Friday, October 28, 2011

The Pope embracing doubt?

Andrew Sullivan has a post up titled "The Pope Embraces Doubt". Andrew commends the pope for acknowledging agnostics in his speech. Here is the part Andrew quotes and what I took issue with:

They (agnostics) are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force.

I'll post my email to Andrew after the jump because I don't want to take up too much room on the front page.


I found it a bit odd when the pope said "militant atheists" in his speech, especially after he says the second way in which violence comes about is from an absence of god. For evidence of this claim he seems to point to the Holocaust since he mentions concentration camps. On that point I'd just direct him to his own words about how religion can lead to violence but how that isn't the true nature of god and religion.

What is odd is that he seems to use militant atheists in a modern sense, not just in regard to Hitler or some other murderous dictator. He uses it in a sentence using the present tense. So I presume he is talking about certain atheists right now. What exactly does he mean by that phrase? Am I unaware of atheist groups that endorse violence? Unless there are such groups, I'll assume he meant militant to mean aggressive or enthusiastic. This probably invokes people like Richard Dawkins, who publicly endorses atheism and criticizes religion.

If that is the manner in which the pope is using the phrase militant atheist I'd suggest he find a different way to describe these atheists. Because in the sense I think he means it, I would have to label him a militant catholic or militant christian because surely he is as enthusiastic and dedicated to his beliefs in a god, in christianity, and in catholicism as atheists like Dawkins are in their beliefs. And I don't think he would appreciate that label given its negative connotation and the history of violence that he speaks of in his speech.

Basically I think he is holding some atheists to a higher standard than others simply because they are as aggressive with their beliefs as some religious people are with theirs (again, assuming he is using militant they way I think he is). Also, I think he glosses over the question of doubt by basically saying that those who believe haven't made a good enough argument or that agnostics just haven't been bestowed this gift of a belief in god. He isn't saying there is legitimate doubt. He is saying agnostics just haven't found the right answer yet. And he has invited them to his speech so that they can be shown the truth. So your title should read "The Pope looks to convert doubters", not "The Pope embraces doubt".

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