Wednesday, December 1, 2010


So there’s a big brouhaha over atheists putting up signs about not believing in God. After the story in the paper there was a rush to condemn the behavior and then a backlash of letters saying these are just good honest folk “coming out of the closet” so to speak. Of course, if they were simply stepping into the light and announcing themselves in a non-antagonistic way they would not have called themselves, “Freedom from Religion” but something along the lines of, “Freedom in Atheism.” But clearly the title leads one to believe that this is a movement against something rather than for something – ironically the very thing they proclaim to hate about believers.

I have run into this same phenomena between Christian denominations. At my first assignment there was a Protestant Church that used to sneak into our parish church and leave tracts condemning Catholics to the everlasting fires of hell, worked at converting Catholic children at school, and spent, according to various reports, an incredible amount of time in their worship services proclaiming, “Catholics are going to hell. We are not Catholic so join us.” (This done we were informed because they love us and want to save us.)

Now I do not have a problem debating someone who says that they have a better message. “Here is what we believe, we believe it better, more true, whatever, so give it a shot.” But I do have a problem when converting others is based on burning everyone else’s house down in order to make theirs look good.

Among the letters to the editor there was of course the usually diatribe about how faith is the cause of war throughout the ages. It is a tired, old and almost lame horse whipped out of the barn and forced to trot around the paddock. And even if evidence is presented, very little analysis is brought to bear on it. It can’t be for it would show itself to be the broken down old gelding that it is – unable to carry any weight on its sagging back.

There is the idea that man would have a natural instinct to build a much better society if it were not for religion. If there were no such thing as faith in God and a religion to protect, many argue, we could go about the task of building a utopia. Unfortunately there is little to no real evidence of that at all. There is evidence however of faith doing so. If I might quite G. K. Chesterton on the matter:

Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction. There is a trace of both men having said, "We must not hit each other in the holy place." They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean. The history of the Jews is the only early document known to most Englishmen, and the facts can be judged sufficiently from that. The Ten Commandments which have been found substantially common to mankind were merely military commands; a code of regimental orders, issued to protect a certain ark across a certain desert. Anarchy was evil because it endangered the sanctity. And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men. (The Flag of the World)

Considering Christian Church and the horrors attributed to her in the world, I would say she was responsible for none of them. Rather I would say that it was precisely when men did NOT follow her that we ended in trouble. Christianity may not stop man from destroying the world, but neither will atheism. In fact, with atheism there is theoretically even less holding one back. Even if a Christian should destroy half of the world there is at least the chance that if his faith prick his conscience he will feel guilty and have some fear before God and leave the other half.

Christianity is a cure for what ails the world. But it neither forces men to act in a certain way nor prevent them for doing dastardly things in its name if they so choose.

Here is an example of what is both the down and upside of the Christian Church. Years ago I was working in a theater when a couple of young men walked in wearing the Catholic high school jackets. They created a bit of mischief in the restroom and I overheard a couple of adults commenting not on those to ruffians, not on those high school boys, not on those Catholic high school boys, but on those CATHOLIC boys. Where they living the Catholic faith at the moment? Of course not. But by identifying themselves as Catholic did they bring harm to the faith? Yes. But, they are also identified as Catholic and as a member of the Catholic community and I can bring some pressure to bear. “That is not the way Catholics act,” I might say to them. I could also go back to the community and say, “We need to do something. A couple of our Catholic boys are acting up. We need to start preaching and teaching about . . .” We may not prevent a fire, but we can set up a water brigade even as others fan the flames. Faith is about helping us see that dousing the flames is best and faith gives us the courage to go out and convince others, both Christian and none Christian alike, not just because the action is Christian, but because not burning is the correct thing to do – is truth.

The last word on this I will give to our friend Chesterton again who said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

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