The Atheists are coming!

Sorry, PE, you missed your chance for that “night out” with Catherine Deveny. She is one of the speakers at the “sold out” The Rise of Atheism 2010 Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne 12-14 March 2010.

There was a bit of bruhahah last year about the fact that the Government gave financial support to the Parliament of the World’s Religions and not to this Athiest Convention. The reason is fairly simple, I think, and has nothing to do with the State supporting religion over secularism (as if). It is the simple fact that the Parliament was, to all extents and purposes, a “multi-cultural” event. The Atheist Convention isn’t.

Just look at the line up of speakers. There are one or two non-Anglo-Saxons. There are women (eg. Deveny) involved – mostly on one panel – but the majority of speakers are male. There are no cultural events besides comedy (and you can be sure that they won’t be laughing at themselves). No food, no dance, no ritual, no art, no song, no music. Where are the indigenous, who were so well represented at the Parliament? Where are the third world representatives?

As far as I can make out, the Government sponsored the Parliament of the World’s Religions because it was a creative event that was seen to enrich our vibrant multicultural society here in Melbourne. They didn’t see the Atheist Convention in the same light.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ of Eureka Street has an interesting take. He says he is about as excited about this event as he would be if Melbourne were hosting a “an international convention of Christian evangelists”. Mmm. Says a lot about where Fr Hamilton is coming from. He later clarifies in the comment string that “When I referred to Christian Evangelists I did not mean groups in denominations other than Catholic, but people who focus on ‘selling their message’ aggressively.” Okay, well, we’ll leave that well enough alone and let it speak for itself, and look at what he says about how we should engage our atheistic brethren and sistern:

The wellsprings and justification for religious faith, and for other foundational views of life, are to be found in qualities of human experience that are not susceptible to large, knockdown and narrow arguments. Faith in God and in humanity, is rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation that are delicate and not easily framed in simple argument.

Powerful arguments can and should be built for faith, but the experience on which they are built needs clarification, not codification; amplification, not reduction; ruminative conversation, not assertion.

In conversation we can tease out the subtleties of our intuitions, and the ways in which we account for the beauty and the complexities of our world. We can explore why people find religious faith persuasive, and also come to see how people put together their lives and their world without it.

Now, in one respect, I think that Fr Hamilton is right: we should be engaging in conversation with the Atheists, Rationalists and Humanists. In fact, the Commission for which I work is doing just that, and have started by inviting a member of the Rationalist Society to our Interreligious Symposium on Death and Dying (Lyn Allison, who is coincidentally appearing at the Atheist Convention also).

But in another respect, I think he is dead wrong. The “wellsprings and justification for [Christian] religious faith” is NOT “to be found in qualities of human experience”. Christian “Faith in God and in humanity” is NOT “rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation”. This is because the Christian faith, unlike the religious philosophies of the East (for instance) are not built upon “the subtleties of our intuitions”, but upon the eye-witness verified fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do not say that we cannot have a fruitful dialogue with our Atheist pals about religious experience and intuition. If you can find an Atheist who is prepared to acknowledge that such a thing exists in the first place. Its just that this is neither the “wellspring” nor the “justification” for our faith. Just as their atheism is (according to their claim) based on ration and demonstrable facts, so is our Christian faith. To forget this is already to have moved yourself into a position of checkmate.

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20 responses to “The Atheists are coming!

  1. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Oh damn. How about Ariane — she free?

  2. “The wellsprings and justification for religious faith, and for other foundational views of life, are to be found in qualities of human experience that are not susceptible to large, knockdown and narrow arguments. Faith in God and in humanity, is rooted in experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation that are delicate and not easily framed in simple argument.

    “Powerful arguments can and should be built for faith, but the experience on which they are built needs clarification, not codification; amplification, not reduction; ruminative conversation, not assertion.

    “In conversation we can tease out the subtleties of our intuitions, and the ways in which we account for the beauty and the complexities of our world. We can explore why people find religious faith persuasive, and also come to see how people put together their lives and their world without it.”

    Classic, quintessential Modernism. This kind of drivel is straight out of the section in Pascendi on the Modernist-as-believer; here’s an excerpt:

    “for the modernist believer[,] it is established and certain that the reality of the divine definitely exists in itself, and certainly does not depend on the believer. But if you ask on what then the assertion of the believer rests, they will reply: In the personal experience of every man.–In this affirmation, while they break with the rationalists, to be sure, yet they fall in with the opinion of Protestants and pseudomystics … For they explain the subject as follows: that in the religious sense a kind of intuition of the heart is to be recognized, by which man directly attains the reality of God, and draws from it such conviction of the existence of God and of the action of God both within and without man, that it surpasses by far all conviction that can be sought from science. They establish, then, a true experience and one superior to any rational experience.”
    [my interpolation and ellipsis,
    http://www.catecheticsonline.com/SourcesofDogma21.php%5D

    (Note well the Modernist vocabulary, with its ‘experience’ and ‘intuition’.) Eager as one ought to be to give the benefit of the doubt, one might think that Fr. Hamilton retreats one step from pure Modernism when he writes that

    “[p]owerful arguments can and should be built for faith …”

    but no such luck, because, for him, the foundation for those ‘arguments’ is still experience :

    “… but the experience on which they are built …”

    Hence, for the Modernist, there can be no “large, knockdown and narrow arguments”, in Fr. Hamilton’s words; thus, as St. Pius X said (Pascendi, again),

    “everyone will easily see what becomes of Natural Theology, of the motives of credibility, of external revelation. These, of course, the modernists completely spurn, and relegate to intellectualism, an absurd system, they say, and long since dead.”
    [ibid.]

    Instead, Fr. Hamilton’s ‘arguments’ would be those of the Modernist-as-apologist:

    “But now let us see how one of them proceeds in his apologies. The end which he places before himself for accomplishment, is this: to win a person thus far inexperienced in the faith over to it, that he may attain this experience of the Catholic religion, which according to the modernists is the only basis of faith. A twofold way is open to this: one objective, the other subjective. … He who does not yet believe can be disposed toward faith not only by objective but also by subjective arguments.”
    [my emphasis,
    [ibid.]]

    And to top it all off, I was amused to read, in the combox at that post, the following remark from a reader:

    “Richard Dawkins on QandA ABC TV 8.3.10 ridiculed a theistic religion based on a blood sacrifice as atonement for sin. That is the major narrative in our Catholic Mass today . Is it possible that he is right in seeing this in a bad light, and that it is a distortion of the central message of Jesus–love and community?

    “Could it be one day that theology would move right away from redemption as a focus and see as central our building up of the kingdom of God through our lives in community/Church/faith/Mass? Did Jesus say we needed redemption or did writers such as Paul insert this into the mix?
    [my emphasis,
    Marianne 08-Mar-2010]

    Recall condemned error no. 38 of St. Pius X’s anti-Modernist syllabus Lamentabili:

    “The doctrine of the expiatory death of Christ is not evangelical but only Pauline.”

    I would strongly recommend that readers here read Lamentabili and at least the sections in Pascendi on the Modernist as believer and the Modernist as apologist. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to be on our guard against the ravings of those who have succumbed to the synthesis of all heresies.

  3. matthias

    Tell me how did Sr Veronica brady go on Q&A. Did she put up a fight to Dawkins or dod she like any Christian liberal bow and scrape and agree with what was being said

    • Paul

      Sr V Brady was a no-show. At the start of the show, Tony Jones wished her a good recovery from her illness.

  4. Paul

    I have been having a running debate with friends about Richard Dawkins’ (on Q & A) refusal to offer an opinion on the issue of refugees and boat people, the only question on the night (as I recall) that did not directly involve religion.
    My friends say he was justified because it is not his area of expertise.

    I tend to differ. The premise of Q & A is that anyone can be asked anything. The Rabbi probably has no more expertise than Dawkins, but she had something to say. Dawkins had already said repeatedly that atheist ethics was superior to anything based on a religious text, so why can’t he offer an opinion? He talks a lot about philosophy and ethics in his books, and refugees are a bigger issue in his native land than here.

    My assertion is that it is typical of atheists to have nothing to say about something that affects people, beyond implementing impersonal politics. Their conspicuous failure to run a country in the 20th Century that did not descend into murderous chaos is a consequence of this moral and philosophical failure.

    • Peregrinus

      “My friends say he was justified because it is not his area of expertise.”

      Would that he applied that principle more consistently!

      Seriously, though, I think if you haven’t got an opinion on something, it’s entirely legitimate to say so. And I also think it’s entirely legitimate not to have a opinion on something.

      Dawkins isn’t Australian, and probably hasn’t been exposed to the discussion of this issue as it is conducted in Australia, in the context of assumptions and beliefs that are either irrelevant to other countries, or simply not widely shared outside Australia. It was probably wise not to participate in a discussion in which what he said was quite likely to be misunderstood and misinterpreted, and in which he himself was likely not to understand all that was said.

      Dawkins has always said that an atheist ethic is possible. He has never accepted the responsibility of framing a comprehensive atheist ethic himself.

  5. Peregrinus

    In the context of dialogue with nonbelievers, I think he has a point. I very much doubt that many – or any – nonbelievers are converted because they become intellectually convinced of “the eye-witness verified fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ”, or even that an understanding that Christians do believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that gives nonbelievers a proper understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

    I think an openness to accepting the resurrection, or to understanding what it means for those who do accept it, requires, or at least typically arises out of, “qualities of human experience” and “experiences of wonder, questioning, desire and invitation”.

    Hamilton’s core point is that “I believe that polemical exchange destroys the evidence for religious faith . . . Powerful arguments can and should be built for faith, but the experience on which they are built needs clarification, not codification; amplification, not reduction; ruminative conversation, not assertion.”

    That resonates with me. The more strident, assertive forms of evangelism always look deeply insecure to me. They are simply not effective as a tool for changing hearts, without which a change of mind is pointless. I have always suspected that those who engage in this activity are seeking to persuade themselves, to reinforce their own beliefs, as much as or more than to win over others.

    It’s only anecdotal, but my experience working in RCIA is that almost everyone, if not actually everyone, who enters the church as an adult is drawn in through relationships with Christians, through the experience of Christian community, through observing and sharing in Christian life, through finding some kind of fulfilment there, or observing that others do. Without that, they simply have no reason to engage with the “eye-witness verified fact” of the resurrection, or if they do engage with it any reason to find it to be of personal significance.

    The purpose of dialogue with nonbelievers is not necessarily the conversion of those non-believers, of course; it may simply be to improve reciprocal understanding of one another’s lives and beliefs. But I think the same will hold true; nonbelievers don’t acquire a proper understanding of Christianity simply by engaging with the Nicene Creed.

    • I very much doubt that many – or any – nonbelievers are converted because they become intellectually convinced of “the eye-witness verified fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ”

      C.S. Lewis did. He was convinced by what he came to understand as “the true myth”.

      • Peregrinus

        But you must ask yourself why he was convinced when other sincere seekers after truth, faced with the same evidence, are not.

        It’s significant, I think, that he had (re-)embraced theism some years before (re-)embracing Christianity; it’s not unreasonable to speculate that his openness to being convinced of the truth of the myth may have been connected with his theism.

        And I think it’s also relevant to explore the reasons why he rejected theism and Christianity a young adult in the first place. It wasn’t that he was a materialist by instinct or belief; it was that he couldn’t get past the problem of evil.

        He describes himself, in his atheist years, as being “very angry with God for not existing”. During his atheist period he was drawn to the occult, and he also described – in retrospect – his journey back to belief beginning only about a year after his rejection of belief.

        I think all of this points strongly towards Lewis having a religious inclination or disposition which never went away, and which again forms part of the context in which he re-embraces first theism and then Christianity. He was never a secular materialist in the late Victorian mould – or in the mould of the Dawkinsish atheism currently fashionable.

        Whatever it was that formed and sustained that disposition preceded, shaped and conditions his intellectual acceptance of the truth of the resurrection.

  6. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Crikey mates, she probably has a boyfriend anyway.

  7. Louise

    Do you mean, Deveny, PE? I really do question your judgment, you know; she’s not that attractive, really. Certainly not to the point where one could expect a man to overlook her dementia.

    • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

      It’s all David’s fault. He’s the one who posted a picture of her, all lying down and barefoot and everything. Can’t speak to her state of mind — I’m not one to label disagreeing with me as dementia — but the state of body seemed just fine.

      • Peregrinus

        Mmm. You don’t read her articles, do you?

        • Terry Maher (Past Elder)

          Seems to have no more of an illogical and unreasonable view of the RCC than this blog, just a different such view.

          • Peregrinus

            I don’t think it’s just her views on the RCC that are being referred to here.

            • Louise

              Certainly not, Pere. Her revolting articles blaspheme Our Lord God, PE, and for all our disagreements re: ecclesiology, I cannot for the life of me believe that you could entertain favourable thoughts about Ms Deveny, had you ever read her disgusting, vomitous outrages. The woman is deranged, but not b/c she disagrees with you (or me) PE.

              I will allow that were she in her right mind (or at least not consumed with hatred of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Heavenly Father), she may well be a very attractive woman while lying on a couch bare-foot. I’m not one to begrudge the beauty of other women, nor the appreciation of it. But Ms Deveny, I assure you, is no proper obbject of admiration. I will try to dig out some links to her filth as evidence.

              I would be much better pleased to know you were interested in a more deserving woman, PE.

              I do realise you are posting in light-hearted fun, but Ms Deveny… she pushes my buttons in a spectacular manner.

  8. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Great Judas on a date, and they say Lutherans have no sense of humour. I’m not interested in her at all. The whole thing is kind of a running joke.

    There was some sort of gathering a while back and David made some jokes about me coming, which of course I’m not, but I thought it was funny the idea of two people he regularly disagrees with showing up on a date.

  9. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    P bloody S — anything about David buying airline tickets from Omaha to Melbourne is a runnung joke too. Oy.

  10. Louise

    Well, PE, I know you were very tongue in cheek as I indicated in my last post. But, there are some things that are hardly fit for jokes and IMO an attraction to Ms Deveny would be one of them. You don’t agree. Bully for you.

  11. Louise

    And just a little PS, I rate being told that I have “no sense of humour” right up there with “narrow-minded frigid misogynistic homophobic puppy-kicking bigot.”