainty.

            Brandon,

            It looks to me that the faithful are pinning people like John Bell to an unfair standard. Does your list of "evidence" give you certainty about the existence of God?

            If you are uncertain about your God's existence then you could have a point. But I hope you can see why I'd say you have no footing to keep pressing upon John with your struggle if the reverse is closer to reality.

          • Geena Safire

            Thanks. I do mean to be respectful of you.

            But it seems to me that you take everything as evidence for God. If you are comforted, that is evidence for God. But if you get self-sacrifice and persecution, that is also evidence for God. If faith is useful, that is evidence for God. But when faith seems pointless and hopeless, that is evidence of God helping you through struggle.

            If everything is evidence for God, then nothing is. What would you consider would be evidence against the existence of God, that is, if you found that X existed or were true, then you would cease to believe in God?

            If you would take the absence of suffering as evidence for God, then logically you have to count suffering as evidence against God. If you would count miracles as evidence for God, then logically you have to count a lack of miracles as evidence against God.

            In addition, if you had studied Bayesian probability, you would know that the more things one piles on to the definition of what this God must be, the "less" likely that God is to exist.

            If it fits human nature and betters it I would tend to think it's more likely to be true.

            How do you get that? If people believing something seems related to something that useful, that is completely unrelated to whether the thing believed is true. It is useful, on Christmas Eve, to tell children that Santa won't come unless they are asleep. But it isn't true.

            Placebo pills are "effective" for a surprising number of diseases, over a third in some cases, but that doesn't mean that this is evidence that the sugar in the placebo pills is actually healing the patient.

          • bbrown

            Last point first: a placebo can in some ways aid healing, since healing is integrally tied to mental states and it's pretty well proven that the attitude and affective state of the patient has a significant bearing on the outcome. It's not nearly so back and white as you might think.

            I certainly do not accept the claim that I am taking everything as evidence for God. However, if God is real, then by definition everything WOULD, in varying ways, reflect that. I came to belief over many years of thinking, reading, and exploring the evidence; I was fairly vocal against Christians at one time, thinking it all absurd. My life has been almost all in science: molecular biology research and as an intensive care physician and anesthesiologist. Evidence is crucial to me; I also know very clearly the limits and narrow confines of the scientific method.

            Next point you bring up: Indeed, Christianity encompasses everything human. So there is comfort, but as I said, it may not be the same sense of the word we are using. If God is perfect love, then would we not expect some sense of comfort from the relationship?

            Self-sacrificial love is at the core of God's message and revelation. Persecution is promised in scripture and is expected; this has clearly been the case historically for Christians who hold to orthodox faith and who would not worship the state or the king, or whatever the idols of the age may be.

            Given that we live with partial knowledge and in a world full of mystery, there are things that would seriously undermine my faith in Christ as God's manifestation to this world. Be aware though that it was the many confirmations of the truth of the gospels and the claims of Christ that slowly brought me to faith. I am a very skeptical person so I had to really get to the point where the evidence was overwhelming, and in honesty I wanted to only go where the evidence led me. That last point cannot be stressed enough, I was not always open or courageous enough to accept the evidence or to want to go where it was taking me.

            But, I'd say that if there surfaced some proof that the resurrection was a hoax, my faith would be seriously undermined. I've found just the opposite, despite every imaginable attempt to make a case for that. I don't think cosmology, archaeology, biology, forensics, psychology, or linguistics could say much that would disprove my faith. Again, just the opposite, these fields have all added nothing but support for the truth of the Christian account of the origin of the universe, order, life, man, of consciousness, mind, and for man's desire and longings.

            For example, research stemming form the Genome Project is consistent with the Biblical account of the origin of humankind and, compared to the Darwinian story, provides a more reasonable and likely explanation. (BTW how do you know that I did not study Baynesian statistics?).

            Re. the "usefulness" of belief and how it relates to truth, I tried to state a general case and am not sure I can add to that in this space. So much has been written on this that its hard to know where to start. A small intimation of one direction this argument can go, by C.S. Lewis...........

            “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

            Thanks for reading my long-winded reply.

            --Bill

          • Geena Safire

            Bill, I really appreciate your clear and well-worded reply.

            Placebo pills are "effective" for a surprising number of diseases ... but that doesn't mean that this is evidence that the sugar in the placebo pills is actually healing the patient.

            a placebo can in some ways aid healing, since healing is integrally tied to mental states

            Umm, Bill? I kinda said that, didn't I. My main point is that it is not the sugar that is doing it. In the wording of our original analogy, placebo pills are useful, but it is not true that the contents of the placebo pills did it. Correlation does not imply causation.

            (BTW how do you know that I did not study Baynesian statistics?)

            I don't know; but it seemed more probable. :-) Who would study it except someone who (a) had to for a degree OR (b) is a total numbers geek? You don't seem anywhere geeky enough, and I'm pretty sure it's not required for an MD.

            C.S. Lewis: "“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

            I always love C.S. Lewis' writing. He's so often wrong, but it's a pleasure to read.

            Since we don't have any other worlds to compare ours to wrt a better fit for a certain number of people, there is no way to develop a probability estimate.

            If we have an unsatisfiable desire, then it is likely a misdirected extension of an adaptive feature or a spandrel (evolutionary byproduct). But just because I have a strong desire, and nothing terrestrial will quench it, that has zero to do with whether there may be something non-terrestrial that can or will quench it.

            It's like seeing ghosts or seeing Jesus in a cheese sandwich. We are pattern-seeking creatures, even when there are no patterns, and we are meaning-driven creatures, even when things have no meaning. These are essential skills, but the program keeps running even when irrelevant.

            Why? My best guess it that our ancestors that imagined a tiger in the tall grass survived better than the ones who always assumed that rustling was just the wind, because it only takes one tiger. But if that drive is not recognized, then we tend to think that because we actually experience seeing ghosts, that ghosts actually exist. Same for Cheesus.

            Indeed, Christianity encompasses everything human. ... [A]ll added nothing but support for the truth of the Christian account

            Far be it from me to say anything regarding your beliefs that bring so much meaning and comfort to your life. I am glad you have found such a treasure for yourself.

            From my side of the pond, though, if J.R.R. Tolkien had 2,000 years to work out the kinks and make his entire Middle Earth cosmology more internally consistent, his books would have been even irresistible.

            I don't doubt that a committed Catholic life can be very rewarding as an emotional and spiritual development path and a source of community. But so can can other committed life practices. And that doesn't mean that the god-claims are true.

  • Danny Getchell

    If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the countries with the lowest levels of religious belief include Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Hong Kong, Norway, and Japan.

    It should be possible to determine somehow whether the general level of ethical and altruistic behavior is lower in those countries than in highly religious countries such as Romania, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Turkey, and Pakistan.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country

    • What a painfully obvious exercise in cherry picking.

      Here's a couple more for your 'lowest levels of religious belief': China and North Korea. Here's a couple for your 'highest levels': And of your 'countries with the lowest levels of religious belief', you should probably note how many have state churches.

      • Paul Boillot

        I wouldn't consider North Korea or old-school Maoist China to be non-religious.

        They are certainly good examples of regimes which try to repress other religions, including christianity, but then so are Iran and Saudi Arabia.

        Any country which has multiple dead ancestral leaders who are still officially running the the government don't qualify well for "atheistic," The Ils are worshipped as gods.

        Mao and Stalin tried to ensconce similar cults of personality, though they were arguably less successful at making them generationally viable.

        • Alright, so the score so far:

          Nations with state churches that happen to have sizable irreligious (but not necessarily non-naturalist) populations? Non-religious.

          Nations that are predominately atheist, even state atheist, but they do things you happen to find reprehensible? "Not non-religious."

          Any country which has multiple dead ancestral leaders who are still officially running the the government don't qualify well for "atheistic," The Ils are worshipped as gods.

          No, they are not. They are revered, they are held up as considerably important culturally and politically, but to try and turn the state atheists into 'theists' on the grounds that they revere certain cultural leaders is a desperate stretch.

          Whatever you may wish to say, North Korea, China and other places belong on the 'atheist' list. Be honest about that much.

          'm not up on modern Chinese culture or politics, but to the extent that they have let up on strict Maoist communism and slowly adopted some of the secular and open traditions of the non-religious Western countries there has been

          The "traditions" are not wholly secular. In the US, these were recognized as God-given rights and freedoms. Western freedoms by and large were not brought up by the irreligious, but by theists, Christians and deists, who were working out what they saw as the logical extensions of their theologies and philosophies. Irreligion was nowhere on the scene, until late in the game - and that happens to correspond with the rise of one after another restriction on freedom in the west.

          • Andre Boillot

            "No, they are not. They are revered, they are held up as considerably important culturally and politically, but to try and turn the state atheists into 'theists' on the grounds that they revere certain cultural leaders is a desperate stretch."

            You speak as somebody that has either never heard-of, or dismisses (for some reason?), the wide-spread cult-of-personality surrounding the Kims, and all the miracles attributed to them.

            If calling N. Korea theist is a "desperate stretch", then characterizing the Kims as merely "considerably important culturally and politically" would seem to be an unjustified shrinking of their holds on the peoples hearts and minds.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korea's_cult_of_personality

          • You speak as somebody that has either never heard-of, or dismisses (for some reason?), the wide-spread cult-of-personality surrounding the Kims, and all the miracles attributed to them.

            Yes, I dismiss the 'cult of personality' because a 'cult of personality' is entirely compatible with atheism.

            So no, it's not 'unjustified shrinking'. The Kims are not regarded as deities in any meaningful way - period, end of story. Neither was Mao, neither was Stalin, nor are the chinese communists today.

            They are atheists, with a state atheist society. They always have been.

            You can say they are atheists who are given to a cult of personality, as if that makes much of an exception of them. But frankly, considering the Cult of Gnu shows similar traces of this with Richard Dawkins and others, it's not much of an exception.

          • Andre Boillot

            Crude,

            "Yes, I dismiss the 'cult of personality' because a 'cult of personality' is entirely compatible with atheism."

            I'm not sure that claim holds when the cult in question proposes miracles and supernatural abilities:

            (Birth + Life)

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/8292848/The-Incredible-Kim-Jong-il-and-his-Amazing-Achievements.html

            (Death)
            http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/22/kim-jong-il-dead-nature-mourns_n_1164845.html

            "So no, it's not 'unjustified shrinking'. The Kims are not regarded as deities in any meaningful way - period, end of story."

            Ahem...

            Another important strategy in promoting the personality cult for Kim Il Sung is to build his image as a great and infallible leader. The idea was to establish the fact that he was a man of unlimited abilities and was incomparable to any other human being, and that based on his abilities he was able to produce ultimate successes.

            (Pages 12-13) http://www.kinu.or.kr/eng/pub/pub_02_01.jsp?page=8&num=3&mode=view&field=&text=&order=&dir=&bid=DATA05&ses=

            North Koreans were subjected to coerced indoctrination, especially through the schools. They were told that Kim Il Sung was immortal and would never die. Thus, they were unprepared for his death in 1994.

            http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/12/20/my-take-kim-jong-il-and-the-danger-of-deifying-leaders/?hpt=hp_c1

            "They are atheists, with a state atheist society. They always have been."

            I mean, it's not great when you own link starts with:

            North Korea's government exercises virtual total control over society and imposes the cult of personality of Kim Jung Il and Kim Il Sung, described as a political religion

            Which in turn links to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_religion

            The theory of political religion concerns governmental ideologies whose cultural and political backing is so strong that it they are said to attain power equivalent to those of a state religion, to which they often exhibit significant similarities in both theory and practice

            I'm sorry, but when discussing where the cult of personailty surrounding the Kims fits on the spectrum of atheism theism, I think it has far more in common with religion.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Yes, I dismiss the 'cult of personality' because a 'cult of
            personality' is entirely compatible with atheism."

            This is false. A 'cult' worships something supernatural, atheism is expressly the disbelief in the supernatural.

            "The Kims are not regarded as deities in any meaningful way - period, end of story."

            This is false, my detailed deconstruction of your claim is here.

            Mao, Stalin, and Hitler all fit many of the state-religion criteria as NK.

            "They are atheists, with a state atheist society. They always have been."

            Once again you have linked to a resource which explicitly contradicts you, calling NK's system a political religion. In addition to using self-defeating sources, you're just wrong.

            "But frankly, considering the Cult of Gnu shows similar traces of this with Richard Dawkins and others, it's not much of an exception."

            First of all, just calling people you disagree with a "Cult of ______" is a poor rhetorical tactic, as it's not only going to get you flagged for ad-hominem, it's also an accusation which is trivially easy to redirect to you. "Do not throw the arrow which will return against you."

            Secondly, people's fondness for one-or-another public speaker/writer/intellectual meets none of the criteria for the worship of the supernatural.

            Third, it just makes you look bitter against Dawkins. I suppose you're trying to use fire to fight fire, but one of the only claims you have to superiority is in the moral realm where your god taught you to turn the other cheek.

          • Paul Boillot

            We'll just cover NK for now, you can apply the lessons you learn here to China, Nazi Germany, and the USSR as applicable (the applicability will vary with time, location and leader).

            First off, as a purely business matter, I've been referring to the rulers of NK as the "Ils" when it seems that the "Kims" would've been more appropriate, although the details of Korean nomenclature still elude me. Next, let's get to the meat of your arguments.

            1) "No, they are not. They are revered, they are held up as considerably important culturally and politically, but to try and turn the state atheists into 'theists' on the grounds that they revere certain cultural leaders is a desperate stretch."

            You should try to read the links you post beforehand, lest you get hoisted by your own potato. From the first sentence of the wiki link to NK's state atheism: "North Korea's government exercises virtual total control over society and imposes the cult of personality of Kim Jung Il and Kim Il Sung, described as a political religion."

            Let's focus specifically on "turning state atheists into theists."

            a) Wiki entry on 'atheism', not a bad working definition: "Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities."
            b) From the entry on 'deities': "In religious belief, a deity (Listeni/ˈdiː.ɨti/ or Listeni/ˈdeɪ.ɨti/)[1] is a supernatural being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred."
            c) From the entry on 'supernatural': "The supernatural (Medieval Latin: supernātūrālis: supra "above" + naturalis "nature", first used: 1520–30 AD)[1][2] is that which is not subject to the laws of physics, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature."
            d) From the entry on 'worship' : "Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity."
            e) From the entry on 'religious' : "Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence."
            f) From the entry on Kim Jong-Il: " Official biographers claim that his birth at Baekdu Mountain was foretold by a swallow, and heralded by the appearance of a double rainbow across the sky over the mountain and a new star in the heavens."

            North Korea is a state in which a fundamentally racist and isolationist nationalism, Juche, is used to control the population. This 'philosophy' is focused entirely on the greatness of the Korean people and of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung, the Eternal Chairman and Eternal President respectively. They are deities, supernatural , who will lead the North Korean people for ever. They are worshiped all day every day, the entire civic system is set up to honor the "Heavenly Leader," "Dear Leader," "Great Leader," "Supreme Leader" etc...

            Atheism is not much, it is not a postulating world view. All anyone, or any system, described as 'atheist' can claim is that they reject the idea of the supernatural, of gods, deities, demi-gods, and yes, eternal, heavenly leaders. A "cult" whether of political personality or of Minerva, has as it's object something super-natural, and as NK has the most definitive and perfect cult-of-personality extant, they are conclusively non-atheistic.

            Does NK entertain other religions? Do they allow Christianity? No. That seems to be what you mean by 'state atheist.' You seem more frustrated that they have a complete and comprehensive hold on the superstition business than interested in the fact that their ideology is not based on a rational rejection of super-naturalism.

            Your claim that I am trying to twist 'state atheists' into a false categorization of non-atheist is exploded.

            And one last point, when you write "They are revered, they are held up as considerably important culturally and politically" you reveal a thundering lack of knowledge and appreciation for what the situation is like in that benighted country. Ala Hitch.

            2) "Whatever you wish to say, China and North Korea are 'atheist' be honest."

            I have just shown that you are factually incorrect about NK. I wish I could please you by saying that NK is atheistic, but I have to be honest and admit that you are wrong.

            3) Western freedoms 'God'given and 'theists' "God" vs "Creator" Deists.

            4) "The "traditions" are not wholly secular."

            I'm not sure why you bring up the founding fathers in this setting, I was talking about the shift of 1950's China-to-Present China being largely the effect of secular practices (enterprise, free markets, capital) osmoting into their closed communist system.China is becoming a better place to live now than it used, it has nothing to do with religion. Furthermore the word "Creator" was put into the Declaration by a deist, not a theist, the constitution doesn't mention any sort of god, we have a fundamental separation of church and state and the second President of the United States of America, John Adams, explicitly denied that the USA was founded on Christianity.

            If you want to play the 'what did they believe' game, almost no catholics. America was an exercise in running as fast as possible from the corrupt political and cultural machinations of the church of Rome. separation of church and state, foundations of the country on self-evident principles and NOT the divine-right of kings and their trickle-down authority. freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religious expression -- all of these were movements away from authoritarian monarchies founded on the political alliance of the Vatican with the crown. Many of the most important framers would barely be recognizable as any sort of modern american christian, and certainly disavowed almost all the truth claims of your church. The spread of beliefs from CoE to Unitarianism to diesm to theistic rationalism of the people who made america speaks rather favorably, to my mind, of the increasing power of reason in our culture and traditions: step by step we're making progress.

            For more, check out: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/north-korea-is-a-theocracy/

            *Edits for typos*

      • MichaelNewsham

        Hardly cherry picking- the presence of communist countries such as China, Vietnam and North Korea certainly skew such lists- these are countries where irreligion has been imposed on the population, rather than emerging naturally from society-or don't Christians believe Marxist governments are repressing believers any more?

        And yes, many of those developed European countries have state churches- it's just that nobody goes to them. These leads to problems in countries like Britain, where the churches are part of the national landscape, but their own followers have declined so much that they can't afford the upkeep.

        • Paul Boillot

          Good old C of E.

          Thank you H VIII!

          • Danny Getchell

            "Henry wanted the Pope to give him a divorce from his first wife, Katherine...........
            The Pope, however, refused, and seceded with all his followers from the Church of England."

            -Seller and Yeatman, 1066 and All That

        • Hardly cherry picking- the presence of communist countries such as China, Vietnam and North Korea certainly skew such lists- these are countries where irreligion has been imposed on the population, rather than emerging naturally from society-or don't Christians believe Marxist governments are repressing believers any more?

          Irreligion has been imposed on the population by whom? The answer would be "secularists and atheists".

          And how? Largely by many of the same methods New Atheists explicitly endorse. Hence we see Pete Boghossian being the latest favorite, what with his endorsing placing religious belief on the DSM-V, and further authorizing scientists to find ways to 'cure' people of it. Hence we see Richard Dawkins endorsing 'making believers the butt of contempt', for the purposes of shaming anyone out of ever entertaining religious beliefs.

          They belong on the list. Or! If you're going to argue that it's improper to place 'coercive governments' on the list, you'll just have to remove all of those countries where you regard religious belief as being imposed by the state.

          At which point, we shall very likely be left with no list at all, or examples which you may not find very favorible.

          And yes, many of those developed European countries have state churches- it's just that nobody goes to them

          Except it goes to illustrate just how entrenched Christianity is within that culture, how it has shaped those cultures, whether or not that's consciously reflected in the population. Trying to hold up 'secular states' as shining beacons, when these secular states have cultures and laws absolutely riddled historically with religiously inspired thinking is quite a route for atheists to take.

          Perhaps we should mimic their abortion laws too?

          • Danny Getchell

            Hence we see Richard Dawkins endorsing 'making believers the butt of contempt', for the purposes of shaming anyone out of ever entertaining religious beliefs.

            Of course it's quite possible that Dawkins is acting in accordance with God's plan to put to the test by trial the faith of those believers.

          • Geena Safire

            Actually, Dawkins endorses ridiculing ideas but not the people who hold them. He quoted someone who said, 'I respect you too much to respect your foolish idea.'

            (I'm not saying I agree with him; just providing clarification.)

          • Roman

            Wrong Geena. Dawkins has clearly called for the ridicule of
            Christians, not just their ideas. Here is a quote from his speech during the March 2012 “Reason” Rally held in Washington DC (on YouTube)…..

            “Mock Them. Ridicule Them. In Public. With Contempt.”

            We’re interested in truth here….not propaganda about your
            favorite atheist hero.

          • Methodological Naturalist

            I was there, a VIP in the front row, at the Reason Rally. I heard what he said. Here is a transcript of Prof. Dawkins' historic speech. Isn't context wonderful?

            So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!
            Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.

            Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

            It's a beautiful call to be passionate about defending reason against faith-based claims in public.

          • Geena Safire

            As Methodological Naturalist noted, That Dawkins quote, in context, was regarding religious claims, not people. Dawkins has reiterated that same position in several interviews.

            Perhaps, as you are someone who is "interested in truth here," you could check sources for actual evidence of your "truth" claims. Oh, wait, you're... Never mind.

          • Roman

            Perhaps you and Mr. Naturalist could benefit from retaking 3rd grade English. Mr Dawkins clearly says "Mock them", not mock their ideas.

          • Methodological Naturalist

            Your claim is apparently hinged on the word "them." I suppose I can understand why you think that, nevertheless it remains a mistaken interpretation of his speech. It just doesn't make sense in the context of his paragraph if we think of "them" as people rather than religious claims.

          • Roman

            I appreciate your opinion and don’t want to beat this
            to death – we have more important things to discuss. However, you are making a distinction without a difference. When you ridicule or mock someone’s belief’s,
            you are ridiculing them.

          • Methodological Naturalist

            I see three scenarios here:

            It is possible to ridicule a person's beliefs and simultaneously ridicule the person as well. It is also possible to ridicule a person but not her beliefs. And, it is possible to ridicule beliefs without ridiculing the person.

            Roman, can I ask you a question? Are you in favor of laws (such as they have in Poland and India and nations with theocracies in place) that would punish (with jail time or death) individuals who mocked and ridiculed religious beliefs?

          • Geena Safire

            [Y]ou are making a distinction without a difference. When you ridicule or mock someone’s belief’s, you are ridiculing them.

            That is absolutely not true, at least not for me. There are many people whom I love dearly and respect greatly as people, including some members of my family. However, some of them hold one or more pretty bizarre beliefs. I can find these ideas ridiculous without finding the people ridiculous.

            Are you really incapable, Roman, of having affection or respect for a person despite them holding a belief that you find surprising or bizarre?

          • If that's true, I don't think you fully understand what a person is.

          • It's amazing how completely you misunderstood what Dawkins clearly said (and has restated many times). I have no intention of changing your mind here, I'm just astounded.

          • Geena Safire

            Since Dawkins has expressed the same sentiment in different words -- both before and after the Reason Rally -- and in all cases he was clear that he meant to mock the ideas such as transubstantiation; that was the "them" to which he was referring -- which he had just mentioned the sentence prior.

            If you want to accuse Dawkins of having slightly ambiguous wording in one speech, then go ahead. But he explicitly did not mean to mock people and he has explicitly said so.

            But imagine if you were to word something ambiguously once -- let's say your belief in God -- which you had stated clearly often, both before and since.

            And imagine that someone who didn't like you decided to glom onto your one ambiguous wording and claim, "Aha, Roman doesn't really believe in God because he said thus and such one time! Ha! Gotcha! That's clearly what Roman really meant all along! Apostate!" Do you really think that would be fair? Of course not.

            You have enough stuff that's true for which to dislike Dawkins, don't you? You don't need to break the eighth commandment to add one more to your list.

          • The idea that Dawkins thinks you should "mock the belief, not the person" is absolutely, positively nonsense. Something people are stating either out of ignorance, or by actively lying.

            Here's a nice quote:

            Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

            You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

            There you go, everyone. Straight from the ex-scientist's mouth. He believes in mocking people, period. Making people the butt of contempt.

            If you disavow this, you disavow Dawkins. As well you should.

          • Geena Safire

            The idea that Dawkins thinks you should "mock the belief, not the person" is absolutely, positively nonsense. Something people are stating either out of ignorance, or by actively lying.

            First, if you'll note, Crude, in my original comment about what Dawkins actually said at the Reason Rally and elsewhere, I also wrote: "(I'm not saying I agree with him; just providing clarification.)"

            Second, just because I disagree with this tactic doesn't mean I should disavow him as a person or as a biologist or as a proponent of evidence-based science education against the creationists and climate-change deniers.

            Third, while Christopher Hitchens was very good at ridiculing ideas and not people (except where he was specifically intending to ridicule people), my opinion is that Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are not. This is not surprising since Hitchens was, by profession, a thinker, writer and speaker while Dawkins and Krauss are primarily scientists and secondarily proponents of science and reason. Supreme Court judge Sam Alito and Hitchens were good friends for this reason.

            Fourth, Dawkins still claims, as you'll see in the quote below, that his intention is to ridicule ideas and not people, although this interviewer, like you, finds his language difficult and this attempt at a distinction, at the least, problematic. So (a) I am not lying and (b) the idea that he intends to ridicule ideas and not people is not nonsense and (c) you are right that he has, on occasion, missed the mark.

            From the introductory article to her interview of Dawkins some months after his Reason Rally speech:

            Among the highlights for me, Dawkins
            reiterated his well-known stance that evidence-based thinking is the only "respect-worthy" approach to the world. Unapologetic about his willingness to label as "ridiculous" beliefs rooted in faith rather than evidence, he came across as utterly confident in his ability to suss out courageous versus self-deluded ways of thinking.

            In insisting that he does not insult people who believe in God, only their beliefs, Dawkins tries for a distinction I find problematic.

            On his blog last year, for his expression of thanks to God after surviving a deadly plane crash. (To be fair, Dawkins called "billions" of other people fools, too, in the same post.)

            Dawkins told me that if he insulted any person, he regrets it. But this example shows how hard it is, in practice rather than theory, to aim harsh language only at a person's belief, and not at the person.

          • bbrown

            Thank you Roman. I am amazed that anyone could try to falsify Dawkins ridicule and contempt for Christians.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Trying to hold up 'secular states' as shining beacons, when these secular states have cultures and laws absolutely riddled historically with religiously inspired thinking is quite a route for atheists to take.

            Perhaps we should mimic their abortion laws too?"

            A strange thing to say having just claimed their laws were "riddled historically with religiously inspired thinking".

          • A strange thing to say having just claimed their laws were "riddled historically with religiously inspired thinking".

            Do you know what abortion laws are like in most of Europe, Andre? Compare them to the US, please.

            Let's start with Abortion in Denmark.

          • Andre Boillot

            "Do you know what abortion laws are like in most of Europe, Andre? Compare them to the US, please."

            It's my impression that they tend to be much more relaxed than US laws. By linking to the laws in Denmark as an example, I can only assume that you agree. Why then suggest we adopt their laws? You had just claimed that Europe's laws are riddled with the type of religious thinking which has resulted in the US having more restrictive abortion laws...

      • Danny Getchell

        It was pretty easy for me to pick the countries I did. Given a little more thought, I could probably have picked some countries to make the opposite point.

        The finding that it's so easy to cherry pick in one direction and then in the other is an indication that the distribution of "civility and rule of law" versus "degree of religious belief" tends to the random.

        • MichaelNewsham

          No, you were right the first time. There is a pretty good correlation between social development and lack of religion. The wealthier and healthier the country, the less religious it is. There are outliers i.e. Saudi Arabia and the United States, but otherwise it holds fairly well. The exceptions are the Communist states where atheism is an official belief forced on the people whether they wanted it or not. There has been a rebound in religious belief in post-Communist states, but they still remain lower than they "should" be given their level of development- I was surprised by this; I thought the reaction against the imposition of anofficial atheism would have caused more of a backswing to religion. (Poland is exceptionally religious because, long before Marx was born,
          Catholicism became identified with Polish nationalism, against Lutheran Prussia/Germany and Orthodox Russia/Marxist Soviet Union; see also Ireland.)

          Saudi Arabia,for obvious reasons; the U.S. has traditionally been the puzzler- one explanation was the lack of an established Church,forcing churches into the "marketplace of ideas" to develop attractive models,like the current unaffiliated megachurches,which offer an entire ready-made social environment with options for the whole family.

          The other is that it isn't wealth per se, but security. The US notably has a much smaller safety net than other developed countries; it is easy to lose jobs, medical care, and welfare/unemployment benefits are smaller.

          Less security , more need of a back-up.

          • There is a pretty good correlation between social development and lack of religion. The wealthier and healthier the country, the less religious it is. There are outliers i.e. Saudi Arabia and the United States, but otherwise it holds fairly well.

            Actually, it doesn't. You are attempting to turn correlations into causation with an exceptional amount of cherry picking and 'explaining away' whenever the facts don't fit your desired conclusion.

            Please, for the love of science, stop making things up.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Stop making things up."

            Michael states that there is a statistically significant anti-correlation between social development and religious belief, which minus the outliers, 'holds fairly well.'

            You say that it doesn't, so you therefore dispute the anti-correlation: you think that the numbers Michael is referring to are off, and you have alternative data to back up your assertion.

            Oh, wait, no, you just devolve into ad-hominem and general abuse.

            If you were right, that there is no correlation between development and religiosity, all you would have to do is show data.

            Michael's not making anything up, far less implying unwarranted causation...the causal weight we lend to correlations stronger than a given r-value arises from the rigorous study of statistics...not colorful rhetoric.

    • Hegesippus

      Only if all religions are the same, which is clearly not the case.

    • bbrown

      Depends on the 'religion'. Some routinely treat women as property and kill the weak, others protect and care for women and the weak.

      BTW, have you read much about the existential state of people in Japan and Sweden? How about suicide rates and other markers of depression and despair?

      • Danny Getchell

        Fr. Barron, in the article, singled out "the belief in God as a guarantor of moral absolutes" and I'd be willing to confine the comparison to all those religions with that belief.

        If some religions with that belief support cruelty and corruption while others with that belief support ethical and altruistic conduct, then perhaps your disagreement is with Barron, not with me.

      • Andre Boillot

        I would be interested to hear what you are referring to re: the "existential state of people in Japan and Sweden".

        As for suicide rates in those two countries: 1) Sweden's seems wholly unremarkable, has been steadily dropping since the 1970s, and is frankly much lower than I had expected given the latitude / Seasonal affective disorder factor; 2) Japan has many long-standing cultural factors at play in their suicide rate, and at this point is largely driven by the economy / unemployment.

        Meanwhile, the very religious India sports a much higher suicide rate than either of those two nations.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_Japan

  • Andre Boillot

    There was political corruption of every type on every level of the system; there was widespread drunkenness; abortions far outnumbered live births; and a suspension of common courtesies—exchanging common signs, holding doors, etc.—was everywhere in evidence. How does one begin to explain this almost total ethical collapse? Peter Hitchens argues that it followed ineluctably from a conscious and brutally enforced Soviet policy in regard to religion.

    I wonder how this contrasts with Tsarist and Imperialist Russia? Did the alliance with Russian Orthodox Church serve as a bulwark against the corruption of those regimes? Were common courtesies universal? Was there less alcoholism in those days? I wonder what he thinks of the resurgent ROC and its links to the current thuggish regime in Russia, or its complicity in the human-rights abuses currently on display.

    I mean, I know any outrage I may have on these issues is ill-founded without a belief in god, but surely Peter Hitchens has the moral foundation to stand on in opposition to these crimes.

    • Fr.Sean

      Hi Andre,
      I think what Fr.Barron is trying to point out is the consciousness and general attitude of the people. Certainly having a corrupt regime will have a negative effect on the people, but when you remove God objective morality seemed to disintegrate into an almost "Lord of the flies" type of mentality.

      • Andre Boillot

        Fr. Sean,

        Your claim about the results of removing God just isn't born out, as evidenced by many of the increasingly secular nations in Europe which boast some of the highest standards of living in the world.

        If Soviet Russia is to be continuously propped up as an indication of the dangers of atheism, the intellectually honest thing to do would be to outline how it was different from its Tsarist and Imperial predecessors, as well as its current regime.

        • Fr.Sean

          Hi Andre,
          To be completely honest, i don't have a vast enough education on the history of Russia so i think we'll just have to let the issue go. Or perhaps i'll just read Peter's book.

          • Andre Boillot

            I don't pretend to have a deep knowledge of Russian history, but the little that I do know (and judging by Fr. Barron's recap), I'm not sure Pete is going to be much help in understanding what happened. I'm not saying don't read his book, if he's 1/4 the writer Hitch was, it'll entertain (if nothing else).

          • xyzzy

            This is all from memory from studying Russian history in the
            1970's, but I still remember the big picture.

            Tsarist Russia was not a great place to live. The characteristics we would call "political corruption" existed, but what we call corruption today is just how a feudal system works. The aristocracy considered that they owned everything -- even the serfs who worked the land, who had effectively no rights at all -- and so they took whatever they could. If you wanted to do business, you had to get in good with the royalty.

            Heavy alcohol use goes back hundreds of years in Russia. The monarchist governments would sometimes promote vodka use in order to increase tax revenues. We also know that people are tempted to turn to drugs when they have a hard life, and most Russians had a very hard life.

            I can't speak to abortions under the Tsar, but I note substantial changes in available medical technology since 1917.

            When the Bolsheviks took over, they set up a sort of double-think system, but they essentially made themselves the new aristocracy and used the same methods: Intimidation, secret police, "disappearing" of dissidents, etc. The two things the Bolsheviks had going for them in the October revolution was that 1) life under the Tsar sucked (so they got a lot of support for just being anti-Tsar, even though the Tsar had already abdicated the previous spring), and 2) they were WAY more ruthless.

            Of course, we can still entertain Peter Hitchens' apparent claim that religion is responsible for civil society, and therefore we should have religion regardless of whether it is true or not. I just don't think he makes his point by observing that modern Russia is in bad condition.

          • Michael Murray

            Hi Fr. Sean. Keeping on the Russian theme there was a purge while you were away and Andre B was one of the casualties. So he won't be replying. You can find him in the salt mines.

        • DavetheInsomniac

          Well, it all depends on your definition of "standard of living," doesn't it? There have always been well-off people who are dead inside, people who are so dead to their own hearts because they have continually run from the Truth, that they honestly believe they are happy. Like Plato's man in the cave, they do not know what it is like to be truly SATISFIED, because they have been raised to believe this (the world) is all there is to it.

          • Andre Boillot

            Dave,

            "Well, it all depends on your definition of "standard of living," doesn't it? There have always been well-off people who are dead inside"

            You're probably right: seculars are all dead inside, kidding themselves. Meanwhile, the women of Afghanistan, facing disfigurement or worse for refusal to live their public lives in a cloth-sack are truly satisfied, having found the Truth. The Catholic boy who can't stop his "naughty" thoughts and thinks he's going to hell has embraced that there is more to it than this world. That's what fills his heart.

      • Paul Boillot

        What if god serves the king, as he did in Tsarist Russia?

        • ColdStanding

          God, fount of all Goodness, does not "serve", is not slave to, any created being. You've added blasphemy to your apostasy. It is like saying you are the servant of your toothbrush (a statement that can be made to resemble truth only after the most ostentatious program of torture) only worse, because you have offended God by your statement - God will not be mocked. Fair warning to you.

          I will accept, that the apparatus and externals placed in the service of The Kingdom of God can be co-opted and maintained in the service of Mammon. In which case, it is fairly easy to note that there has been a deflection from the intent. Be that as it may, the Church in Russia has, despite the odds, still been productive of Holy confessors and martyrs.

          Man has a long history of abusing the bounty God gives us.

          • Paul Boillot

            Oh, my friend, that's not my only blasphemy, I beg you to believe me. I blaspheme all day!

            I just slighted Jove a minute ago.

          • Andre Boillot
          • ColdStanding

            Where you inducted into some mystery cult centered upon the idol Jove that it would make some sort of sense to make utterances with the intention of profaning the idol's name? That is, were it possible to denigrate something that does not exist.

            However, God most certainly exists. You where incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. You are of His Kingdom. You received the sign upon your soul, which is indelible, of His sacraments, publicly professed belief in Him, and gave Him worship. Yet now you feel you have licence to spew forth blasphemy about Him. Who would, knowing what I now know of you, place any trust in your character?

            You hide behind claims of individualism and some modern variant of Anabaptist claims of the impossibility of infant baptism, not specifically that, but the belief that you did not actually consent to the reception of the sacraments. Tsk, tsk. It isn't looking very good for you. You balk at a little discomfort and constraint upon your appetites in this life, how do you think you will endure paying off your debts in the next, when in punishment for an infinite offense against God Who gives you everything you have, you are given an infinite degree of suffering, where in He takes away all of the little you have left? Not behavior recommending of any claims of right order in your thinking.

          • Paul Boillot

            "That is, were it possible to denigrate something that does not exist."

            That's exactly how I feel about blaspheming your god.

          • ColdStanding

            Then why do something that is pointless? How is doing a pointless thing evidence of this reason and logic your pride yourself as possessing?

          • Paul Boillot

            What? Evidence of reason and logic?

            No no, I just though the grasshoppers sounded cool. Listening to them slowed down, and the beauty of the sound in that slowed-down context got me thinking about perception. If crickets sound like creaking to us, but to them it sounds like the slowed down version because of the shortness of their lifespan and the corresponding increased speed of perception...that's pretty cool!

            Then I hopped over to an analogous though about the perceptions of bats.

            I'm not trying to evidence anything but wonder her, broheim.

          • ColdStanding

            It is an instance worth a 1000, containing all within.

            There are not, naturally occurring, any compartments.

          • Paul Boillot

            Oh shoot, I got confused and thought you were replying to something else.

          • Paul Boillot

            Why do I blaspheme?

            Because I can! Because there's freedom of speech and thought and I enjoy exercising it. Because though "God" might not exist the idea of god(s) certainly does and for the most part is a bad thing.

          • DavetheInsomniac

            Whether you like it or not, troll, you cannot change God's status merely because you cross your arms, stamp your feet, and pretend He's not there.
            :)

          • Paul Boillot

            .

          • Paul Boillot

            "but the belief that you did not actually consent to the reception of the sacraments."

            Where did I claim that? I was an enthusiastic and regular participant in the rituals of the emperor's clothes!

            It's not that I think I was forced to accept an indelible mark on my soul and now repudiate it, it's that I realize that a man in layered robes poured water on a baby.

            An interesting social situation, nothing more.

          • ColdStanding

            See, I do understand you. ;)

          • Paul Boillot

            THE AREOPAGUS IS WORKING!!!

  • I knew an American who did graduate studies in the Soviet Union for a few years. It destroyed his mental health. The problem appeared to be the police state, where every neighbor was potentially a spy. This destroyed trust and fostered a sense of paranoia.

    Blaming atheism for the collapse of community spirit seems unnecessary when you have a government working hard to turn its citizens against one another.

  • Atheist morality devolves, almost inevitably, into a species of might makes right, the will of the stronger becoming the criterion of good and evil.

    For the record, my own morality has not yet devolved into might makes right. I'd best get busy!

  • josh

    Peter's viewpoint seems rather unhistorical. He keeps referencing Gorbachev's government. But this was the era of glasnost, perestroika and the end of the Cold War. The man won the Nobel Peace prize among other honors. Due to economic woes, nationalist factions and an attempted coup the nation later collapsed somewhat catastrophically, but this was not the era of hauling away priests and nuns. The official policy of the Soviet Union was always religious freedom, even though the state was officially atheist (since it was officially Marxist Communist).

    The dark days were of course primarily during Stalin's time and the revolutionary days before. It's worth remembering that what prompted this was the injustice and suffering of most Russians under the Tsars and the colluding Eastern Orthodox Church. Similar to the French revolution in some ways. Like many revolutions, the new government tries to consolidate its power and purge elements of resistance. These situations are always prone to violence and excess and sometimes the rise of dictators like Stalin. That's not to excuse the bad things, but to point out that they don't have anything to do with atheism. Meanwhile, as others have pointed out, secular and atheist countries which weren't under extreme forms of soviet-style communism are among the most functional and happiest in the world. They are also socially generous and egalitarian, which puts the lie to the claim that atheism inevitably leads to barbarism.

    It shouldn't need to be repeated so often, but for the vast majority of atheists, we would like to live in a world with neither the irrationalities of religion nor those of Stalinism nor other insane ideologies.

    • RufusChoate

      You would greatly benefit from actually learning Soviet History before you comment on Soviet Persecution of Religion to conform to their Atheistic ideology . The persecution predated and survived Stalin. Stalin loosen restrictions on Christian during the invasion of the Soviet Union by the National Socialists.

      It also murdered ~168 million people and the majority of their victims were Christians. Mao's China also targeted believers.

      I doubt you and all atheist's claim of peaceful intentions. The historical record and the atheist's general rage and contempt for believers is irrefutable but as an enlighten atheist you'll attempt to avoid any complicity.

      Don't bother commenting back. I am not interested in a dialogue.

      • Don't bother commenting back. I am not interested in a dialogue.

        the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony the irony

        • RufusChoate

          I guess that is homosexual humor. Infantile as always.

          • Excellent rejoinder. Just the sort of thing that turns those undecideds into allies. Keep it up.

          • RufusChoate

            Note the sound of crickets... I am not interested in you or your opinion of anything.

          • Sorry. Can't hear the crickets. Your repeated protests that you're not interested in what I have to say keep drowning them out.

          • Horatio

            Can't hear the crickets.

            Well check it out!
            https://m.soundcloud.com/acornavi/robert-wilson-crickets-audio

          • Paul Boillot

            My nature is beautiful....

            Perceptual differences are amazing...I wonder if bats hear in color.

          • ColdStanding

            Somebody made a device that enabled "sight" to register in the recognition of a human through the stimulation of the tongue. There is also synesthesia in humans. Given that humans are assembled from much the same components of other anima-ls, it is reasonable to expect some commonalities to be found in bats with so dominant a sense. Indeed they are flying ears.

            However, I propose to you that it would be more useful to say something like:
            I wonder if the Ur-Sensation in bats is better understood in terms of how humans use colour vs. how humans use sound.

          • Paul Boillot

            I had not heard that anyone had sucessfully managed to make a device manipulating the tongue in response to visual stimuli.

            "More useful" is not an apt term here, my friend, I'm just wondering aloud, in the vein of Richard Dawkins' musings on the topic.

          • ColdStanding

            Stop with the chop, chop. I used the subjunctive "I propose" not the indicative "I think". As in, "entertain the idea that" Not as in, "it is this way".

            Dawkins, hmm, I've heard that name. Why any body would desire to peep about his legs while he bestrides the non-being like a dwarf, I have no idea.

          • Paul Boillot

            The chop chop? I was just musing, man, just expressing aloud my wonder and awe.

            You didn't need to 'propose' anything, it's just my opinion dude.

          • ColdStanding

            Ah, so rigor and exactitude is required only of and by natural standards, no less, for the supernatural. My bad.

          • Geena Safire

            Yes, it exists. Google 'device lets the tongue see.' One of the early users was a rock climber who, for obvious reasons, needed his Hans free.

          • vito

            and who is interested in you?

      • Danny Getchell

        Don't bother commenting back. I am not interested in a dialogue.

        There are certainly any number of Christian message boards on the net where your dislike of dialogue can be sated, Rufus.

  • Loreen Lee

    I post this comment as a 'privilege' in order to commemorate the death of C.S. Lewis, fifty years ago today, the same day as the Kennedy assassination. There are a couple of postings on the New Advent site if you are interested.I enclose the following quote in reference to a comment I made during the
    debate regarding moral authority which ended Monday. By the way, this
    posting clarifies the theist position with respect to that debate very well, I believe..
    Here's the quote that I tried to recall last week.

    I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that
    people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral
    teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing
    we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things
    Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a
    lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or
    else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either
    this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something
    worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him
    as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but
    let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great
    human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

    • This, of course, assumes that we really know what Jesus said about claiming to be God.

      • Loreen Lee

        Read the Gospel of John. Or better see the movie based on this scripture, which is a word for word presentation. I believe it is on YouTube.

        • josh

          I think Rob's point is that there is no good reason to take any of the Gospels, especially John, as particularly accurate representations of a historical Jesus.

          • Loreen Lee

            This comment also with respect to Steven Dillon's comment below. On coming to the dilemna I met on reading the scripture of John I learned that it is regarded as the theological gospel. (My understanding). I take this to mean that it is only it's secondary purpose to 'represent' the historical aspects but instead puts it's focus on the 'transcendent referent', - His Self as Divine- something the Sadducee and Pharisee could not accept. I learned when I studied the Kabbalah (which a priest found very disconcerting) that Israel believed something like the Messiah could not be God, as God could only be reached through a communion/congregation of all the people of Israel- meaning toward God.
            P.S. I merely placed this comment as an explanation of a reference to C.S. Lewis during the recent debate, without having the specific quotation available. If it contributes at all to this discussion, it would be that Christ's Divinity would be regarded as that Absolute Authority, the fulfillment of Law/Logos spoken about in the Old Testament. Thanks for your comment. I am merely hoping to give an unbiased account of fact, interpreted not only as of empirical reality but of what is purported to be said and established in Scripture.

          • MichaelNewsham

            The thing I've noticed about the Trilemma is how very strongly it rests on the use of someone believing he is a poached egg as an example of a lunatic.

            Fill in the blank in your own mind- "He's so crazy he thinks he's ________." The classic example, immortalised in thousands of comics, cartoons, and gags, is "Napoleon", with hand thrust into shirt.

            The second most prevalent, in Western society at least, would be "God/Jesus Christ". (Personal note: I worked for a time as a janitor/orderly in a forensic psych ward; I personally met Charlemagne and Mary the Mother of Christ- well, one of them; there were two more in the same ward.)

            One can see why Lewis would rather not use these examples.

  • Steven Dillon

    Objective morality may require a transcendent referent, but why that referent has to be God of all things or deities is something I just don't understand. The properties that would allow God to play this role -- say, metaphysical necessity and subsistent goodness -- can reasonably be thought to instantiate elsewhere.

    • Loreen Lee

      Hi Steven. I believe I put forth Kant's position on this during the debate. His position was that the transcendent referents of universality and necessity had to be regarded as merely regulative, and not constitutive. In other words, by saying a word, one could not guarantee any 'instantiation' - grin grin. My personal interpretation is that through thinking our possible behaviors, etc. within the compass of these objectifying parameters, we can gain a clearer picture of what 'would' constitute the moral, but that it is beyond our human faculties to actually 'make them' (our thoughts,words and deeds) universal or 'necessarily' necessary. But that we can act 'as if' this were the case, provides the basis, I understand, of his moral proof that there is a power greater than our human reasoning power that can indeed be regarded as a constitutive instance of moral authority. I have also recently understood the Categorical Imperative as within the same category as Natural Law, and believe that with respect to the Will, (Kant practical reason within the human compass) as distinct from intellect, that the sapient judgment associated with beauty as Goodness is relevant to the Love associated with the Divine Will.

    • kuroisekai

      Yes, but the presence of an alternative does not negate the existence of something. You could both reasonably pay something worth $20 with one $20 bill or four $5 bills. Surely the existence of the five-dollar bill does not negate the existence of a $20 bill. If God is to be defined as omnipresent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent (again, regardless of whether or not He exists - just stating the theistic position), how can He be not BOTH the transcendent referent of morality and a metaphysical necessity? In my mind, surely if something is transcendent it would follow that it is also metaphysical. And if it is the referent of morality (by what I understand means it is to which morality is anchored upon) surely it must follow that it is also subsistently good.

      Please elaborate your position. And forgive me if I misunderstand your thesis.

      • Steven Dillon

        My thesis is just that "non-theists" have no reason to call this transcendent referent God. Maybe we ought to regard it as necessary, subsistent goodness etc. but, without any reason to also think it's intelligent, or omnipotent we're better off thinking of it as a state of affairs, or just refraining from judgment until we learn more.

      • Steven Dillon

        My thesis is just that "non-theists" don't have any reason to call this transcendent referent 'God'. To earn that title, it'd also have to be omniscient, omnipotent and so forth, properties we'd only grant if we already believed in God.

    • Randy Gritter

      Sure they can. The problem is that you run into the same objections atheists launch at God. That is that there is no physical, scientific evidence for the existence of such an entity. If you overrule that objection then a lot of what theists say starts making a lot of sense.

  • James E-Chip Stone

    They do tend to get angry when you suggest praying for them. Kind of understandable, I guess, but you'd think they might actually get the notion of good will, you know, being humanists and all. It still should not stop us from expressing our good will and praying for them, as we do for our Christian brothers and sisters.

    I read this from Bl. Mother Teresa the other day and I think it applies well here:

    "People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior Motives. Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.

    If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.

    What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.

    If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway."

    The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

    Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

    Great post. It goes to show that the world is not entirely losing its faith, as some would have us believe. We see true signs to the contrary every day. We just have to open our eyes and walk around a bit to see it (it helps to read a bit too). Thanks Fr Barron!

    • Andre Boillot

      "They do tend to get angry when you suggest praying for them. Kind of understandable, I guess, but you'd think they might actually get the notion of good will, you know, being humanists and all. It still should not stop us from expressing our good will and praying for them, as we do for our Christian brothers and sisters."

      First, it should be noted that Hitchens himself did not reproach those who prayed for him, and was thankful for their concern. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk6uDPD3ABI

      As for who "they" is meant to refer to (loud internet commentors? atheists at large?), perhaps one should read Fr. Barron's piece and wonder if their outrage really does center on his call for prayer, vs. insinuations that this illness was somehow divine providence (whether in the form of punishment or wake-up-call? who knows? mystery, eh.).

      • Methodological Naturalist

        " Absolutely..there are a lot of things I would do if I didn't believe in God"

        That is the reply of Peter Hitchens, a person of faith, when asked if one needed religion to be moral. As we say in the free-thinking community, "Please Peter, then keep on believing if that's what it takes for you refrain from immorality."

        As for myself and my friends who are also free thinkers, I find his rationale wholly disturbing though completely understandable. It is a fear based position.

        I don't agree that his position is a moral one though he seems congenial and likable enough from the little we know of public figures.

        People of faith can be moral as well as those who are not people of faith. In the justification for the respective positions of both populations, I find the non-faith reasoning more compelling and in my opinion more commensurate with a civilized and refined ethos.

        Thank you for the video. An excellent find.

      • James E-Chip Stone

        You are right. The "they" is rather ambiguous. But it is not as if I did not know any who tend to lash out at these things, and I can also say know plenty of fair minded atheists, who don't. For the most part, (allow me to repeat) *for the most part* when you are dealing with atheists online, they tend not to assume the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a person's intentions, or education, or experience. Their first reaction is usually to insult -- which you did not. There generally is an a priori disposition toward antagonism -- I did not detect any in your tone. And they generally adopt a very condescending tone. It is always as if "You just don't get us." Well, you can chose to believe otherwise and I won't try to convince you one way or the other, but I do.

        • Hi James. I agree that atheists often do lash out on the Internet because people often lash out on the Internet. As a gay who posts on Christian sites, I've learned that merely asking "What's your source for that information?" is enough to unleash a torrent of denunciation.

          • James E-Chip Stone

            Agreed.

          • MichaelNewsham

            If you had seen the responses of many Christians to Hitchens' cancer posted on the Net, you might understand the reaction by some atheists.

            Aside from the gloating "he got what he deserved" , many of them were of the "Let us pray that the poor benighted fool finally has the blindfold removed and uses this opportunity to return to the Lord" variety.

            Unsurprisingly, a lot of atheists were unconvinced of the sincerity of the prayers offered (not accusing Fr. Barron being one of the less than sincere).

          • James E-Chip Stone

            Well, we seem to be keeping it civil here, and urging one another to be more understanding. That's a good thing. Thanks for your response.

    • Methodological Naturalist

      They do tend to get angry

      I try to remember that the crass atheists in my circles are almost always former people of faith. Contrastingly, a few of my friends who were never indoctrinated from infancy retain the genuine inquisitiveness from childhood which was never punished (as in the case of religious kids growing up under the command to believe and not question or else they would be hurt). As a result, I do find that those friends (the one's never indoctrinated) tend to be wonderful at the art of civilized discourse. Of course, there are always a few exceptions.

      While these crass friends of mine today are fully onboard with reason and methodological naturalism, they likely still have emotional attachments made manifest by primary neuronal formation while in a faith environment. Crass atheists are often mimicking bad religious parenting.

      I give those friends extra heapings of understanding and patience because they really need it. I am told it is a very difficult attachment to mend.

      • James E-Chip Stone

        "I try to remember that the crass atheists in my circles are almost always former people of faith." That is an interesting observation. I never thought of it that way. Though I doubt that it applies absolutely in every case, I'm sure there is something to it, perhaps there's even a lot to it. So thanks for sharing that observation. I have observed that the so-called "fundamentalist atheists" -- a designation they probably don't give to themselves -- tend to be just as preachy, dogmatic, and self-righteous as their fundamentalist counterparts in religion (but I don't want to generalize too much). Taking that into consideration, I think you are probably on to something here.

      • kuroisekai

        Wow, this is rather eye-opening to tell you the truth. I was planning on doing an investigation on why a lot of atheists in my circle are so horribly anti-theistic (by that I mean, in the line of Dawkins's "Mock them, Ridicule them") and disrespectful. I'll keep this in mind. :)

        • Methodological Naturalist

          I think anti-theism is gorgeous . To make an analogy, it's not unlike an operating system without any bloat-ware installed. Or a hard drive that's been de-crapified. Being an anti-theist while being crass is something different.

          Anti-theism: It just works.

  • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

    My father-in-law was born in Lithuania during that brief period when it was a free nation, between World Wars. His early years were spent in the privilege of a loving family of some means, until the German troops marched into the school yard. He survived his teen years in a forced labour camp, escaping to England after the war. Because of his proficiency in languages, he served as an interpreter in Nuremberg. Eventually, he married and emigrated to Canada, where, decades later, I met him shortly before the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Al never lost the faith of his fathers, praying in silence and secrecy in his barracks. He was married in a religious ceremony in England, and his children were raised in his faith, though all have fallen away as adults. I knew that this saddened him and his wife a great deal. But he didn't despair until he returned from his first visit to Lithuania shortly after the Wall fell.

    His long lost kin feted him for his access to western currencies, tittered at his archaic accent, and laughed out right when he asked to attend worship services. The young women there were more likely to get an abortion than to get their teeth cleaned. The churches were usually either destroyed, or museums. And when he ran out of money, he was ignored.

    The Soviet Occupation of Lithuania had turned him into a modern Rip Van Winkle.
    He visited with friends and in-laws in England on each trip back, with day trips into other parts of Europe. With each return, he told us how the godlessness he saw in Lithuania seemed to be spreading across Europe as the citizens of the former Soviet Republics emigrated across the land seeking jobs. He observed that people were getting more suspicious of each other, less generous, less trusting.

    This would seem to correspond with Peter Hitchens' observations.

    • Marie, thank you for that powerful story. Your father-in-law, Al, sounds like a man of heroic courage.

      • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

        Thank you, Stacy. He tried to repair what he could, but even bringing American currency couldn't restore all the churches or pay the decades of back taxes to redeem the family land. Al told us very little of his labour camp experiences, but did explain that he would never see his children or grandchildren ever get as hungry for food as he was. Nor did he ever want to see them as hungry for Godliness as the youth of eastern Europe, yearning for something they couldn't name within themselves. I miss him, sometimes, still. He passed away in 2009.

        • MichaelNewsham

          Given that more than 20 years have passed and the youth of Eastern Europe have not become particularly more godly, perhaps that nameless yearning was more for Nikes, Nokias, and PS2s?

    • MichaelNewsham

      Whatever the source of growing godlessness in Western Europe,we can be assured it is not caused by refugees from the east- "Hey, our system has totally collapsed and left us impoverished- care to try it?" (The answer is actually wealth, education,and social security).

      As for his experiences with his kin, these are pretty common with emigrants returning to the "Auld Sod" expecting both to be feted as those who made good and to see their birthplace as it was through the curtain of childhood nostalgia.
      My entire family were emigrants from England to Canada after the war, and experienced it going back to Blighty; here in Taiwan it became a cliche after the reopening of China, and you can see it in popular culture in e.g. "Trainspotting" "The World of Lily Wong", "The Sopranos" and innumerable Irish-American productions.

      As for Europeans getting more suspicious, less generous and less trusting, it probably does have to do with immigration- it explains the rise of the nativist Right and the questioning of giving "our money" to "those people".

      (OTOH, my England-dwelling mother's response to the influx of East Europeans is to remark that now at least you can get a plumber who will show up on time and do a decent job.)

      • vito

        It is funny that old and/or religious people in East Europe blame the WEST for the deterioration of religious and moral values over the recent two decades. If you talk to priests in Lithuania, for instance, many will say that the Soviet period did less damage to religiousness and morality over 50 years compared to what the western influences acomplished in just 20. The Soviet ideology was unpopular and resisted, so Catholicism actually thrived as part of that resistance, although admittedly not at the financial level. But being an atheist was highly unpopular outside the "Politbiuro" and the "Central Committees"

        • Danny Getchell

          Catholicism actually thrived as part of that resistance

          Certainly the Christian church can demonstrate great nobility when it stands as part of the resistance to a tyrannical government. I commend it in that regard.

          But when the church itself is accepted and tolerated by a dictator, the church usually finds a way to subdue its criticisms of the dictator's crimes without suffering serious moral reservations.

    • vito

      I am from Lithuania and I can tell you that your father in law was completely wrong. And I can guarantee you not most expatriates would give you a much better impression of the country. First, Lithuania was never a "godless" nation so it can never spread godlesness across Europe. Lithuania is very much a Catholic nation, similarly as Poland, much more religious than Western Europe. And it was Catholic during the Soviet Rule as well. Actually it was more Catholic, as Catholicism was part of the opposition to the Soviet rule. Religion was never outlawed even in the Soviet times. It was practiced, although it was risky for the careers of those in top positions with the Government/Communist party, who were supposed to be atheists (but few actually were). Churches were not "usually" destroyed or museums. A very tiny portion had been destroyed (primarily not by the Soviets, but by the Russian Tzar), some were closed or museums, but an absolute majority were fully operative. Just to give you an idea, a town of 400 000 inhabitants were I live had at least a dozen fully functioning churches. Now we have maybe 15 or even more. (but they are usually half-empty even at Sunday mass)..
      I will not respond to the nonsense of Lithuanian women not brushing teeth, but speaking of abortion, yes, it was kind of widespread, but only because contraception was not widely available. Once it became available, abortion figures dropped sharply. As a matter of fact, Lithuania during the Soviet period was (and to a degree still remains despite western influences) a very conservative country: homosexual relations were illegal, divorce was difficult, pre-marital sex and divorce frowned upon, co-habitation or children out of wedlock was an exception, prostitution and pornography completely illegal (and basically unavailable), women dressed modestly and saw motherhood as their primary function. This had been changing in those areas, for better or worse, but surely only as a result of WESTERN influences.

      • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

        Thank you for sharing what Lithuania has been like in more recent years. I can only report what he told me, and he passed away in 2011. I apologize for any offense, none was intended. I wanted to offer another perspective about a Soviet Republic.

        • vito

          Next time anyone tells you Lithuania is or ever was an atheist country, tell them about the Hill of crosses, one of the most prominent places of piligrimage in Europe, most of which was built during the Soviet period (the authorities were unhappy, but never really destroyed or prohibited it)
          http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2335159/Mysterious-hill-crosses-pilgrims-actually-believe-Christ-perform-miracles.html

          • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

            He told us about the Hill of Crosses, Cruzes Kalnas. The photos are extraordinary! He reported that the Soviets bulldozed it a few times, but that it was rebuilt each time, almost overnight. He told us that only the elderly went to church, that it was very rare to see young adults in church. Again, I have not been there, while you have. I can only report what he saw while visiting, and was told by relatives.

  • MichaelNewsham

    There was political corruption of every type on every level of the
    system; there was widespread drunkenness; abortions far outnumbered live
    births; and a suspension of common courtesies—exchanging common signs,
    holding doors, etc.—was everywhere in evidence.

    Read any 19thCentury account of Russia by either Russians or foreigners and it will sound much the same. And how's it going now?

  • MichaelNewsham

    "and in perhaps the most damning parallel, they, to a person, describe religious education as a species of child abuse."

    I'm not aware of , and have been unable to find on the Net, any statements of either Dennett or Sam Harris describing religious education as child abuse (though Dawkins certainly has). Could some references be supplied, please?

    • Alexandra

      Hitchens in "God is not Great".
      Dennett in "Breaking the Spell".
      Harris calls it an "obscenity" against children.

      • MichaelNewsham

        Quotes? (for Harris and Dennett)

      • Paul Boillot

        Although I don't mind believing that Hitchens called religious education child abuse, I don't remember having read it before, could you also provide a quote/page number for him?

        I can well imagine him calling child abuse child abuse, especially when done by the religious, in fact he was more in favor of calling sexual activity with minors by adults what it is; rape.

    • Geena Safire

      "[If you tell your child] 'you will burn in hell forever if you doubt that God exists' ... that would be nothing less than the emotional and intellectual abuse of a child."

      Sam Harris in his blog for September 11, 2011

      • Alexandra

        I agree that if you tell a child he will burn in hell forever if you doubt God exists is abusive towards the child.

        What does your straw man argument have to do with Harris' "obscenity" claim?

        • Geena Safire

          Michael Newsham asked for sources of either Dennett or Harris equating religious education with child abuse. I provided a source for Harris. I wasn't making any argument at all.

          • Alexandra

            Since when is threatening a child to Hell for doubts "religious education"? That's your idea of "religious education"!?

          • Geena Safire

            He didn't say 'general, overall, religious education programs or catechism.' He said simply 'religious education. Telling children about hell is part of religious education. Plus, parents don' t tend to tell children just about the 'hell' part without the rest of the package, do they?

          • Alexandra

            How long have you believed this to be true?

          • Geena Safire

            What is the "this" to which you refer?

            I provided a quote by Sam Harris, as requested by Michael Newsham, with a link. Then you accused me of a 'straw man' argument, when I hadn't made any argument of any kind whatsoever.

            So I replied that I had provided the quote and had not made an argument. Then you argued that threatening a child to hell for doubts was not 'religious education.'

            So I replied that (1) Michael didn't request quotes related to a complete religious education program, and (2) telling children about hell is part of religious education, and (3) parents don't tell children just the 'hell' part without the rest of a whole religious education 'package.'

            Then you asked "How long have you believed this to be true?" I can't imagine what you are talking about or why my beliefs have anything to do with Sam Harris' quote, nor the fact that telling children about hell is clearly part of Christian religious education.

            Alexandra, you seem to be spoiling for a fight. What is your problem?

          • MichaelNewsham

            Geena, thanks for the quote- can I add I don't like a lot of what Sam Harris, says, either?

            I must say I disagree with at least three of our Four Horseman on this issue, then.

          • Alexandra

            Why are you using "threatening" a child and "telling" a child interchangeably? Do you think there is no difference?
            No one disagrees that telling a child about Hell can be a part of religious instruction.

          • Geena Safire

            (1) We are talking about Harris' quote.Everything I've been saying has been regarding Harris' quote.

            (2) The first time the word "threaten" was used in the thread was in your comment: "Since when is threatening a child to Hell for doubts 'religious education'?"

            (3) I only repeated the word "threaten" in reference to that comment of yours: "Then you argued that threatening a child to hell for doubts was not 'religious education.'"

            (4) Threaten (verb): "a statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action on someone in retribution for something done or not done."

            So let's see:

            * "you will burn in hell forever" intention to inflict pain - check!

            * "if" in retribution for -- check!
            * "if you doubt that God exists" for something done -- check!
            Harris' quote meets all the criteria of a threat.

            So why are you trying to give me grief for using the word "threaten" when (a) it's the word you used first and (b) Harris' wording does meet the definition of a threat?

            I repeat: Alexandra, you seem to be spoiling for a fight. What is your problem?

  • Johnny Vo

    There must be space and acceptance, real acceptance and not a mere grudging tolerance for religion and moral philosophies of all types within a free society.

    History shows us what happens when true believers of any type gain the upper hand.

    Atheists, at a mere 2 1/2% of the Western population pose perhaps the least threat of moral disintegration. Even those partisans of black robed, would be inquisitors like Father Barron, as evil and nefarious as I perceive them, do not pose real threat of moral disintegration within society.

    Real threat comes from the presence of a majority who don't seek, don't care and are willing to simply march along in step and cadence, to whoever beats the drum.

  • Petr Svoboda

    USSR did not colapse because of atheism. That is just absurd. It was an economical colapse and cause was a planned economy which eliminated any competition and inovation. Communist countries that switched to free market like China and Vietman survived despite they still remain unfree.

    It is true that people living in overly authoritarian countries are more selfish, but that is because of the secret police. Whenever anyone starts to do some good in the community it brings attention of the secret police. Unless that person is visibly sympathetic to the state ideology he is in trouble. People will quickly learn not to care about others.

  • vito

    Oh my.... Russia's despair, poverty, drunkenness and corruption far predate the Soviet period. Bad as it was for an average Russian person in say 1988, you think he was much better of in 1900? Are you kidding? Have you studied neither history nor literature of Russia? Hitchens's brother (which will probably be remembered as such) made some good observations on the final period of the USSR (of which I was a citizen), but he failed to go deeper into the Russian psyche and history to discover the real (the main) reasons behind its ills. I am not saying the Soviet rule, as an oppresive regime, did not have anything to do with it. But the oppression by the Tzar and Russian Orthodox church had not been much better.

    If Peter Hitchens wanted to see how a secular, democratic society works, he can visit Sweden, Denmark, Swizerland, Estonia, etc etc, any time he wants.

    • Geena Safire

      IIRC, Stalin made a kind of peace with the Orthodox Church during World War II (but not any other sect) such that he wouldn't bother them so much if they wouldn't bother him, and they would get to be the only religion.

  • vito

    Too bad Peter Hitchens cannot go back in time and live for a few years in Tzarist Russia, when their so-called aristoracty, the Tzar and the Orthodox Church and other thugs had their way. It was one of the darkest places on earth, if you did not belong to the elite 0.2 per cent of the population. Let alone the misery the Tzarist Russia spread to its neigbouring nations. The cruel imperialism, persecutions and exile of local populations, State-mandated spread of drunkenness, serfdom, abolishion of the Latin alphabet in conquered nations, abolition of any print in their native languages, abolition of use of native languages at schools, cruel persecution of non-Orthodox Christians, especially Catholics, and other religions, destruction and/or closure of Catholic churches, supression of any ethnic/national movements etc etc etc

    • Danny Getchell

      The cruel imperialism, persecutions and exile of local populations

      Umm, let's not go overboard here. Entirely separate from the question of religion, the worst day under Tsar Nicholas was a couple of orders of magnitude better than the best day under Stalin.

      • Andre Boillot

        "Entirely separate from the question of religion"

        I'm all for unpacking all the different factors involved in the history of things. Strange then that we rarely hear the persecution of the Orthodox Church qualified by noting that they were political allies of the Tsarist regime during the revolution, and not some independent party targeted solely for anti-religious reasons.

  • MichaelNewsham

    I have to admit I'm not particularly a fan of either of the Hitchens- Peter is a stodgy woolly type who, as Vito pointed out, is mostly rolled out as "Christian brother of famous atheist..."

    Hitch himself is largely famous for that kind of snark which is fairly commonplace in British discourse, but when done with an English accent sounds very intellectual to North Americans.

    I remember him (vaguely) first as some guy screaming about how Henry Kissinger should have been indicted for war crimes (true,but so should a lot of people on both sides in those days), then screaming about Mother Theresa ("look-at-me" contrarianism); then screaming about the Clintons (evil right-wing Wall-street enablers ) ; then coming full out for Bush's invasion of Iraq and screaming at anyone who doubted (calling the Dixie Chicks "sluts" and "fat slags")

    Some of his earlier stuff, before alcohol got to him, is very good- on the whole, though, I tend to think , once a Trot, always a Trot- that is, blinkered and conspiratorial.

  • Brad

    How come no one ever points to countries like Denmark and Sweden and their high ratio of Atheists to demonstrate how a society collapses without God?

    • MichaelNewsham

      Well, there used to be the claim that they were all committing suicide, and then there is the meme that marriage has collapsed,with most children being born out of wedlock- though it misses the point that more children live in two-parent families in Sweden than in the US; and of course they're committing race suicide through low birth-rates.

      Though the Danes consider themselves to be the happiest people in the world.

  • James Hartic

    "they, to a person, describe religious education as a species of child abuse"

    Fr. Barron is being a little out of context here....perhaps even being a little deliberately obtuse. There is a big difference between "religious education" and "religious indoctrination". If he had said that "they, to a
    person, describe religious INDOCTRINATION as a species of child
    abuse"
    he may have been more accurate. Religious education in
    the context of the study of comparative religion classes should be
    mandatory in all schools, and I doubt that Hitchens or any of his
    confreres would have any objections to that. Of course any hint of
    religious indoctrination in the public education system should not be
    allowed. Plenty of time for that at home, or in church, mosque or synagogue.

  • Hadi Deeb

    The correlation is actually between prosperity and religious freedom -- not secularism, although some people quickly equate the two terms. All the most prosperous and developed countries are among the most religiously tolerant, which includes, of course, tolerance for the non-religious. The Soviet Union, however, was not religiously tolerant in any way: the fact that the Russian Federation currently smacks of Soviet aggressiveness and is openly supported by the Russian Orthodox Church should not color what was the reality of 75 years of anti-religious actions.

    As to comments regarding the mockery of others' religious beliefs: surely this must be permitted in open societies. I do not wish to debase this forum with a sports story, yet the venom underlying the "mockery" rhetoric might be best viewed through such a prism. It has been said of a famous baseball player (anonymity never hurt anyone) that the three most important things to him were, in order: 1) God; 2) the player's family; and 3) baseball. At one point, he was considered the best player in the sport, a label that made commentators wonder: imagine what he would be like if baseball were number 1? He humbly deflected all criticism of his play; he was far sterner, but still restrained, when something -- I forget the matter exactly -- came up about his family. But no one dared to criticize his faith because this would have been too personal an attack.

    If your faith is the most important thing about you, then a directive of contemptuous mockery towards such faith can and should be construed as a very personal attack. Every true believer should be given the benefit of the doubt that we usually allot to a monk. Atheists can relate with an attack on their most beloved word, reason (even if, even if, a true believer will tell you there is nothing more rational or logical than God).

    • Methodological Naturalist

      If your faith is the most important thing about you, then a directive of contemptuous mockery towards such faith can and should be construed as a very personal attack.

      What are your thoughts on blasphemy laws?

      • Hadi Deeb

        Good question. I'll put it this way: I am a very devoted believer, so of course if someone burned a Bible, I would take offense. But what difference lies in burning a Bible, denouncing the whole book as rot, or merely chuckling dismissively at someone's faith? None, really; if you are a believer, these things will always happen and you must persist in your beliefs. Blasphemy laws lead to oversensitivism and, in their ugliest manifestation, the type of nonsense witnessable in Saudi Arabia and other theocracies. So I stand against blasphemy laws, as all firm believers should.

        That said, the "mockery" aspect mentioned (in the Reason Rally where you were a front-row VIP) is extremely degrading and unnecessary. It is allowed, of course, since free speech short of inciting violence should be allowed; but it begins to approach hate speech in its contempt and condescension. I know you may not feel the way I do since you have dubbed yourself a staunch "anti-theist." But perhaps you will see that the way in which the calls to mockery are phrased -- be they against individuals or, as I understood them, against their beliefs -- border on singling out people and verbally abusing them for their religion. The underlying tone is venomous, not one of "we-love-you-so-we-want-you-to-see-the-truth," which should be (and, of course, often is not) the basis for religious argument.

        Again, our viewpoints differ so strongly I suspect you may feel I am exaggeratory in my concern.

        • Methodological Naturalist

          You and I take different roads to arrive at agreement about blasphemy laws being uncivilized. Whereas you say that blasphemy laws can lead to over-sensitivity I would contend the reverse is true: overly sensitive people need to construct blasphemy laws.

          I would ask your opinion on the following: what responsibility would you rather be charged with: A) Being the final arbiter on what constitutes blasphemy or, B) Being the final arbiter on what constitutes liberty?

          I would also ask your opinion about the throngs of protesting Christians who obviously felt safe enough to set up proselytizing areas within earshot of my $1000.00 VIP chair. Would they have felt as safe in Brunei? Is this disparity worth pausing over and appreciating?

          And lastly, can you name any of the participants (there were many) who you would label as being uncharitable and lacking in empathy for the downtrodden among our species? Would Richard Dawkins make that list?

          • Hadi Deeb

            You make some very good points. Let me see whether I can address your questions collectively and fairly.

            First, you will understand, I suppose, that blasphemy and liberty can never be mine to determine (for me, one Arbiter settles all accounts). What liberty entails for the believer so differs from the selfsame word's association in the non-believer’s mind that the gap may seem unfathomable. I understand your point, however, which is the basic and correct question to ask when considering someone's right to say something. A couple of examples may suffice:

            1) God is omniscient, omnipotent, and reflected in every inch and every molecule of the universe. If you believe in God, you see this clearly; if you do not, you see only infinite darkness replete with infinite questions. There is nothing truer, or more logical and rational, than belief in Him.

            2) Atheists (or "anti-theists," as you prefer; I certainly understand yours and Hitchens's distinction) are a bunch of [vulgar epithet(s)] and will all burn in [whatever doomsday realm you choose to invoke]. I would love to [verb of vicious physical violence] them into a million little pieces (no reference to the drug-addled, fictionalized biography).

            Curiously, the first statement, not the second, is the more likely to make an intelligent atheist – you have stated elsewhere that atheists are, on average, more intelligent than believers – howl. Vainglorious bragging aside, the second intends bloodhot wickedness, and under unfortunate circumstances it could (and has) come true; it is also just as easily dismissed as the rhetoric of the bandit and the imbecile. Yet it is the second one that can be considered hate speech; and the second one that would be subject, under less enlightened regimes, to interdiction.

            Why would an intelligent atheist howl at the first comment? Because it insults his most precious quality: reason. In the believer’s usage above, reason is so degraded by superstition and other mumbo-jumbo that the atheist does not know how and where to combat people who espouse such notions. Maybe he would just laugh.

            But if the speaker of the first statement were to append the mantras vocalized at the Reason Rally, with now solely the context shifted, it would make for something remarkable: an attack at the core of the atheist's system coupled with a pledge to "mock" and "contemn" his intelligence. Is intelligence not the most important thing to an atheist, as important as faith to a believer? Does the notion of hate speech not depend, in some small measure, on what its target loves?

            You may find my position quaint and, very likely, in need of concinnity. But nevertheless it is a position, however minor, yet never one endorsing blasphemy laws, limits on free speech, or any other barrier.

            About charity and statues (Baptist or otherwise): I do not question anyone’s empathy for the poor. To feel sorry for the millions and millions deprived of basic human needs is one of the easiest (and for that same reason, most obligatory) of emotions – but it is not the needy and undernourished who engage atheists in these dialogues. It is far harder to show love towards those unstinting in their enmity towards everything you hold dear. While there are, alas, no shortage of ignorant jackasses calling themselves Christians while enriching themselves, neglecting the poor, despising all those who are not of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, and advocating theories about the world’s origin that we may loosely term ‘ridiculous,’ we cannot and should not appoint these twits representative of what Christianity means and has always meant.

            Yet that is exactly what has occurred. Reviewing his allies, one Reason Rally participant (I forget which) said something akin to “all the believers had on their side was Anne Coulter” – who may just be the most despicable person alive. Herein lies the mistake: to do justice to your views, your peers should not be gloryhounds (or in aforementioned lady’s case, a glory-bitch) or loudmouthed buffoons. You should engage, first and foremost, the gentlest and meekest of Christianity’s apologists. The current Pope has the makings of an excellent interlocutor, but there are many others, many of whom, I should say, are long deceased: Aquinas, Newman, Leibniz, Pascal, Chesterton, inter alia, and their slew of adherents. These should be your peers. These are the thinkers whose views should be tested by modern skepticism and rebutted as you see fit. A shame only that they are not around to speak for themselves.

            This is done, of course, but not enough. More often than not, older thinkers are simply left unread or unconsidered in modern dialogues because modernity has "moved past such times," somehow invalidating their descriptions of eternal truth. In other words, the pundits of today are terribly uninterested in ancient wisdom because they deem it ancient foolishness.

            But this should and can change, and the result will be real dialogue. I like talking to non-believers who are intrigued by Christianity’s richness, even if, of course, they remain steadfast in their belief that it is inapplicable to reality. But those who simply scream, antagonize, and belittle (and “mock” and “contemn”)? They are broken like butterflies on a wheel.