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Catholic Saint: “We Confess that We are Atheists”

Justin Martyr

Picture the scene: it’s festival day in a provincial Roman city c. AD 156, and people have come from all around to see some local Christians being put to death. A young believer called Germanicus stands in the arena, not merely facing the savage beasts, but actively urging them on. Irritated by the youth’s composure, the crowd who have gathered to see him torn apart cry out: ‘Down with the atheists!’ Later, the old bishop Polycarp (whom ancient tradition assures us was a disciple of St John) is brought into the arena. He is ordered—on pain of death—to denounce his fellow Christians in the same way. Whereupon, we are told:
 

"Polycarp’s brow darkened as he threw a look round the turbulent crowd of heathens in the circus; and then, indicating them with a sweep of his hand, he said with a growl and a glance to heaven 'Down with the atheists!'" (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9).

 
'Atheist' here is a translation of the Greek word atheos (pl. atheoi), which could be used as either a noun or an adjective (as in Ephesians 2.12, its only appearance in the New Testament, where it is often translated 'without God'). While atheos could carry a range of meanings and connotations, its usage here is reasonably transparent. In effect, we have the Christian Polycarp and the pagan crowd mutually denouncing each other as ‘infidels’. As far as the crowd is concerned, the Christians deny and dishonor the real Roman gods, while affirming their own false one. (At one point, the crowd cries out that Polycarp is a "destroyer of our gods, who is teaching whole multitudes to abstain from sacrificing to them or worshiping them"—Martyrdom, 12.) And as far as Polycarp is concerned, the crowd does precisely the opposite.

Throughout western history, from Socrates onward, the term 'atheist' has been bandied about quite liberally. Almost always, until comparatively recently, it was mostly an insult directed at other people. However, in the writings of St. Justin Martyr—one of Polycarp’s contemporaries, and himself a convert from paganism - this basic idea receives a somewhat different twist. Justin wrote a number of apologias (‘defenses’ rather than ‘apologies’; hence 'apologetics') to explain what and why Christians believed for his pagan contemporaries, and to correct common misunderstandings about them. The charge of ‘atheism’ was one of these.

Justin, however, novelly chooses to side with both Polycarp and the crowd, declaring in his First Apology: "We confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort [i.e., the Greco-Roman ones] are concerned, but not with respect to the Most True God" (First Apology, 6). For Justin then, there is at least one, albeit qualified, sense in which Christians are, and must be, atheists.

A very similar idea, although expressed slightly differently, appears in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians. In the course of giving practical advice on the eating of food sacrificed to idols, Paul also distinguishes between the "so-called gods in heaven or on earth" and the "one God" (1 Cor 8:5-6). Paul seems to oscillate between implying that these so-called gods are simple fictions ("no idol in the world really exists"), and affirming that though real enough in themselves, these "many gods and many lords" certainly do not deserve to share the divine name. But regardless of whether they are demons or mere figments, Paul’s basic point is clear: "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist" (1 Cor 8:4-6).

For Paul, as for Justin, Christians must therefore be atheists regarding "the gods". And nor is this a merely academic point for him. Rather, he is anxious that the Corinthians be vigilant against lapsing, or inadvertently causing others to lapse, into idolatry. Recent converts, in particular, might be fooled into thinking that "the so-called gods" are actually deserving of the name: "Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled" (1 Cor 8:7). (Hearteningly perhaps, this suggests that crises of catechesis are not a new phenomenon within the Church.) Hence, lest the practice of eating food sacrificed to idols, though in itself innocuous enough, become "a stumbling-block to the weak", Paul advises against it. Better to go without cheap meat than to confuse others about the distinction between the false "gods", and the Most (and Only) True one.

This point may be developed (much) further still. In fact, it is perfectly possible to turn Justin and Paul's arguments on their head. What if it is not the Greco-Roman gods who are misnamed, but the Most True 'God'? After all, let us not forget that the name God is itself a borrowed word: Hellenized Jews stole as a name for Yahweh the already-existing Greek descriptive noun theos. But, as Paul and Justin so rightly insist, the Judeo-Christian God is not literally ‘a god’ in the original Greco-Roman sense of the word (‘We confess that we are atheists regarding gods of this sort’). Hence, as Herbert McCabe, OP once put it:
 

"‘God’, ‘Theos’, ‘Deus’ is of course a name borrowed from paganism; we take it out of its proper context, where it is used for talking about the gods, and use it for our own purposes. This is quite a legitimate piece of borrowing and quite safe as long as it does not mislead us into thinking that the God we worship (or don’t) is a god. […] He is always dressed verbally in second-hand clothes that don’t fit him very well. We always have to be on our guard against taking these clothes as revealing who or what he is." (God Still Matters, Continuum 2002, p. 55)

 
If so, then there is an even deeper sense in which Christians are, and must be, atheoi.

There is a very great deal more that could, and should, be said on this topic—the problematic nature of all religious language—and in future Strange Notions posts I certainly hope to. (The basic problem is this: if I can't adequately put into words what I think and feel about my wife and daughter—and when I try, the best I can normally hope to do is resort to fairly weak metaphors and analogies—how can we possibly hope accurately to talk about the Creator of life, the universe, and everything [including me, my thoughts and feelings, and wife and daughter]?)

Now though—and almost completely gratuitously—I'd like instead to return to our original topic: the early Christians being denounced as 'atheists' by the Romans. While there's no shortage of examples, this one is my absolute favourite. It comes from the fourth-century Emperor Julian, who renounced his Christian upbringing in order to restore the old Roman gods. In a 362 letter to the pagan high-priest of Galatia, he complains about the (then) new evangelization:
 

"Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the   graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]?... For it is disgraceful that... the impious Galileans support not only their own poor, but ours as well." (Quoted in Novak, Christianity and the Roman Empire, Trinity 2001, p. 183)

 
 
This article is an edited extract from Stephen's forthcoming book, "Faith and Unbelief" (Canterbury Press, 2013; Paulist Press, 2014).
(Image credit: Women of Grace)

Stephen Bullivant

Written by

Dr. Stephen Bullivant is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics at St Mary's University, England. A former atheist, he studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University, and converted to Catholicism while completing his doctorate on Vatican II and the salvation of unbelievers. In 2010, he was the first non-American to receive the "LaCugna Award for New Scholars" from the Catholic Theological Society of America. Stephen writes and speaks extensively on the theology and sociology of atheism, and the new evangelization. He recent books include Faith and Unbelief (Canterbury Press, 2013; Paulist Press, 2014), and (co-edited with Michael Ruse) The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (Oxford University Press, 2013). His latest book is called The Trinity: How Not to Be a Heretic (Paulist Press, 2015).

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  • clod

    It's no big deal being atheist. Everyone is, in respect of one god or another.

    • Rationalist1

      Indeed we were all born atheists. If we are religious and believe in a God, that was taught to us.

      • You were also born ascientist, aintelligent, apottytrained, and illiterate. What does that mean?

        • Rationalist1

          It means that religion is no different from all of those actions you mention. And that as we look at a baby (there was a large picture of a newborn on my morning paper front page) that child is not a Christian baby, but a baby that is going to be taught to be Christian.

          • epeeist

            And that as we look at a baby (there was a large picture of a newborn on my morning paper front page)

            That wouldn't have been a baby that was born arepublican would it?

          • Rationalist1

            I very much doubt that baby will be allowed to entertain republican ideals.

          • And yet I'd say that such a baby is a child of God.
            To be born helpless and without the full use of reason does not imply that this "natural" state of the newborn is at all something desirable, nor does it imply that such a state ought to be left undisturbed and that any change of such a state is somehow an intrusion rather than an improvement.
            To be taught about truth, goodness, or beauty after being born without such knowledge seems in keeping with our human dignity. What if, for example, we merely concluded that, because newborns are born without the ability to walk, we should never teach them to do so?
            The chestnut that we're all "born atheists" can only elicit from me a "so what?"....

          • Rationalist1

            The reason it can only elicit the chestnut response in you is contained in your first sentence; that the baby is a child of God. Besides why a child of God, it does at least be the question whose God?

            I never said leave a newborn in its natural state. Many things need to be taught, including truth, goodness and beauty but these have no necessary relation to religion,.

            Religion is typically an inherited attribute in children. Unlike eating, sleeping, walking or talking religion is like language, children are typically taught the religion of their parents. Children believe in a particular God because their parents tell them to.

          • Yes, but at the risk of repeating, so what? The point is that parents are charged with the task of raising their children according to what they believe is true, good, and beautiful--including their religion. It's the responsibility of parents to do so.
            Why on earth would a parent who devoutly accepts the existence of God and devoutly practices such a faith via "religion" *not* willingly pass this on to a child along with all the rest the parent considers true? That's the parent's job...

          • Rationalist1

            The reason a parent feels they must pass it on is if they were to wait until the child was old enough to reason and make a decision for themselves, very few children would believe it. Children need to be taught religion early if it to stick at all.

          • Seriously? So parents everywhere believe they've got to *beguile* their own children into believing something that they, as *adults*, believe with all their hearts?
            Such parents must then say: "Gee, if I can't get my own kids to believe this stuff before they're *my* age, they'll never believe it, so I better hurry up and teach it now!"
            I'm pretty sure that's not how it works...

          • Rationalist1

            No. It's just a fact. Of you don't raise children with a religious belief, they probably won't be religious adults. That's why all successful religions stress educating children.

          • But it's by no means "a fact." While it's obvious to state that adults not raised with religious belief are likely not to be religious as adults, it's an entirely different assertion to state as you do above that parents teach the faith to children *as* children because "very few children would believe it" as adults...

          • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

            Not necessarily. I have one sib who is agnostic, while the rest of us are fervent and faithful in the beliefs of our parents. Of my own children, one is faithful and one is agnostic, leaning to atheist.

          • epeeist

            Not necessarily. I have one sib who is agnostic, while the rest of us are fervent and faithful in the beliefs of our parents.

            Forgive me, but the plural of anecdote is not data. This only applies to you and your family.

            In the UK, of those who are raised Catholic only 62% remain so. A few convert to other sects but most become non-religious. This has led to a certain amount of panic about the decline of the church over the last few decades.

          • Rationalist1

            Marie - That's true, but children raised without a religion imposed upon them tend not to be religious.

          • Dan Ortiz

            Citation needed...

          • Rationalist1

            Name a successful religion that doesn't have religious education of children.

          • Sample1

            Atheism!

            (rimshot)

            Mike

          • Rationalist1

            Good one. Can we now get our tax exemption?

          • The legal path is already laid out.

            Ask the pseudo-marriage sharpies.

            Establish a "civil unions" type exception for non-theistic world views, a "secular humanist exemption".

            It will be granted. There are plenty of federal judges ready and waiting to find for this.

            Once granted, it becomes a 14th Amendment issue.

            If you are entitled to the benefits reserved for religion, then you might as well be entitled to the status of religion.

            It will work like a charm.

            Godel, after all, saw the flaw in the US Constitution immediately.

            It has been effortlessly leveraged to the destruction of marriage, and having destroyed marriage, there is certainly nothing left which cannot be redefined through the similar exercise of judicial tyranny.

            All hail the Total Surveillance State.

            It is necessary for the protection of our freedom.

          • Dan Ortiz

            You are confusing upbringing with education... one is not the same.... but to answer your question Shintoism.

          • TristanVick

            Not really.

            Common sense dictates that if you don't teach a child how to tie their own shoes, they either won't be able to, or they will take much longer to learn by observing others.

            So if you didn't give the child shoes... then?

          • Dan Ortiz

            Common sense is learnt behaviour.... the child will learn by observation...

          • Max Driffill

            I don't know if all parents feel that way, but there is a great deal of pressure among religious organizations to press religious instruction very early on in the lives of children. I think this is probably an unfair thing to do to kids. Kids should be free to explore these ideas in their own time, and in their own way.

          • It's not either/or, it's both/and. Parents can (ought) *both* teach the kids what they fervently and devoutly believe *and* allow kids freedom to understand these beliefs at their own pace...

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            How many religious parents teach their kids about their religion in this way? I know of very few that encourage deep questions about their faith. And you never here such advice from the pulpits.

          • Max, I can't argue with you there--it's not nearly as widespread among believers--and pulpits--as it should be. But that *is* the template we are called to: after all, the "deep questions" are always answerable if what you believe is really true. And they tend to be the most interesting aspects of belief for those willing to take them on...

          • Rationalist1

            Here in Quebec we had the government mandate a religion and ethics course ( https://www7.mels.gouv.qc.ca/DC/ECR/index_en.php ) which taught world religions and ethical decision making. Christian parents objected because their particular denomination was presented as one among many and wasn't given the primacy of truth they believed it deserved.

          • Rightly so, as this is the parents' job, not the state's.....

          • Rationalist1

            What about history. Would you be in favour of removing all references to faiths in the teaching of history?

            I can't understand why teaching the basic tenets of other religious threatens so many religious people. Lack of faith, I guess. As an atheist I would have no problem with my child learning about every major religion and what they believe.

          • And you'd be okay if they opted to embrace a major religion? Or would you seek to persuade them not to?

          • As to teaching history, btw, that's also a decision for each parent to make--whether certain resources are adequate to the task of teaching their child what needs to be taught..

          • Rationalist1

            If they chose to it would be their choice. I have taught them skills to reason, they are free to reason. We could talk butr I would not impose or shun them for choosing what I did not choose.

          • Phil Rimmer

            It would be absolutely a point of honour for many active atheists to respect the choices of their kids. My daughter excelled at RE (UK Religious Education). Loved the ethics discussions.

            When she expressed concern that I might be unduly harsh over my judgment of the Abrahamic faiths I pointed her at Quakerism suggesting its heightened level of personal moral responsibility (ie. the Quaker has a daily duty of discerning the right moral path obliged by his "Inner Light" of discernment) seemed pretty decent to me. This interested her for a good while, then she tried Buddhism. Found it interesting then moved on again.

          • Rationalist1

            Phil - Good for you. I will hope to do the same should I be in that situation.

          • Phil Rimmer

            I'm sure you will (if you are), R1. There is huge pleasure in watching one's children set out on their various journeys and reporting back. That they love and are rewarded by the journey, for me, is the biggest kick.

            Mind you, nieces and nephews, can be pretty awesome...and much lower cost...

          • Rationalist1

            And to see them find their own interests, totally different from mine or my wife is fascinating.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Exactly so!

          • epeeist

            And to see them find their own interests, totally different from mine or my wife is fascinating.

            My background is physics, my wife's is chemistry. Both my daughters are lawyers, I really don't know how we went wrong.

          • Rationalist1

            My sympathies. :-> The only compensation in situations like that is their compensation. My background is physics my wife taught English at a university and my son who excels in math is hinting he wants to be a classicist.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Buddhism is not for everyone. But Zen, ah!

          • Phil Rimmer

            "Buddhism is not for everyone. But Zen, ah!"

            Very true, young grasshopper!

            My daughter moved on to dissociate herself from Buddhism and what she came to see as its immoral aspects. Karma justified immoral treatment of others, by justifying unfair outcomes.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Hence Zen. We don't worry about those things.

          • Just this.

          • clod

            My boy came home in the last week of term with a head teachers award for performance in religious education.

          • Rationalist1

            Good for him. Christopher Hitchens claimed that he, like Bertie Wooster, always made top marks in that subject. He credits the skill in textual analysis helped him in later appreciating literature. That said it never helped Bertie exscept to become part of literature,

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Yes, well, Gussie Fink-Nottle accused Bertie of cheating in that Scripture knowledge exam. An accusation that has never been disproved.....

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Pockets bulging with the King lists of Judah, he was.

          • Rationalist1

            What would Gussie know cheating from a newt.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Newts don't cheat.

          • Rationalist1

            Exactly. Although a correction is needed for the Americans,newts don't cheat, but Newt did.

          • Phil Rimmer

            The UK RE curriculum can be hugely engaging when done right. The ethics discussions and the inclusion of P4C material (not standard alas) really got minds working. My two had a mixture of great and terrible experiences. The worst was (I'm afraid to say) when taken by a faith healing apologist. Other teachers, though, both religious and non-, carried through well.

          • Max Driffill

            Why is a survey course about the religions of the world a bad thing? Shouldn't one understand one's neighbors? I think this is entirely a good use funds in pluralistic states full of different faiths. SUch courses do not have the goal of indoctrinating students in any faith, but simply educating the students in the the traditions and customs of a their neighbors.

          • Max Driffill

            I fully favor an broad education in religion in public schools. In my high school we had a two part course called Philosophy and World Religions that provided a fascinating survey of world religions and topics in philosophy as the title suggested. Christian students were the ones who voiced the most pronounced objections to other doctrines being taught without the accompanying assertion of their fundamental error.

            When I took my World Religions course in my Catholic school in the eighth grade, it was essentially one long lament that people could be so wrong.

          • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

            I never really understood the appeal of Freud and his theories, until I met a psychoanalyst who knew what he was talking about. An overview can't have the depth that a discussion with a believer can have.

          • Max Driffill

            By all means have believers come to a religious survey class and tell the students about their confession.

          • Dan Ortiz

            When's the last time you've been to an anglican church?

          • TristanVick

            But that's not how the psychological acquisition of belief works.

            If the parents are both believers, the child will emulate them, in the same way sipping a cool beverage and sighing a content "Ahhh..." afterwords is an acquired trait, not a natural one.

            Kids mimic their parents in nearly everything we do, and they believe nearly everything we say to them, because this is the nature of child psychology.

            So religious parents will more often than not lead to the child acquiring the same beliefs and practices of the parents.

            Adopted twin studies for example prove this quite nicely.

          • Medequcb68

            "Great deal of pressure among religious .." As a Catholic parent, I don't see where the pressure is coming from.However, I took upon myself to teach my children what love is, what selfless is all about, what beauty and good are. Having said that, there is nothing in this world that I could referenced to except God- the source of beauty and goodness, the One who is love...

          • Dan Ortiz

            As a father I disagree... my children are raised up to be free thinking, but Im going to be honest with them and tell them what I believe. The problem with statements like yours is that you assume there is no evidence or logic within religious belief... that is a myth.

          • primenumbers

            Because they full well know that if children are not properly indoctrinated in a religious belief when young they may, if able to make their own choice, pick the "wrong" one.

          • This is utterly backwards--parents don't teach their kids the faith out of a negative "fear" of what their kids may or may not do in future--they teach out of positive *love* for their kids in the here and now, and out of a sense of realizing their obligation to their kids to impart to them everything they believe as parents....

          • primenumbers

            That's a rationalization.

          • No, it's a reasonable assertion based on lived experience and observation...

          • primenumbers

            As R1 points out, atheists don't generally teach atheism to their children, just encourage critical thinking skills.

            This parental obligation you speak of is something that all religions encourage of parents to indoctrinate their children to ensure that the children follow the religion of their parents. This is seen by the outside to the faith as nothing but protectionism.

          • From the inside, it's seen as walking the walk and talking the talk....

          • Rationalist1

            Who said "Give me the child and I'll give you the man". Hint - Same religious order as the current pope.

          • primenumbers

            From outside it appears you have not enough trust that the truth of your beliefs will ensure propagation of without inculcating those beliefs into children before they attain good reasoning and critical thinking skills.

          • From inside it appears my belief is not something abstract but is based upon *relationship* with God and a life of grace. Who in their right minds would think it's sensible to put off such a relationship until a person is capable of reason and good critical thinking (when does *that* happen btw? :-) )
            From my view it's like saying, "Well, we're not sure if our little baby will actually *like* Grandma, so we're going to wait until Junior is about eight years old before we introduce him to Grandma--then he can make up his *own* mind whether he wants Grandma in his life....

          • primenumbers

            Again, a rationalization. If this relationship with God was real we'd have good evidence for it, and we'd not have atheists and we'd not have the vast array of religions on this planet.

          • And I counter by saying your claim of "rationalization" is a rationalization....that worked out well.... :-)

          • The problem is *not* a lack of "good evidence"--it's merely that we disagree over what is "good".

          • primenumbers

            Well yes, there's more than enough evidence to decide the issue, but if you have a pre-supposed belief you'll weigh the positive evidence heavier than it's worth and weigh the disconfirming evidence lighter than it's worth. That is why religions like to get their "pre-supposed" belief into people with priority over any other belief.

          • ***Well yes, there's more than enough evidence to decide the issue, but if you have a pre-supposed belief you'll weigh the positive evidence heavier than it's worth and weigh the disconfirming evidence lighter than it's worth.****
            And this works both ways....

          • primenumbers

            Not really as my pre-supposed belief was CofE.

          • Max Driffill

            No it really is that there is not good evidence for the claims made by Christians about, Jesus, about god, about free will, and so on.

          • TristanVick

            Enough evidence would enable a consensus agreement based on that evidence.

            But religious believers rarely weigh the evidence of anything other than the ubiquity of personal experience.

            This is not a reliable way of testing claims, because it means their are biases in place which may cause religious people to bend the evidence to fit their religious presuppositions, or else, allow them to ignore other valid evidence because it doesn't comport with their preconceived beliefs.

            Rationalizations are ways of making the evidence fit the biases. Instead of adjusting the bias to fit in accordance with the evidence.

          • primenumbers

            You could, but I fail to see the dissonance that I'm personally failing to rationalize on this issue. As noted above I don't teach my kids atheism so they're not being indoctrinated in my stance on the issue of religion. I doubt they even know the word "atheism" or what it means. I do teach critical thinking skills though. I do have enough trust in my children they'll find what is true and what is false for themselves.

          • Medequcb68

            What is a good evidence for a real relationship? How do you measure trust and love which are the very essence of a relationship?

          • primenumbers

            Trust and love are earned and reciprocated through actual interactions. All those interactions leave a trail of physical evidence.

          • Medequcb68

            What if one faked affection? Would it not invalidate your "trail of physical evidence"? What if love is not reciprocated, would it invalidate the love of one for the other?

          • primenumbers

            What if? Betrayal, cheating, divorce, anger, fighting - all evidence for a real relationship.

          • Michael Murray

            Recently I had to write a letter for a colleague telling the immigration department that he and his wife seemed to be in a genuine marriage. I was tempted to say something like this !

          • TristanVick

            Having another person to reciprocate your love and affection. But more than this, having them take care of you even when you don't think you need them. Forgiving them when they make mistakes. BEING THERE for them, spending time together, sharing each little moment together.

            Imagining someone fulfills this role when they aren't even present isn't a real relationship. It's an imagined one. It's the fantasy of wanting that in a relationship, but not actually having it realized.

            I prefer real relationships with people over that of the religious imaginary friend.

          • Medequcb68

            We have the same view of a relationship (for your first paragraph).

            "An imagined relationship?" I have a trouble of this one. As far as I am concerned, my vertical relationship is not imagined. It is as personal as it can get. I heard a homily of our bishop who said that Catholicism is not a religiion...it is an encounter with a living God. I heard Jennifer Fulwiler's testimony...I read John Wright's article...I read lives of the saints...I see how God works in my life...There are countless men and women who encountered the living God. It is more than an imagined relationship with an "imaginary" friend. There is more to it than meets the eye. If you demand evidence, our personal experience is what we call personal knowledge of things and events. And personal knowledge is an acceptable evidence in any judicial and quasi judicial bodies.

          • TristanVick

            Well, I suggest you test whether or not you are in an imagined relationship.

            Next time you catch a flu bug and are sick in bed. Ask God to bring you some hot soup.

            It's the least he could do, right? After all, being in a loving relationship, as many believers claim, this is the least of responsibilities in caring and nursing to health a loved one.

            It really is that simple.

            Now, it's no use to pray the flu bug away, because it will go away on its own. But it is that intermediary time when you need that comfort from another person.

            And well, I would say not having that, but still believing you are in a valid relationship, is the sign of a delusional mind imagining itself to be in a relationship that is non-existent.

            It always boils down to soup and love.

          • Medequcb68

            Let me tell you my story. When my second child was a year old, he had a fever which continue to rise from early evening. Towards the middle of the night, despite the paracetamol and the cold compress, his temperature did not subside and kept on rising. I could not bring him to the hospital at that time because I had no money. In the third world country where we used to live, patients die untreated at the doorstep of the hospital as they could not be admitted without deposit. Just after midnight, his temperature reached almost 42 degrees centigrade and I could see that he had involuntary muscle movements indicating "convultion". I was in the panic mode and me and my wife were already crying. We have no other recourse but prayer. We both prayed over our son. As soon as we said our "amen", I took the thermometer to check him again. After a minute, the reading of the thermometer was 36. I couldn't believe it that I took another check and waited for 3 minutes but the reading remained the same. I put my face on his body, his back, and his face to feel him but the intense heat was gone.

            The immediate cure was more than a hot soup that you are bargaining for. If you choose to call this delusion, all I could say is that it is your opinion.

            If you are interested with "certainty" and brave enough to do emperical study on faith, why don't you do what John Wright did- pray earnestly or honestly for God to help you to establish the truth or absence of truth of his existence or pray John's prayer. Try to be honest to yourself when you pray and let's see what happens. Just a warning though as you may be crossing the fence as a result thereof and the people who hold the same view with you may call you delusional like what they did to John Wright.

          • robtish

            "pray earnestly or honestly for God to help you to establish the truth or absence of truth of his existence"

            Part of the reason people become atheists is that they *have* made such prayers.

          • Susan

            I am very, very glad that your son's fever went down. I can't say that strongly enough.

            How many people in equally desperate circumstances prayed and things didn't get better?

            That's the difference between anecdotes and evidence.
            If enough people pray that they will win a lottery, eventually someone's "prayer" will be answered positively. But this is not evidence that prayer had anything to do with it.

            How many fevers broke without prayer?

            I am not trying to dismiss how important your results were. Your baby was OK. Your interpretation of those events does not follow from those events.

            And it's a cruel story for those who prayed just as desperately and who got bad results.

          • Medequcb68

            I can sense a bitterness in you in regards to prayer. Prayer is a communication to God and as part of a communication process, there may be times that one needs to ask. But prayer is not all about asking. It is about building relationship. It is desiring to do His will and to be one with Him.
            It is in the nature of asking that one is appealing for the generosity of the other- meaning we show humility when asking a favor for how can a giver willingly give when the one asking shows a sense of entitlement.
            My prayer for my son was an appeal to His goodness and power being our Creator. It was a prayer of submission and willingness to carry the cross, if need be. Time and again, He proved that I could not outdo His generosity.

          • Susan

            I can sense a bitterness in you in regards to prayer.</blockquote.

            Please point out the bitterness in the words I typed. The fact that I don't accept your interpretation does not mean I have negative, ulterior motives.

            You haven't answered my questions.

            1) How many people prayed just as desperately for their children and were met with negative results?

            2) How many fevers have broken without prayer?

            It is in the nature of asking that one is appealing for the generosity of the other- meaning we show humility when asking a favor for how can a giver willingly give when the one asking shows a sense of entitlement.

            So, everyone who prayed desperately for their child to get well and whose prayer wasn't answered just didn't pray right? Not enough humility?

            As I said, I am very glad your child is OK. But too many other children weren't or aren't no matter how humble, fervent, submissive and faithful the prayers. About that, I am not glad at all.

          • epeeist

            I can sense a bitterness in you in regards to prayer.

            Wow, psychological analysis over the Intertubez. Almost as convincing as telepathy over the telephone.

            All I got from Susan's post was that she doesn't think it works. Personally I would add in confirmation bias and a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

            But in the same way as Susan does, I am glad your child got better.

          • TristanVick

            Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad your child came through.

            But allow me to share with you a story.

            A week ago my daughter and I were playing before bed time. Everything was fine. She was giggling, laughing, happy.

            Sometime in the middle of the night, she woke up screaming.

            She said she felt hot.

            She had a fever of 40! It was 38 in the house, so I knew I had to get her fever down.

            I didn't pray. Do you know what I did?

            I remembered something. I remembered we had a freezer with an ice-pack. So I ran downstairs and fetched it.

            Wrapping it in a soft cloth, I put it on her head, and a bag of ice under her pillow. She held the ice pack like a teddy bear and fell back to sleep.

            I thought all was fine and good, and slipped back to sleep.

            An hour later she woke up screaming again. Blood everywhere!

            The fever had spiked to 42! Her fever was so hot that it caused her nose bleeds. A bad sign, I can assure you.

            You know what I did though? I didn't pray.

            I went back downstairs, drew a cool bath, went back up, picked up my crying baby girl, and got into the cool bath with her. We waited their until her fever came down to 36.

            But you know what... if God was real and loving as you people seem to believe... your child would have never caught a fever in the first place.

            But to pray? That only shows you felt so helpless that you didn't know where to turn or what to do... so you cried out into the void.

            I find that more sad than delusional.

            So you want me to invoke the power of voodoo... er... I mean prayer next time I run into a similar situation?

            I'm sorry to burst your bubble, I've been there and done that. It didn't work.

            You know what works?

            Ice. At least on fevers. No need to call out into the void.

            My daughter, should I have not done everything I possibly could to bring down her fever. If I had turned to magical thinking instead... might be dead. No thanks.

            Your advice is worthless.

            But I don't mean to diminish your experience. Almost losing a child is always a terrifying prospect. But your beliefs are fundamentally flawed, and I know this, because you can test to see if prayer works as you say it does. And we have. And it doesn't. See the Benson study on Intercessory prayer for example.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            Your grandma analogy simply doesn't work. You know Jr will like grandma unless she an awful old bat. The question is whether or not Jr is capable of processing or understanding the dogmas a parent is going to load into the child's brain. You realize, don't you, that your rational for indoctrinating your child is the same as that for Muslims and Jews, and Hindus, etc.

            Children are more less at a disadvantage here and tend to believe whatever their parents tell them, they cannot examine the religious ideas critically. Is it fair to the child to brainwash them in this way? Shouldn't a child grow up and make these decisions for themselves when reason and research help them make informed decisions?

          • The analogy is quite apt if one understands that the Catholic faith is about relationship and not data. I know "Junior" will like God even more than Grandma, perhaps...

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            I do hope jr. likes granny more than gods, if that is, she isn't a crazy old bat, or cruel like Granny Goodness.

            There is no real relationship with your god. That would involve real, noticeable participation on the part of your god. This doesn't resemble real relationships, like the ones we can have with grannies,

          • TristanVick

            Incoherent terminology.

            I could say, the analogy works only if you understand Buddhism is a relationship, you know, with many gods.

            The claim does not hold when you go outside of that belief system. If you can't universalize your claim, then it probably means you simply made it up.

            Catholic faith is a relationship with God?

            How so?

            And don't appeal to anything within Catholocism to justify that claim, because that would be circular reasoning. You know, using Catholic faith to justify Catholic faith.

          • Medequcb68

            Max, would you rather let your child reinvent the wheel to go places or let him/her hop in the car? We have the ability to build knowledge and we do transmit them to the next generation. As a parent, we teach our children what works and what's not, what makes us happy and what leads to misery. We show them what is beautiful and right so that when they are old enough to appreciate things, they could recognize ugliness and evil. They do not have to learn life the hard way. When the time comes for them to live their life, they will have a fuller view when making choices of their own.

          • Max Driffill

            Medequcb68,

            Nowhere have I advocated just letting kids figure out things, all the things, as they go. Of course we are to keep our kids safe.

            But I do think on the subject of religion we do our kids a disservice when we indoctrinate them in a religion. We do this disservice immorally when that indoctrination is coupled with the threat of torture in hell. I would urge you to watch Jesus Camp for the little girl who is obsessed with and constantly fearful for, her friends and neighbors who surely going to burn in hell according to the religion her parents have, with the best of intention, terrorized her with.

          • epeeist

            I would urge you to watch Jesus Camp for the little girl who is obsessed with and constantly fearful for, her friends and neighbors who surely going to burn in hell according to the religion her parents have, with the best of intention, terrorized her with.

            I had the same thing, my father and his family were Catholic, my mother and her family were (nominally) protestant. As a youngster I was terrified that my mother and her relatives were going burn in hell. In this case it wasn't the parents inculcating such fears but the nuns at the school I attended.

          • Michael Murray

            In this case it wasn't the parents inculcating such fears but the nuns at the school I attended.

            Nicely captured here:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxo81Ok9Urk

          • Medequcb68

            When I taught my children to cross the road when they were young, I always emphasized to use the light and wait for the light to turn green because if they don't they could be run over by cars. they could die. When I taught them how to swim, I also emphasized to not swim alone as they could drown. When I taught them about drugs and drinking, I cited the news where people died because of abuse. When I taught my daughters to not walk in the middle of the night alone in the dark street, I cited possibilities. Like in the board room, when I advise executives of some alternative courses of action, I point out the risks inherent to the action. Am I scaring them? Is it scaring people when you point out the possibilities based on realities? Or am I just broadening their mind and help them in their understanding of the consequence of their action to afford them of a well informed decision?
            Hell is a reality for us Catholics. The pain of separating from a spouse or a family is already a burden that may be unbearable. How much more would we feel being separated from our Creator? Again, it is a reality for us Catholics, and maybe not for you as of this point of time. But as a loving father to my children, I will do my best to teach them to be happy not wealthy, to be faithful not successful (to borrow Mother Theresa's), to be loving not indifferent. To be an effective teacher, you do not have to terrorize to drive a point.

          • Max Driffill

            Medequcb68,

            Your first examples are reasonable. You can appeal to the real world for corroborator of its real dangers.

            Hell is a reality for us Catholics
            It is certainly something you fear. It is not, as near as can be determined, an actual reality. There is no evidence for it. There are no nightly news stories that demonstrate its terrors. No way to point to it as a place at all.

            The pain of separating from a spouse or a family is already a burden that may be unbearable. How much more would we feel being separated from our Creator?

            This is a new terror you foist upon the child. Losing a spouse or loved one is hard and sad, and appropriate time for grief. However the doctrine of hell can cause people to fret about about whether or not granny is there, or a good friend. I was taught about hell from by my Catholic education, and, as I have mentioned elsewhere it caused me to worry for several months about dying in my sleep. I worried I would die and go to hell. This was an actual fear that kept me up late, afraid to fall asleep.

            I wouldn't tell my kids about a danger for which I had no good evidence. Do you warn your kids about the dangers of being abducted by UFOs at night? I doubt it. Nor do I. However there is better evidence for that than there is for hell.

            Again, it is a reality for us Catholics, and maybe not for you as of this point of time.
            Again, unless you can demonstrate that it is actually a reality, it isn't .

            But as a loving father to my children, I will do my best to teach them to be happy not wealthy, to be faithful not successful (to borrow Mother Theresa's), to be loving not indifferent. To be an effective teacher, you do not have to terrorize to drive a point.

            I would look a bit more closely into the faithfulness of Theresa before referencing her as an authority on the good.

          • TristanVick

            What does "relationship with God and a life of grace" mean apart from any context outside of the religion that believes in such things?

            It's meaningless out of the context.

            Which should raise flags that even in the context there is something problematic about it.

            It seems to me to be a way of 'naming' God. In this case, it is to state God is a "Personal God."

            I do not believe this is an assumption that can be made on any evidence apart from anecdotal hearsay.

            My problem is, to say God is a Personal God is to define God in terms of God. It's incoherent.

            I need a better definition first, so I know what you're talking about. Because I'm pretty certain, most religious people don't. That isn't do say I don't think they believe this or that for this and that reason. But when it comes to a justification of their terms, I think even the most devout practitioner of faith would be shocked to find that their terminology is simply incoherent.

          • TristanVick

            In psychology we call walking the walk and talking the talk the halo effect.

          • Rationalist1

            And interesting every atheist I know does not teach their children atheism. I do not know of one that says there is no God and that's what you must say as well. They teach reason, science, logic, the importance of evidence and the rest follows. You could say they have "faith" in atheism to be the obvious choice.

          • But of course atheists cannot teach what is not a religion, not a belief, but is merely an *absence* of such?
            How can one positively teach that which is an *absence*??
            Isn't the claim that atheism need not be proven because it's a "lack" of belief and it's up to theists etc. to prove their *positive* belief?
            So naturally atheistic parents can't "teach" what is not there....right?

          • Max Driffill

            Jim we could dogmatically tell our kids that there is not god. I have never done this. As it has been stated by others, all I've tried to impart to my kids are the critical thinking skills that are necessary to navigate a complex world full of competing claims.

          • And if any of your kids opted to use those skills to foster a belief in the existence of God, would you maintain a neutral perspective and not seek to persuade the child against doing so?

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            I never did. My daughter essayed a fascinating idea that seemed very reminiscent of personal daemons that she called souls as a young child (i want to say around around the age of 8 or 9). The roots of these ideas I think came from her close association with my wife's family (Quaker pastor grandfather, and Quaker culture) and from Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials books (or at least the movie). My wife wanted our daughter to have the experience of the Quaker environment so my daughter attended a fabulous Friends school. While at the Friends school she tried belief out by busying herself with the worship of Athena.

            Through it all I've just taught her critical thinking. The only hard lines in my house regarding must learns are a more than rudimentary education in the classics and by this I mean Marvel and DC, and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Oh, and critical thinking. Some where along the line my daughter hit upon Greek Mythology. I suspect that love, plus my emphasis on critical thinking crafted her current views on religion.

          • Rationalist1

            I have done my part, their life is theirs to live. I would talk to them as a parent and an adult but would not seek to impose my opinion upon them.

          • primenumbers

            You can't live your child's life for them. They are their own person, under your care and protection until they're old enough to make their own lives and have their own children.

          • Medequcb68

            Agree especially on the second sentence. It is our duty as a parent to protect and care for our children. In doing so, we need to exert effort to fulfill our duty like teaching them about life and love.

          • TristanVick

            I would. But not at the expense of having their curiosity satisfied. The moment they stop asking questions is the moment that I've failed to raise them as independent thinkers.

          • BenS

            So naturally atheistic parents can't "teach" what is not there....right?

            Of course you can. You can drum it into them day after day, week after week that there is no god, there IS no god, there is NO god.

            I don't think anywhere near as many atheist parents do that as compared to religious parents who drill it into their children, day after day, week after week that there IS a god.

          • Phil Rimmer

            Our thinking and behavioural habits are pretty much formed by our early experiences. They run deep in the manner of aesthetic predispositions.

            Unlike our brother bonobo and the other apes we, uniquely in our youth, are deeply suggestible and prone to take the input from authority figures as gospel (so to speak) over and above the evidence of our own eyes and reason.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHuagL7x5Wc

            Here the chimp kids are smarter than the human kids and are not fooled by the authority figure (the experimenter).

            This back door into the heads of our own children is both a boon and a curse. It is very likely the underpinning of our rich and deep cultures, facilitating accurate copying down the generations. It also explains why cultures are so wildly diverse in nature and quality and why they are so geographically distinct.

            Parents have a period in early childhood when they can flip the lid up and press those buttons to their hearts content. The early stuff becomes pretty hard wired and is there having a permanent effect.

          • TristanVick

            They can teach what is not their when other claim (wrongly I might add) based on a delusion what is there.

            It would be the same as teaching Santa isn't real. He's not really there. Even though you've heard it said he's been keeping a list.

          • VelikaBuna

            As a child I was taught that people believing in God were idiots.

          • BenS

            Well, you sure showed them how it's done. I mean, no-one here thinks you're an idiot at all...

          • TristanVick

            That is incorrect.

            Telling a kid Santa is real isn't the same as getting them to question whether or not Santa is real.

            If your child comes to you and asks, "Is Santa real?"

            And you say, "Yes."

            That's a form of indoctrination into Santa belief, because as a child, they can only take your word for it as your are the authority figure.

            Now if your child comes to you and asks "Is Santa real?"

            If you wanted to teach the independent critical thinking skills, and how to evaluate such questions, you'd probably like to ask, "What do you think?"

            First give them a chance to try and formulate an answer.

            You can guide them with providing them with information. When they come back, ask them what they have concluded based on what they now know.

            Now, if they say they don't believe in Santa, then ask why not? Listen to their reason, and accept it as THEIR reason. If they say they do, again, ask why. Accept their answer.

            If they say they do not know. Again, reassure them that not knowing is perfectly fine.

            See, this is the difference between educating or not.

            Parents who answer that God is real haven't taught their kids anything accept how to take belief in the God of their parent's for granted, because they do not have the psychology to develop a complex theology. So they believe what they are told.

            I have to question the "love" of a parent who demands their kids believe as they do without allowing their child to have a choice in their own beliefs.

            Do you choose your child's favorite color for them too? Probably not.

            But when it comes to religion, religious parents sure are good at choosing that for their kids.

          • Max Driffill

            What about the child's rights? Are children mere property to in which we ought to upload any program we ourselves favor? Perhaps we ought to think more carefully about these questions.
            Here are some heartfelt examples of Christianity:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnByMXrdvbY

            http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/12/faith-healing-death/2417407/

            And from faith neighbors in Abraham
            http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2011/12/27/8-year-old-inspires-protests-after-radical-jews-call-her-a-whore-spit-on-her/

            I probably don't need to bring up Malala Yousafzai.

          • VelikaBuna

            I was taught as a child that people believing in God were idiots.

          • Max Driffill

            That is interesting, but not terribly germane to what I have said above.

          • You're right, it *is* about the rights of the child. The child has a basic *right* to be educated and raised according to the best effort and ability of the parents.

          • Max Driffill

            I am suggesting as parents though we ought to consider what we teach them and when more carefully when it comes to religion.

          • TristanVick

            Good point. I agree.

          • Rationalist1

            And the child is not only educated by the parents, but by the society including schools, organizations, family, etc.

          • The Catholic view is that the parents are the primary educators of the child. To the extent that they let others participate in that obligation, that's up to them...

          • Rationalist1

            That's the the legal requirement in most jurisdiction. If a Catholic parent decided the child should not be educated, the state would intervene. Do you agree?

          • Yes, I'd agree that states often intervene when parents neglect their children.

          • Rationalist1

            The state has the ultimate authority on the secular and religious education of students. It can intervene in extreme cases when the welfare of the child is at stake.

          • I disagree that this is an expression of "ultimate authority"--the *parents* have the "ultimate authority"--one they should and do rightly exercise. When a parent in the extreme abandons this authority, the "state" merely intervenes to supply what is lacking...

          • Rationalist1

            The parent isn't abandoning authority they are exerting authority in those situations. A parent abandons authority when they turn their child out on the street and the state has to intervene.

          • TristanVick

            It's not really a question of allowing their kids to be influenced by the world at large. Chances are, the kids will be influenced regardless of their parents best efforts to stifle and control the information they come into contact with.

          • primenumbers

            Children have a right to education free from indoctrination. If we were just educated to the best ability of our parents (not to the best ability of society as a whole) we'd not actually learn too much now, would we?

          • No, I don't agree. Parents who take their obligation seriously can do just fine educating a child without relying on "society as a whole."
            As to what it means to be "free from indoctrination," under normal circumstances no one but the parent gets to decide that for their child....

          • primenumbers

            These are parents without jobs so they have enough time to educate their child properly?

            So you're saying it's ok to indoctrinate impressionable young children and those children have no say in the issue? To me, that's rather anti-education.

          • Rationalist1

            Many religious people take their obligation seriously and we read all the time about parents refusing necessary medical treatment for their children resulting in preventable deaths. The state and you and I have a duty to those children .

          • TristanVick

            I'm not so sure about that last statement.

            So if the Taliban indoctrinate their kids to be mass suicide bombers, not even society gets to say that such indoctrination is bad and that the child should be free of such teachings?

          • Rationalist1

            Here in Ontario we had a Catholic father objecting to the provincial government requiring that publicly funded schools teach tolerance to gays. His children went to a publicly funded Catholic school (we have them) and was quoted in the paper saying. "I own them, I'll teach them what I want". I'm afraid many parents of all faiths or none, think they own their children.

          • clod

            At primary, my son's headteacher received numerous complaints from christian parents that their children were learning about Divali. It was a CofE controlled state primary school. I was astonished.

          • Medequcb68

            The "Catholic" father has not understood his being a Catholic Christian. He failed to understand what loving thy neighbor means. But it is convenient to attach the word "Catholic" to describe the person with extreme views. It sells.

          • Michael Murray

            But surely he is correct in being opposed to having his children taught that sinful gay sexual activity should be tolerated ? Does God want sin to be tolerated ?

          • Medequcb68

            Being gay does not lessen his dignity as a person. Engaging in a homosexual act is a different thing. It should be discouraged as it is a sinful act in the same way that I discourage my children from engaging sex before their marriage. Our role as parents is provide moral guidance to children. The word "guidance" is not similar to "impose". Children will make choices when they reach the right age of reason. "Tolerance" is not an appropriate word to use because what would you do if you do not tolerate? Children- no matter what age- needs to be prayed and guided. I would not be giving up helping (by praying) my children even when they choose to stray. I would not render my judgment for who am I to judge?

          • epeeist

            But it is convenient to attach the word "Catholic" to describe the person with extreme views.

            I understand the man didn't wear a kilt either...

          • Max Driffill

            I see you beat me to it. If disqus wasn't a dumpster fire I would have seen that.

          • Medequcb68

            I wear G-string. Peace brother :-)

          • epeeist

            I wear G-string. Peace brother :-)

            To make it more explicit, do you put sugar on your porridge?

          • Max Driffill

            Um, is he or is he not a Catholic? I'm detecting no true scotsman embedded in this objection.

          • Hegesippus

            Whose God?
            By definition, God, who is the ultimate being, is not defined by any of us!

          • But does it say anything about the validity or existence of science, intelligence, potty-training, or literacy? Or is it completely irrelevant?

            (My point here is that it seems atheists parrot that line--"everyone is born atheist"--to score cheap rhetorical points. I'm not accusing you of this, but of what I've seen in debates and experienced among friends. Yet that fact is completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.)

          • primenumbers

            What it says is that predominantly religious belief is a learned behaviour and the specific religion learned is usually that of the parents or local culture.

          • So are mathematics, hygiene preferences, dress, etc.. Does that make them doubtful or untrue?

          • Rationalist1

            No. But do you dispute we are all born atheist. It doesn't dispute the validity of it but puts religion in it's proper context, a learned human attribute.

          • At the risk of stating the obvious--it's really not just that "we are all born atheist"--it's really that we are all born *clueless*.
            At best, you might be able to more adequately claim that we are all born *agnostic*. But even that seems incorrect.
            When we're born, we possess no understanding of God or gods, no understanding what "existence" means, no understanding of what "lack of belief" means.
            So, if one defines "atheist" as one who lacks belief in the existence of God (or gods), then babies aren't born atheist any more than they are born "religious"...

          • epeeist

            At best, you might be able to more adequately claim that we are all born *agnostic*.

            Are we born without knowledge of whether gods exist or not, yes. Therefore you are right we are agnostic.

            Are we born without belief in gods, yes we are. Therefore we are atheist.

            It is perfectly possible to be an agnostic atheist, in fact just about every atheist I know would take this position.

          • I have to disagree--we are born without *any* knowledge at all regarding the subject--not even *enough* knowledge to be labelled "agnostic" or "atheist" because at birth we have no knowledge whatsoever of God or not-god, belief or not-belief, existence or not-existence.
            It's kind of like saying "goldfish *everywhere* are atheist because they don't believe in God."
            Or saying "This rock over here is agnostic."
            Err...ummm.....so what?

          • epeeist

            I have to disagree--we are born without *any* knowledge at all regarding the subject

            So we are without knowledge, i.e. a-gnostic.

            Similarly are without belief in god, i.e. a-theist

            Privative alpha in both cases.

          • Thus you must agree that my tape dispenser is *also* an agnostic/atheist?
            This box of tissue?
            My file cabinet?
            They are all without knowledge and without belief in "god"....

          • epeeist

            Thus you must agree that my tape dispenser

            Is your tape dispenser capable of knowing something (using the classical theory of knowledge)? Is your box of tissues capable of belief?

            No? Then your argument is a straw man.

          • TristanVick

            Agnostic should be the default position, yes.

            But only once one has matured enough to consider the nature of the question that is being asked.

          • Michael Murray

            Why should anyone have to even consider the question? Do we take all our kids through the arguments for a flat earth, aliens in Area 51, yetis, reincarnation, ghosts, ESP, atral travel, OBEs, chakras, etc. The worlds full of implausible ideas without evidence. Do they have to work through them all and earn the title of agnostic?

          • TristanVick

            I think you misunderstood me.

            Agnosticism is the position that there isn't enough information either way so as the question remains open.

            But you couldn't technically come to this understanding until you comprehended the question.

            But as thinking, reasoning, adults, then yes, it is a question we are capable of asking (including all the things you mentioned).

            Until children mature, they are simply prone to magical thinking. So they are rather incapable of asking the question, at least with the same comprehension as that of an adult.

          • primenumbers

            So if we had various different competing schools of mathematics around the world - some people believing 2+2=5, others insisting the answer must be 3.999recurring, and so on, I might have to agree with you.

            But with religion, the fact that it's mostly tied to accidents of birth demonstrates there is no higher guidance on religious beliefs, but the natural mix of religious beliefs, geographically and temporally located as you'd expect for a human phenomena based on the cognitive bias of faith.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            So are mathematics, hygiene preferences, dress, etc.. Does that make them doubtful or untrue?

            primenumbers has already answered this with respect to mathematics.

            With respect to dress styles, if I as a midwestern American were to announce that my style of dress is "true" and all others were "false", you could correctly characterize me as a "jackass".

          • Jonathan West

            You believe Catholicism to be true, but had you been born in Iran you would have believed with equal sincerity that Shia Islam is true.

            Since the two sets of beliefs are in conflict in many different ways, it is clear that both cannot be true - at least one of them must be false to the extent that it disagrees with the other. (Of course both could be false.)

            Science is also learned of course. But science is unified and has a mechanism for keeping itself unified. We don't have don't have Anglican and Catholic science with conflicting equations for relativity, we don't have Baptist and Orthodox science with alternative versions of quantum electrodynamics. We don't have Mormon or 7th Day Adventist science with varying theories about genetics. We don't have Sunni and Shia science with different equations for aerodynamics, we don't have Buddhist or Hindu science with conflicting ideas about the periodic table. We just have science. And relativity, quantum electrodynamics, genetics, aerodynamics and the periodic table have all been worked out from areas of previous ignorance by a common method of theory based on and confirmed by observation.

            So, rather than merely assert that Catholicism is true, do you have anything you can offer that would provide an objective means of distinguishing true religions from false ones, something equivalent to the scientific method by which scientific theories are confirmed or disproved by observation and experiment?

          • Rationalist1

            When most believers believe the faith of their parents, I think it bears repeating. If children were allowed to be exposed to a variety of beliefs, with no belief imposed upon them and they were free to choose I would stop saying it.

            The religion imposed upon a child is similar to the language imposed upon a child in their home. Except you need to learn a language to be fully functional as a human, you don't need a religion.

          • Again, what bearing does this have on whether the particular religion is true? Your parents imposed their own hygienic, dietary, and social mores on you. Does that necessarily falsify them?

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Since you brought up "dietary mores"

            I like a Chicago style hot dog (mustard, relish, chopped onion, peppers) 'cos that's how and where I was raised.

            Now I'm living in West Virginia, where the custom is to pile one's hot dog with chili and slaw.

            My wife can't stand hot dogs at all. When I eat 'em its me and the kids or neighbors.

            We're all OK with this, no one feels the others' tastes have to be "falsified" or ours proven "true".

            (Except for those who like their hot dogs chopped up and served in a bowl with sauerkraut of course. Those heathens need to be punished!!)

          • Linda

            Have lived in both Chicago and West Virginia though in not originally from either and I love both those dogs, NYC dirty water hot dogs, and Kidelka wieners from Nebraska. Makes me a polydoggist I'm afraid! :)

          • clod

            What the hell is a NYC dirty water hot dog for crying out loud?

            You Merkins.....sheesh!

          • Linda

            In NYC (perhaps other places, too) the hot dogs sit in a hot water tank in the vendor's cart all day; my friends and family have always called them dirty water hot dogs. In Chicago, the char dog is the way to go. And to get back to parenting and societal support: we teach our boys while many places do hot dogs well, Chicago dogs (drug through the garden, no ketchup) are the best, and our favorite dog stop has an NK-17 rule: no ketchup if you are over 17!
            I like this hot dog analogy - local customs and surrounding yourself with similarly minded people does help reinforce whatever message you're trying to instill in your children. Mine are free to prefer dogs in other places, and I certainly encourage their culinary exploration, but they're going to have to make a pretty solid case for any opinions counter to mine on this. ;)

            Btw, what's a merkin, fcol?? (I need to decide how offended to be.)

          • clod

            Ahhh....ok....that's the one Crocodile Dundee said 'well it tastes like s**t, but you can live off it.'

            Merkin is slang for American. No offence meant whatever Linda, I have many friends suffering similarly ;-)

          • Linda

            I like that: Merkin! I will have to use that myself! Quite funny! What are you (since you must not be Merkin)?

          • clod

            Brit....British....or Tish if you like ;-)

          • Linda

            I studied at Lancaster for a year. You have a beautiful country and fabulous people! Definitely one if the best year's of my life. And they had a groovy church there - I remember going to joint services there - lovely!

          • clod

            St Peters? I live very close to it. Pass it every day on the way to feed my chikkins. :-)

          • Linda

            That may have been it. I went to the chapel on campus, the Cathedral in town, and a wee church in Galgate, depending on what was going on.
            Go, chikkins!

          • clod

            That would be St Boniface's, Galgate. I've played in my ceilidh band in the campus chapel. It's still going strong. The University has expanded enormously in recent years.

          • Linda

            "It's a small world after all! It's a small world after all! It's a small, small world!" :)

          • clod

            :-)

          • Linda

            I will add that, because of the whole eating fish on Fridays thing, my best friend's dad always referred to me as a Minnow Muncher and/or Salmon Snacker, which I also always thought was funny. :)

          • Rationalist1

            In Maine the hot dogs are red. Took a while to get used to them.

          • Linda

            Do they have a natural casing and kind of burst when you bite into them? Those are excellent, too. Wimmer's in the Midwest does them. YUM!

          • Rationalist1

            A natural casing. I tended to eat the burgers when I went there.

          • "Except you need to learn a language to be fully functional as a human, you don't need a religion."

            It depends what you mean by "fully functional". If you mean "fully flourishing", I disagree and would challenge you to scientifically validate this (since you've insinuated elsewhere that science is the only source of truth.) Please show me the empirically verifiable evidence that backs up this questionable claim.

          • Rationalist1

            I have never said science is the only path to truth but have said and will defend vigorously that the scientific method is the most reliable path to truth we have found. There is a difference, science is a subset of human knowledge, the scientific method can be applied to all branched of human inquiry.

            What claim do you need verification, needing a language to be fully functional or not need religion to be fully functional?

          • Linda

            I'm a parent. I am trying to raise my children to be good citizens of the world - kind to each other and their friends, generous to those in need, respectful of all life and the amazing world we live in. The Catholic Church supports all of these goals perfectly. We have friends of other religions and no religion, and their Catholic school has students who are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Atheist in addition to a mix of other Christian religions. My children are young but already they see that different people believe different things. It's interesting.

          • Rationalist1

            Linda - That's great. Children need to be educated about world religions, traditions and beliefs. It helps them be better citizens in this multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual world.

          • josh

            Brandon, the existence of training is not in question. The outcomes among different cultures are telling however. Virtually everyone learns language and bowel control for instance, but there is no 'true' language since everyone can learn a different tongue, similarly for customs around elimination, dress, etc. Everyone acquires intelligence as they age, but specific beliefs depend on environment. So we find that people across many cultures can agree on mathematics and science (there is no strict guarantee that everyone will care to learn these things, but their evident power means essentially everyone will acknowledge them because they can be demonstrated). Religious beliefs however, aren't generally compelling to outsiders to a given culture. This doesn't prove that they are wrong per se but it makes them highly suspect.

        • TristanVick

          But the religious are the one's who seek to define the atheist in respect to the seemingly ubiquitous nature of belief.

          The religious do not try to define the un-potty-trained for example.

      • John Smith

        It's funny you mention this. I was raised in a completely secular household, and one of my earliest memories is wondering, at age three, about "who" created everything. It was a vague instinct I simply had in my youth.

  • Rationalist1

    While history fascinates me and I would be the first to advise a pro[er understanding of history is key to understanding the world we live in today, I;m somewhat at a loss to see the historical use of the word atheist as being that pertinent to the discussion today.

    Atheist in those days meant non belief in the accepted God.But were there any atheists in the sense we use the word today. people who just said no to all Gods.

  • clod

    But it can still be very dangerous to be one.

    • Rationalist1

      And in 8 US state constitutions, it is written that atheists cannot hold public office. The federal constitution trumps the state wording but it still disquieting that the wording still remains and the majority religious don't see a need to remove it.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        We increasingly hear from Christians how they are being "persecuted" in contemporary America.

        I generally respond by asking them how many professing Christians hold state or national level elective office, and how many professing atheists do.

        • Sample1

          New atheists are typically aware of the British Columbia/Univ.Oregon joint publication that demonstrated atheists are among the least trusted members in society. On equal footing with rapists. Just think about that. And to think, atheists make up (new figure stats) .07% of the prison population.

          Mike

          • Rationalist1
          • Sample1

            I brought this up because (tongue in firmly in cheek now) clearly Jesus was referring to us when he talked about the coming persecutions...
            Mike

          • VelikaBuna

            That is because they make up only 2-3% of the population. Many more should be in prison though for all the financial crimes but they have stacked the deck against everyone else.

          • Sample1

            Irrelevant. These are adjusted for population figures.
            Mike

          • Ben

            Citation, please.

          • Rationalist1

            I've seen various numbers in the US as to the percentage that are atheist/agnostic (as separate from the "nones") and it varies from 4% to 9%. As to financial crimes, I've never seen it attributed to atheists, but I have, unfortunately seen it attributed to members of another religion and that appalls me.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Excuse me? All the financial crimes were committed by atheists? Really? Got evidence?

    • primenumbers

      You just have to look at the various Christian blasphemy laws and how they deal with atheists.

  • clod

    Even Aquinas, despite all his theology, thought people should be killed for lack of or wrong beliefs.

    • Rationalist1

      He argues you get one or two admonitions but after that the heretic is turned over to the authorities for extermination.

      http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.SS_Q11_A3.html

      So we shouldn't complain about the posting policy here. :->

    • To my understanding, Aquinas wasn't so bad. He thought that if you left the Catholic Church or never were Catholic to begin with, then you should generally be allowed freedom to believe and to practice your beliefs. Heretics were a different matter. For Aquinas, Heretics were Catholics who persisted in obstinate error and openly taught other Catholics error.

      Nancy Pelosi, Rudy Giuliani and Garry Willis might have been at risk for being burnt at the stake (after some chances to recant). But Richard Dawkins and Saul Kripke would be safe and mostly free to believe what they want.

      Now, I'm not claiming that the rest of the Catholic Church followed Aquinas's lead here. Instead, I think Aquinas was ahead of his time on this issue.

      • VelikaBuna

        You sir are right. Proselytizing and teaching the error is the key.

      • epeeist

        Now, I'm not claiming that the rest of the Catholic Church followed Aquinas's lead here. Instead, I think Aquinas was ahead of his time on this issue.

        Ahead of his time, or merely a man of his time?

        • I think legitimately ahead of his time, although a distance behind our own. Letting people practice their own religion is good. Burning anyone at the stake, even if it's Rudy Giuliani, is bad.

          I think Thomas Aquinas helped pave the way for the Enlightenment. Many Eastern Orthodox seem to think this as well, and curse him for it.

          • epeeist

            I think legitimately ahead of his time, although a distance behind our own.

            Which means that we should treat him as such and not endow him with false authority.

            I think Thomas Aquinas helped pave the way for the Enlightenment.

            Personally I would go for Newton as a proximate cause...

          • I try not to endow anyone with any authority on truth at all. Nature's the authority, not people.

            God, I suppose. His math is pretty authoritative.

            Personally I would go for Newton as a proximate cause...

            I agree. I think Aquinas offered some intellectual stepping stones, too. He did connect reason to revelation as both talking about a singular truth, and thereby legitimized the study of the humanist Greek philosophers. Also, he made arguments about property and government rule that were at the time revolutionary. Property is a matter of positive and not natural law, and so for the poor there is no ownership and theft is impossible. And rulers who become tyrants lose their God-granted right to rule, and should be overthrown.

            Dangerous stuff. I think the Catholic Church puts Aquinas on a pedestal but doesn't always pay much attention to what he really said.

    • This is blatant misrepresentation. St. Thomas simply never said (or insinuated, or thought, as you claim) that people should be generally killed for lack of or wrong beliefs. The "Summa" passage quoted below only concerns heretics, who are Catholics intentionally promoting heretical teaching. It doesn't concern the general population (including atheists.) Also, it was the secular governments of Thomas' time that demanded death for heresy. Church and state were so intermingled that heresy was a formal crime against the state--it was considered a serious threat to public order.

      Please re-read our Commenting Policy which explicitly disallows Straw Men arguments and misrepresentation. It's clear you have not attempted to understand or represent Thomas' nuance position on this issue.

      • primenumbers

        "passage quoted below only concerns heretics, which are Catholics who promote heretical teaching" - that doesn't make the case any better though, does it? It's still the promotion of death penalty for people believing the wrong thing or not believing the approved thing.

        I don't see how you can describe the governments as secular if "Church and state were so intermingled" as that would be completely at odds with any reasonable definition of secular.

        • VelikaBuna

          You misunderstood, you described atheist communism. Heretics were the ones who not only privately believed something contrary to the truth, but were proselytizing this error. Errors lead to eternal damnation so the church acted correctly with this in mind.

          • primenumbers

            Yes, it's utterly correct as you say for Churches to kill people who preach false doctrines.

          • VelikaBuna

            Yes, imagine the horror of dead souls condemned for eternity because of errors. Anyhow, you as an atheist should not care when and how one reaches terminal end, that is only relevant in the theological sense, where one believes that life is more than what we can see. By the way how about addressing atheist crimes which have no equal?

          • primenumbers

            "Yes, imagine the horror of dead souls condemned for eternity because of errors. " - which is why you should be for mass murder of everyone on this planet in a super-genocide so as to ensure no more people ever ever have to go to Hell.

          • Sid_Collins

            . . . you as an atheist should not care when and how one reaches terminal end, that is only relevant in the theological sense, where one believes that life is more than what we can see.

            That observation is backwards. As an atheist, I care only about what happens in the material world, including when and how I meet my material end, because I don't believe life is more than I can see. It is believers who shouldn't care about when and how they reach their terminal ends, because eternal happiness awaits them afterwards. I've yet to meet a believer who really appears to put their eternal fate at the top of their priorities in this life.

          • Bravo, Sid.

            You have now met one.

            I honestly pray that invincibly incorrigible atheists will enjoy all the Chateaubriand, single malt scotch, glowing reviews in the Times, and natural happiness they can garner here below.

            It is the very least we can hope for them, given the eternal factor in the calculation.

          • Sid_Collins

            That is very interesting. Do you mind telling me how you manage your time and material goods based on putting eternal life first? I always thought that Jesus' advice to the rich young man to give away all his possessions and come follow Jesus set the standard. Hindu monks who travel from place to place depending on alms from strangers seem to come closest to following this advice--no personal possessions, no insurance, no savings or investments--just trust in God to provide, and if He doesn't provide then it is His will that one perish and enjoy heaven.

          • "Do you mind telling me how you manage your time and material goods based on putting eternal life first?"

            >> I try to manage my material goods in accordance with the commandments; that is, in accordance with my station in life.

            "I always thought that Jesus' advice to the rich young man to give away all his possessions and come follow Jesus set the standard."

            >> It does. I would fall more into the thief on the cross category.

            "Hindu monks who travel from place to place depending on alms from strangers seem to come closest to following this advice--no personal possessions, no insurance, no savings or investments--just trust in God to provide, and if He doesn't provide then it is His will that one perish and enjoy heaven."

            >> That is the perfection of the evangelical counsels. If one is, for example, a parent, one's station in life involves different responsibilities. But there is always hope that one day I can follow the counsels.

            Please God!

          • How magnanimous!

          • No pleasin' some folk :-)

          • "As an atheist, I care only about what happens in the material world."

            And yet you comment on a site that explicitly deals with non-material questions (including in this very article). Perhaps you really *do* care about things outside the material world...

          • robtish

            People who believe in god *are* in the material world. And thus not excluded from what Sid cares about.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            WHAT atheist crimes that have no equal?

          • epeeist

            WHAT atheist crimes that have no equal?

            You are about to receive something that will turn out to be something like, X was an atheist, X committed crimes that have no equal, therefore the crimes were committed in the cause of atheism.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I admit, that's what I suspect will happen. But let's hope for the best.

          • primenumbers

            Um, not based on prior experience of VB.

          • clod

            So, do you actually regret the fact that the catholic church is no longer allowed to execute people for heresy or blasphemy. It sort of sounds like it.

          • Interesting point, clod.

            I believe the Church should not have burned heretics.

            I understand why the Church burned Giordano Bruno. Giordano Bruno understood how to make the Church burn Giordano Bruno, and in a way Giordano Bruno- the nuttiest fruitcake of all, by the way- secured for himself a position of historical importance perhaps unequalled even by Galileo.

            So if the Church had not burned Giordano Bruno, Giordano Bruno would not even be a footnote in history today.

            This is exactly why the Church no longer burns heretics, by the way.

            "The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:

            But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.

            But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

            So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?

            He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

            But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."

          • I would love to see an article dealing with why it is that the atheist research programs into evolution, into particle physics, and into cosmology, are permitted by God, and will ultimately serve to profoundly increase the Faith in the minds of men.

            After all, we are blessed to live at exactly the moment in history where the fruits of the Second Vatican Council's approach to science are beginning to become visible.

          • So when is it all going to come crashing down? If this is "exactly the moment," should we expect to see the next revolution this year? Next year? Five years from now? Give us some time-specific predictions, please.

          • Well, that's dependent upon a number of factors, Mr. Nickol.

            Too many Nobel Prizes, too many PhD's, on too many walls, to expect the existing consensus to yield gracefully.

            But there are too many young scientists who smell the blood in the water to stop the process now.

            The Copernican Principle is wrong.

            Since the Copernican Principle is wrong, all of our cosmology is also wrong.

            Five years?

            Optimistic.

            Twenty years?

            I would bet- I have bet, in fact- that within twenty years the consensus LCDM cosmology will have been dislodged.

          • I would bet- I have bet, in fact- that within twenty years the consensus LCDM cosmology will have been dislodged.

            Could you be more specific about the consensus being dislodged? When will we begin to see the work of these young scientists appear in the major scientific journals? Surely that has to happen before the consensus is dislodged. It took only 14 years between the publication of Einstein's first paper on Special Relativity (1905) and the measurement of the stars during the total ellipse of 1919 supporting General Relativity to get the attention of the world. It took much longer, of course, for there to be a consensus on relativity. So when do you predict the equivalent of the 1919 eclipse measurements and the ensuing publicity? Surely the first solid evidence of the demise of the Copernican Principle will get some rather sensational news coverage, won't it?

          • "Could you be more specific about the consensus being dislodged?"

            >> It has been underway for some time already. Non-LCDM theories including void cosmology- what I would characterize as "weak geocentrism" :-)- and also the MOND theories are now well-established alternatives to LCDM. Still minority views to be sure, but far beyond "fringe".

            "When will we begin to see the work of these young scientists appear in the major scientific journals?"

            >> Been happening for years- see, for example, this famous 2008 paper by Clifton, Land et al:

            http://arxiv.org/pdf/0807.1443v2.pdf

            Excerpt:

            "A fundamental presupposition of modern cosmology is the Copernican Principle; that we are not in a central, or otherwise special region of the Universe. Studies of Type Ia supernovae, together with the Copernican Principle, have led to the inference that the Universe is accelerating in its
            expansion. The usual explanation for this is that there must exist a ‘Dark Energy’, to drive the acceleration. Alternatively, it could be the case that the Copernican Principle is invalid, and that the data has been interpreted within an inappropriate theoretical frame-work. If we were to live in
            a special place in the Universe, near the centre of a void where the local matter density is low, then the supernovae observations could be accounted for without the addition of dark energy."

            "Surely that has to happen before the consensus is dislodged."

            >> "Tis happening :-)

            "It took only 14 years between the publication of Einstein's first paper on Special Relativity (1905) and the measurement of the stars during the total ellipse of 1919 supporting General Relativity to get the attention of the world."

            >> First, the Michelson Morley 1887 results were a crisis in physics unresolved until Einstein's 1905 paper- so add eighteen years. Then, notice that there was very strong opposition to Einstein's theory for decades after the 1919 experiment (which itself, we now know, did not show what Einstein predicted).

            But the choice was simple, in the end.

            Door Number One:

            The Earth ain't orbiting the Sun.

            Door Number Two:

            All our physics is wrong and will have to be reinvented from the ground up.

            Door Number Two was, of course, eventually chosen.

            "It took much longer, of course, for there to be a consensus on relativity. So when do you predict the equivalent of the 1919 eclipse measurements and the ensuing publicity?"

            >> The CMB Axis, confirmed by Planck, is the "1919 experiment" as far as the Copernican Principle is concerned. As a matter of science, the Copernican Principle died March 21. 2013. Start the clock ticking there.

            "Surely the first solid evidence of the demise of the Copernican Principle will get some rather sensational news coverage, won't it?"

            >> "Bout as much as Michelsom Morley got in 1887......

          • josh

            Rick, your position is that the church shouldn't horrifically execute people, not because it is immoral, but because it is counterproductive?

            Also, anyone else think this parable was written by someone who had no idea how farming worked?

          • "Rick, your position is that the church shouldn't horrifically execute people, not because it is immoral, but because it is counterproductive?"

            >> Josh, is it your position that the State should not horrifically execute people?

            How about non-horrifically executing people?

            I conclude, and I have struggled with this for a long time, that the State should not execute people, whether horrifically or non-horrifically, unless there is no other way to secure the safety of the common good against an aggressor.

            I do not suggest by this that it is immoral to execute aggressors against the common good.

            I suggest that it is, presently, unnecessary to do so in order to secure the benefits of justice for the State, and the possibility of repentance of the aggressor is thereby preserved.

            How about you?

          • josh

            "Josh, is it your position that the State should not horrifically execute people?" That's the position of the 8th amendment to the US constitution, luckily I agree with it. I also am not in favor of executing people generally except when it is the only expedient to prevent a greater harm. It seems that we are roughly in agreement on this! But, I would say it is immoral when there are other options. I would also say that it is immoral for Church, State or anyone to execute someone for contradicting Church or State doctrine in order to preserve an alleged common good in an unobservable afterlife.

          • The common good in view is in this life, not the afterlife.

            We need not bother ourselves about the fate of atheists in the afterlife; that is certain.

            Hmmm...so, then you would consider it immoral for the State to have executed, say, Sacco and Vanzetti? John Brown?

            Osama bin Laden?

            No civilization likes having its orthodoxy questioned.

            But our positions do not seem to diverge on this question.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So because religious errors lead to eternal death, it's better to kill their holders immediately?

          • robtish

            VelikaBuna, would you favor a Constitutional amendment in the US establishing the death penalty for advocating heresy?

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        The best face one can put upon Thomas' "nuanced" position would be that after convicting the heretic of a thought crime, he was willing to outsource the actual execution to someone else.

        • Again, the distortions continue. The heresy he was concerned with was not a "thought-crime." It was the verbal, outward, manifest promotion of heterodox, and politically volatile, claims.

          • Rationalist1

            Like I do here except I don't do politically volatile claims until now. Single Payer Health Cares is the best way to go. There, now I'm a full fledged heretic.

          • epeeist

            Single Payer Health Cares is the best way to go. There, now I'm a full fledged heretic.

            I rather thought rejecting the holy spirit was the way to become a fully fledged heretic.

          • Rationalist1

            That should do it too. Although I do remember a a catechism class where the nun asked what was the only sin that could no be forgiven and a boy from the back (whom will rename nameless) did say "Voting Tory". I, I mean, he was never found out or punished.

          • clod

            Was Aquinas, in equal measure, concerned with stability of the state and defence of the faith? Or in some other proportion?

            Does, in your view, Brandon, the close coupling of church and state, together with the wider historical and social context in that era, add moral justification to the torture and killing of heretics during the inquisition?

          • primenumbers

            What's the point of a thought if you're not free to express it to others openly without fear of recriminations, censorship or death?

          • robtish

            This is the same problem I've seen with attempts to defend the Church's treatment of Galileo. People say: "The Church didn't do *that,* it only did *this.*" Without somehow seeing that *this* is also quite damning.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            And how can a faith which celebrates life from conception to natural death be willing to kill those who simply disagree with it?

          • josh

            Brandon, how exactly do you think the thought police monitored thoughtcrime in 1984? Telepathy wasn't a part of Orwell's dystopia.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            Can we both agree, Brandon, that in this selected passage Aquinas was speaking as a man of his time, that he was setting forth policies that we now understand are not appropriate for a civilized society, and that his purely theological opinions are not contaminated by this particular doctrine??

      • Rationalist1

        Considering that nearly everyone in that society was a Catholic (by baptism) people like me (baptised Catholic but now atheist) would be fodder for their justice.

        • VelikaBuna

          Not true.

          • Rationalist1

            If I lived in the 14th century, in Europe I almost certainly would have been baptized Catholic and thus Catholic for life (as the Church claims I am now). If I had have said any of the post here I would have been branded a heretic, inciting errors and the wrong truth. O would have been given one or two admonitions and then turned over to the authorities for execution.

          • VelikaBuna

            Not that part. You could be atheist but could not seek converts.

          • Rationalist1

            I don't think the medeival courts were that nuanced.

          • Max Driffill

            Any utterance I made about my beliefs in that time could be seen as an attempt to win converts, or subvert the public order. No, no, the risk of even admitting my atheism back then would have been, and indeed was great. There was no tolerance for a contrary opinion at the time.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            There is no evidence that is true. Consider the Cathars; consider Socrates.

      • clod

        "The life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men."

        What is your interpretation, Brandon, of what Aquinas meant by these words?

      • Rationalist1

        Brandon - I'm a Catholic (I was baptized) who promotes heretical teachings. Does it apply to me?

        • clod

          Of course it does. You are a 'pestiferous person' beyond compare ;-)

        • No, because you no longer identify as a Catholic. A heretic is someone who claims to be a Christian while promoting heterodox theology as the One True Faith. You only meet the latter criteria, not the former.

          Also, to extend my earlier response, in a society where the Church/state line is blurred, heretics present significant threats. Theological disputes quickly escalate into political disputes--complete with violent uprisings and revolts--which is why the state chose to punish heresy as a crime, sometimes by death.

          Now we twenty-first century moderns may not agree, but to *understand* why they acted in the way they did, we must first understand the context before transporting quotes from Thomas into our day, without nuance or qualification.

          • Rationalist1

            But it doesn't matter that I don't identify as Christian. I am a Catholic in the eyes of the Church. I have been Baptized Catholic, confirmed and made my first communion even. The Church treats me as Catholic.

            ", we must first understand the context before transporting quotes from Thomas into our day, without nuance or qualification." Isn't this a form of moral relativism? Was it appropriate then in the Church's view. If so why not now?

          • epeeist

            No, because you no longer identify as a Catholic.

            So if he doesn't identify as a Catholic then he isn't a Catholic.

            Which takes us back to how many Catholics there are. In the UK the church claims 4.2 million Catholics in England and Wales based on baptismal records. So what you are saying is that a proportion of these are not Catholic, would this be the 3.3 million or so who don't attend mass or take the sacrament on a regular basis?

          • clod

            My understanding is that there is no official way of de-catholisising oneself once baptised. Is that correct?

          • Rationalist1

            You can't anymore. Even if you are excommunicated you are still a Catholic. There used to be a way you could get a notation against your birth record in you Church of Baptism but that's not done any more.

            Basically the Catholic Church wants to claim the large numbers to gain prestige. Go to the web sit for your diocese/archdiocese and divide the number of Catholics by the number of churches and see if it looks anywhere close to be real. In the Archdiocese of LA it works out to 16,000 per parish.

          • Max Driffill

            It can be quite difficult. And the Church should have a way for us to break our baptisms, actions in which we had no part, choice or say.

          • Susan

            Does anyone know what their explanation is for not doing that?

            A few catholic commenters on this site have thrown statistics at us as part of their argument. Don't they know when they do it that there is no way we can possibly take those numbers seriously, nor should they?

          • Max Driffill

            Susan, I honestly have no idea. But there should be some kind of formal processes for routing out as they would say if we were Scientologists. I checked last time I was in my hometown, and my parents are still listed on the books of their local parish. Neither of them have gone to mass for more than a decade, and have nothing to do with the church. How ridiculous is that?

          • Susan

            How ridiculous is that?

            It's completely ridiculous and without a good explanation, it seems very, very dishonest. How dare they count me among their numbers?

            There are a few assumptions I'd like to avoid making in case I'm wrong. Maybe a catholic member here could answer a few questions for me.

            Is a catholic baptism enough for the church to consider me catholic for life or do I need to have consented to confirmation?

            Does a catholic here have an explanation for counting ex-catholics as catholics?

            How do I get removed from the count?

            Thank you.

          • Susan

            That's interesting.
            I asked those questions to make sure I had my facts straight before I went on about a subject I might be missing key information on. I meant them as honest, respectful questions. I really am interested in having some information on this subject.

            I got no answers and a downvote. I'm fine with downvotes. I've given them out myself, but why would someone downvote sincere questions rather than respond to them?

          • epeeist

            Apparently you can, a friend of mine in Ireland managed to resign before the process was suspended, more details on this page, though it is still possible for other countries.

            In Germany you can simply refuse to pay the church tax.

          • Rationalist1

            The Archdiocese I live in identifies on their website 1.9 million Catholics or an average of 8600 per parish. I have no dbout that all those people were baptized at one time but I also have no doubt that the people who attend mass regularly would be a quarter of that or less.

          • Max Driffill

            This is a fascinating revision that allows your Church, which approved of such measures off the hook. As if the Church wasn't party to these heresy hunts. Being able to then turn over heretics to executioners is not the same thing as be exonerated of guilt. As per usual there is a great difficulty in dealing honestly with the reflection in the mirror among the faithful in the One True Faith.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            The Church was party to these hunts. Look up Inquisition; look up Albigensian Crusade. It wasn't about politics....

          • Max Driffill

            MSO,
            I know. This is an attempt to punt off responsibility for the actions, endorsed by the Church to members of its flock. I would like to point out some of the systems of "logic" that went into exposing heretics, and witches are amazing in their failures. If I were the modern faithful I would also want to distance myself and my faith from this shameful past. This is however something history will not allow.

          • primenumbers

            So the answer is to unblur church and state by embracing the ideals of secularism and not killing people.

            Context doesn't make killing heretics any better. How you treat people who disagree with you is a vastly more telling indicator of underlying morality than how you treat people you agree with.

          • Corylus

            No, because you no longer identify as a Catholic. A heretic is someone who claims to be a Christian while promoting heterodox theology as the One True Faith.

            In the spirit of ecumenism (yes, I am a protestant atheist, please don't hold it against me boys and girls) I'll point out that it is not only Catholic heretics that can meet a sticky (and burning) end.

            My favourite (very early) protestant heretic: William Tyndale What a star. Hugely smart and interested in facilitating general engagement with, and critical analysis of, set texts.

            I admire the way he set about annoying just about everyone, but still had time to love language and promote its full use.

          • Susan

            Thank you for that link to Tyndale, Corylus.

            Fascinating stuff.

          • Max Driffill

            One cannot help but notice that Christianity generally seems trapped in these defenses of historical/cultural context (its embrace of the OT makes this problem rather much worse). This seems at odds with the claim that the Church's teachings, and the bible, and the interpretations of said bible are timeless and unchanging. Can Catholics bring themselves to admit that morally and intellectually the Church has not always acted in the most impressive ways?

          • Susan

            Can Catholics bring themselves to admit that morally and intellectually the Church has not always acted in the most impressive ways?

            It does seem inconsistent for people who claim to be in relationship with a "morally perfect being" to diminish or dismiss morally indefensible behaviour.

            This is one of the things that troubled me as a child and made their claims much more difficult to believe. It still goes on here today.

          • Max Driffill

            Susan,
            This, exactly. I have long thought this was an unfair dodge, that amounted to hand waiving away the fact that the morality exhibited by the god in the Bible and by his followers too often has been often indistinguishable from the local flavors, and often much worse.

          • Susan

            the morality exhibited by the god in the Bible and by his followers too often has been often indistinguishable from the local flavors, and often much worse.

            Yes. It just never seemed very special, at all, just very human, and it often reflected (and still does) some of humanity's most disturbing qualities.

          • Yes. It just never seemed very special at all, just very human, and it often reflected (and still does) some of humanity's most disturbing qualities.

            By what standard do you compare moralities and say that one is better or worse than another?

          • Susan

            By what standard do you compare moralities and say that one is better or worse than another?

            What standard do you use?

          • What standard do you use?

            You are the one who just said the morality exhibited by God in the Bible "never seemed very special at all" to you. You seem to feel you can judge moralities. So it is not at all an unreasonable question for me to ask you by what standard you judge moralities. You have spoken of "moral progress." So apparently conceptions of morality can advance. How do they do that. How can you tell?

          • Susan

            Morality is a very tricky issue. I think it is attached in a basic way in my moral intuition by the idea of not causing unnecessary suffering and alleviating suffering when we can.

            There are no hard, clear answers but there are certainly strong guidelines that emanate from that and the rest is hard work.

            When catholics here allude to "good" and "evil" and "morality", they don't define them. They are trusting that we all agree in many ways that these words have meaning and they would be right that we agree.

            If my responses are sparse, it's because I'm at work. I'm on a break right now.

            Now, what standards do you use? It's not enough to say because we "ought". Why ought we? "Rape is bad." is just an example. The fact that you and I agree strongly that rape is bad (probably roughly based on our moral intuitions about unnecessary suffering) does nothing to explain what we mean when we say bad. That doesn't mean that "bad" is meaningless, or that we don't mean something very real when we say rape is bad.

            I judge Yahweh by the same standards (and higher in the cases where he is supposed to be all-powerful) as I do anyone.

            It's fascinating that if I said to a catholic that genocide is evil, they would probably nod solemnly in agreement, but if I say that when Yahweh commanded genocide it can only be judged as an evil thing to do, they say, "On what basis, do you call him evil?"

            The assumption is that Yahweh is the source of good. On what basis can we judge Yahweh good if we have no basis to judge Yahweh evil?

          • "Can Catholics bring themselves to admit that morally and intellectually the Church has not always acted in the most impressive ways?"

            Of course! And I'd use even stronger language: from the Church's very beginning Christians have acted in evil, deplorable, and stupid ways.

            Yet if you walked into any Catholic Church today and listened to the first reading at Mass, you'd hear St. Paul boldly proclaim that the Church has received it's treasure (Jesus) through earthern vessels (the sinners who make up the Church.)

            Catholicism never claims that her members are impeccable. Quite the opposite! We readily admit to be a Church full of idiots, shufflers, failures, and sinners of the worst sort. But what we also claim is that the Church itself--meaning the Mystical Body of Christ, not just an institution or collection of people--is the supreme font of holiness. When Christians align their actions with the teachings of Jesus, as spoken by his Church, they tap into this source of goodness. When they stray from these teachings, the results are, as you say, "not always...most impressive."

          • Susan

            But rather than admit that Aquinas was wrong, you were more concerned with defending him.

            Clod said:

            Even Aquinas, despite all his theology, thought people should be killed for lack of or wrong beliefs.

            A simple and true statement and certainly not a strawman.
            Your response was something to the effect of, "Not people in general, just heretics!"

            Was Aquinas correct then that setting heretics on fire was OK?

          • Sid_Collins

            . . . the Church has not always acted in the most impressive ways . . . .

            It is interesting that Catholics often try to turn this into a testimony to the Church's advantage, by saying something like "How could an institution run by such flawed and corrupt people have survived for so long without divine support?"

            Well, I'd say by taking on the coloration of the surrounding environment and manipulating power and material assets in exactly the same way as other contemporary institutions. And if the Church has exhibited any characteristic during its history, it is adaptability. I would be far more impressed if the Church had survived as a band of informally educated men who travelled the world on charity, making converts along the way on the strength of their virtue and Holy-Spirit-provided inspirational ability. But in a corporate world, the Church has become a corporation, devoted to protecting its brand, participating in all the usual corporate financial shenanigans, and competing for government contracts. Just as in earlier times it functioned as part of the feudal system and as an arm and enabler of conquering and colonizing kingdoms.

          • severalspeciesof

            Now we twenty-first century moderns may not agree, but to *understand*
            why they acted in the way they did, we must first understand the context
            before transporting quotes from Thomas into our day, without nuance or
            qualification.

            Certainly one needs to see the context of that history to 'understand' why people did the things they did. But it should never ever be painted over, made prettier or more palatable (read: 'with nuance') in order to lighten the association of those ideas with historical people one may happen to look up to, or that also happens to align with the past actions of a particular institution that one is still in...

            Glen

          • Oh, I agree. My point, though, was that the original *unnuanced* accusation that St. Thomas believed "people [in general] should be killed for lack of or wrong beliefs" is neither fair nor accurate. Such a claim requires qualification, not to paint it over but to accurately represent it.

          • severalspeciesof

            Fair enough, though Clod didn't say 'generally'. You took it as such...

            Glen

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        Brandon, I'm having trouble following your logic here.

        St. Thomas simply never said (or insinuated, or thought, as you claim) that people should be generally killed for lack of or wrong beliefs.

        Actually, it does. It says that some folks should be killed for the good of society.

        The "Summa" passage quoted below only concerns heretics, who are Catholics intentionally promoting heretical teaching.

        Wait, so heretics aren't people? He's only advocating killing heretics, but that's not a claim that people should generally be killed for wrong beliefs?

        Also, it was the secular governments of Thomas' time that demanded death for heresy. Church and state were so intermingled that heresy was a formal crime against the state--it was considered a serious threat to public order.

        But then the secular government was the religious government. And if you don't believe that's true for, say, Constantine's time, then what about the Albigensian crusades? Directed and advocated by the pope Innocent III?

        And after all, wasn't it Arnaud Amalric - a good abbot - who said, Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius?

      • severalspeciesof

        The "Summa" passage quoted below only concerns heretics, who are Catholics intentionally promoting heretical teaching.

        So glad that's clearer now, heretics had fewer rights that others, indeed, not even a 'right to life'.

        Church and state were so intermingled that heresy was a formal crime against the state--it was considered a serious threat to public order.

        which makes the previous use of the term 'secular' somewhat ludicrous:

        Also, it was the
        secular governments of Thomas' time that demanded
        death for heresy.

        ______

        It's clear you have not attempted to understand or
        represent Thomas' nuance position on this issue.

        This attempt to soften Aquinas' position on heretics because it was
        'nuanced', is game playing and disgusting. He either accepts the thought that killing another human being for holding 'wrong ideas' and teaching about them could be OK, Or... he... does... not. Nuance doesn't get anyone a 'get out of jail free' card. The straw-man here is this 'nuance' you speak of, not Clod's comment.

        Glen

      • Nairb

        So "thou shalt not kill non heretics" is the correct commandement then?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Nice how your immediately bring the discussion to "the Catholic Church is evil" with VB's aid.

  • Sample1

    Polycarp is to atheist as fish-eater is to vegetarian.

    Mike

  • Reminds me of the friendly point attributed to Stephen Roberts, among others:

    "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."

    • Paul, this is a common but silly remark. It's meaningless and completely irrelevant to the question of whether God exists.

      There are different reasons why we should reject or accept each proposed deity. Rejecting several doesn't necessitate rejecting all. Our evaluation of each proposed deity is mutually exclusive. For example, the reasons for disbelieving in the many gods of Hinduism are distinct from the reasons for believing in the Judeo-Christian conception of God.

      Dr. Ed Feser takes this popular quote to task here:

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/04/one-god-further-objection.html

      • That remark is just as silly as this article.

        I think Bullivant was trying to be friendly, to foster a connection between theists and atheists. I think Roberts was trying to do the same thing.

        It seems clear that both completely failed.

        • VelikaBuna

          They will always fail, no argument will ever succeed.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So it is impossible for a theist and an atheist to have a civilized discussion about religion?

      • primenumbers

        Feser's response is basically one of special pleading that "my God is more nuanced than those other Gods." which might have some appeal to those that fervently believing that nuanced God, but to anyone else it's just a rationalization.

      • VelikaBuna

        Hasn't this point been already addressed umpteen times and it always gets brought back by the same people. Why bother explaining?

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        Thanks for that link, Brandon. I may refer to it again.

        It's a fine example of the phrasing and tone of voice that some Christian writers use when they are talking about atheists - preaching to the choir, as it were.

        Such a writer, when he or she comes to a site such as Strange Notions where one is talking with atheists, needs to make a determined effort to purge the snark and slur.

        A few perhaps succeed, most do not.

      • I think it may be a disservice to link to Edward Feser in a discussion of this post by Stephen Bullivant. If I understand him correctly, Bullivant is trying to think "outside the box," whereas Feser is a major proponent of thinking "inside the box." (Feser has a piece today available on the First Things site called Fifty Shades of Nothing, which is very relevant to the recent discussion here on the cosmological argument. I say he is a major proponent of thinking inside the box because he complains that in the book The Mystery of Existence contains too little on the classical tradition about the existence of God and too much from the modern views.)

        It seems to me that what Bullivant is saying is that it is misleading to think of the being we rather unfortunately call "God" (the God of Judaism and Christianity) as "a god." While I imagine Feser would say the God of Christianity is the "one True God," I think Bullivant is saying, or getting ready to say, that talking about "God" is limiting and misleading. (Of course, I could be wrong!)

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          I think you're right. As Bob Barron puts it (somewhere), god isn't one god among many who happens to be the right god; using the term 'god' doesn't even make sense given what 'god' is.

          It has always appeared to me as a way of removing any kind of discussion of evidence and proof off the table, but I do agree that Christians are atheists.

    • epeeist

      When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

      In the past I have asked what method the believer uses to show that other gods do not exist. I have yet to get an answer, apart from the claim that since the believer's god exist then the other ones obviously cannot.

      • Vicq_Ruiz

        An excellent point. I should no more be required to disprove Jehovah than the Christian should be required to disprove Osiris.

      • Dcn Harbey Santiago

        I wrote something about the Mr. Roberts quote some time ago.

        As a bonus I also gave an answer to your question in the same post.

        Here is the link:

        http://www.deaconharbey.com/2013/02/atheist-meme-2.html

        "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
        DHS

        • epeeist

          So essentially you are saying that yours is the correct one because "You look at which one in this list revealed Himself into human history."

          Of course you are ignoring the fact that Zeus and Odin also revealed themselves to their particular followers as did many others. Plus the fact that your particular god doesn't seem to have revealed himself to, for example, the Toromona people.

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            The Historical evidence for Jesus the Christ could be accessed on-line. It is there for all to see. If you can find historical evidence for Zeus and Odin, I invite you to compare them both and make your own conclusions.

            This is as much as I will say about this topic, since it has been addressed before, in this forum, and it was not my intention to discuss a post from my blog in this thread. However, if you would like to discuss off-line, you are welcome to drop me an e-mail.

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

    • Paul, I have met so many people of faith who just seem unable to make that simple understanding. Even when all the facts are explained, I meet with the tendency to hear some and pretend not to hear others. There was an interesting article today in The Atlantic mag about the apologist Larry Alex Taunton doing just so while interviewing atheists on college campuses.

      • Michael Murray

        Thanks Quine, An interesting way to do market research. Don't you have to accept the markets concerns about your product before you can change them ?

  • Dcn Harbey Santiago

    ---OFF TOPIC ALERT---

    I read the short bio for Dr. Bullivant and saw he has authored a book entitled:

    "The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology" I thought : "Hmmm that sounds like an interesting read" only to discover it was listed at $125.00, Amazon has it at $89.00. OUCH!... Although I'm tempted, I think I'll wait for the movie.

    "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
    DHS

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It must be a college textbook.

      • But is it Catholic?

        Does it propose that one can have faith without having faith?

        Or that faith is not an act of the human will, responding to grace?

        Or that the human will can respond in some way to grace that does not involve faith, and yet be saved?

        Inquiring minds want to know, Mr. Bullivant.........

        • Stephen Bulivant

          The book is based on my doctoral thesis, and the OUP series it's in is premised (no doubt rightly) on the idea that these don't normally tend to sell very much beyond academic libraries - hence the high price. If enough copies sell, then eventually a more affordable paperback should appear in the fullness of time. For those interested, the introduction and a bit of the first chapter are available free on google books: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=c2Hi2nl8Z9IC&printsec=frontcover&dq=salvation+of+atheists&hl=en&sa=X&ei=xBjwUZn4E4jw0gWAo4HQCA&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=salvation%20of%20atheists&f=false

          The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) explicitly affirmed that it is possible for atheists to be saved (Lumen Gentium 16)... The book explores how that's possible in light of what else the Church teaches about salvation (e.g. the necessity of faith, baptism, and the mediation and the Church).

          • Dcn Harbey Santiago

            Thanks Dr. Bulivant!

            Like I said, looks like a good read. I'm exploring the possibility of an inter-library transfer with the St Mary's Seminary library in Baltimore. (Although, I would love to have it permanently into my ministry collection)

            "Viva Cristo Rey!!"
            DHS

          • Stephen Bulivant

            Deacon Harbey - send me an email (you can find my address on google pretty easily); I might have a spare...

          • "The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) explicitly affirmed that it is possible for atheists to be saved (Lumen Gentium 16)

            >> Excuse me, Stephen. There is no such explicit teaching that it is possible for atheists to be saved in LG 16.

            Atheists, like anybody else, can only be saved by coming to Faith.

            Apart from Faith there is no justification, no translation from the condition of original sin.

            In fact to claim that atheists can be saved is a denial of infallible Catholic dogmatic definitions concerning justification and salvation (Trent, Session VI, Chapter IV).

            So in the interest of directly confronting and challenging your false assertion, I hereby ask that you provide us the "explicit teaching" that "atheists can be saved".

          • Rick,
            Exactly! If Stephen is right, then why are we are having dialogue with atheists in the first place.

          • ... then why are we are having dialogue with atheists in the first place.

            WWJD?

          • QQ said
            [---
            WWJD?
            ---]
            He came for the sick, not those that are well.

          • Susan

            He came for the sick, not those that are well.

            Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

          • Michael Murray

            He came for the sick, not those that are well.

            You need to read your Bible

            Then he will say also to those on the left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn't give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn't take me in; naked, and you didn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me.'

          • Your ignoring the spiritual dimension of his mission which was paramount over filling gullets with bread and wine or healing people's physical ailments.

          • Michael Murray

            No I'm not. I'm just demonstrating your claim is incorrect.

          • I guess you failed because it was not my claim, it was Jesus' claim.

          • Michael Murray

            Really ? Jesus said something like

            "He came for the sick, not those that are well."

          • Michael Murray

            You quote

            17 Jesus hearing this, saith to them: They that are well have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. For I came not to call the just, but sinners.

            Surely the use of sick and well here is rhetorical. Particularly as he emphasises the point by immediately saying "not to call the just, but the sinners". So I still don't see support for

            "He came for the sick, not those that are well."

            and its application to not talking to atheists. Atheists, from Jesus perspective, are among the sinners rather than the just ?

          • [---
            Surely the use of sick and well here is rhetorical.
            ---]
            It was meant to be understood in the spiritual dimension that I mentioned earlier in the conversation. The sick are the spiritually sick. The spiritually sick are the sinners. He came for them, not those who are Just and without sin. They are already well.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm not sure we need worry over much what Jesus would do, as I think he is condemned as a sinner by his own preachments. And thus rendered an imperfect sacrifice, and unable to stand in substitution for all the sins of the world.

            Consider his nattering about the commandment, Thou shalt not kill, or as it is rendered in some translations, do no murder. In the mythology, Jesus presses someone about keeping the rules. I will paraphrase,

            "Have you ever committed murder?" Jesus

            "No." Guy

            "Have you ever been angry?" Jesus, not the most adroit casuist, but glib on his feet at making things up, presses the man.

            "Uh yeah." Guy responds, scrunches face as if to say, there was a stupid question.

            "Then you have committed murder." Jesus says, rather pleased with this non sequitur.

            "hey that doesn't follow." Guy says.

            "Oh yes it is."

            So Jesus lays it out. Anyone who gets angry has sinned and committed murder. The rule is set. The text demonstrates him getting angry several times during the gospels. At a fig tree for not bearing fruit, out of season. Of course Jesus slaughters the money changers with murder. Not real murder of course but mind murder that kills no one. However important we humans think this distinction is, its pretty clear God paints with a broad brush.

            In Mark 7:25-30 he calls a woman a dog who has come to get her daughter healed, when she agrees he consents to heal the child. Is that anger? I don't know, but it sure isn't civil.

            In any event, we have some pretty clear examples of anger. Anger equal murder, murder equal sin. These aren't my rules. False prophet, I think so.

          • That's an interesting dialogue you have made up in your head. Mad libs, (pun intended). Forgive me for wishing I had that 30 seconds of my life back.

          • Max Driffill

            I think you mean 'offing brilliant and interesting.

            Of course you can't argue with the soundness of my claim that Jesus disqualifies himself, if fully human, as a perfect sinless savior. He got angry with several people. Anger at people= murder. Jesus is guilty of violating the commandment against murder. Thus, He cannot have been the hoped for savior, the lamb without blemish. His human bits have the mud of sin on them.

            Don't try to deflect with that righteous anger line either. Jesus doesn't make that distinction, and doesn't permit that way out.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            But according to Christianity, we (the atheists) are the sick. Jesus came for us. You guys, not so much.

          • That is sort of what I meant. If atheism is a valid path to salvation, then this dialogue is meaningless because atheist have no need to understand or accept God.

          • Susan

            If atheism is a valid path to salvation, then this dialogue is meaningless because atheist have no need to understand or accept God.

            Unless Jesus wants you to learn something from it.

            Sort of the way, he tried to teach the Pharisees (to no avail for the most part, if I recall correctly.)

          • Stephen Bulivant

            Dear Rick and Irenaeus,

            This is the specific passage (it comes directly after the sentence Irenaeus quotes, which is also relevant here): 'Nor does divine Providence deny the assistances necessary for salvation to those who, without fault, have not yet arrived at an express recognition of God and who, not without divine grace, endeavour to attain to an upright life.' (Lumen Gentium 16)

            'Those who, without fault [sine culpa], have not yet arrived at an express recognition of God [expressam agnitionem Dei]' is certainly referring here to inculpably (or 'invincibly') ignorant atheists - that is, to unbelievers who have not culpably rejected the gospel. (Irenaeus you are absolutely right here that such ignorance doesn't and cannot, in itself, save - though neither I, nor Vatican II, are claiming it does.)

            *How* such atheists can be saved is certainly a difficult question - esepcially, as I mentioned above, in light of the other 'requirements' for salvation (Trent certainly specific these, Rick - though so too does Lumen Gentium itself, a couple of paragraphs earlier - article 14)... none of which, again, I deny. (Similar difficulties arise in explaining how the other categories of people mentioned in LG 16 - Jews, Muslims, 'those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God' - may also be saved, given these dogmas.)

            'Baptism of desire' (though it would need to be an *implicit* baptism of desire in our case) is certainly one option, and was mentioned by theologians prior to the Council, but it isn't necessarily the only one.

            No doubt this is a topic I'll end up writing about at length on this blog at some point. It's hard to condense a whole book into a combox.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            If I understand this correctly, then the Church's position - officially - is that anyone who is aware of the gospel message but fails to become Catholic and join the church is irretrievably and utterly damned.

            That's an awful lot of folks bound to hell. In fact, the overwhelming majority of every human that has ever lived is eternally damned.

            Do you see why that's a message that no longer resonates with the young?

          • Michael Murray

            But surely you can argue that, as the message is irresistible, if you didn't convert you just couldn't have heard it properly. That's my plan anyway. If St Peter goes for it I'll try and get him to let you others guys come up if you're not too singed by then.

          • The number of the saved might be very small.

            It might be quite large.

            But the message resonates not only with the young, but with all human beings.

            History teaches that no message has ever resonated so profoundly as the message of the Gospel.

            That is because it is true, and we instinctively know it to be true.

            Of course, we are free to erect a defense against it, and many, perhaps most, do.

            God will, in such a case, judge with perfect justice on that Day.

          • The number of the saved might be very small.

            Does it really seem likely to you that God wants everyone to be saved—we can agree on that, can't we?—and that he would create a world in which few would be?

          • It is certain God wants all men to be saved. He tells us so:

            "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, [4] Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

            It is certain that not all men will be saved. He tells us so:

            [23] And a certain man said to him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But he said to them: [24] Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able. [25] But when the master of the house shall be gone in, and shall shut the door, you shall begin to stand without, and knock at the door, saying: Lord, open to us. And he answering, shall say to you: I know you not, whence you are.

            There is the fact that God has made us free. Without recognizing this, it is impossible to understand why God will judge justly, and all will confirm this fact on that Day.

            Even the damned.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            God wants all men to be saved.

            Would God be more content if the vast majority of men came to salvation. than if only a handful did??

          • God is content, knowing from all eternity the exact number of the saved.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            God is content, knowing from all eternity the exact number of the saved.

            Did you mention at some point that you had a Calvinist upbringing? Perhaps I am thinking of another poster.

          • Atheist upbringing, after a perfunctory Christmas-and-Easter Congregationalism.

            My distant ancestors were Huguenots, the ultimate Calvinists.

            But the statement you quote above is Catholic dogma.

          • Vicq_Ruiz

            OK, I had thought you were a convert from Calvinism. I stand corrected.

          • Stephen, I thank you for your further elaboration of what, I am sorry to have to say, remains a perversion of the Catholic Faith so profound as to render it impossible for me to remain silent.

            What you claim is an "explicit statement that it is possible for atheists to be saved", is instead a completely non-controversial reiteration of what has been known from the beginning:

            "Nor does divine Providence deny the assistances necessary for salvation to those who, without fault, have not yet arrived at an express recognition of God and who, not without divine grace, endeavour to attain to an upright life"

            Of course He doesn't.

            But you have perverted the words of this text, so as to assign to them a meaning completely foreign to the Gospel, to the Faith itself.

            If the text had read:

            "Nor does divine Providence deny salvation to those who, without fault, have not yet arrived at an express recognition of God and who, not without divine grace, endeavour to attain to an upright life"

            Then we should have had your explicit statement, and we should also have had a direct heresy taught in Vatican II.

            "Helps necessary for salvation" include Faith, Stephen.

            To allege that a man can be saved without Faith is heresy.

            To affirm that God will bring a man to Faith by His grace, even if that man does not yet know God, is perfectly Catholic.

            But no man has ever been saved without Faith, and no man will ever be saved without Faith, and the contrary is heresy, and God forbid that a Catholic website should lie to atheists about such a thing.

            Pope Benedict explicitly taught that no interpretation of the Council which represents a rupture with Tradition can be correct.

            Your interpretation of LG 16 is completely unknown to the Church East and West, to Scripture, to the Fathers, to the Doctors, and it is in direct contradiction to defined dogmas of the Catholic Faith.

            It is necessary, in this time of disorientation, that such inversions of the Faith be resisted in charity, and I do resist you to your face.

          • Stephen Bulivant

            Dear Rick,

            You are quite correct that 'To allege that a man can be saved without Faith is a heresy'. Why you feel the need 'to resist me to my face' on this point, however, I am not so sure.

            In my first reply in this subthread, I specifically mentioned 'the necessity of faith' for salvation. And in my second reply, I reiterated that I do not deny any of the traditional 'requirements' for salvation - including faith (as LG 14 puts it, '[Christ] himself, by demanding with explicit words the necessity of faith and baptism, at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter through baptism as through a door.- which I mentioned.')

            If you had read the freely-available introduction to my book (I posted the google books link above), you would also have found these points emphasized several times (including with a direct quotation from LG 14 on the very first page).

            Finally, should you happen to read a copy of my forthcoming book, Faith and Unbelief, you will find precisely the same thing stated: the trifold necessity of faith, baptism, and the Church for salvation. In fact the whole fourth chapter is devoted to the question of how, *given these conditions*, it might be possible 'those who, without fault, have not yet arrived at an express recognition of God' to receive the 'helps necessary for salvation'. (If you can't or won't buy it, email me - I'm easily found on Google - and I'll be very glad to send you a copy.)

            Stephen

          • "You are quite correct that 'To allege that a man can be saved without Faith is a heresy'.

            >> Amen. We are in perfect agreement.

            I do not know how to email you, but I would be delighted to receive a copy of your book.

            My resistance was explicitly to the notion that an atheist could be saved as an atheist; that is, that atheists could be saved without faith.

            All atheists saved, are saved in exactly the same way anyone else is saved.

            Obviously, once a man has Faith, he is no longer an atheist.

            There are no saved atheists.

          • Rick said:
            [---
            All atheists saved, are saved in exactly the same way anyone else is saved.
            Obviously, once a man has Faith, he is no longer an atheist.
            There are no saved atheists.
            ---]

            That sums up my understanding too.

          • Stephen said
            [---
            The Second Vatican Council (1962-5) explicitly affirmed that it is possible for atheists to be saved (Lumen Gentium 16)
            ---]

            Okay here is the portion i think you were citing.
            [---
            Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. LG 16
            ---]
            The passage leading up to this was referring to people who knew the God of Abraham, such as Jews and Muslims. And to reconcile it with other more restrictive passages in VII, it seems that it can only mean baptism of desire. The "no fault of their own" is merely reiterating that invincible ignorance will not be counted against you, but neither will it save you. Those two Abrahamic faiths that did not know Christ and his Church are explicitly mentioned in 16, but not atheism which knows not God the Father nor Christ and His Church. In fact, one telling comment from VII on atheism is that the Church rejects atheism "root and branch". Therefore, they can not be grafted to the body of Christ while at the same time rejecting God. So where is it that VII says atheists can be saved in their atheism explicitly?

          • Susan

            Hey! We can hear you! :-)

  • Quatsch83

    how can we possibly hope accurately to talk about the Creator of life, the universe, and everything

    I am sorely disappointed to arrive so late to the discussion and not see one mention of Douglas Adams, the actual creator of Life, the Universe and Everything.

  • clod

    Steohen: "....if I can't adequately put into words what I think and feel about my wife and daughter—and when I try, the best I can normally hope to do is resort to fairly weak metaphors and analogies—how can we possibly hope accurately to talk about the Creator of life, the universe, and everything....

    Yes. If you do not know God then you are unlikely to be able to conjure any words to describe God. Also, if you do not knowGod you are unlikely to be able to know what sort of evidence would be sufficient to support the existence of God.

    An atheist claiming to produce evidence against the existence of God implies that he knows to what it would be pointing if his evidence were sufficient. To that extent it would imply that he knewGod. Curious.

    Do any of you that write about God actually know God, or is what you are describing your ideas about the qualities, characteristics and properties of God derived from other sources?

    • Linda

      I think you are asking for comments from the official bloggers here, but if you don't mind, I'll put in a couple thoughts.

      I know what I have been taught about God and I know what I have experienced with God but I don't know if I could ever fully *know* God, at least in this life anyway. It would help, though, if I could discipline myself to be quiet and listen. Easier to hear Him then. Lately "I will rest in Him" resonates particularly with me.

    • Medequcb68

      I echo Linda's statement below. In addition, God is beyond fully knowing...even the joy that I felt realizing His great merciful love is beyond description...I have been a criminal investigator and I know that there are pieces of evidence that are deemed very biased but bias does not disqualify it as an evidence. It's integrity can be tested during cross examination and as part of the process, it is paramount that the judge or jury (depending on your judicial system) will have to maintain an objective stance to render right judgment. It is not different from experience with God. When you ask a firmly believing Catholic about his proof of God, he will tell you what led him/her to faith. What we have seen/heard/felt are more than enough to believe.