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Christopher Hitchens has mellowed, but his idea of Christianity is still grossly distorted

He suspects the scientist who pioneered his cancer treatment is praying for him, and doesn’t mind

By on Monday, 28 March 2011

Dr Francis Collins, who pioneered Hitchens's cancer treatment, is mentioned in the Pope's new book (AP Photo/J Scott Applewhite)

Dr Francis Collins, who pioneered Hitchens's cancer treatment, is mentioned in the Pope's new book (AP Photo/J Scott Applewhite)

If this sounds like a question from the radio programme Round Britain Quiz, I’m sorry. It has just struck me so I will formulate it anyway: what do Pope Benedict, the scientist Francis Collins and Christopher Hitchens have in common? Answer: His Holiness mentions Collins on page 193 of his book Jesus of Nazareth (that’s as far as I’ve got; it’s very dense so I’m having to read it slowly); Collins is the former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; and it is his research which has pioneered the experimental treatment that Hitchens is receiving for his throat cancer. Interestingly, Hitchens, as well as naturally hoping that this treatment will efficiently target the site of his tumour, has become good friends with Collins and has publicly debated religion with him.

The Holy Father, as is generally known, is a Catholic; Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian, and author of The Language of God: A Scientist presents Evidence for Belief; and Hitchens, in case you didn’t know it, is a devout atheist. “Devout” is probably the wrong word but “keen” or “committed” don’t quite convey his evangelical brand of atheism. Some Christians hope that if the experiment, involving Hitchens’s DNA, is effective and he is cured, he will undergo a change of heart. But conversion doesn’t work so straightforwardly; you have to be open to grace at some level and, judging from his public pronouncements, Hitchens has slammed this particular door shut. Yet who am I to judge him? As Carson McCullers once wrote, the heart is a lonely hunter.

What is obvious, though, is that in Hitchens’s case, it is not a question of Christianity having been tried and found wanting: it has simply never been tried – or understood. In an interview with Mick Brown in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph magazine he says he has never yearned for faith, adding: “There isn’t the evidence and I don’t see why anyone would want it to be true. A permanent, invigilated, regulated dictatorship which you are told is for your own good – I can’t think of anything worse.” If that is not the most grotesque distortion of Christianity in short compass, I don’t know what is.

And why does Pope Benedict mention Francis Collins? Because “in the magnificent mathematics of creation, which today we can read in the human genetic code, we recognise the language of God”. It was this “language” that converted Collins himself (although it has not yet converted the scientist Richard Dawkins). The Pope tells us why: “But unfortunately not the whole language. The functional truth about man has been discovered. But the truth about man himself – who he is, where he comes from, what he should do, what is right, what is wrong – this… cannot be read in the same way. Hand in hand with growing knowledge of functional truth there seems to be an increasing blindness towards ‘truth’ itself – towards the question of our real identity and purpose.”

It hardly needs to be pointed out how this applies to Hitchens’s mindset. Still, he has mellowed. He suspects that Collins is praying for him and doesn’t mind, although he thinks it a waste of time. I have blogged before about Hitchens and prayer. He still needs it.

  • Anonymous

    Atheism can’t even be responsible for the absence of God, any more than a barometer can be responsible for the weather. Nothing and no-one can be responsible for the absence of gods.

  • Anonymous

    While you’re at it, you can say a prayer for me also. I’m vastly ignorant of God, the meaning of life, the cause of the universe, the Pope’s moral authority, the sinfulness of gay sex, the wit of Jeremy Clarkson, the fascination exerted by many present-day celebrities, and innumerable other things which some fellow humans claim to be able to see. I admit that I haven’t suffered as a result of any of this ignorance, but I could argue that my non-suffering makes me a perfect prayer object. I’ll touch wood for you.

  • Anonymous

    How ridiculous; the last person I would be promoting as a pinnacle of faith is the leader of a bunch of misogynistic, avoricious, paedoplhile-supporting, gaudily-dressed, secretive old coots.

    Wasn’t it Hitchens who equated calling someone an atheist to calling not playing tennis a hobby? The “title” is meaningless and no one should have to defend themselves on this basis.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how many times you have been graciously served by people who do not share your beliefs. A very pompously ignorant comment. If your beliefs give you some comfort then have them; just leave the rest of us alone (and that applies to alll the hundreds of different versions….. leave each other alone, too).

  • Anonymous

    I see cranker, Semper Fidelis’ christian sentiments have really come out of the woodwork……

  • Anonymous

    Oh, he/she/it/they may exist…… but obviously just don’t give a rat’s fart……

  • Anonymous

    Tony, I suggest you read what Hitchens wrote about Mother Teresa:


    Perhaps Hitchens is a little tough on her, considering that she eventually abandoned her faith completely and became an atheist, despite the mental anguish it apparently caused her, so she was one of us :-)

    You also seem to have a very negative view of her if you think her “help” for the poor was motivated by religion, and not because she was intrinsically a good person. Atheists do good as well, and not out of self-interest or compulsion from him upstairs. I have given over 80 units of blood, and there is nothing in it for me except the good feeling it gives me. perhaps if I was Christian I would not do it, because it might hasten people’s ascent to heaven.
    Also, according to official figures, atheists are severely under-represented in US prisons. This might be because atheists are more law abiding, or because we are too clever to get caught, or some other reason. i will leave you to form your own opinion of that!

    As for atheist countries, the best countries to live in today tend to be liberal democracies, with a low level of religiosity and free from political ideology


  • Semper Fidelis

    Who rattled your cage. I have never been graciously served ( what a pompous twit you are ! ) by anyone who does’nt share my beliefs. Firstly because it’s generally Christians who help out most & secondly I would’nt let a filthy atheist within a million miles of my territory. Atheism is a crutch for closed minds, an ideology for air-heads. Despite Hitchen’s deranged/irrational/poisonous ideology I pray & hope that he recovers. In future save your puerile posts for some atheist site, the Catholic Herald is for reasonable/rational human beings. Try reading some Thomas Aquinas for your enlightenment.

  • Anonymous

    Your argument, AJ, is that Christians never kill because if they do they are not Christians. By this logic, Richard the Lionheart was not a Christian, nor Mary Tudor, nor Franco, though they all did remarkably convincing impersonations of Christians (at least when they weren’t having people killed). If your argument is sound, then it’s clear that the most effective way for societies to reduce their murder rates is to steer people towards Christianity and away from poisonous atheism. Unfortunately, statistics don’t support this. The USA is a far more Christian country than, say, Sweden, but has a much higher murder rate. Sweden, Norway and Japan are among the most atheistic societies in the world, but are also three of the countries in which you are least likely to be murdered. If atheism is poisoning these societies, it seems to be a very slow-acting poison.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Crude, irrational atheist mumbo-jumbo. Parrotting the vacuos mantras of loony Dawkins, Hitchens & mob. Your comment proves that atheism may be ok for pimpled adolescents & nutty professors, leave the serious thinking to the Roman Catholics ; thats who gave you Universities ( Oxford/Cambridge etc., ) ; rational science ( as opposed to irrational atheist pseudo-science : duh – it’s only a blob ! ; yeah, the universe was created by magic – Paul Daniels started it all – the atheist view of creation ) , & philosophy. Atheism’s contribution – gulag’s, death camps & killing fields. Compare & contrast as they say !.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Cranker, with air-heads like you in the marines, it was inevitable the atheist Vietnamese commies won the war. You probably killed more by friendly fire than the atheist viet commies. Try being a little less ignorant in your arrogance. If you were taught critical thinking, I’d ask for my money back if I were you. You’ve been taught mumbo-jumbo instead. Try reading Thomas Aquinas, the great Catholic philospher. Now that’s critical thinking !. God bless & keep the Faith.

  • 1prophetspeaks

    LGM: If you think there is no evidence of God,you have not been talking to the right people People who know God have testimonies of His answering prayers. Go to a pentacostal church where you WILL meet people who have these testimonies. I have been healed several times by praying in jesus name. Diseases are caused by spirits that have assignments of those diseases. You can rebuke them in Jesus name. I have rebuked canc-, asthm-, depress-. I was also healed of a sexual disease when I repented of sexual immorality; God spoke to me and said don’t sin or it will return; I didn’t and it never returned. That was 20 years ago. Hitchens doesn’t need a dr, he needs to repent of his atheism and then God can immediately heal his disease. It’s that simple. I once was going to pray for someone I read about in a newspaper, and God spoke to me and said “they’ll think it’s the dr’s that did it”. There are many christians who pray for God to use drs, and sometimes He meets them on their level of faith, but higher faith is praying directly to the Holy Spirit and rebuking the spirit of the illness; this is a clearer proof that God really exists than using dr’s, which is clearly more ambiguous. Also as you worship God, his spirit comes (God inhabits the praises of his people) and you can FEEL it; God poured out His spirit on me and healed me and gave me a loud singing voice I did NOT have before that. You can read my free books and minibooks, Manual for Transformational Healing-God’s Answer to Psychiatry, and Spiritual Wisdom, and the article “letter to a scientist/atheist” on my website http://www.1prophetspeaks.com

  • Anonymous

    So why doesn’t god heal amputees?

  • Semper Fidelis

    I have been graciously served by many religious people, but thank God, never by any deranged atheists. Why dont you save your deranged rants for some puerile atheist site. Leave this site to Catholic intellectuals. Your comments merely prove that atheism may be ok for pimpled adolescents & nutty professors ; leave the serious thinking to the rest of us. You are of course perfectly entitled to your puerile views, but have the good grace to save them for your fellow atheist air-heads.

  • http://profiles.google.com/steveburkez28 Stephen Burke

    “Neutrality means that you don’t really care/ Cause the struggle goes on even when you’re not there/ Blind and unaware” – Rise Against

  • Anonymous

    There is no Catholic science, or Protestant science, or Muslim science, or Jewish science, or atheist science. There is only genuine science and fake science. The Catholicism of the great Catholic scientists did not contribute a jot to their scientific understanding. Jessie XL is perfectly correct to claim that Christianity did not give birth to science, and does not deny the existence of great scientists who were also Christian, so this is hardly a case of intellectual deficiency. (Incidentally, how can reading Woods’s book fill in an intellectual deficiency? You might hope to make the improbable case that it could fill in an educational deficiency, but an intellectual deficiency cannot be repaired by any book.) Your suggestion that Western Civilisation was built by the Catholic Church ignores the importance of pre-Christian Greek and Roman thought. Since you admire the Beano more than the writings of Dawkins, I will not be ordering Professor Woods’s book on your recommendation, amusing though its title might be.

  • Tony in PA

    I’m familar with the Hitchens’ piece. It helped further form my opinion of him and Mother Teresa.

    As far as my low opinion of Mother Teresa as an intrinsically good person, you’re onto something there. I also have a low opinion of myself and of you when it comes to our intrinsic goodness. Its something called Original Sin. An atheist might appreciate the saying that ” Nature is red in tooth and claw “. What does this mean ? It means that given the most awful circumstances and left entirely to themselves people have the capacity to eat their own children. This was a horror of the 1930′s in the Ukraine engineered by a famous atheist by the name of Joseph Stalin.
    Performing good deeds, such as giving blood is fine. If it makes you feel good, that’s great. What makes Mother Teresa more heroic is that much of the time performing good works apparently didn’t offer her the reward of good feelings. She did it as an act of will and obedience. This is something incomprehensible to the modern western mind, which says love is entirely an emotion, a feeling and not an act. The problem with feelings as a motivator is that they can be unreliable. Pleasant feelings can result from actions that are either objectively good or bad.

    When it comes to US prisons, here’s a little secret ; everybody in them is innocent. At least that’s what they’ll tell you if you ask. So you might as well believe their professions of faith just as readily.

    Liberal democracies are literally dying in their alleged triumph. Google UN population statistics if you want some corroboration. It seems when people become disconnected from any possible transcendent dimension to life they either don’t have much hope for the future or begin to care only about themselves. Why else would they choose to stop having children ? Ironically, it is likely many of these societies will change into something quite religious again, only it will be a different religion than the one that predominated before the Enlightened Age of Atheism.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R4XWKTKI2GIRNTSWTJRKRB5HTU D

    YEs because you are sucking the very life out of them in 3rd world Africa and South America. The Catholic church is nothing less than Soul Poison.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R4XWKTKI2GIRNTSWTJRKRB5HTU D

    Clergy = Clowns in Gowns…pedophiles and queers.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R4XWKTKI2GIRNTSWTJRKRB5HTU D

    In it’s essence…in it’s purest form, Christianity is nothing more than the oppression of the human soul.

    Judaism + Christianity + Islam = Axis of Evil Against the Soul of Mankind

  • Anonymous

    “Anyone that claims to be an atheist and then spends much time and energy trying to prove that God doesn’t exist must be struggling with a belief that there possibly is a God.”
    Yes, atheists do struggle with the belief that there is possibly a God. But it is not their belief.

  • Anonymous

    Your belief that “violence is contrary to the nature of God” might be based on a version of the Bible different from the one I possess, in which God appears to revel in violence, especially when it’s directed against nations he hasn’t chosen.
    Who are all these fanatical atheists busy imposing their beliefs on others? I’ve yet to meet anyone like that. By “fanatical atheists” do you mean atheists who express their beliefs?

  • stefany

    Don’t think so as much as you’d like that to happen. There are over 1.18 BILLION Catholics and more are convertin every day. a Million every year convert just in Africa alone.

  • stefany

    The Catholic church came from Jesus Christ founded on Saint Peter by the Word of the Lord….stood 2,000 years while others have simply faded away, or became 33,000 Protestant sects….There is one God, one Christ, one Church, one Chair founded on Saint Peter by the Word of the Lord. It isn’t necessary to set up another altar, nor for there to be another priesthood….whoever gathers elsewhere is scattering.

  • Rupert Pelham

    A death bed conversion? What a laugh. This is only more wishful thinking on your part as are your rage-filled comments to others that hold you to your metaphysical beliefs on religion. Silly rabbit, logic is for kids, but obviously you rarely use it.

  • Rupert Pelham

    Stefany, I’m sure you’re only doing your part as a good Catholic with your comment, but consider the following.

    I certainly don’t find it convincing to trumpet that in Africa the Catholic Church is converting numerous people. Can the same be said for the developed, free-thinking and in my opinion more enlightened parts of the world? That is, are more people converting in those parts of the world than leaving the faith? I would find that very hard to believe. It strikes me then as a sort of desperation on the Church’s part because that is where they can currently convert people in higher numbers. They’ve found their new target market. I’m sure the Catholic Church will do their best to be sure condoms are not handed out in these new markets blinded by their outmoded, false and dangerous thinking.

    The article’s author doesn’t even attempt to counter Hitchen’s statement about religion without any sort of logical response or even a wishful thinking religious answer and just calls it a ‘grotesque distortion’ of what I assume is her religion. This is conveniently avoiding his assertions—lazy, overly opportune and biased writing. And just what ‘truth’ is Hitchens mindset so lost on? Is it the need for a higher power in the author’s opinion?

    Francis S. Collins said with joyful astonishment: “The language of God was revealed” as Head of the Genome Project. Another great scientific discovery was made thanks to him. However, his personal relationship with God only colors this statement. If anything, another “god of the gaps” has been closed in bringing more scientific understanding to light for us all. Make the assertion to many religious people how the scientific understanding of evolution reveals the language of God and many will laugh or respond with anger.

  • Tedd

    Semper Fidelis, Francis Collins and Christopher Hitchens became friends before the coincidence that Collins has played a hand in devising a treatment applicable to Hitchens’ cancer. The beliefs of physicians and patients should not be an issue, anyway. Your charges of hypocricy and death-bed conversion are unnecessary. Peace.

  • Adam

    I’d like to circumvent the entire article altogether and simply ask the question: how many more cases of child rape will it take before society says enough is enough? Catholic priests used to be able to marry. Long, long ago. This practice was stopped because priests were giving their inheritance to their offspring, instead of the church. They put a stop to it. But this sexual repression is what causes the sexual abuse. People are finally opening their eyes to all the hypocrisy of the church, and leaving in droves. The enemy of religion is reason. Reason brought us mathematics. The scientific method. Computers. Clean drinking water. Plumbing. Space travel. Glasses, the microwave. My point is that I’m looking around my house, seeing evidence of science making my life better. Religion closes your mind to reason. Had the church remained in power into present day, we would be living in a world more like England circa 1400, not one in which we can go to the MOON. Thank you, science.

  • Anonymous

    You have a point about people telling porkies about their religion. before the recent UK census there was a movement to encourage people not to tick “Christian” if they were merely taught about it as a child but don’t actually believe it or practice it. I believe that anyone who believes in capital punishment (the majority in the UK) or who believes that war is ever justified, even in self defence, ie someone who does not believe in the 6th commandment, cannot claim to be a Christian.So the number of true Christians is certainly far fewer than claimed. And you can’t include children in the numbers either.

    It would be nice if we could go back in time and bring Jesus here for a talk with the Pope. I am sure Jesus would be flabbergasted that he had given rise to a new religion, when he actually only wanted people to be good Jews. He would also be baffled by the labyrinthine Catholic theology which has evolved over 2000 years, changing over time like any other fashion. In my opinion you can only call yourself a Christian if you are a Jew, as the first Christians were.

    I don’t understand the negative Catholic obsession with “Original Sin” and not “Original Goodness”, or why Catholics prefer quantity of life to quality. One reason that people choose not to have children because the mortality rate is extremely low, so there is no need to have big families. And most people realise that there is more to life than breeding! What is the point of increasing the population? Why is a falling population in secular democracies a bad thing? And the Vatican, that antithesis of a secular democracy, is dependent on immigration to maintain its numbers, having the lowest birth rate in the world!

    I don’t see anything to commend in Mother Teresa’s behaviour. Despite huge amounts of money coming in, she would not buy bread for the soup kitchens when there was no donated bread, and she would not buy drugs to relieve suffering, which she believed was good for the soul. She was more concerned with self-glorification and jet-setting around the world. Her uncritical obedience to a foolish old man in strange costume is hardly something worthy of praise. I wonder how many people would be obedient to the pope if he only had a tiny handful of followers? If that were the case then we would see him for what he really is, a pitiful deluded old fool. His support is based mainly on the psychology of childhood impressionability and the psychology of the masses, not reason or evidence.

  • Semper Fidelis

    What a puerile/pompous comment. To the best of my knowledge I have never been graciously or ungraciously served by any atheist. They generally don’t own up to their demented creed anyway. It’s gloriously ironic that neither Dawkins, Dennett, Hawkings or any of the other atheist buffoons are able to help Mr. Hitchens. His greatest hope resides in a Christian scientist ( not a scientologist, I hasten to add. It’s nearly, though not quite, as deranged a creed as atheism ). I sincerely hope & pray that Mr. Hitchens recovers.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Save your puerile mumbo-jumbo for some incestuous atheist site. This is the Catholic Herald site, a degree of reason/rationality is preferred. The only laugh, & slightly ironic given his usual hate filled anti-Christian rants, is that poor Mr. Hitchens ( please God things will work out work for him ) is dependent on a Christian scientist for help. All the deranged nihilistic juvenalia of Dawkins, Dennett, Hawkins & co., is of absolutely no use. So much irrational atheist hot-air.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Nonsense, the Catholicism of the great scientists was inherent to their adherence to rational science. As Professor Rodney Stark proves in ” The Victory of Reason : How Christianity Led To Western Success ” , it was because of the Catholic Church’s adherence to rationality/reason ( significantly due to the intellectual brain power of Thomas Aquinas ) that led to the Church establishing all of the great Universities of Europe & which gave such an impetus to scientific study. It’s only when science alligns itself to such irrational creeds as atheism, that it loses it’s way ; & good science becomes bad science. So we go from Aquinas brilliant first cause analysis to the atheist nonsense of – it all started by magic. Yes, atheism may be termed, the Paul Daniels school of science !.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Bull—-. See. my reply to Pelham below. Read & learn. I’ll try & make it simpler if you can’t understand. One really has to get down to kindergarten level to engage with the ignorant atheist mob. They’re so intellectually unchallenging !.

  • Jcc

    The tobacco industry is also targetting Africa – I wonder which will do most harm.

  • Anonymous

    By writing about “the Catholicism of THE great scientists”, rather than “the Catholicism of SOME great scientists” you imply that all the great scientists have been Catholics. Do you believe that?
    Success in science has nothing whatsoever to do with religious belief or the absence of it. The great scientists succeeded because they addressed scientific questions rationally, and the great pre-Christian scientists, such as Archimedes, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, Euclid, Hippocrates, etc. succeeded in thinking rationally and advancing science without Christianity’s help. Without wishing to deny the Church’s huge educational role in Mediaeval Europe, I would argue that Man’s inherent hunger for knowledge is the driving force behind scientific progress. This is the hunger that brought Galileo into conflict with the Church and led to his enforced confinement. This is the hunger that led to the Renaissance, that great rediscovery of classical (ie. pre-Christian) influences on Western thought which in turn led to the gradual drift of schools and universities away from church control. This is the hunger that persists in all of today’s most distinguished scientists regardless of whether they believe in God, and regardless of any statistical decline in religious faith or the waning power of churches. It is worth noting here that the most religious nations on Earth today are not generally the best educated, certainly in science.
    Science and rationality, then, are NOT Christianity’s gift to the world. Conversely, belief in magic is not an atheistic trait. If you want descriptions of magic, read your Bible.

  • Rupert Pelham

    It seems posts filled with fury and caustic, baseless accusations pass the muster here though. I, in turn, could posit very real accusations and crises that your Church now must face, but I neither have the time, don’t wish to further stir your ire and I don’t doubt the points would be lost on you in any case.

    Feel free to unleash your childish fervor once more in response, but I’m done replying to such a juvenile poster who can only strike back in anger and rely on tiresome, needless accusations rather than use rationality and an air of decency himself.

    It’s gratifying though to read your posts and watch you thrash about in response to anyone who questions your mindset and are such a large fly in your ointment while you live and struggle in your lavender cloud of the metaphysical. Best wishes with all that. I honestly do you wish you peace regardless of your harsh attacks on those with which you differ. And I do appreciate that you hope Hitchens recovers if that is an honest statement. It is irrelevant that a Christian scientist is willing to offer him assistance and he accepts the help. Basing much of your, it seems giddiness, over this fact is overblown and needless to crow about. Glowing gleefully about how the group of atheists you noted can’t provide him with medical assistance is pointless also.

    You may or may not have been assisted by someone who greatly differs from your beliefs in the past, but I would hope that if you or a loved one of yours faced a critical need and the best hope came from of all people an atheist (aghast!) that you would not let your belief system stand in the way of that help. If so, I would consider you highly irrational and yes, a very ridiculous leporid. Feel free to have the last word.

  • Elizabeth

    I heard Christopher Hitchens speak a while back and was surprised at his simplistic and “unenlightened” understanding of the Bible. No wonder he doesn’t believe if he hasn’t bothered to update his knowledge of Christianity since kindergarten.

  • Tony in PA

    Greenie, I suppose it is part of my job to try to explain a few things about Catholicism. You might not agree with the explanations, but it might clear some things up. I can’t respond to everything in your post without making this reply an online book, so I’ll try to narrow down to a few Church – related points.

    You are right in that there doesn’t seem to be any real evidence during his earthly ministry that Jesus intended to found a new religion. Jesus was a Jew, as were his Apostles, as were the vast majority of the people mentioned in the Gospels. The Jewish community was divided on the question of whether Jesus was the promised Messiah. I recall reading a correspondence from an official in first century Rome complaining about the continual squabbling among the Jews as to ” the Chrestus “. One of the traditionalist Jews who rejected Jesus’ claim as Messiah was Saul. Saul was a ruthless persecutor of Christians ( even though they didn’t call themselves that yet ) and you are probably aware of his conversion story on the road to Damascus after which he became Paul.
    This next part is important with regard to the Catholic Church. Up until the time of Paul’s ministry, Gentiles were expected to first convert to Judaism in order to formally accept Jesus as the Christ. Paul challenged this and a council was convened in Jerusalem to decide the matter. You probably know the outcome. Importantly, it shows there was already a functioning hierarchy for the Church at that early date with Peter holding primacy. For Catholics, this is regarded as the first council of the Church, of which there have been many since. Councils have always been convened to decide important matters of faith, and admission of the Gentiles would fundamentally decide the future of the Church.
    The Catholic doctrine concerning the Pope is often cited from the Church interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel, but it roots actually appear to go back much further to the prototype in the OT Kingdom of David. The Pope is intended to function as a sort of prime minister. [ The older I get, the more I can appreciate the wisdom of having a point man ]. He is not regarded in the Faith as personally infallible. Papal infallibility is confined to pronouncements on matters of faith made with the Magisterium. There have been good Popes, bad Popes and in between Popes just like PM’s. The whole idea behind the Church on Earth is that God can somehow work through and around flawed, fallible human beings. I suppose this might sound like a massive rationalization to you, but I think its illustrative of the God – Man relationship.

    If you consider Catholic theology labyrithine and derivative, it might be worth reading a few things from the Early Fathers of the Church. I think you will find a surprising level of doctrinal consistency right up to the present, but it is a lot of work to fully reach this conclusion. I would analogize the world of theology here with the world of science. In theology, revelation is followed by a long process of unpacking implications which focus definitions. A similar thing occurs in the world of science. When Watson and Crick figured out the double helix you didn’t see people sequencing the human genome the next year. Especially in the frist few centuries of the Church, there were a lot of novel ideas that didn’t seem quite right ( Gnosticism, Marcionism, Arianism, etc ) and the Church often had to more clearly define its doctrines on the basis of these challenges. There haven’t really been many new doctrinal heresies in quite some time. The old ones just keep getting recycled.
    In your post, I sort of got the sense that the Church can’t win when it comes to doctrine. Either its a fossilized faith with two millenia old notions no longer applicable to today’s world, or it creates layer upon layer of new doctrine in an effort to keep up. I assure you if its anything, its more the former than the latter.

    There’s much more I could say, but in the interest of keeping this to a readable length in this thread, I won’t. As for the Catholic Chruch being some dark, repressive cult, I beg to differ from my own experience as a convert. I’ll quote somebody who can say it better than me, ” Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, you’ll find laughter and good red wine ” ( Hillaire Belloc ).

  • Semper Fidelis

    Thanks for confirming the fact that atheism is a crutch for closed minds, an ideology for air-heads. Thank God a good rational, Christian scientist has come to Mr. Hitchens assistance. All the hate-filled, anti-Christian bile of Dawkins, Hawking’s, Dennett & mob, is of absolutely no use to anyone. Proving that atheism is a veritable waste of space. Indeed as has been suggested elsewhere, there is a very reasoned argument for designating atheism a thought crime. It only further infantilises gullibe minds & a lot worse besides. No sentient human being could subscribe to such a ludicrous pseudo-religion. God bless.

  • Anonymous

    Adam writes: ” But this sexual repression is what causes the sexual abuse”.

    Let me ask a few questions then: Who’s sexual suppression is the cause of the pedophile teachers?, and why isn’t the government and teacher unions having to pay a heavy financial price for these misdeeds of rape among their members? Finally, why isn’t it at the forefront of every media outlet.

  • Semper Fidelis

    They say that historical ignorance is bliss, but you abuse the privilige. All of the great universities of Western Europe were established by the Catholic Church, because the Church was wedded to rationality/reason. Aquinas & the later Spanish scholastics set this great process in motion by their insistence on rigorous scholarship. The Catholic Church is directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, scientific & economic breakthroughs of the past millenium. Christianity embraced logic & deductive thinking as the path toward progress. For a list of the great Catholic scientists ( including Galileo ) refer to – ” How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilisation “, by Prof. Thomas Woods ; as the list is too long. However when science weds itself to irrational/pseudo-religions, like atheism, the result is bad science. Atheism elevates irrationality to a dogma. Hence, the deranged juvenalia of Dawkins, Hawking, Dennett & mob, is of no practical use to poor Mr. Hitchens. Paul Daniel’s magic would be more beneficial. Hence the need for a rational, Christian scientist like Francis Collins to come to Mr. Hitchen’s assistance. God bless.

  • Anonymous

    From what you say it is clear that Catholic theology is a human invention, with god having nothing to do with it. It is ironic that the literal meaning of “theology” is “the study of god(s)”, when that is the one thing that theologians never ever do. God never enters the process – Cardinals never consult god about who he wants to be his representative on Earth, the pope is chosen by his chums. Theologians never consult god to answer questions, they merely make it up as they go along, producing something which is incomprehensible and useless gobbledegook – the Vatican will never win any plain English awards, because they do not want to be understood, they prefer to confuse people because it makes them look cleverer than they are! And it depending on faith because it is all untestable, but faith is not the way to the truth. So it the whole edifice is like a house built on sand. Much ado about nothing.

    According to Wiki “The Roman Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”This doctrine was dogmatically and infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII on November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus”

    Note the date:1950! Where did that suddenly come from?certainly not from god! And how many Catholics actually understand what these technical terms actually means, or care? Since the soul as a physical object is now known to be nonsense, and heaven is a bronze age concept which is incompatible with our modern astronomical knowledge, to pronounce this dogma in the 20th century is laughable, and shows that the Vatican is still living in the dark ages.

  • Anonymous

    Semper Fidelis, I think you should look back through this thread and remind yourself of the original cause of this debate. It began when Lear claimed that “Christianity gave birth to science”: a remarkable claim challenged first by JessieXL and then by me, after you intemperately suggested that JessieXL had the intellectual age of a Beano reader. Do you stand by that suggestion? Lear’s claim is the one that I have set out to challenge, on the basis that scientists and science existed before the birth of Christ. I have never at any point argued that the Catholic Church did not establish Europe’s university tradition, and I cannot think why you are pressing a point which is not disputed between us, except perhaps as a distraction from the absurdity of Lear’s claim. In your replies you have completely ignored my references to the existence of scientific thought before Christ. Why? Are you uncomfortable with it, or ignorant of it? Does intellectual history for you begin with Christ’s birth? Were there no intelligent, curious, talented people before then? For you, do the initials B.C. mean “Beneath Consideration”? Do you accuse me of historical ignorance in reaction to the limits of your own reading?
    Since, in answer to my assertion that science did not begin with Christianity, you raise the unrelated subject of the Church’s role in founding European universities, I will put these questions to you.
    1. Have you ever suspected that the scientific knowledge we possess today might not have all its sources in Europe, or in universities? Was the wheel invented in a European university founded by the Catholic Church? Did mechanics start there? Agriculture? Mathematics? Astronomy? These are all sciences, and all pre-Christian.
    2. If Christianity goes so harmoniously with logic, intellect and science as you claim, why did the universities break free from the churches? Have they gone downhill since, being separated from the source of everything they should represent? Or are they still going strong, and indeed benefitting from the absence of Church interference?
    Since you seem determined to ignore any fact that contradicts your Vatican-centric view of history, this is the last posting I will make in this thread, no matter how provocatively wrong your reply and regardless of any flippant allusions to Paul Daniels. Your attribution of atheism to irrationality merits no further reply than this sentence. Now drivel your worst. I shall not bother to reply.

  • Tony in PA

    I’m guessing that my analogy between science and theology didn’t make sense to you, Green. Catholics believe that knowledge about God is wholly dependent upon God’s revelation. We believe that Jesus Christ was the ultimate example of that revelation, so the things he said and did inform our theology fundamentally. You either believe this or you don’t. Again, I would say that when something becomes known or revealed, its full implications are often contemplated and considered over a very long period, which explains in part why Catholic theology didn’t emerge exactly as it is today in terms of full and formal definitions two thousand years ago.

    Your example of the Assumption is an interesting choice. There had been a tradition known in the Church dating back to around the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifith centuries concerning the Assumption. The Church has not said whether Mary experienced physical death, only that she was assumed body and soul into heaven. [ There is an intriguing passage in Matthew's Gospel that seems to indicate the possibility of assumptions occuring after the Resurrection ]. I can’t explain why 1950 was the date of the Assumption being formally declared a doctrine of the faith, although I can attest that the often glacial pace at which the Church moves does not make this all that surprising to me.
    It is noteworthy that of all of the various remains of saints that are reposed and venerated in various places, there is no place that claims Mary. As the most holy saint, every Christian city would have been very keen to have her association.

    I find it somewhat amusing that you say God had nothing to do with development of the formal doctrine of the Assumption. If nothing else, it reveals that even atheists have expectations about God. Expectations that are apparently unmet.

    As for the soul, maybe its fingerprints will someday be detected in the fleeting quantum flickerings within our neurons, maybe not.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ventana54 Bryce Lee

    “No, atheism CAN’T tell you how the world began but science SCIENCE can. ”

    I have to assume you meant something a little vaster than a literal world, didn’t you? No, science really can’t. Beyond the first instant of physical existence (whether in a single universe, a series of cascading universes, or simultaneous multiverses) was a condition of nothingness. There was no energy, no dimensional stress allowing energy to express itself potentially, no matter, no dimension, no time. No means, in other words, by which anything could happen, had there been anything for it to happen to, time for it to happen, or place for it to happen in. Science can’t do much with nothing, except to assert that, indeed, simple un-caused eternal existence of everything is an entirely unscientific claim. So really, if you think it through, all science is able to do here is to assert there must have been a miracle, and when you understand why you must believe in one miracle you will understand why we believe in so many more.

  • Semper Fidelis

    Lear is right & you are wrong. Real/progressive science only emerged from the universities, which in turn evolved from Catholic teaching on reason/rationality. The great Catholic monasteries were pioneeers of farming excellence & social care. It is from this belief that we are reasonable/rational human beings, that the great impetus of Western civilisation progressed ; largely under the influence of the Catholic Church. The great capitalist Italian states progressed under this benign/progressive teaching. With the reformation, a great decline ensued ; in England for instance with the suppression of the Monasteries & their benign social role, a huge number of poorer people were left destitute. Your argument is totally undermined by a cursory glance at modern Universities ; where the infantilisation of Western Europe has reached it’s nadir. Core subjects are such dross as gender studies ; equality studies & other such irrational/pc juvenalia. I think we can all emit a collective sigh of relief at your promise not to post one of your rambling/incoherent replies. God bless.

  • emilia

    The author’s purpose is not to counter Hitchens’s statement. If anyone wants more information about why Hitchens is misguided, there are tons of good books out there. Actually, you don’t even need to read a book to know that God exists. The answer is everywhere (in your heart and soul, notwithstanding, but I digress…). The point of this article is simply to say that Hitchens has mellowed, and I think stopping there is great. I mean, does anyone really expect to see evidence for the existence of God in this article? I don’t think this is the place.
    What’s wrong with converting Africa? The Church, and any other church and most major religions, has a mission to spread its faith…It’s only natural that people from so-called developed and “enlightened” nations drift away from the faith. Instead of worshipping the Creator of the physical laws, they worship the laws, thinking that they know it all. Instead of thanking the God who blessed them with everything they have, they worship material things.
    Only when one is empty-handed that some people hear God’s voice. That’s why it’s a lot easier to convert in third-world countries that in developed nations.

  • Anonymous

    You say that atheists have expectations about god. Firstly, there are countless gods as far as I am concerned, and all apparently human inventions, not one. I do not see any reason to regard the Christian god as any different. I therefore do not expect anything of any god. However, if your god exists then it must have some observable effect on the universe (otherwise there would be no reason to belief in it), and particularly on religion. I see no such effect. Stories quickly become distorted with time, people tell lies, hallucinate, take things literally when they are not meant to be. There is no need to believe to believing fantastic claims of the Bible when there are so many mundane explanations.

    You also talk about an analogy between science and theology, but there are more differences than similarities. Theology depends on divine revelation, which is accepted on faith without question. But faith is not the way to the truth – Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems all have faith, but are they all correct in their beliefs? In science all hypotheses must be tested before they can be accepted but in theology there is no such error-correction mechanism, which is why there are so many flavours of Christianity, and so many religions. In science, admitting you were mistaken is considered praiseworthy, but what would happen if the pope said that he was mistaken about the existence of god? How many would follow suit? So Science and Religion are antithetical. Science is based on evidence, Religion never is.

    Regarding the soul, if a man has his brain divided in two (which is done to treat epilepsy) how many souls would you say he had? One such person was once asked if he believed in god. One side of his brain said “yes”, the other side said “no”. What are the theological implications of this?

  • Anonymous

    Physical laws are not created, they are merely descriptions of how things behave, ie they are descriptive, and not prescriptive (like political laws). They are also mostly well understood, even the most fundamental laws, so no need to invoke any of the gods to explain them.

  • Tony in PA

    Greenie, you actually said in an earlier post that you were disappointed as a child about God not showing up as you expected in your Sunday school class and that moved you toward atheism. That was you, wasn’t it ?
    In order to refute anybody’s claims about God, you must first have an idea of how you think He would behave, if He exists. If He doesn’t behave that way, then He must not exist. I continually get this from reading your posts and those of most atheists in this thread. You brought up the date of the pronouncement of the formal doctrine of the Assumption in your previous post as being absurdly late in Christian history. From this I conclude that you expect if God exists, and He is responsible for Christianity, the Assumption would have been a formal doctrine much earlier. I have the feeling this part of the discussion is getting into an endless loop.

    I analogized scientific discovery with religious revelation to illustrate the development of ideas over time, not to relativise the two disciplines. To say that evidence has no place in religion is historically implausible. There is pretty good historical evidence to back up many of the characters, times, places and stories of many religions. I wouldn’t say everything is correct in the literal sense in every case, though.

    Being an atheist probably requires as much faith as any religion. I think the core of atheistic belief is what I like to call the Promise of Impending Omniscience. Its the idea that we will very soon have it all figured out. Yes, there are an infinite number of Universes in the Multiverse. Why there’s probably an entire Universe where everything is just the same as this one but you had a slice of pizza instead of a fish sandwich for lunch. We can’t say anything definite just yet about what these other universes are like, but we are unshakably certain there’s no God in any one of them and He had nothing to do with causing any or all of them. That’s faith.
    Immanuel Kant was a philosopher who brought up the idea that we humans not only can’t know all of the answers, we can’t know all of the questions. He even went further, saying we likely do not have the capacity to know all the questions. If you believe human intelligence as far as science is the accidental byproduct of people squatting around in caves, chipping stone tools and planning the next day’s menu, then I would have a hard time putting much faith in the dogma of Impending Omniscience.
    One place where the rubber is meeting the road right now with regard to what Kant said is the world of physics, where Theories of Everything are getting batted around. The math and the concepts are often quite beautiful. The problem ? Most of them are not, and may not ever be testable. It doesn’t necessarily make any of them untrue, we just can’t know and we may never know. But there is a truth.

    Again, I’ve probably gone on too long. I will, however, answer your question about the epilepsy patient. I would describe him as a believer with doubts.