Christopher Hitchens set a challenge for Catholics

We must answer the charges that the late polemicist brought against religion

By John Haldane on Thursday, 5 January 2012
From the Catholic Herald

Christopher Hitchens set a challenge for Catholics

Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair: last year they debated whether religion was a force for good in the world (courtesy of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation)

One can learn much about the current state of religious and secular opinion, and the confidence of their exponents, from responses to the death of Christopher Hitchens. Among Christian commentators it is hard not to sense strains of shaky self-righteousness in expressions of satisfaction that he might now recognise the reality of God. Among secularists, meanwhile, there is evident frustration at his compromising his assault on religion by siding with some Christian critics of Islam, and in being less that wholly committed to current liberal agendas, for example on health (smoking and drinking) and equality issues (women and the environment).

In fact, Hitchens’s position on religions was straightforward: insofar as they postulate or assume the existence of supernatural realities they are all equally false, and to the extent that they propose a link between belief and conduct they are all potentially threatening. As he put it, on more than one occasion: “They are all equally rotten, false, dishonest, corrupt, humourless and dangerous.”

The difference among them, in his view, is that the greatest actual threat comes from Islam. This has two aspects: one directed against the liberal, secular West and the other against Israel. Hitchens was fond of saying that all that stands between the victory of Muslim theocracy and the freedom of the secular West are the 82nd and 101st US airborne divisions. The remark was characteristically provocative, making it clear that he thought that the contest with religion may ultimately be a matter of armed force, and that, despite their own protests to the contrary, the western powers are involved in a military campaign against Islam. The problem for his fellow secular liberals is that he welcomed such a campaign and was happy to describe it as a “crusade”.

Such opinions were expressed in a manner that was at times languid and occasionally urgent, but never faltering. His fluency made him a compelling speaker to listen to, but it also raised a question: was his an acute analytical mind, dissecting and composing reasoned arguments, or was he a rhetorician sustaining a mellifluous but often merely associative flow of words? Doubtless the truth lies between these, but I think it moved steadily closer to the latter.

As I write, I have in front of me a copy of God Is Not Great open at the title page on which is inscribed: “To John Haldane, well met in Oxford, Christopher Hitchens.” The occasion to which this refers is a debate we had in the university’s Sheldonian Theatre in 2010 on “Secularism and Faith in the Public Square”. One notable feature of the occasion and the commentaries following it was the presence in force of secular humanists, for whom there is no serious question but that religion is false and that the only attitude to take to it is denigration. To such people Hitchens was a hero and the question of analysis and argument is of little interest. In this respect they are the counterparts of evangelical fideists for whom the only task in debate with religious sceptics is conversion or defeat.

Interestingly, Martin Amis, Hitchens’s closest friend and occasional rival, is disposed to agnosticism, rejecting the certainties of believers and unbelievers in favour of a questioning attitude to the universe and human existence. I think that in his heart Hitchens recognised that this was the position to which such “philosophical” reflection as he might ever have practised should have taken him. Had it done so he would have been more open to serious, probing discussion. But he was not, and that I think indicated a certain intellectual dishonesty. Like believers who keep themselves busy in social causes or ornate liturgies and make these the locus of their religion, Hitchens was unwilling to face the deepest questions or was in flight from them. In his case, I think this had to do with the practice of polemical journalism, and later public speaking, and with the success and popular following these brought him.

I first read and admired his work in the 1980s and enjoyed his study of Anglo-American political and cultural relationships, Blood, Class and Nostalgia. But by stages (and probably from the beginning) he showed an undisciplined mind and one that required the reactions of an audience. Discursive interaction is older than Socrates but in the latter it took the form of probing and intricate argument. Hitchens was less interested in dialogue than theatrical monologue accompanied by cheers or jeers, and he needed both to maintain him. Also, he did not open himself to serious intellectual questioning. Indeed, in this regard his vice was the common one among the once precociously bright, namely mental laziness.

Unquestionably, however, some believers will feel that with his passing one source of unwelcome challenge is gone. I don’t think he will be easily replaced in the front line of anti-religious polemics, not least because he was undeniably attractive in a louche, dandyish, sharp-witted way. Yet rather than speak piously about the fate of his soul or dismissively of him as another “atheist fundamentalist” (which he was not), we would do well to consider why religion had no appeal for him and why unqualified hostility to it is a growing phenomenon.

Hitchens is a case worth studying. He is more interesting than Dawkins because evidently more psychologically complex and humanly engaging. If we Catholics are right about God and humanity, why was he so wrong? Or, put another way, what can we learn from his attitude about how to understand our own religious claims and about how our lives reflect them? Hitchens pointed to the record of evil associated with Christianity and with Catholicism in particular. It is glib to reply that humanism has its own tale of terrors, and problematic if we also claim that religious adherence brings transforming grace. If I were to take up Hitchens’s campaign against religion it would be to ask again and again: “Where is your grace and your holiness?”

This challenge has particular force against those who downplay human sinfulness and the extent of depravity. Not until we have taken seriously the idea that the effects of sin and ongoing sinfulness corrupt the soul will we be in a position to fashion an effective counter to the charges Hitchens brought against Catholicism and Christianity more generally. It will not be to say that we are better than he claimed. Rather, we need to explain effectively our failings and those of all humanity in terms of a shared supernatural identity. To which we might add, adapting a saying of Wilde’s, whose style of wit Hitchens sometimes echoed: “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking to heaven in hope of salvation.”

John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy in the University of St Andrews and was recently re-appointed by Pope Benedict as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Culture

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59 Responses to Christopher Hitchens set a challenge for Catholics

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I’ve always felt that Hitchens and Dawkins were to be welcomed by Christians of all stripes. They help Christians to sharpen up their act and defend their corners.

    On a personal level as far as can be determined by books and images, I like the two of them. Dawkins is a gifted biologist and has brought this science to the awareness of many.


  2. Toadspittle says:

    “Hitchens was less interested in dialogue than theatrical monologue accompanied by cheers or jeers, and he needed both to maintain him.”

    What a lot of tripe.
    This is a totally speculative, and, in Toad’s opinion, utterly false, irresponsible, unjustifiable and unfair claim. How can the writer possibly know what Hitchens interests were?
    What grounds does he have for claiming this gross vulgarity and insincerity on Hitchen’s part?
    He can speculate if he likes – we all can – but he should admit that that is all he’s doing.

    Haldane wants this to be the case, because he’s frightened.
    Wanting will not make it so.

    How does Toad know Haldane (noble name!) is frightened? The same way Haldane categorically “knows” that Hitchens wasted his time and considerable intelligence playing to the gallery.
    That’s how.


  3. JabbaPapa says:

    Dawkins usually hasn’t a clue what he’s on about ; Hitchens often did.

    Otherwise, Christianity most certainly isn’t a kind of contest…


  4. JabbaPapa says:

    Haldane wants this to be the case, because he’s frightened.



  5. Toadspittle says:


    “bollocks” from Jabba

    How do you know that?

    (This blog is getting vulgar.)


  6. Toadspittle says:


    It’s pointless to point out that Dawkins is a gifted biologist, Mr.W., he usually hasn’t a clue Jabba tells us. So it must be true.

    To be sure, Dawkins doesn’t know as much about Catholicism as Jabba. But then, who does?


  7. Toadspittle says:

    Bolloxed (as Jabba would say) up the bold coding. Oh, fie!

    WordPress, 26 – Toad, 0


  8. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    “Dawkins usually hasn’t a clue….” etc?

    Jabba, I’ve noticed from time to time that you become a one man mob, abandoning reason and embracing a froth-flecked rhetoric.

    Kindly desist.

    You also say that ‘Christianity most certainly isn’t a kind of contest’. Well I have to tell you that the opposite is true and has been since about 100+ AD. The Romans even commented on how numerous were the Christian groups and sects then, and how vicious they were to each other. Recent history in Belfast will confirm this 2000 year old comment. To say nothing of the battling Armenian & Greek priests in the Holy Sepulchre t’other day.

    However, I do realise you confine your contempt to biologists, so you are breaking the mould.


  9. Toadspittle says:


    It’s apparently vital that Dawkins be demonised. Or else the sky will fall down.


  10. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Galileo would agree.


  11. JabbaPapa says:

    Jabba, I’ve noticed from time to time that you become a one man mob, abandoning reason and embracing a froth-flecked rhetoric.

    riiiiiight — and let’s all pretend that the suggestion that Haldane is irrationally motivated by fear ISN’T completely nonsensical, then … and let’s also pretend that some readers of this blog are NOT aware that the context here is religion, and comments by these men on that topic.

    That some groups of Christians (or, indeed, “Christians”) can be at odds with each other does not transform the Religion itself into a contest. The notion is, in fact, completely absurd.

    Is Philosophy a contest ? History ? Mathematics ? And every single human activity engaged upon by more than one group of people ? Your suggestion generalises the sources of ordinary social conflict to the point of meaninglessness.


  12. JabbaPapa says:

    Galileo would agree.

    With what and with whom ?

    Galileo was censured for his comments against the Church and the Religion, NOT for having published his scientific views.

    Notice any similarity ?


  13. Toadspittle says:

    Jabba, you entirely missed the point, re Haldane’s “fear.”
    Of course, Toad has no way of knowing, the man’s motives, and is making a totally unwarranted assumption – exactly as Haldane did with regard to Hitchens’ supposed grandstanding.
    That’s why Toad made the comment in the first place.

    Toad suspects Hitchens was, in fact, a serious and sober (!) commentator on religious matters, rather than the rabble rouser Haldane paints him to be.
    The general underlying notion in articles like this is that, because people don’t believe what Catholics do, they cannot have thought deeply enough about it.
    Even if they are Russell, Wittgenstein, Shaw, Wells, Hawkings, Anthony Kenny, or God knows who-all else, let alone poor old Dawk and Hitch.
    (Very interesting man, Kenny, as Jabba will doubtless agree.)

    Well, it’s still more or less a free country.


  14. JabbaPapa says:

    hmmmm OK fair enough, but that’s not how it came across at all !!

    Given my comparison in favour of Hitchens to the detriment of Dawkins, I guess this has been yet another storm in a teacup.


  15. blackoxford says:

    “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking to heaven in hope of salvation.” One might add “…while we pontificate and oppress”. It is this latter that Hitchens railed against not the former. And to this criticism is there a real response within institutional Catholicism, for which original sin is claimed to touch everything but itself? Is self-critical analysis, in other words, possible while the claim to absolute truth and authority persists?


  16. teresa says:

    blackoxford, As for original sin it is to touch each individual, including you and me. Absolute truth has nothing to do with sin: does 1+1=2 has anything to do with moral? If a scientist a bad guy would he not able to discover something which is both useful and true? I think you have so admit that even a morally imperfect person can say something correct. So why the fury here from you?
    Hitchens, well, let his soul rest in peace. I’ve never read anything written by him, I only know he hated Mother Teresa, from his disciples I learned that he hated a lot of things, perhaps it was not he who had so much hate but his disciples. But why so much hatred? Could you please explain to me why people like you hate Christians only because they are different?

    I am ready to discuss with you if you put down your self-righteousness and stop playing the Great Inquisitor.


  17. JabbaPapa says:

    blackoxford pontificates against the Church, which meanwhile teaches that Original Sin touches us all, including all of the Church, makes no claims at all about possessing absolute truth, nor absolute morality.

    hmmmmm, perhaps blackoxford should be a little more self-critical, maybe, before writing such very dubious “analysis” ?


  18. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    BlackOxford, you quote that one about ‘we are all in the gutter’ etc.

    You must speak for yourself of course, as I do. I have never liked that quote; it’s silly. I am not yet in the gutter, tho’ the financiers may make that happen.

    Just a little point to lighten up after the going-over you got above!


  19. blackoxford says:

    Are you seriously claiming that the Catholic Church makes no claims to absolute truthfulness and absolute authority about moral standards? Perhaps you aren’t acquainted with the First Vatican Council. In addition the Church places itself dogmatically, as the Church hierarchy, in a position of ‘spotlessness’ so that the sins of its members are not it’s sins. But perhaps you are also unaware of what ‘pontification’ means.


  20. blackoxford says:

    Sorry, the above for JabbaPappa


  21. blackoxford says:

    To Teresa: I am a Catholic. I, fortunately, have never encountered any hatred of Catholics on any of the four continents on which I have lived at one time or another. You may be subject to some sort of Anti-Catholic bigotry, and if so you have my sympathy. Having said that why would you think that my remarks are ones of hatred, for Catholics or anyone else? Perhaps your fluency in English is leading you astray. My main point was in the form of a question, which does indeed touch upon the reputation of the Church in the world. Because of its dogmatic position, the Church is forced to insist that it cannot be corrected by the ‘world’. The way it then explains obvious errors – let’s say for example systematic lack of attention to child abuse or the equally systematic policy to ‘enmiserate’ the Jews since the 4th Century – is that these are mistakes by individual members. It thereby avoids any fundamental self-criticism. The fact that these mistakes are persistent and made at the highest levels of the hierarchy can never become an object of discussion. Ultimately it is this lack of self-critical ability that Hitchens and others rightly attack. The fact that he might also criticise a Mother Teresa for rhetorical effect is actually incidental and not central to the claim of the secularists that the Church is bigoted, and in fact belies its own clims to be founded in love. Historically, the Church’s animosity towards democracy, freedom of religion, socialism, freedom of the press, and so forth, has given them more than enough credibility. But perhaps you don’t care about such things.


  22. JabbaPapa says:

    Are you seriously claiming that the Catholic Church makes no claims to absolute truthfulness and absolute authority about moral standards?

    The Church makes no such claims.

    In addition the Church places itself dogmatically, as the Church hierarchy, in a position of ‘spotlessness’ so that the sins of its members are not it’s sins.


    But perhaps you are also unaware of what ‘pontification’ means.

    Yes — it’s the sort of arrogant soap box attitude that you have come in here to engage in.


  23. JabbaPapa says:

    To clarify, absolute truthfulness and absolute authority about moral standards are attributes belonging to God alone.


  24. blackoxford says:

    One more observation: I was at the Haldane/Hitchens encounter at the Sheldonian theatre in Oxford. John Haldane is a brilliant speaker, but he didn’t actually stand a chance against Hitchens, and not just because Hitchens refuses to be cornered by rhetorical conventions. The audience, mostly young people (I suppose undergraduates), were clearly in Hitchens corner. Every time he made a point about what was essentially ecclesial hypocrisy, they cheered him. Unless you want to continue preaching to the choir (or just making noise on-line) I suggest that you will have to deal with the obvious sins, past and present, of the institutional Church. Of course that would mean going somewhat deeper into a number of things that you may prefer to remain ignorant of.


  25. JabbaPapa says:

    Yes well, perhaps it was OK for Hitchens to preach to his own choir ?

    Meanwhile, I find your accusation of willful ignorance to be rather insulting, not to mention supercilious.


  26. blackoxford says:

    Jabba Pappa, You may believe that abolutes are a matter for God alone. Unfortunately your ignorance of doctrine and practice is clear. I have given you several examples from an uncounted multitude to choose from. Our dear Pope Benedict has widened the claim to both absolute truth and moral standard from that posed by Vatican I. If you are unaware of this you should be ashamed. Do a little homework instead of simply asserting your opinion as fact. I take it by your remark about ‘coming in here’ that you have some sort of proprietorial attitude toward this blog. Get over it.


  27. blackoxford says:

    Jabba Pappa, Does the word ‘infallibility’ mean anything at all to you?


  28. JabbaPapa says:

    Cripes, and then you lecture *me* about ignorance … twice, if I’m not mistaken.

    “Infallibility” is the quality of some doctrines and dogmas that no Catholic can deny and remain within the Church — it does NOT mean that these doctrines and dogmas are absolutely true in the comparative sense, although we believe them to be so ; it simply means that Catholics may not publicly falsify them.

    In the case of the dogmata, they represent the doctrines that Catholics must not only never deny, but that they must also believe — because without these beliefs, it is nonsensical to claim yourself as a Catholic.

    Oh and I dunno, go and do your own homework instead of expecting that your ill-informed diatribes against our Church should be considered as if they were made out of gold.

    All that you have posted in here is a series of false claims, of the sort that is so often and so tediously bandied about by Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ more credulous online groupies.


  29. JabbaPapa says:

    Sorry :

    In the case of the dogmata, they represent the doctrines that Catholics must not only never deny, but that they must also believe …. and teach


  30. blackoxford says:

    Jabba Pappa
    “…it does NOT mean that these doctrines and dogmas are absolutely true in the comparative sense, although we believe them to be so …In the case of the dogmata, they represent the doctrines that Catholics must not only never deny, but that they must also believe …. and teach.”

    Now, you see what a little study will do for you? You’re getting the hang of this absolute thing after all. These things are infallible, without error, in a word: true; and absolutely so since they must never be denied….ever. Infallibility was originally formulated to ensure that no future pope changed any ruling of a past pope. So doctrinal truth is about as absolute as you can get. And as you so adeptly point out, this absoluteness applies not just intellectually but in our behaviour. No recourse, no appeal, no change, no review, no tweaking of the language, no new mores, no get out clause….that’s just about what anyone could mean by definitive, final, unquestionable: in short, absolute. Unless of course you want to mean something else by it. Let the Red Queen be your guide!


  31. blackoxford says:

    Jabba Pappa

    Just to help you on your way to perhaps a bit more precise thought, my remarks to date hardly constitute a diatribe. At best they are slightly polemical. They also have the relative advantage of a beginning, middle, and end, in roughly the correct order. Try it, you’ll like it.


  32. JabbaPapa says:

    Thank you for your sneering pretentiousness.

    I have no idea why you identify yourself as a Catholic whilst rejecting some fundamental teachings of the Religion.

    These things are infallible, without error, in a word: true; and absolutely so since they must never be denied….ever.

    This is not the meaning of doctrinal infallibility. The doctrines declared to be infallible do not usually have the qualities that you are ascribing to the adjective.

    Certainly, such doctrines as “Jesus is the only begotten Son of God” or “There is only one God” do have such qualities ; but a great number, possibly a majority, of doctrines are declared infallible in a more disciplinary than theological manner.

    Infallibility was originally formulated to ensure that no future pope changed any ruling of a past pope.

    This statement is patently false — you are confusing doctrinal infallibility with the so-called (and frankly misnomered) “papal infallibility”.

    1) infallible statements have been made by the Church prior to the promulgation of the doctrine of “papal infallibility”

    2) the doctrine of “papal infallibility” is not itself infallible

    3) the Pope is not the highest source of doctrine in the Church, there are two higher Authorities 1) God 2) the Congregation of the Faithful, whensoever we are in unison on some question

    4) the doctrine of “papal infallibility” is a disciplinary doctrine, whereby a sitting Pope can pronounce ex cathedra on some _vital_ question of the Faith with the same degree of Authority as a full Council of the Church

    5) the occasions where a Pope has made some such pronunciations is minuscule, whereas the VAST majority of any Pope’s declarations and publications are perfectly fallible

    6) in other words, you’re talking rubbish. Again.

    So doctrinal truth is about as absolute as you can get. And as you so adeptly point out, this absoluteness applies not just intellectually but in our behaviour. No recourse, no appeal, no change, no review, no tweaking of the language, no new mores, no get out clause….that’s just about what anyone could mean by definitive, final, unquestionable: in short, absolute.

    This is drivel.


  33. blackoxford says:

    Back to the point (before you explode). The question put by Haldane is can the church meet the challenge to its credibility posed by atheists like Hitchens? Let’s get concrete. Here’s a quote from an article in the Spanish El Pais this morning (there is an English version, you can check it). During his Boxing Day sermon, the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, said there was a conspiracy by the United Nations. “The Minister for Family of the Papal Government, Cardinal Antonelli, told me a few days ago in Zaragoza that UNESCO has a program for the next 20 years to make half the world population homosexual. To do this they have distinct programs, and will continue to implant the ideology that is already present in our schools.” Assume for the moment that this is accurately reported. How many things need correcting? Well for one Cardinal Antonelli may be an idiot (not impossible). Bishop Fernandez may have mis-heard a bit of gossip. Or he may be just trying to create his own diatribe, ginning up suspicion or hatred for homosexuals. He is certainly factually wrong. To the degree he does stir up feelings of suspicion or even violence by his rhetoric he is unchristian. All these errors are possible; some even likely. What mechanism or process is there in the church to correct them? Well none actually. The bishop is sovereign in his own diocese unless any of these potential errors involve a matter of canon law. They don’t. Perhaps, if the Vatican disapproved of these remarks for diplomatic reasons it would, as in the case of Cardinal Law of Boston, simply promote him out of the position. Has any self-criticism occurred? None at all. Thus my point about claims to the absolute. If you can’t get the concept, perhaps you can grasp the practice and its effects.


  34. blackoxford says:

    One final comment before I relectantly exit this discussion: You are certainly correct that the Church as a whole is the final arbiter of doctrine and morals. The trick of course is what one means by ‘reception’ of episcopal statements and what constitutes the Church (technically it would include baptised Protestants; you can see the awkwardness there). Pope Benedict has made it clear that he does not believe that pronouncements must be made according to Vat I standards to be considered as infallible. But that is a moot point if doctrine of whatever source is simply rejected by the Church. (To be fair though Arianism was accepted by the vast majority of Christians in the 4th C so its not quite clear who the Church might mean). So we have a situation in which various highly formulated Church teachings – on modern democracy, on socialism, on freedom of religion and the press, on contraception, the Jews – have been clearly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Catholics, over decades, even centuries. I know you would like the folks who rejected these teachings not to be considered as Catholics, but I’m afraid they are. In which case the authority which you would like to maintain in the hierarchy has simply evaporated. That’s OK with me, but you better square it with your local bishop, who will probably point out his absolute authority.


  35. JabbaPapa says:

    If you can’t get the concept

    The main concept appears to be that you are claiming an extremely dubious position of intellectual superiority.

    Stop talking to people as if you’re talking to morons, and maybe you might even get somewhere…


  36. JabbaPapa says:

    Thank you for your lovely propaganda.


  37. JabbaPapa says:

    Arianism was accepted by the vast majority of Christians in the 4th C


    I know you would like the folks who rejected these teachings not to be considered as Catholics


    the authority which you would like to maintain in the hierarchy



  38. blackoxford says:


    At least one bishop gets it even if it passes you by:

    “Truly,” Bishop Hubbard declared, “clergy sexual abuse and its handling by the hierarchy are self-inflicted wounds — born of clericalism, power and secrecy — that will take a long time to heal.”

    [Editors’ note: another link to a tendentiously spun article by Richard McBrien in the dissident NCR]

    Try boning up on your rhetorical skills. A start would be to develop answers with more than one word. Perhaps that’s too much I realise. Oh well.


  39. JabbaPapa says:

    At least one bishop gets it even if it passes you by

    Your extremely presumptuous and arrogant claims that members of this forum are neither generally nor specifically aware of various failings and failures in the Church is not borne out by any evidence whatsoever, instead you are just vehicling some trite clichés on the matter that most contributors in here have probably heard 1000 times before, ad nauseam.

    And please don’t lecture me on rhetorics, given that I very much doubt you have any formal training in the discipline. Given that it is taught virtually nowhere.

    Your contributions in here today are nevertheless a farrago of falsity, fabrication, and fantasy, based on nothing more solid than some prejudice and some mendacious characterisations from the NuAtheism crowd.

    It is straightforwardly false that members of this forum are willfully ignorant of various scandals, past and present, that exist or have existed in the Church, but that you have decided to just outright ATTACK the members of this forum on the basis of nothing other than these false characterisations of our Church is perfectly despicable.

    You know next to nothing about me and my views, but this has certainly not prevented you from providing a mass of ignorant nonsense about what you fantasise them to be.

    And your understanding of doctrinal theology is, BTW, paper-thin as far as I can tell — specifically given your extremely dogmatic views on its contents.


  40. teresa says:

    blackoxford, you mentioned “my fluency” in English, English is not my native language but your aggressive tone is not to be overseen, it becomes very clear in your second comment addressing me. You call yourself a Catholic but no-body is so hate-filled against the Church as a Church hating Catholic. You said that you never experienced anti-Catholic bigotry and I believe you totally, if you start to “howl with the wolves” and attack your own mother Church even before the enemies start to fire the first shot at her, you will be welcomed as a useful ally “inside the camp”, and well, there is another name for it, but I would rather keep silent…

    You mentioned religious freedom, democracy etc. and attacked the Vat.I, may I be so presumptuous to inform you that we are already in 21th century and the Second Vatican Council was held 50 years ago? Perhaps you as a “Catholic” don’t know about the teaching of the most recent Council?

    As for the other discussion, I have no interest to join You are going from a quite dogmatic position that the Church doesn’t change her position, you are certainly not familiar with the Church history. In this point, you are quite similar to the SSPX-crowd, like you, they don’t believe that the Church can change her position as concerning the relationship between world/society/state and the Church.

    Btw. it is very silly to accuse the Church hierarchy of the 19th. century that they were not democrats. It is liking saying Queen Victoria was not a democrat so she is condemnable.

    And just read the comment above, well, what shall I say, don’t we need a little more intellectual honesty? Mr. Blackoxford said the Church hierarchy never exerts self-critique, then he quoted a bishop who criticised deficits in the Church. So what is your point?


  41. blackoxford says:

    Dear editors: if you are going to censor the guy at least spell his name right. It’s O’Brien. It’s a small thing but then so are most things. It shows you’re actually paying some attention. I can see your conception of Catholic is somewhat narrower than whoever claims membership. Perhaps you might get the erudite Bishop of Cordoba to step in as feature writer.

    [Editors’ note: the links in the earlier posts still work and still direct one to Fr McBrien’s articles in the NCR; neither post has been censored]


  42. blackoxford says:

    Dearest Teresa,
    I’m sorry if I disappoint you by having not the least hatred for the Church. Disagreement does not imply such sentiment. So perhaps it is best to keep an open mind about my motivations.
    I am familiar with the various pronouncements of the last Council. But also with the pronouncements of many other councils and popes, most of which as far as I know still carry doctrinal force. Can you guess where this quote about democracy and various freedoms like press and religion comes from?
    “The naturalists lay down that all men have the same right…; that each one is naturally free; that no one has the right to command another; that it is an act of violence to require men to obey any authority other than that which is obtained from themselves. According to this, therefore, all things belong to the free people; power is held by the command or permission of the people, so that, when the popular will changes, rulers may lawfully be deposed and the source of all rights and civil duties is either in the multitude… It is held also that the State should be without God; that in the various forms of religion there is no reason why one should have precedence of another; and that they are all to occupy the same place…(These) chief dogmas are so greatly and manifestly at variance with reason that nothing can be more perverse.”
    You would be right to read this as an attack on the basic institutions of democracy, because it is. Later popes called it the “American heresy” and asked the American bishops to root it out in the early 20th C. Were the relevant popes misguided in their efforts? I think its clear that they were. Did they ever correct these errors? Or the basic system by which they arrived at their conclusions? Unfortunately ‘no’ on both counts.
    Regarding the changing of church opinion: despite the uninformed opinion of others in this discussion, the issue of infallibility actually arose acutely in the early 14th not the late 19th C when John XXII wanted to reverse decisions by his predecessors regarding evangelical poverty (Pope John did in fact get his way, much to the annoyance of the Franciscans). There may be earlier skirmishes about the issue, but they lie beyond my period. I didn’t attack Vatican I but simply pointed out what it says – briefly to be sure but not with animosity. For the reasons hinted at by another party above, papal (or even general episcopal) infallibility may not mean a lot in the final analysis.
    I’m not quite sure what you would like to say about the status of Church moral teaching: that certain pronouncements are indeed infallible (the one above is a papal encyclical and I think qualifies according to Benedict’s recent statements) or that the Church in fact adapts to the environment? The latter was doctrinally excluded by several 19th and 20th C encyclicals. Yet you seem to think that Vatican II made some fundamental changes somewhere. It certainly said different things than had been said before. But where were the changes to, for example, the policies outlined in the encyclical above? And is what was said in fact executed in subsequent papacies? I think these questions are highly germane to Haldane’s issue. You may perceive this as an attack but it is a simple statement of what is as far as I am aware. I apologise if it causes offence
    My quotation of Bishop Harrod was in fact in the context of the article which identifies him as a voice crying in the wilderness, which indeed he seems to be. He is if you will the exception that proves the rule of episcopal inability to confront the reality of their own sinfulness.
    Finally my comment on your fluency in English was in no way a criticism, but rather a likely reason for your perception of attack where there was none intended. Please keep in mind my opening statement above: disagreement about these matters does not mean either one of us is a bad catholic, hate-filled, or otherwise ill-intentioned. I too am a part of the sensus fidelium.


  43. teresa says:

    Mr. Blackoxford, nobody changed anything in your comment. I assume it was a typo by you.

    If we come across something written by Bishop of Cordoba which we find to be good and interesting, you can be sure that we will consider making a post out it. But the decision lies with us, nobody is going to dictate to us. If anyone has a good suggestion, he can send a message to us via the “Contact us” form. Best regards.


  44. Teresa,

    I’m sure the editors will have a comment about the link. I refer to it here because it is a good summary of what the world thinks of the church, and not without good reason. I suspect whatever anti-Catholic feeling you experience could well be rooted in the perceived oppressive stand of the Church towards many groups: gays, Jews, women, socialists etc. It is a fact that the most militaristic and right wing groups in the US for example are among evangelical Catholics. One might be forgiven therefore for interpreting their behaviour as a betrayal of the basic message of Christ. For me this is why Haldane’s issue and Hitchens’ challenge is so pressing.


  45. Dear editors, This is what is substituted for my link in your blog – twice. If you didn’t do it, could one of the other discussants be editing without your knowledge? I note now as well that the man’s name has been corrected within the last 10 minutes or so.

    [Editors’ note: another link to a tendentiously spun article by Richard McBrien in the dissident NCR]


  46. teresa says:

    mr. Blackoxford, to attack Leo XIII is quite nonsensical. Every text should be read in context of the historical circumstances in which it was written. Leo XIII was not the political correct leftist, but so what. He was a Pope of the 19th. century.
    And yes, the relationship between the Church and States does change through the time. The concept of “State” is not the same concept of state used in the documents by 19th. Popes, as pointed out to my by a famous philosopher last Sunday. Also the article Prof. Martin Rhonheimer on the Vat. II Council explains this problem very lucidly.
    The Church of today is a part of democratic civil society, accepted and recognised by the modern State as a legal organisation and protected by the Constitution and Charter of Human Rights. Of course, the Dawkins and Hitchen’s crowd would like to see that the Charter of Human Rights get rid of the religious freedom and thus of the freedom of conscience, and I hope real democrats will stand up and protect the very foundation of Western culture: the freedom of conscience which contains also the religious freedom.


  47. The Raven says:

    It’s McBrien, actually.

    We’re big fans of Pope Benedict on this blog. Here’s what he said about the sorts of positions taken by Fr McBrien and his chums at the NCR:

    In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.


  48. Here is the other alteration to a link I gave:

    [Editors’ note (yes, there’s more than one of us), this is a link to the dissident NCR website, in which Richard McBrien demonstrates his continuing disconnect from reality]

    If not you then who?


  49. Teresa, Why do you continue to insist that I attack anything despite my best efforts to simply state what is there in a reflective and respectful manner. You clearly have a difficulty with linear thought so I will desist and leave you to your undoubtedly solid opinions.


  50. Raven, Yes I can see that you are very tribal about this blog. I wonder if Benedict’s remarks (not about NCR surely; a little fib there) are about as sensible as previous popes on democracy? The Church does seem to lag about 50 years behind liberal democracies in terms of these things even though it does eventually catch up. In any case good luck. I have all the data I need for now. Thanks.


  51. teresa says:

    No Mr. Black, the anti-Catholic attitude I experienced was not rooted in the “oppressive attitude” of the Church towards our beloved minority groups.
    The anti-Catholic attitude I experienced in the first place is: Jail for being a Catholic, for example, the uncle of a Czech friend was jailed for decades only because he was a priest, and what reason they provided for prisoning him? the good quote, very often used by our beloved Dawkin’s crowd: “Religion is the Opium of the folk”, or the arguments: “religion is superstition”, “religion is irrational”, reminds you very much of the arguments of all our beloved secularist Saints like Dawkins etc.? But under these accusations were many jailed and sent to GULAG.


  52. Oh I see now: teresa is an editor, and raven is an editor. Is Jabba Papa an editor as well? That’s really cool. So all the editors talk to one another and gang up on any alien who happens by without the right credentials. And you thought I was SSPX? Really how disingenuous. Evil really. Ouchies. Happy trails guys.


  53. teresa says:

    Mr. Black, I am sure the editors of the beloved Tablet or any liberal Catholic magazine also agree mostly with each other. I can’t imagine a joint enterprise which is carried out by people who disagree constantly. A certain consensus is needed to set up anything, in any region of our daily life. So if it makes you feel discriminated that is just the way life is, and life is, alas, quite unfair.
    If you decide to stay with us you are welcome, but sure there will be disagreement with you. I am afraid that is just the way it is.


  54. JabbaPapa says:

    despite the uninformed opinion of others in this discussion

    … aaaaaaand again.

    You sure do know how to make friends, eh ?

    Why not lay aside the posturing ?


  55. The Raven says:

    Michael, if you’re going to quibble with what I’ve written, you will need to address what I’ve actually said: “Here’s what he said about the sorts of positions taken by Fr McBrien and his chums at the NCR”.


  56. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    In this very interesting slugfest, there are many thought provoking issues. If there had been less acid chucked around then it would have been a tonic.

    Mind you, a bit of articulate mudslinging such as we see here is perfectly OK. That’s life. Total agreement is a humdrum monoculture.

    Well defended corners, everyone. Interesting views expressed.

    Teresa, the quote you give about religion being the opium of the people etc. – dont forget the rest of that quote which says that religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature and the heart of a heartless world.

    Puts a very different light on the first phrase, I’d say. Karl Marx I believe.


  57. Seeker says:

    That’s the best you can do? Someone makes ‘the interesting argument’ and you are largely reduced to the level of Is! Isn’t! trollery?

    Mr. Hitchens would shake his head and move on.


  58. toadspittle says:

    Well, Mr. Hitchens has certainly moved on.
    So has Wall Eyed Mr. Whippy, come to that.
    Nobody here but us chickens, really.


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