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

January 25, 2008

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.

Is “First Things” Preist Neuhaus Really That Disingenuous?

December 9, 2007

Given how anti-climatically predictable Romney’s big religion speech turned out to be, I’m getting a little sick of talking about it. Maybe I can ween myself off the subject by talking about the people still talking about it instead.

For instance, founder of the popular ecumenical journal “First Things,” Richard John Neuhaus wasn’t floored by Mitt’s speech, yet he can’t quite help but try to get a few kicks in on anyone that might wonder if exploiting religious fervor against atheist boogeymen is maybe a cynical sort of thing to do. Here’s Neuhaus responding to David Brooks’ Op-Ed:

Mr. Brooks says that Romney “asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end.” That’s not quite right. He was making a bid for the support of people who find themselves on one side of a culture war that they did not declare. (emphasis added)

That’s last bit is really quite amazing. It would be quite silly for me to argue in response that the religious right solely started the culture wars. Any half-sane student of American history should know that our nation has been defined by neverending yet endlessly evolving culture clashes from even before its founding.

But playing the hurt and naive “he hit me first!” card is simply preposterous coming from Neuhaus, who has built a career as an ultra-conservative political activist and sometimes rabble rousing culture kvetcher. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but he and his have picked as many fights as anyone else. And frankly, when you look out at culture wars now, the folks who really rake in cash hyping it, promoting it, reveling in it are overwhelmingly people on Neuhaus’ side of the fence. In many cases, it seems like only Neuhaus’ side even thinks of it as a war in the first place. You only have to look at the difference in subject and tone between the Democratic and Republican primaries to see this: Republicans are fighting over who is a more profoundly militant servant of Jesus while Democrats are bickering over minute differences in wonkish health plans.

So, yeah: playing the ambushed martyr here does involve some pretty disingenuous posturing on Neuhaus’ part. But he isn’t done naming names yet:

If you wonder who did declare the war, you need go no further than the facing page of the Times on the same day, with its typically strident editorial attacking Mr. Romney and his argument about religion in American public life.

Problem is, it’s actually possible to read the Times editorial slightly more observantly than a quick skim to confirm that religion is mentioned and that the tone is critical. In fact, what the article really does is DEFLATE the culture war hype that Neuhaus and Romney both thrive off of; pointing out how disingenuous it is for Romney to paint secularism as trying to drive religion out of the culture when in fact its goals are a lot more modest. Here’s the Times:

The other myth permeating the debate over religion is that it is a dispute between those who believe religion has a place in public life and those who advocate, as Mr. Romney put it, “the elimination of religion from the public square.” That same nonsense is trotted out every time a court rules that the Ten Commandments may not be displayed in a government building.

Given that Neuhaus is an avid peddler of this very sort of nonsense, you can see how getting called out on it might irritate him, or seem like an attack on his beliefs, rather than the attack on his brand of rhetorical excess and exaggeration. But the Times isn’t done trying to destroy religion yet:

We believe democracy cannot exist without separation of church and state, not that public displays of faith are anathema. We believe, as did the founding fathers, that no specific religion should be elevated above all others by the government. (emphasis added)

Ooooooo! How dare they hold a more nuanced and tolerant opinion about civics than Romney. It’s WAR ON RELIGION, right!?

Well, I’m unconvinced. When you have to fabricate your opponents “fightin’ words” in order to promote the throw-down, the whole thing starts to look a lot more like a game than a war.

Student “Kidnaps” Eucharist: Catholic Controversy Conundrum

July 9, 2008

As Webster Cook, a student at the University of Central Florida, tells it, he was attending a Catholic Mass with a friend, was given the communion wafer, and wanted to show it to the friend in order to help explain Catholicism. He was accosted as he attempted to walk back to his seat with the wafer uneaten, and in defiance decided to leave the service with it (he later gave it back). Church officials tell it differently: Cook was never physically restrained, and he basically absconded unprovoked with what they believe is the body of Christ, holding it hostage just to make point about the public funding of religion (the service was held at a publicly funded school).

Worldwide controversy ensues. Bill Donahue calls his act “beyond hate speech.” The local priest calls it “kidnapping.”

PZ Myers has his usual blistering take of course, mostly agog at the seeming absurdity of the whole matter: it’s just a cracker!

I guess I have more sympathy for the outraged Catholics than he allows. Read the rest of this entry »

First Things First: Tsunami, Theodicy, and Recycling for Cyclones in Myanmar

May 8, 2008

This wasn’t quite how I wanted to start a series of posts on theodicy, but here we are. In the wake of the recent cyclone disaster in Burma/Myanmar, the conservative religious journal First Things has reprinted any article attempting to reflect on the similarly shocking disaster of tsunami. You might remember First Things from my previous rants on one of the journal’s founders Richard John Neuhaus and his loving fantasies of anguished atheists. Well, a link from Exploring our Matrix led me back there yet again, and this was the result:

Read the rest of this entry »

Baptist Albert Mohler doesn’t get it: More Stupid Christmas Tricks

December 16, 2007

I’m not sure what to make of this sneering holiday column by Albert Mohler, leader of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He’s baffled, simply baffled by “atheist apostle” Richard Dawkins and his singing of Christmas carols. It’s not clear what Mohler thinks his point is here, other than that he believes there is some sort of disconnect between atheists and celebrating Christmas or even culturally Christian traditions.  I can’t quite follow the logic: do I really need to be “Hot for Teacher” to enjoy Van Halen songs?  Do I need to believe in Purple People Eaters to sing that song to kids?

All we can say for sure is that Mohler is a pretty good example of how incapable of empathy or understanding many believers can be when they try to wrap their minds around the reality of atheists (complete with an inability to use anything other than religious ideas like “apostle” to describe us). All he’s really exploring is his own self-flattering ignorance of who atheists are and what we’re about.

He even manages to find solid evidence that evil atheists like Dawkins want to purge our culture of religion just like Mitt Romney and Neuhaus warned us:

“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.

“If there’s any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.” (emphasis added)

Oh wait, no.


So, let me get this straight: religious nuts like Mohler spend half of their time railing against how atheists want to ban Christianity.  Then they turn around and debunk their own lies, and act surprised to find that atheists don’t actually hold the straw man position that they claimed  And we’re then supposed to think Dawkins is weird or inconsistent in the face of that sort of intellectual vaudeville act?
Well Mohler: Merry Christmas, moron.