Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I was set to write something completely different and then someone sent me a link to a website that had this statement on it:
Proud, vocal, unapologetic atheist, freethinker and secular humanist. Science teacher. President of northeast Ohio branch of Center for Inquiry. Member of Freedom From Religion Foundation, Cleveland Freethinkers and Cleveland Skeptics.”


He is calling for like minded people to get together and talk.  The sessions would be pretty open to, “Anything that is intellectually stimulating and interesting.”  Would that Christians would be so bold. 
As a side note, I do find it interesting how similar what they want to do is to Church.  They want community and a gathering.  They will have a set of beliefs with its own set of presuppositions that are as utterly improvable as the faiths they disdain.  There will also be dogma.  Consider the acceptable areas of inquiry being, “intellectually stimulating and interesting.”  Who gets to decide this?  The president?  (a pope – every Church has its version of a pope) or a committee (a curia)?  I am pretty sure that things that I find stimulating and interesting would probably off limits.  But I could be wrong on that.
But what are the main differences between this gathering and Church?  Well, yes, of course whether there is a God (or gods) or not.  Though both are seeking community, both are seeking truth, but one is seeking the “how” of the universe, and the other is seeking the “Who.”  One hopes to understand causality (this happened because this happened because this happened), the other on relationship between persons of this world and the Persons of another place.
Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about this in his book, “A Philosophy of Judaism” (h/t Adam).  He is describing what each of these groups are looking for when they look at something such as the book of Genesis:


“There is, for example, a basic difference in meaning, intention, and them between a scientific theory of the origin of the universe and what the first chapters of the Book of Genesis are trying to convey.  The Book of Genesis does not intend to explain anything; the mystery of the world’s coming into being is in no way made more intelligible by a statement such as, ‘At the beginning God created heaven and earth.’  The Bible and science do not deal with the same problem.  Scientific theory inquires: What is the cause of the universe?  It thinks in the category of causality, and causality conceives of the relationship between a cause and effect. . .  The Bible, on the other hand, conceives of the relationship of the Creator and the universe as a relationship between two essentially different and incomparable entities, and regards creation itself as an event rather than as a process.  Creation, then, is an idea that transcends causality; it tell us how it comes that there is causality at all.  Rather than explaining the world in categories borrowed from nature, it alludes to what made nature possible, namely, an act of the freedom of God.”
(There’s a lot there.  Spend some time with that if you have the time.)
It takes just as much faith to say that creation just always was than to say that it was created.  But to say that there is an infinite Creator (or at least a Creator Who is outside of time) begins to give an answer.  It also allows for a bigger universe both in terms of the size of existence and the realm of knowing for belief (at least Catholicism) allows for (and developed much of) scientific “belief,” but the discussion group proposed at the beginning of this post does not allow for the opposite.  (I can talk to him, but he cannot countenance me.)  And that creates an incredibly limited universe. 
It is also sad.  For taken to its logical conclusion, the type of belief system proposed by the gentleman above leads to the belief that human beings are utterly pointless.  The group, in turn, becomes pointless.  Even the pursuit of knowledge is a chase after the wind.  We are an accident of the universe.  We only exist for ourselves, and when we are dead we cease to exist, when we are extinct there will be no one even to know it, or care, or remember . . . we are entirely without purpose or meaning.  And this leads to a horrible form of morality.  A culture of death.  It becomes about what is best for me because that is all that really matters.
And that, to me, sounds neither honest, hopeful, complete, intellectually stimulating, or interesting.


lgreen515 said...

It reminds me of a group described in C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce, which deals with the difference between Heaven and Hell. There is a group of professors there who choose hell because they cannot bear to give up their theological discussions. In Heaven, there is no longer anything "interesting and stimulating, there is only Truth.

Anonymous said...

my problem: . . in heaven there is no beer

Anonymous said...

That gentleman is a pompous ***. I consider myself a free thinker as well, and indeed MORE of a free thinker than him because I give credit to the atheist search for truth but he discounts the religious person's search for truth. It's the same old, same old...those who preach tolerance of all things are the most intolerant of those who disagree with their world view.

Redearth said...

I highly doubt there would be no beer. The Trappists would be making stellar brews.

Redearth said...

Also as Chesterton alludes to in his book orthodoxy, it seems that the only way to free thought is to come to the same conclusion as the above mentioned free thinker, but that begs the question, what if I freely thought and came to the opposite conclusion? Is not that free thinking too? (My paraphrase)

Redearth said...

One last thing, was believes intentionally spelled as "beleives"?

Anonymous said...

Just because something is finite doesn't mean it is pointless -- you look to Catholicism to inform your behavior; the FFRF guy is looking to discourse. At the end of the day, the journey may or may not be the reward... but if whatever you believed helped you to cope with the challenges of life, and allowed you to love and appreciate the experience with others, it was good.

You were put off by his atheism, and took a noble pursuit (seeking truth) to some weird, illogical conclusion where his world-view is about death and self-gratification.

Pope Francis has illuminated a sickness within the church... we judge people through the prism of our own concepts of what life is supposed to be, and relish division over common ground. Compare his sharing of ideas in a recent interview with an atheist (link: with your caustic dismissal of a contrary viewpoint.

But I digress. He ripped on your belief system, and you ripped him back. It's at worst a continuation of the status quo... which is, ironically, not hopeful, intellectually stimulating, or interesting.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that Trappists made beer. I thought that Trappists made cheese and caskets.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Well, I disagree with the above comment. I think this post (as well as the atheist's article) is merely a discussion of ideas rather than judgment, conceptual rather than "personal". I think it's important to have true, respectful debate/discourse and when it's done right, it has nothing to do with "being judgmental".
And if you look carefully, you will see that even you participated in a kind of debate ("judgmentalism" as you say) yourself in your post.

Anonymous said...

In what way does respectful debate and discourse end with accusing the other party of not being honest, hopeful, complete, intellectually stimulating, or interesting? Both parties engaged in straw-man arguments and assumptions... what I'm calling out is the shallow-ness of the whole affair.

If I said your Catholicism leads to "a horrible form of morality" you'd be rightfully offended. My point: that's the kind of nonsense that goes on a blog, directed at someone you don't personally know, that rarely has any real consequence. I think Pope Francis would argue that this is both all to Catholic, and not very. "Proselytism is solemn nonsense. You have to meet people and listen to them."

Fr. V said...

I don't know that I am put off by atheism. I did take it to its logical conclusion and personally found it wanting. Perhaps that is what you meant and I would be most interested in finding out how the position is illogical. That is a discussion I would enjoy! SO write on . . .

Atheism, at its end, has no hope. Dead is dead and the world will end. So best to enjoy life, mourn death, and avoid it with all your strength. With God, even if you only escape a consecration camp through a chimney, there is hope. That IMHO makes life much more bearable, meaningful, hopeful, joyful . . . stimulating, interesting.

This was not a rip I think though now reading back over it I can see why you might think so. It was comparing two thought schools - and the finitude of one does mean something because it leads to nothingness, and one that is infinate, which ultimlately leads to absolute meaning.

Anonymous said...

Well, perhaps I am not as sensitive. If you said my Catholicism leads to a "horrible form of morality" I wouldn't be offended, I would want to discuss it further and see if we could gain some understanding on both our parts.

I see where you are going with this (at least I think I do). You are distinguishing between evangelization and debate.

I love Pope Francis and I agree with you that true evangelization starts with love and friendship, a personal encounter and then a respectful exchange of personal experiences.

I feel like there is still a place for true debate however (which has no desire to befriend a person), but rather is an impersonal exchange of ideas which might get nitty-gritty at times, but if it is done out of sincerity of heart in search for the truth, I see no reason to be offended. I suppose debate is not for all especially the more sensitive types.

Anonymous said...

I would leave a proper defense of atheism to an atheist, but I found your illogical conclusion to be that atheists "exist only for themselves... a culture of death." Actually, I could see how atheism is more a culture of life... present in the now, and respectful that it will one day end. Mindful of the shared journey over some future reward. We know the world isn't fair; just because we want the story to end perfectly doesn't make it so. Half the participants in any given sporting event lose, but that doesn't make the game meaningless.

But that isn't my point.

Our FFRF friend is seeking discourse... one could surmise that he is a decent fellow looking to better himself, or provide guidance to others. You might've considered taking Karl Rahner's 'anonymous christian' route, explaining it's influence on Vatican II and noting recent comments from Pope Francis about atheists and non-Christians attaining salvation through virtue and good works.

According to Rahner, a person could explicitly deny Christianity, but in reality "existentially is committed to those values which for the Christian are concretized in God."

My criticism of your post: The atheists on his site will lap up his Darwin snark, and your Catholic readers will accept at face value that his pursuit of knowledge is pointless. You've both declared that the other is "not one of us!" and then returned to your respective circles, to nobly help those around you cope with the world. It is no wonder Francis has spent months dragging his feet over the metaphorical battle lines that we have laid out in the sand.

Fr. V said...

I don’t quite get your analogy. Teams are not playing for truth. One team may lose (or tie, or forfeit) but there was no truth at stake, just who played best or had the advantages at the time. I do emphatically agree with you, however, that as humans, particularly humans who have no concept of an ultimate truth and higher order, will not arrive at the same conclusions. That is the exact reason I state my case: We have nothing to base anything on as far as the moral order except might makes right if we throw something like God out of the picture.

You would not even be able to use the words that you do such as “fair” and “good,” both of which imply that there is an ultimate fulfillment (in the metaphysical meaning of the word) and would imply a standard toward which all of creation is heading. That would imply order, order an intelligence, and intelligence a Creator of some sort, which Christians call God. There can be no true discussion of “the good” in an atheistic world for that in and of itself is a betrayal of the atheistic world. So what will we base it on?

You could make the argument for sustaining life, but why would that be good? It might be better for the universe if we did not exist. Maybe the earth would repair itself and there would be less radioactive materials shot into space. Maybe that is a good. Why not?

The answer to that question is what I am seeking. That is exciting discourse. But I cannot find someone “on the other side of the fence” as it were that can articulate anything without borrowing religious principle (which you did) or “might makes right,” or makes the claim we will all just get along. Finding an answer outside of these categories is that for which I am seeking. The references to Rahner, if you notice, is just burning Christian principle instead of its interest. It does not establish a universal order. That is what I am looking for! That will be an interesting discussion.

As to you last points, yes, ultimately, outside of what it can do for us right now today, seeking knowledge may not be pointless, but it is ultimately meaningless. As to saying he is outside of my universe I said quite the opposite. I have been declared not part of his universe in anyway whatsoever. My universe includes his thoughts, processes, and studies. I believe in causality. The institutions around faith have greatly developed the whole notion of the scientific method. He is greatly welcomed in my world view. The door, however, does not swing both ways.

(Thanks! This is fun!)

Anonymous said...

"Teams are not playing for truth." I find religion most off-putting when it starts throwing the word 'truth' around as if life comes with a comprehensive user manual. If we had a God-like concept of life, the universe, and everything (I'm showing my age, Copeland fans) that term might be more meaningful. In the real world, truth is an uncertain ideal. I'd like to think that when we die truth is revealed to us, but I'm not so pompous and self-assured to think that my idea of the afterworld, or my perceptions about what is pious is 100% accurate.

As for moral order, I believe people are inherently decent, and therefore adapt towards some variation of John Rawls' "Thin Theory of Good" -- live and let live. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Your position seems to be without God we all become greedy and selfish… we disagree. Empathy is in our DNA; every generation improves upon the last.

I think you make my argument for truth by suggesting that the universe might be better without life -- we are only assuming that the preservation of life is the correct answer. Some folks are uncomfortable not knowing, and insist they somehow know just because an accepted order makes life easier. That doesn't make it true, necessarily. If your benchmark for success is to "establish a universal order" I'd ask, for what end? To get along with your fellow man? To put you in communion with The God? To give you a reason to wake up every day?

Knowledge is not something you accumulate and then cash in like poker chips… it is a tool to help along the path. You are both seeking knowledge… you've placed your bets on God, and he has placed his wager on science. He slagged off your move, and you in turn slagged off his. I'm saying, stop bickering over stuff you cannot absolutely know, and realize you are playing the same game.

If people do good things because it makes them feel good, or if they are doing it because they want their own planet in the afterlife, or a dozen virgins or something, who cares? Live well, take care of others, grow in knowledge and love, and when you die either that will (1) result in a heavenly reward, or (2) not. And if it doesn't, you won't be in a position to regret it.

(Likewise. Virtual C&C.)

Fr. V said...


I will admit that I don’t buy the concept that we are inherently good from birth. I don’t think necessarily we will immediately run around and yell, “Kill the beast, spill its blood” if God were kicked off the island, but I do believe there is truth in “The Lord of the Flies.”

If I understand you correctly, your argument is “we are basically all decent people and we will arrive at a good moral order regardless of our beliefs.” I don’t think this is a sound argument. Firstly because we just had one of our bloodiest centuries ever in the history of man. Further, we have moved toward abortion, euthanasia, we kill our criminals and punish others without a sufficient nod toward rehabilitation, nations still suppress nations, nations dying from too much food do not sufficiently feed those with too little while spending enormous sums on the military. We can no longer travel to see our neighbors to the north without a passport and stripping off our clothes getting on a plane, students are shooting their teachers and fellow students at an alarming rate, and the list goes on and on. With that alone I don’t buy the argument that it is self-evident that every generation gets better and better because we are basically good. We have better technology, but not necessarily better ethics to go with it. We have more knowledge, but not necessarily the wisdom to use it well (admittedly from a Christian construct.)

And we are back to concepts of decency and “good.” Once again, good/decency implies an ideal. An ideal means there is a design toward which we progress. If there is a design and a Designer and are no closer to answering my question. So we must dump that word and similar words unless we can come with a construct that allows it other than might makes right – “It’s good because I say that it’s good.”

I’ll take Christians for an example. We would say that there is an ideal for which we were made and that we can tend toward. To move toward this ideal is a good for it is moving toward fulfillment. To move away is a bad or social ill because it is disintegrating. The ideal, for the Christian, is found primarily in Christ. To come closer to being Christ like is to move toward that good. In doing this we obtain the ends for which we were made – fulfillment in God. (Yes, we must define that too at some point but not now.)

If there is not an ideal, there can be no progress and no idea of decency or the good. There simply is what there is with no value statement. If it ends, that too is simply what is and it is neither a shame or a good thing. If we follow this to its logical conclusion, if we stop borrowing from other constructs of good and evil, the moral order is left rudderless. Saying that we are basically good is not an answer because it doesn’t tell us what good, progress, or decency IS. It is just stealing from someone else’s thought system.

So I’m back to – how can we construct a moral order that will last through the ages without borrowing from a concept of God? Without these constructs you are right, there is neither good nor bad in the preservation or destruction of life. It doesn’t matter (until we find a way to justify it one way or the other.) It seems to me that this mind set leads to the possibility of the worst in human nature.

Anonymous said...

Well, "Lord of the Flies" is much more about adolescence, but it seems odd to me that a kind and loving God would bless us with life along with an inherent tendency towards evil. In almost every case cited in your laundry-list of what is wrong with the world, I could either make the argument for societal progress over generations, or that in the case of abortion or euthanasia, there is a conflicting view of 'good' that has gained some traction.

I would encourage you to do some reading about atheism and crime... your position is not supported by the facts. Link:

But again, I'M NOT AN ATHEIST. And no matter how many times I say that's not the point, we return to this argument that can logically have no resolution.

In society, we have laws and a social contract that defines good without therefore assuming God. People want to drive fast, but as speeds go up so do fatalities. For a while we thought 55 was the sweet spot, then 65 in rural areas... but 20 in a school zone. We take all concerns into consideration and tinker until the majority is happy. When was the last time you prayed about the speed limit? Probably never. Laws and social contracts are generally adhered to by reasonable people. Good, progress, and decency is figuring out that separate but equal doesn't work, lead paint is bad, and you shouldn't hit the kids. To suggest that nobody would care about that stuff without religion is bull-pucky.

Your example might be in Christ -- He might be your defining motivation for everything you do, and that's pretty great if you are happy, enjoying life, and not oppressing others.

Maybe Joe Atheist is a productive member of society because he had awesome parents, and although he doesn't believe in an afterlife helping people make him feel good. That's awesome too. And if you're not Catholic but your faith works for you, I'm all for it. We're in this together.

In my opinion, you lost the plot in the second-to-last paragraph. By all means make your case for God, but don't demonize what you don't understand. And you did... read your actual words, not what you meant by them. If you said those things about another religious belief system (i.e. Buddhism) how would that come off? Unbelievably crass.

Fr. V said...

Right! And where does that idea of good come from? I’m not asking you to be an atheist, I am asking you to help me find a construct for goodness, progress, decency etc. without simply adopting Christian morays and saying that we are all basically good. I never said that being Christian will make you good nor did I say being atheist makes a person bad. In fact, with the latter case, I specifically said that opposite and am not quite sure you keep going in that direction.

What I did say is that I am looking for HOW to construct the moral conduct code. “We will all just do it” is no construct. As for speed limits, there is a lot of moralizing going on there. (And I did prayed about it as recently as yesterday. I was in PA after all and that can be rather trying on the highway.) It is better to live than to not live. It is better to drive safely for others sakes than your own. It is better to get someplace than to not get there. All I’m asking is that you help find a non-God centered way to come to these conclusions. How are a moral good.

I’m finding you are playing both sides of the fence and not playing fair. You will play the good, reasonable, progressive card but give me absolutely no foundation for it. Joe Atheist has good awesome parents. Great! What is the foundation of ANY philosophy that shows them to be great other than Joe likes it? Or that a majority of persons like it? Or that people in power like it? Unless that IS the construct to which you are referring. Then I’ve made my point.

By the by, interesting that you chose the word demonize. I did get a chuckle out of that. I re-read the second to last paragraph and do not find it crass. You are right that I would not say the same thing about a Buddhist but that is because they don’t fit the construct. They have a universal system toward which they can progress that gives meaning beyond the now. If we cannot come up with a platform upon which we can say definitively, “this is a good” without some knowable truth, then that second to last paragraph stands. I am asking you not just to attack it because you find it repulsive, I am asking you to help me find anything to refute it other than, “because we are good” which is just a circular argument. “We don’t need a construct for good because we are decent. We are decent because we are good. Therefore we don’t need a platform on which to build a society other than we all will agree to the good.”

Unless that is what you are saying???

Anonymous said...

Nobody has the platform you require; the Catholic church has a long history of bizarre lapses in judgement from castrating boys in the choir to using forced labor during WWII. On a micro-level, conscience determines the good. On a macro-level, society determines the good. And fifty years from now, some of what society deems as good now may be barbaric or inhumane. Is there an absolute good? Probably, just as there are an exact number of living things in the world. It would be impossible to know.

We need a platform where we know everything is right! Okay, good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

“Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good. For me, this is an important key. If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing. Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists­—they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies."

-- Pope Francis, 8/13

Fr. V said...

We keep swinging to extreems and I don't know why. Who said anything about certainty???? Where did I ever say that???? Where did I ever say Christians are always right on???? I said they had a construct on which we could build an idea of the good. Not that we've got it down, live it well, or have all the answers.

I have been looking for an alternative way to process these questions and think it would be facinating and fun to discover it outside of the alternatives I've offered that seem rather weak, but (assuming you are the same anonymous, you may not be I understand) you may be trying to get at something else. Are we debating two different topics? To say that conscience determines the good once again assumes there is a good for a conscience to be formed around. And that conscience can know the good without being informed. But then you say that there is no way even to know the good and good things today may be barbaric in the future? (I think I am stating your position in hyperboli, but once again we hit contradictions I beleive.) And who said anything about knowing everything about everything???? Maybe after we are dead if one believes in heaven. I'm starting to get the impression that your answer to my original inquiry is just to find fault with what I say rather than find that alternative.

By the by - totally great Francis quote. Is he awesome or what?

Fr. V said...

Eh . . .

That was a bit harsh. I think we are stuck. I wanted to know how to find a way to talk about a possible way to consider a good without a reference to the good,or order, a god or gods, or decency, etc . . . Maybe it is a failed project. I would appreciate your help.

George said...

Without a "god" who created us with free will, it is impossible to even talk rationally about "the good." A universe without a creator may be too complex and beautiful to fully understand (thus the great interest in scientific discovery and research), but it is ultimately "fixed." That is, even if we ourselves cannot discern the big picture (e.g. dark matter, quanta, etc.), ultimately everything is just matter and energy following a predetermined course from the beginning (the big bang) to the end (dissipation of all matter and energy into an even steady state). There would therefore be no actual "moral choice" because "freedom to choose" would be only an illusion. In other words, morality itself would become merely a psychological construct. Freedom From Religion thus reduces itself to the statement, "Oh, what pretty colors there are everywhere! Let's talk about that." Interesting? So is a gum ball machine.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm out. If your thing is wanting to know how to find a way to talk about a possible way to consider a good without reference to the good, follow your dreams. Thanks for the... er, platform.

Fr. V said...


It is like not defining a word without using the word. One doesn't define "definition" by saying it is a sentence that defines a word. In the same way I just didn't want to say something is good because it has good qualities. What is the good? What makes it good? Does goodness exist? Maybe not outside of my own familiar turf and that's Okay. I just want to know.

I'm not sure but I get the impression that you are upset and for that I apologize. I should have stopped a while back I suppose.

I do sincerely thank you for giving me a day to think. It was an interesting day for me anyway.

God bless

Fr. V

MaryofSharon said...

Here's a the opening argument of a fascinating, unfolding debate ( in the best, most respectful sense of the word) on what I think has been a key focus of this discussion: "Does objective morality depend on the existence of God? " This debate is hosted by a most remarkable website,, a new Areopagus, "the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists."