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Debate: Do Catholics have anything to gain from dialogue with Humanists?

Is this a magnificent breakthrough or a pathway to compromise on critical issues?

By on Thursday, 28 October 2010

The New Humanist magazine called for constructive engagement with Catholics following Benedict XVI's visit to Britain

The New Humanist magazine called for constructive engagement with Catholics following Benedict XVI's visit to Britain

This week, Catholics and Humanists met in London to discuss such contentious issues as Aids, same-sex adoption and faith schools.

The meeting followed a “rowdy” public debate before the papal visit where Catholic speakers were heckled and found it difficult to get their points across. This prompted both sides to seek another opportunity to discuss the matters raised in a calmer, more rational manner.

Some believe this presents a thrilling chance to “re-boot” relations between Catholics and committed atheists. They argue that a less strained relationship will benefit both groups and that talks could even lead to co-operation in tackling pressing social issues such as poverty.

But others are deeply suspicious of the talks. They claim that they could lead Catholics to soft-pedal doctrine in a short-term quest for harmonious relations with non-believers. They say there is no real common ground to be discovered because the Catholic and Humanist visions of life are ultimately irreconcilable.

Where do you stand? Do you think this is the start of an important and creative new venture? Or is it simply a waste of time?

  • Agatha Runcible

    This could be the beginning of something. Even if there are some things on which neither atheists nor theists or in this case Christians may not agree, this could at least lead to conversations about the things which represent the intersecting parts of the Venn diagram. During the Papal visit it became evident that the feverish pitch of some very violent extreme atheists drowned out the voices of reasonable atheists. We have atheists who call themselves humanists and Christians who can trace the term humanism back to the great Christian thinkers like Erasmus and St Thomas More. Surely there is some common ground.

  • Jhammer

    The dialogue surely has to take place? I cannot imagine any of Pope Benedict's concerns about secularisation and Europe would be best served by turning our backs on the issue. New ways have to be found to discuss the issues and this can only happen by entering dialogue. The form of the dialogue should not be simply reciting doctrine; rather doctrine has to be the foundation for a more inventive, creative approach that enables non-believers to engage.

  • srdc

    It all depends on whom they are debating. If the Catholics on the other side actually know their stuff, then I would agree we could see progress on this front.

  • Hdbarton

    I agree with the fact that liberals are sacrificing our children's futures on the alters of convenience. However, It strongly appears to me that the heart of the most hard working conservative group is also a deadly enemy against children – even to the point of murder. I am speaking about Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who back each other up one hundred per cent, for Pamela, of Atlas Shrugs, follows a woman who preached abortion and free sex more fervently than any other person in the world save Margret Sanger. Now I see the heart of the Conservative movement has also embraced baby murder and free sex as a panacea for social problems. Tell me Pamela doesn't love Ayn Rand with all her heart, mind, and soul, and make me the happiest man in the world. 'Nother thing! In Ayn Rand best selling book called The Fountainhead, her main hero was a terrorist who used dynamite to destroy some buildings because he disproved of their design! Are we too, becoming a movement of murder and violence. Those were NOT his buildings! They belonged to someone else who paid for them! Can it be that those false conservatives who care for nothing but money matters and see nothing of morals and values are going to double cross us Pro-life workers once again? Yes, it is beginning to look exaclty like that again and we get to once again choose between teeddle dee and teeddle dum when it comes down to what really counts – namely, morals and values! We are not taking one step down that road marked “Baby Murder!”

  • paul

    true humanists and Catholics have a lot in common. If you look at the papal references to utilitarianism and the social doctrine of the church there is much to share. The American film maker Michael Moore, certainly not a fan of the average right-wing Christian actually went to train as a Catholic priest.

    Also a good point about the Catholic church (although you might not think it) is its ability to interpret God's word in different ways, we believe it is the inspired word of god – written through men -(sinners) and therefore certainly not infallible as fundi'mental'ist Christians would have you believe.

  • Pmangod

    Prayer does more than debates. Believe in what God can do. Man if I have not mistaken, that does not listen to God, cannot change humanity for the better. God always inspired good people regardless of their beliefs in this god or that god, but sought God. Their good will and strength in 'good' were the reasons for God to bring about change. But as long as self-will reigns in hearts, there's no place for God in them and they cannot ever understand the difference if self-will vs. God's Will. Faith is lacking in Humanists and it is a Heresy to God. They only promote flesh power and self regarding ideas. Although they see the needs quite evidently and desire to help the poor, poverty. This is a step in the right direction for these so called Humanists. To help your fellow man is God's Will. Not man's will. It comes from God, which indicates, A Good. God is Good, therefore Only Good desires enter into Hearts that seek Good. The opposite applies for those who seek mischief, plundering, pillaging, selfish gain, torture, and all the nitty gritty inbetweens and straight lines of wicked people who throw up or put up false impressions or false veils to promote their gains. Their own agenda. Their own will.

    Peace be with you always

  • Jimjoyce

    Modern humanism seems to derive from empiricist thinking which basically is that the mind gains impressions from outside which it converts into ideas which can develop into sufficiently complex forms to explain all human thought and intellectual achievement. This, naturally, without any outside restraint or basic principle, developes into a pleasure pain philosophy which will tend to pit the individual against society, which relies on individual restraint to exist in a form which provides a wide degress of individual freedom. Attempts to have states based on a secular doctrine have resulted in strong, quite tyranous central control, after some high sounding political philosophy, which is, often, ironically since aetheism is the religion of humanists, derived from a cherry picking of elements of the theistic traditions, which have no logical justification from an empircist base.

    It is, possibly, this lack of a base, which gives humanism its aggressive aetheistic aspect, and without such a base, there will always be a lack of viability in humanist moral arguments.

    I might suggest that giving human life a preeminent status might be the basis for a secular philosophy, but modern humanism has already rejected this where it is in conflict with the implicit pleasure pain nature of the application of empiricist thinking.

    If what I have said above be true, then the motivation of those wanting to discuss morality with Humanists is doubtful, reminiscent of the tolerant vicars of the sixties who did not seem to believe in anything except that they had to appear to be tolerant.

    Oh, I am sure that their friends will think them very open minded and tolerant unlike those other small minded Catholics, but do not be surprised when your views on homosexuality and faith schools, no matter how expressed, are misrepresented and some put forward as evidence of a split in the Catholic Church.


  • Eric Conway

    Well said Jim Joyce. The only engagement for Catholics to have with humanists ( & indeed any other mis-led group ) regarding aids, same-sex marriage, etc., etc., is to reiterate that the Catholic position is rational, correct, true ; & that other belief's are false. Both they are more than welcome to join us. QED.