Daily Archives: November 4, 2009

“Mate, we don’t hate you, we pity you”

That’s how one online commentator reacted to ACU Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven’s piece in The Age today “A plague of atheists has descended, and Catholics are the target”.

Last week, The Age’s sibling, the Sydney Morning Herald, ran a couple of articles on the same topic, leading off with Jewish historian Dvir Abrahamovich’s piece Celebrity atheists expose their hypocrisy, followed by a “right-of-reply” piece by Melbourne University physics tutor James Richmond, Atheists are good humans too. Both pieces are very polite, but rather pedestrian. Abrahamovich recites (in catalogue order) every complaint that any theist anywhere has ever filed against the New Atheists. It is a text book rebuttal – and quite right in practically every point – but not very exciting nor original. Likewise, Richmond’s piece is worthy of a high school debating reply.

Dr Craven has attempted to come at the subject from a different direction. I seem to recall that soon after he was appointed as Vice-Chancellor, he made a speech decrying the lack of “public theologians” today, after the manner of Chesterton and Santamaria – people who used intelligence and wit to make their point, and who were not afraid to take up the pen and fight the good fight. (I cannot locate that speech on the internet now – does anyone know the speech to which I refer?). In this piece, as in a similar piece he did last year during World Youth Day, he aims for a tone which is “clever, witty and funny”.

Unfortunately, he is no more successful at this than his opponents. You can see him making the effort, but it all falls rather flat, and he comes out sounding just like a mirror image of Christopher Hitchen’s on a bad day.

I think the piece fails on a couple of grounds. For a start, he is wrong to say that the New Atheists are fixated on the Catholic Church. They are just as scathing of the Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Secondly, his humour is more in the Catherine Deveny style than the Chesterton style. If I were a Christadelphian chartered accountant named Algie who lived in Birchip, I would find some of his jokes at my expense a bit off. And then, unlike Abrahamovich’s piece, it doesn’t really contain much of substance.

Still, he makes one good point: the New Atheists are not especially “bright”, despite Dawkins’ own claim to that description. I could name any number of theologians or philosophers who plumb greater depths of the human situation than Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Neither of them matches the sublimity of Joseph Ratzinger, just to take a random example. They are what a friend of mine calls “deep thinkers in the shallow end of the pool”.

But back to the comment that I started with. I believe Dr Craven has overstated the “case for hate”. I think the commentator has it right: the New Atheists do not hate us so much as pity us. And personally, I would rather they hated us so that we could stage a few good martyrdoms. The ignominy of condescension which results from pity is, I would argue, harder to bear.


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Schütz disagrees with Vatican re Crucifixes in Classrooms

There. I thought that would get your attention. But before you hawl me out to burn me at the stake, let me say that I am all in favour of crucifixes in classrooms – and just about everywhere and anywhere else too, public or private. My disagreement is concerns what the crucifix is and stands for.

The story to which this opening gambit relates is this from Zenit:

Vatican “Regrets” European Court Ruling on Crucifix: Spokesman Defends Symbol of Italian Culture, Identity.

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican expressed “astonishment” and “regret” at Tuesday’s decision from the European Court of Human Rights that crucifixes in public school classrooms are a violation of freedom. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, gave a brief statement today to Vatican Radio in response to the decision.

“The crucifix has always been a sign of God’s offer of love, of union and of welcome for the whole of humanity,” the spokesman said. “It is to be regretted that it has come to be considered as a sign of division, of exclusion and of limitation of liberty. It is not this, and it is not so in the common feeling of our people.”

The Italian government protested the ruling, having contended that crucifixes — often hung in Italian public schools — are national symbol of culture and history. Father Lombardi echoed this idea. He called particularly grave “the desire to set aside from the educational world a fundamental sign of the importance of religious values in Italian history and culture.”

…”It is astonishing then that a European court should intervene weightily in a matter profoundly linked to the historical, cultural and spiritual identity of the Italian people,” the Vatican spokesman stated.

I stand four-square with Fr Lombardi, the Vatican the Italian government and anyone else who wishes to display a crucifix in a public place of education. They could add a stone plaque of the Ten Commandments while they are at it. The European Union is obviously dead set intent upon removing all religious symbols from the public square. This intention should be opposed for all it is worth – even to the point of civil disobedience.

So what is my disagreement? I disagree with the Vatican taking the Italian Government’s stance that the Crucifix is “a national symbol of culture and history”. If we allow the crucifix to become this, we are treating it no differently than the person who asks for a “cross with the little man on it” at a jeweller’s shop.

St Paul said that the Crucified Christ is a “scandal” and “foolishness” to those who are not believers and the “power and wisdom of God” to those who are (1 Cor 1:23-24). Of course the image of the Crucifix is “a sign of God’s offer of love, of union and of welcome for the whole of humanity,” but not to those who hate it and hate Christ. To them, a Crucifix is about as in-your-face as you can get. It is no surprise they want it banned.

We should not sugar-coat the shocking reality of the depth to which Jesus was willing to be humiliated for our salvation (cf. Phil 2). Nor should we ever argue that the Crucifix is “just” a cultural symbol, even as a tactic to keep it legal to display it publically. It is the price paid for our salvation. We love it, because we believe it and have experienced God’s wisdom and power through it. But to them it is foolishness and a scandal.

We can “regret” the decision of the EU court, but we should not be “astonished”.


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