More information please

I am curious (they say it killed the cat – and it is an attribute that sometimes gets me into trouble too – but which perhaps makes me more suited than some would think to be involved in dialogue with non-Catholics!). Two stories that Cathnews ran this morning seem to me to need more information.

The first story is the news of the death of the atheist philosopher turned “believer” Anthony Flew. Cathnews picks up an obituary from Sydney’s Catholic Communications in which it is said that:

With an academic career spanning 60 years with stints at universities across Britain and the US, Antony Flew will be remembered not only as one of the outstanding philosophers of his time, but as the man who preached atheism but died a believer.

My question to anyone who knows is: What kind of “believer” was Professor Flew? The very same article says that “Flew supported the idea of a God along the lines of the philosophy espoused by Greek philosopher, Aristotle who believed God had characteristics of both power and intelligence” but that “until his death while convinced God did exist, he remained sceptical about an afterlife”. So was he a Christian or a Deist? If you have more information on this, I would be interested to hear it.

The other story is also interesting, in the light of our recent discussion on “sacking” bishops. It is a short report concerning the “sacking” of the Bishop of Same in Tanzania. All the article says is that

The Vatican has sacked Tanzanian Bishop Jakob Koda for alleged violation of church moral teachings. Vatican Apostolic Nuncio to Tanzania, Archbishop Joseph Chennoth, told the Daily News that Bishop Koda of Same diocese in the Kilimanjaro region has now been “advised to take time for rest, reflection and personal study”. Following Bishop Koda’s removal, Archbishop Chennoth said that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Fr Rogath Kimaryo CSSp to be Apostolic Administrator. Without elaborating, Archbishop Chennoth said that the Catholic Church normally grants such occasion to its leaders “when necessary”. “We have advised him to leave the Diocese, and Fr Kimaryo will lead the See for a short while, until the Holy Father announces (the appointment of) a new bishop,” he said.

Does anyone know what Bishop Koda’s actual moral errors were? It seems to me that they would have to have been pretty obvious and pretty serious – and even regularly repeated – for this sort of response. Again, does anyone have any more information?

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7 responses to “More information please

  1. matthias

    AS far as i can find out Flew died a deist ,rather than an atheist,sadly. So he would have discovered that the Deists God of no intervention is really the God Who has intervened in history. Unless he did become a Christian and that part was not made public and cathnews has found out,or their intepretation of believer is different.

  2. Peregrinus

    My question to anyone who knows is: What kind of “believer” was Professor Flew? . . . So was he a Christian or a Deist? If you have more information on this, I would be interested to hear it.

    Well, of course, “Christian” and “Deist” are not exhaustive of the category of “believer”. I’m fairly confident that he was [I]not[/I] a Christian, but as to what he [I]was[/I], I’m not sure that there is a neat answer. Apart from anything else, his religious thought continued to develop up until his death, while his declining faculties made it more and more difficult for him to write or speak (in public), so tracing the development of his thinking becomes more and more difficult.

    Flew published God and Philosophy in 1966, setting out his atheist views, and then reissued it in 2005 with a new introduction, explaining his (then) current beliefs. He co-authored There is a God (with Roy Varghese) in 2007. Those two books would probably give you the best account of his later religious beliefs that you could hope to have. But I haven’t read either of them. My impression from reading about the books is that arguments about creation are what led him to religious belief, rather than arguments about morality or meaning. He wasn’t, as I have said, a Christian, and he doubted the resurrection. I don’t think he rejected the term “deist”, but this doesn’t tell us much more than that he was no longer an atheist.

    Does anyone know what Bishop Koda’s actual moral errors were?

    Well, I don’t, anyway.

    I do think, though, that his “moral errors”, whatever they were, may not be the whole story about why he “resigned”.

    A bit of background reading shows that Bishop Koda has been on “sabbatical” outside the country since June 2009, that he had just now resigned and has been “advised” not to return to the country, that his diocese is deeply divided over him, and has been for some time, and that he was at odds with some of his fellow-bishops, though I don’t know why. I suspect that these divisions and differences may have as much to do with his departure as any specific “moral errors”. I’m reminded of a similar situation in which an bishop made himself unpopular in his diocese and seriously annoyed his brother bishops, and retired rather early late last year, without any “moral errors” being alluded to at all.

    The resignation, and the appointment of an administrator, was announced by the Papal Nuncio, who said nothing about any moral failings.

    The “moral failings” comment comes from the metropolitan, Archbishop Lebulu of Arusha who, reading between the lines, is a prominent figure in the group of Tanzanian bishops who are at odds with Koda. Lebulu was previously Bishop of Same himself, and Koda was his succesor. According to the Tanzanian Daily News Lebulu is regarded as their “supreme leader” by Catholics in Same who were dissatisfied with Koda.

    It could be that the two men have a bit of a history.

    As the metropolitan, Lebulu would normally preside over the liturgy installing the administrator, but he didn’t on this occasion. It could be that it was judged to be impolitic to have him involved, given his prominent identification with the anti-Koda camp.

    It could be, so, that Archbishop Lebulu’s reference to moral issues is an attempt either to distract attention from his own role in the removal, or to justify his own role in the removal. Koda has explicitly accused “another prelate in the northern zone’ of undermining him and engineering his removal.

    FWIW, Bishop Koda is reported as having denied that he was ever a freemason, or that he followed masonic teachings. Presumably he wouldn’t issue such a denial unless that rumour were circulating.

    Also FWIW, the diocese is heavily indebted (more than one million euros, which is a lot of money in Tanzania) and there are suggestions that Bp Koda may not have been the best manager.

  3. William Tighe

    About the bishop’s dismissal, I read an account yesterday that said that he was dismissed “for being a Freemason,” but that he denied that he was one. I don’t remember where I read that story, though.

    Wait; here it is:

    http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=6049

  4. Flew’s situation reminds me of Pascal’s distinction between the “happy atheist” and the “unhappy atheist.”

    Pascal wrote that the happy atheist, meaning someone who is content with not knowing God, was an appalling creature whose situation he didn’t want to contemplate.

    But, he wrote, the unhappy atheist will be saved. That is, the non-believer who is not content, who is still seeking truth, will find God, either in this world or the next, because we have been promised that all who seek will find.

    • Well, that’s a nice way of looking at it. Let us pray, therefore, that this particular “unhappy atheist”, who had progressed in his search for truth to the point of no longer being an atheist, but (from what it seems) a Deist, may, by God’s mysterious grace (and keeping in mind Jesus’ own promise that he who seeks will find), receive the reward of eternal life.

  5. Unless there was a death bed conversion no-one has reported yet, Flew died believing in a supreme being but not, as the Cathnews story might be understood to imply, as a Catholic. Matthias is on the money, I think, in his last years Flew was an English Deist redivivus.

  6. Peregrinus

    BBC religion correspondent William Crawley on Antony Flew, the development of his religious thinking and the controversy it engendered: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2010/04/antony_flew_the_atheist_who_ch.html. Don’t know how authoritative this summary is, but it reads pretty well to me. It confirms what has already been said here; Flew embraced “a form of deism”, but not Christianity, or indeed “classical theism in any substantial form”.