Bad Faith Believers: Preist Richard Neuhaus Fantasizes about you Prostrate and Begging

This has me just plain dumbfounded. Neuhaus, founder of the conservative religious journal First Things, quoting Father Ranier Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household:

“The world of today knows a new category of people: the atheists in good faith, those who live painfully the situation of the silence of God, who do not believe in God but do not boast about it; rather they experience the existential anguish and the lack of meaning of everything: They too, in their own way, live in the dark night of the spirit. Albert Camus called them “the saints without God.” The mystics exist above all for them; they are their travel and table companions. Like Jesus, they “sat down at the table of sinners and ate with them” (see Luke 15:2). This explains the passion with which certain atheists, once converted, pore over the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, the two Maritains, L. Bloy, the writer J.K. Huysmans and so many others over the writings of Angela of Foligno; T.S. Eliot over those of Julian of Norwich. There they find again the same scenery that they had left, but this time illuminated by the sun. . . . The word “atheist” can have an active and a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also one who—at least so it seems to him—is rejected by God. In the first case, it is a blameworthy atheism (when it is not in good faith), in the second an atheism of sorrow or of expiation.” (emphasis added)

When believers complain that New Atheists are arrogant or insulting to religion, sometimes they have fair points, sometimes they don’t. The idea that atheists who happen to dare criticize religious claims are bitter and nasty is an all too easy emotional meme to play upon whether its justified or not. Some can certainly be insulting, as any advocates for any position can: there’s no denying it. But the worst of their jibes is to say that the claims and beliefs of believer are wrong, misguided, unfounded, foolish.

Nothing, nothing any of them has said compares to a man fantasizing openly about how pleased he is to think of those who do not share his ideology moaning and groveling in agony for their failure to share in it. Patting them on the head for their subservience to his beliefs and begging for a means to atone. Imagine this in pretty much any other context, and you would see a person shockingly self-involved: a narcissism beyond belief, a childish and arrogant fantasy bordering on the obscene.

Neuhaus, instead, sees it as a deep insight. He launches into this quote right after declaring that for non-believers, humans lives “have no value.” (A common Catholic claim of philosophical superiority which I do not think he or any theologian can actually back up, for all its grand pomposity.) And, of course, this comes after also implying that rationalism leads inevitably to the Holocaust (because, you know, the Nazis were such rational, liberalized folks).

What’s startles me here is the difference in rhetorical excess. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life seen fit to fantasize about those who don’t share my beliefs groveling and suffering before me, wishing desperately that they could be like me. I don’t think of theists as depraved sociopaths who need to trick themselves into caring about their fellow human beings. Believing these things might well make me feel better about myself, and might even prove effective red meat for inspiring coarse dittoheads to my position. But how would I sleep at night after stooping that low?

Neuhaus, on the other hand, doesn’t even seem to have a second thought about deploying such rhetorical nukes on those who do not share his beliefs. And on top of it all, he and Cantalamessa have the absolute intellectual depravity to claim to judge whether someone’s position is in “good faith” or not.

It shocks the conscience. It’s like finding out that your next door neighbor fantasizes about having you bound and tearful in his basement. You think that one human being couldn’t seriously have such vile designs upon and beliefs about another. And then… then you learn differently.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s, in the end, small and pathetic. And it just sort of makes me sad.

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19 Responses to Bad Faith Believers: Preist Richard Neuhaus Fantasizes about you Prostrate and Begging

  1. hughvic says:

    But Bad, while it is condescending—a Roman Catholic cleric’s M.O.—it’s also solicitous and tender in the sense that it’s a call for Christians to understand and even care for those of earnest atheistic conviction. In Thomism, as you know, Hell is simply permanent separation from God, so Fr. Neuhaus naturally sees you as experiencing a kind of living Hell. Yes, it’s fatuous and presumptuous of him, but from his perspective he’s commissioned to give you the greatest gift he knows of, and so here he’s expressing anguish that you won’t have it, and that there’s nothing that he or any other Christian or Jew can do about it. I actually think, truly, that to him this is a kind of interfaith outreach. It’s as religiocentric and comical as a British colonialist’s, but it is an outstretched hand. The man needs some straightening out, but he’s not mean or harmful, it seems to me. (Also, he’s quite influential with the Papists.) I’ve gotten a lot worse just as a Protestant trying to fulfill my ecumenical obligations to such clerics, so this kind of awkward attempt at empathy on Fr. Richard’s part is new to me. Perhaps laughter—with him, not at him—is the best start toward a remedy for what ails the man.

  2. Bad says:

    in the sense that it’s a call for Christians to understand and even care for those of earnest atheistic conviction.

    The implication, though, is that those who aren’t underfoot aren’t earnest, or that there’s something untoward about the fact that non-believers might be open or even critical of a cleric’s claims.

    I can certainly appreciate that this is the worldview he’s committed himself too, and he has little choice but to either see non-believers this way, or abandon his dogma. But this cannot let him off the hook. His beliefs are not merely an appreciation of what he sees as factual: they are also a moral and intellectual choice he’s made about how to argue for his ideas. And if he’s going to make that choice: to Godwinize, to insist that non-believers live lives without understanding meaning, to insist that we are in anguish for not being like himself, then I will not cede him the right to prattle on about who is acting on “good faith” or complain about the brutishness of Hitchens or Dawkins. He’s chosen to sink that low, whether he thinks God told him to or not. And he can’t expect to get away with it without retort.

    I’ll be happy to laugh along with him: just as soon as he concedes the equal humanity and appreciation and justification of value of those who aren’t on his “team.”

  3. frodo441 says:

    In the quote, Neuhaus lists as “good faith” atheist’s trait as such “an existential [expiation] of [prolonged suffering] … you have to understand from whence he himself comes and is well aware of. The people he is speaking to, had the experience of the existential from the days of John Paul Sartre 1930’s era at the same time depression era confluences of mind of very real sentiments. Additionally, the people he speaks to come from an understanding of 18th century literature and choose to rationalize existentialism because of the well known Christian existentialist philosopher Keirgenngard. Sartre on the other and his pseudo-politization of existentialism, was a game that Sartre played with the Elders. Also for instance, these are men who would prefer to be spared the humor and societal commentary of people with the sentiments of the artists like the Daddists. Point, if you want to laugh with them you have to get to know them. Axiom: Post Historic Muses For Elders Bygone.

  4. frodo441 says:

    Anon…It is an established fact that post industrialized nations breed existentialists…existentialism is not bad…existentialism you have to understand is a traditional enigma for many upon many generations…it takes year (with out the education) to learn how to even define it)…point, aculturalization is the salad bar on the coffee table of historic times past through generations in highlighting the differences in culture and yet preserving the individualness of cultures that seek on the same hand to preserve and reserve for themselves and their children’s children the highly praised and desired “individuation”.

  5. frodo441 says:

    I think before we succumb to Just stones in life…we need to understand with conviction the ontological process and it’s eschatology…this is the endeavor to preserve respective semantics and vernacular in the world…it’s nice to be wholly rational but on the same hand not fall victim to dichotomies of thinking and still maintain an objectivity without functioning on an Elysian field..unless of course you can afford it.

  6. hughvic says:

    I thought that that was what he was doing, Bad, only very chauvinistically and in an inside-the-Vatican kind of almost kitschy ultra-Catholic way, in which, for example, he even thinks he sees redemption in your perceived suffering! (What is this, “Song of Bernadette”?) Considering the extent to which Neuhaus usually comes off as living in the past, why does he not choose for these purposes, say, the 13th Century as a model of Christian cooperation with non-believers in furthering rationalism (astronomy, for example) ? Other times would work as well, if he really must ground all this in some ecclesiology. I reckon frodo’s right, that Fr. Neuhaus is not so much romantic in his antiquarianism as nostalgic. (And frodo, good of you to acknowledge Kierkegaard’s profession of Christ, as American faculty usually teach him merely as a precursor of the French Existentialists; his religiosity embarrasses them.) I think Father Richard basically takes the attitude of the first President to invite a Negro to the White House. O lucky you.

  7. Grazatt says:

    What a fucking ASS-BUCKET! That for making me aware of him!

  8. The Ridger says:

    If you believe that God has rejected you, you’re not an atheist. If you’re angry at God, or hate him, you’re not an atheist.

    This inability to discern which sense of “don’t believe in” is atheism and which isn’t is endemic among theists. After all, we “don’t believe in” many things that we admit exist – it’s a common usage (for example, many people “don’t believe in” under-age drinking, abortion, eating meat, using technology, having kids … but none would deny those things exist.)

    But being an atheist means thinking (to one degree of certainty or another) that God *does not exist*. Period.

  9. Bad says:

    I would say that being an atheist means not believing in a God, period, which includes your definition.

  10. hughvic says:

    In re The Ridger, Bad, I believe that you say differently. Do tell.

  11. Bad says:

    I’m not sure what you are asking, hughvic?

  12. hughvic says:

    You answered my question at the moment I asked it! Ships in passing.

  13. The Ridger says:

    What I’m trying to say is, that for many theists “I don’t believe in God” parses the same as when a reporter says “The Amish don’t believe in automobiles or cell phones.” Of course they do. They reject them – that’s what their “don’t believe” means. So many theists parse an atheist’s “I don’t believe in God” to mean “I reject God”.

    But rejecting something isn’t the same as thinking it doesn’t exist. I don’t believe God exists. That’s different from rejecting God.

    That’s all. It’s a question of what they hear more than what we say.

  14. hughvic says:

    It came through at this end loud and clear both times, TR, and Bad I know to be familiar with the distinction, but it’s not Bad’s distinction. To me, each needs a descriptor, and hence the parochial & vernacular distinction between “agnostic” (no such conviction) and “atheist” (conviction of non-existence). However, I also believe that a higher principle (higher than adherence to the vernacular) requires that we respect a person’s right to name himself for himself. Granted, language is a social project, not a matter of personal caprice, but the elliptical definitions I’ve placed in parentheses beside these two words don’t accurately denote the words’ respective etymological meanings anyway. So I conclude that when conversing with Bad I’d do well to use Bad’s definition of an atheist, and when conversing with others I’ll expressly take into account Bad’s self-definition.

    American Atheists are moving for freer exercise of their beliefs, and I’m all for it. My ancestors came to these shores because they were hunted in the Old Country for their own beliefs, and their descendants fought repeatedly to ensure that this generation enjoy free exercise. I personally happen to enjoy it immensely! I wouldn’t think of begrudging anyone else the same pleasure, and evidently you wouldn’t do so either.

    Incidentally, I like your Amish example. I happen to’ve been trained in church/state conflict, and it occurred to me during that training to make a special study of the Hutterites, the oldest order of Moravians. Their rule, a specific regimen for the prevention of “worldliness” is even more strict than that of the Old Order Amish, and is utterly inexplicable to anyone unwilling to understand them on their own terms; precisely the kind of understanding you seek with Bad. Good on you.

  15. […] Bad Faith Believers: Preist Richard Neuhaus Fantasizes about you Prostrate and Begging […]

  16. frodo441 says:

    Granted…but when people profess a conviction without knowing the reticulations of historical events and extemporaneous datum, we come perilously close to the precipice of “social Darwinism…” If we dispel and dispense wholesaley contemporary movements in history (extemporaneous datum) we don’t have a “feel” for the very real prospects of the amounts and types of changes that have gone on in the world…indeed, Sometimes more often than not, many people in contemporary societies make convictions on a conceived conventional wisdom according to their own understanding…this is the phenomenon of desiring “the pill of totality” for the “cup of reason” and a “trendy consciousness.” Of course, reality in the world is best summed up by a Shintu’ priest who teaches his disciples that “you cannot make up words.” Compounded by the reticulations of Krisna Murti…”there is no such thing as consciousness”…”consciousness is content.” Ergo: We end up saving an Elysian field of dreams (the blessings of the dead).

  17. frodo441 says:

    Mr. Neuhaus (to reiterate) is closer to the generations of popular existentialism that morphed it’s way (back during the depression) into the performance artistic recalcitrance of Dadist artists…and back then there are a significant number in the populations that don’t appreciate Dadism. I myself bare witness to post industrialized nations that bore the existentialists because that is the traditional vehicle that produces existentialists. Existentialists most popularly grew and became noted during the 1905 era of post modernistic modes of living. I feel that the Danish philosopher Keirkengaards’ reticulations as a Christian existentialist, were vindicated and validated by Sartre’s pseudo-politicalization of the existential movement in France. While Keirkengaard dealt with his Christian reticulations in a rapidly changing society, and a Theological movement in Germany during the 19th century, through a mid century movement in France of Theosophy, “the names of God”…a much more pragmatic understanding of an American design of the “tongue in cheek” approach to religion during the 19th century…people were bound to break the hold of dogmatic mind vice thinking along religious terms in this century of American history…set up an increasingly evolving vernacular of change into 1905 post modern Era existentialism in which people began to question the rites and rituals of mechanical oblations to social constraints felt within an ever changing societal norms and applications of living styles.

  18. […] and embarrassing from the outside. I’m very much reminded of Father Cantalamessa, who seemed to believe that the only intellectually legitimate or honest atheist was one writhing in apologetic agony at […]

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