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Is Atheism a Religion? Part 1

August 16, 2014

It would seem something like Godwin’s law applies to the vexed question of whether or not atheism is a religion: “The longer an internet conversation about the subject goes, the probability of a “new atheist” claiming that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position” approaches 1.” Actually, the “longer” part is more or less irrelevant. It is very often the first thing said on the matter.

Indeed, one of the most salient features of the “new atheism” (I am going to consistently use this term in order not to paint all atheists with the same brush, but you know the person on your social media feeds that I’m talking about) is its constant resort to clichéd phrases: “We’re all atheists about 99% of the gods, atheists just go one step further;” “Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings;” “ . . . flying spaghetti monster . . . ;” etc. Indeed, one could articulate a general law that “the probability of a new atheist using slogan x in response to issue y approaches 1 as soon as the issue is broached.” There are certainly several reasons for this. Here are just two.

First, the “new atheism” is, to a significant degree, a product of the internet, where catch phrases and slogans are the norms of communication for almost everyone. There is probably is a bit of a chicken-egg dynamic here as with the broader cultural and political battles of our time. As we become more divided we rely more and more on sloganeering, but we are also in possession of (or perhaps dominated by) a medium simply made for sloganeering.

Second, many of the devotees of the new atheism were convinced of or confirmed in their atheism by such sloganeering, and so they repeat it, having little or no awareness that more nuanced conversations about such matters are even possible. This is, admittedly, at least partly the fault of the shallow or even fundamentalist nature of much of the Christian formation received by those “new atheists” who were raised Christians. New atheists don’t have a monopoly on lack of nuance.

But these slogans, as effective as they may be against unarmed opponents, fail in a variety of ways. They don’t define their terms (or worse, they rely on the hope that no one listening is thinking about defining terms), they make massive generalizations, and they present analogies that rarely stand up to scrutiny.

Read more…


August 11, 2014

The American Movement Conservative opposition to the ACA and other current and previous social-democratic initiatives has a racial dimension.


Welcoming the Stranger

August 7, 2014

Among the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are two:  bury the dead, and pray for the living and the dead.  At his blog, Deacon Greg Kandra tells a said story that relates to these:

I just had a disturbing conversation with a co-worker whose sister passed away a few days ago, and when the family tried to arrange her funeral, they were refused by a local parish because the sister wasn’t registered there. The sister had been sick with cancer for several years and had not been attending mass at any parish where she lived , so the family was trying to arrange the funeral at the parish they attended where they grew up. It was the pastor at [this parish]who refused them the funeral. I believe the family may have asked at another nearby parish, and were also refused there.

It was my understanding that someone who is a baptized Catholic cannot be denied a Catholic funeral. Is that right? If an individual parish refuses to allow a funeral there, what are the options? Can a pastor even deny someone a funeral because they’re not a registered parishioner? I understand why registration is a requirement for the administration of some sacraments, but I can’t comprehend refusing to allow a funeral for someone.

The deacon does an admirable job of summarizing canon law relating to funerals:  the short answer is that in ordinary circumstances, a priest should not refuse to perform a funeral for someone who is Catholic but not a parishioner.

For me, this story brought back a memory of something that happened about forty years ago that made a lasting impression on me.  Read more…

A Story From Cardinal O’Malley

August 5, 2014

I was catching up on some old email and I found this story from Cardinal O’Malley as relayed by Michael Sean Winters:

O’Malley …related a story about the Capuchin provincial asking for a truly difficult assignment for the friars. They were given the missionary territory of Papua New Guinea. O’Malley relates:

Many years later, a young friar I ordained who was working in Papua New Guinea came to see me on his home visit. He had glorious pictures of smiling natives, with bones in their noses, feathers in their hair and little else in the way of clothing. He announced proudly, “This is my parish council.” I was particularly intrigued because one of my own pastors had just told me that his parishioners were not ready for a parish council. 

There is a deeper message here, but I must admit, as soon as I read this, I threw my head back and laughed.  Enjoy!

Two Perspectives on Two Vexing Questions

August 2, 2014

I think it would be fair to say that two vexatious questions for the Catholic Church today (or at least the Catholic Church in the West) are contraception and divorce and remarriage.  They are not the most important issues facing the Church:  both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are correct that the central problem for the Church today is evangelization.   But on these two questions a number of forces have come together:  the tension between pastoral practice and Church teaching, the relationship between the Church and the modern, secular world, the simmering conflict over the  voice of the laity in the Church and its relation to the sensus fidelium.  And  lurking in the background, is the collapse of the Church’s moral authority on sexual matters because of the child abuse scandals of the last 30 years.

We have written numerous times about these two questions in the past:  for a small (and essentially random) sampling, see here, here, here, and here.  I want to revisit them because I encountered two different articles on these questions that illustrate to me why they are such thorny questions.   The first is an article by Fr. Peter Daly, a parish priest in the archdiocese of Washington DC who writes a column for the National Catholic Reporter.   His perspective is very much shaped by his pastoral duties;  he is  “in the trenches”, as it were, in a large suburban parish.  The second is an excerpt from an interview with Cardinal Ludwig Mueller, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith—the Pope’s theological watchdog.    The cardinal is, unsurprisingly, very concerned about the doctrinal issues involved.  The interview was posted and framed by Sandro Magister, an Italian vaticanista I read regularly.   The context is very important for understanding both articles.   The liberal stance of NCR, one which is open to questioning Church teaching on a number of matters,  is well known.  Sandro Magister was a strong supporter of Pope Benedict, and has been positioning himself for the past 15 months as a respectful critic of Pope Francis.  In particular, he has set himself up as a strong defender of Church teaching on marriage, and has given a platform to the critics of Cardinal Kaspar and his supporters who have suggested a change in Church practice with regards to divorce and remarriage.  Read more…

Witness to the Nazarene: A Lamentation

July 31, 2014


The word floated up in my mind as I read of the systematic destruction of the ancient religious and cultural heritage of the city of Mosul by Iraq’s “Islamic State” militants who, having driven out the city’s centuries-old Christian population, have been turning even to iconic and treasured Muslim sites.

The same word came to mind again when I saw the words of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri and Chaldean bishop Sarhad Yawsip Hermiz Jammo at a recent Chaldean Catholic liturgy in San Diego, especially as Bishop Jammo compared his people to Abraham as “they would prepare to leave for the land God will show to them”.  The analogy reflects a tragic coming to terms with the deep loss that Sandri lamented in a mournful yet hopeful homily in which he also denounced all religious violence.  He recalled Psalm 137 even as the same rivers that once belonged to ancient Babylon receive again the tears of God’s children.


I hardly know what to call such news; any word I could choose (crisis, tragedy, situation, events…) feels either trite or diluted.  Read more…


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