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Dawkins predicts religion’s early death: the Pope warns that ‘in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of being snuffed out’. But they are saying very different things

The Holy Father is leading a renewal of the faith, not predicting its demise

By on Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Benedict XVI leaves vespers at St Paul Outside the Walls last week (Photo: CNS)

Benedict XVI leaves vespers at St Paul Outside the Walls last week (Photo: CNS)

I don’t suppose many of my readers are also readers of the Times of India, so most of you will not have seen the following, which appeared on January 24 under the headline “Look forward to the death of organised religion: Richard Dawkins”:

JAIPUR: Richard Dawkins – scientist, bestselling author and the world’s foremost atheist – comes across as mild-mannered and genial but doesn’t believe in pulling his punches. He certainly didn’t on Monday at the Jaipur Lit Fest as he blasted the “lamentable disgrace” of Salman Rushdie’s enforced absence. He also launched a broadside against the “virus of faith”, and said he looked forward to the “complete death of organised religion” in his lifetime.

Dawkins singled out various irrational beliefs, including “Santa Claus, baby Jesus and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer” and then homed in on the Catholic Church:

Dawkins pointed out that in the 16th century, some Catholics in England had written to a senior figure in the Vatican asking if it was acceptable to murder Elizabeth I. The answer was that since the Queen had led millions away from Catholicism, her murder would be a commendable act. Dawkins didn’t spell it out, but two points were clear- he wasn’t targeting a faith but all of them, and nothing much has changed in almost 500 years. “Religion is deadly because it makes people willing to die and kill for it without a shred of evidence to back up their beliefs,” he said.

Well, that needn’t detain us for very long. We all know that Pius V’s bull, Regnans in Excelsis (1570), which declared Elizabeth I a heretic and released her subjects from their allegiance to her, was a massive political blunder, since Elizabeth, who had thus far tolerated Catholic worship in private, now started actively persecuting Catholics, a persecution whose effects lasted for over 400 years and are with us still (Dawkins himself is in a sense riding on the back of it, as we saw in his campaign against the Pope’s visit to England). Dawkins claims to rule his life by the light of reason: but to say that Pius V’s disastrous blunder disproves his religion is entirely irrational. Regnans in Excelsis isn’t in any sense a religious or spiritual document: it’s power politics from beginning to end. As for religion being deadly “because it makes people willing to die and kill for it without a shred of evidence to back up their beliefs”, how about the willingness of the atheists Stalin and Mao massively to kill for it in the name of their own supposedly scientific but equally unproved anti-religious beliefs?

But this is the kind of thing we are used to from Dawkins. What attracts attention here is that prediction: that there will be the “complete death of organised religion” in his lifetime. Well now. He’s almost certainly wrong, and I wouldn’t bother to dignify his polemical sally with any argument against it, if it didn’t seem on the face of it to be not entirely dissimilar to a recent predictive speculation of the Holy Father’s, uttered three days later at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s recent plenary session. “We are facing,” the Pope said, “a deep crisis of faith, a loss of religious sense which poses the greatest challenge for the Church today”: he went on to warn that “In vast areas of the world faith risks going out like a flame that no longer has anything to burn on.”

It’s happened before, of course, this selective death of faith where once it flourished: where is St Augustine’s Hippo now? In North Africa, once a centre of the Catholic faith, that’s where. But to realise that the survival of the faith in any particular place or area of the globe is never secure is quite different from doubting the dominical promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Whatever may be happening in Europe and North America, worldwide the faith is still advancing, not retreating.

And of course, that’s what the Pope is really saying: it’s the renewal of faith that he’s after, especially in areas of the world where it seems threatened. Fr Z’s translation of the relevant passage (which I didn’t find complete and in English anywhere else) is useful here:

As we know, in vast areas of the world the Faith is in danger of being snuffed out like a flame that no longer has any sustenance. We are at a profound crisis of faith, at a loss of a religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge for the Church of today. The renewal of the faith must therefore be the priority in the undertaking of the whole Church in our times. I hope that the Year of Faith can contribute, with the cordial collaboration of all the members of the People of God, to bring God back anew to this world and to open to men an access to the faith, to a reliance on the God who loved us to the end (cf John 13,1), in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen.

Fr Z’s own contribution to that process is to say that “nothing of which His Holiness spoke is going to be accomplished without a renewal of our liturgical worship”; and I’m quite certain that he’s right. That’s where it has to begin: at the altar. I’m less sure than he is that this can be accomplished principally by homing in on Summorum Pontificum, though I absolutely agree that it remains “one of the most important acts of his pontificate”. This is what Fr Z would like to see:

We need more and more and more opportunities for people to experience the older, traditional form of the Roman Rite in our Latin Church parishes.

Younger priests: learn the older form. This is your Rite! Know your Rite! If you are a Latin Church priest, who are you if you don’t know your Rite? Just do it!

Lay people: band together and start requesting celebrations of Holy Mass also in the Extraordinary Form. Get organized. Form a schola and start singing chant so you will be ready when the time comes. Offer to take care of all the material details. Offer to provide vestments, books, money so the priest can go get training. Start thinking about forming a group of servers, perhaps even father and son teams.

I agree with all of that, and on Sundays I not infrequently hear Mass in the Extraordinary Form. But I still find myself more often attending High Mass in Latin according to the Novus Ordo. I am, I admit, exceptionally fortunate in my parish church, the Oxford Oratory, where I can experience every week what the Church’s liturgy could be everywhere. There’s no question for us of “the Faith [being] in danger of being snuffed out like a flame that no longer has any sustenance”. Fr Z concludes by saying that “Many benefits will flow from a side by side experience of both forms of Holy Mass of the Latin Church”, and I’m certain he’s right: I’m quite sure, for instance, that my clergy’s celebration of the Novus Ordo is deeply enriched by the fact that they all regularly celebrate the Old Mass too.

But I am also only too aware that when I am away from home Sundays can be very different, and that though the Mass is always irreducibly the Mass, the way it is celebrated can send a real chill to the heart. For every priest, everywhere, seriously to address this problem has to be seen as a first priority. Do the bishops understand how important this is? I wonder.

  • Anonymous

    “Nothing moves without a prior mover. This leads us to a regress from which the only escape is God. Something had to make the first move, and that something we call God.”

    Ignoring the other difficulties with this argument, where has this name ‘God’ come from. If it has just been invented to describe that thing that first moved, then it an unfortunate choice of an already overloaded word, but has nothing to do with the ‘God’ referred to in the Holy Bible. If Aquinas already has a premise that the God of the Holy Bible was the first thing to move (thus assuming, as I said, that God exists), then it is trivial to infer that the God of the Holy Bible was the first thing to move.

    (This is not the refutation that Dawkins offers in The God Delusion; it is my response to your claim that Aquinas does not assume that God exists.)

  • Paul L.

    What positive benefit has
    atheism had on the world and the state of humanity? Has it produced great
    visual art or great works of music? None that I know of that would be
    considered ‘great’ in the generally acknowledged sense. Has it fed millions of hungry
    people, lifted nations out of poverty, come to the aid of victims of famine and
    natural disaster? Not that I know of. Why would it?  It has no moral code and cannot inform the
    conscience.

    Dawkins and his followers,
    (and he is a cult figure), like to place all the blame for the world’s problems
    such as war and other forms of civil strife at the feet of ‘religion’. As if it
    alone were the cause of strife, greed, lust for power and shortage of resources
    having little to do with anything, just blame religion never acknowledging what
    positive benefit some, in fact many religious institutions have had and
    currently have around the world. For example, the Catholic Church is the
    largest, most efficient charity in the history of the world.  Millions upon millions of people depend on
    the Church’s generosity and logistical infrastructure for their very
    being.  Dawkins and atheism in general
    offer nothing along these lines, and if it were up to him and he had his way
    these institutions would be torn down leaving millions of people to die a horrible
    death in filthy poverty.  

    As someone pointed out
    here already without a religious backdrop civilization has no economy for the
    formation of morals and consequent ethics beyond human opinion and
    convenience.  Without some religious
    substrate upon which civilization is formed we become insects very soon.  Of course Dawkins would argue that we are
    merely a variation of insect anyway so we should live as such. What is the
    value of a human life to a real card-carrying atheist?  Why would any life have any inherent value at
    all under this ‘dead end’ scheme of the Universe?  Most of the most horrific human and civil injustices
    have been perpetrated by those who have become ‘God’ to themselves and to their
    citizens and haven’t given a second thought to killing millions of people to
    achieve their end. China comes readily to mind, and this is why the Chinese
    Government is at odds with the Catholic Church today.  China loves Richard Dawkins as his point of
    view fits in very well with their own where human life is almost completely
    without any inherent value as a unique being ‘made in the image of God’. Soviet
    Russia comes to mind here too, and Hitler had a very serious grievance with the
    Catholic Church and sent 5 million Catholic souls to the death camps.  Hitler would certainly not have any problem
    with Dawkins’ point of view. 

    It has been a popular
    attack on religion to claim that it is the root of all evil, and to be sure
    many religions are essentially evil in outlook and in practice.  After all, if you get the wrong view of God
    and adopt religious practices accordingly the results are evil more than not. Islam
    comes to mind here, as their carnal theology caters to the appetites of carnal
    men. However, atheism is at the very core of so many brutal cold evils and
    again it is itself a form of religion.  Moving
    away from a malevolent religion into a benevolent religion is the right
    approach, not throwing all religion away simply because most of them are flawed
    and some are malevolent.  Atheism is not
    the benign solution Dawkins would have us believe, nor is it remotely benevolent
    in principle, and simply pretending to counter all religion as ‘bad religion’
    while itself is a ‘bad religion’ is hypocritical. So I would be very interested
    in knowing what possible benefit atheism has generally and specifically.  Why is atheism and the total destruction of
    religion to be preferred as beneficial to civilization, knowing that destroying
    this  most human inclination (religion) will
    be an attractive vacuum to many alternatives as it always has and does.  Dawkins rides the current civil ‘mood’ which
    is becoming more and more secular, but he offers nothing concrete as a positive
    alternative. In reality he wants ‘science’ to usurp the position of religion,
    which puts him in the best position to profit from this shift giving him all
    the more motivation to slander and undermine religion.  It’s always like this in any schism/scandal
    as those pushing the issue to break point are most likely to be enriched by the
    fallout.  Dawkins is no different than
    any other heretic of any other age. I suppose the only people to not see this
    are those who have not seen it happen a thousand and one times before
    throughout history.

    This all boils down to ‘what’s
    in it for Dick’.  Richard Dawkins is in
    it for himself, period.  He has no interest
    in service to humanity by any benevolent means. 
    He is the barer of the flask containing the hemlock and bids us drink
    and be ‘saved’ from these evils foisted upon you poor victims of a cruel
    delusion, all the while propping himself up as the true messianic visionary.

    What positive benefit has
    atheism had on the world and the state of humanity? Has it produced great
    visual art or great works of music? None that I know of that would be
    considered ‘great’ in the generally acknowledged sense. Has it fed millions of hungry
    people, lifted nations out of poverty, come to the aid of victims of famine and
    natural disaster? Not that I know of. Why would it?  It has no moral code and cannot inform the
    conscience.

    Dawkins and his followers,
    (and he is a cult figure), like to place all the blame for the world’s problems
    such as war and other forms of civil strife at the feet of ‘religion’. As if it
    alone were the cause of strife, greed, lust for power and shortage of resources
    having little to do with anything, just blame religion never acknowledging what
    positive benefit some, in fact many religious institutions have had and
    currently have around the world. For example, the Catholic Church is the
    largest, most efficient charity in the history of the world.  Millions upon millions of people depend on
    the Church’s generosity and logistical infrastructure for their very
    being.  Dawkins and atheism in general
    offer nothing along these lines, and if it were up to him and he had his way
    these institutions would be torn down leaving millions of people to die a horrible
    death in filthy poverty.  

    As someone pointed out
    here already without a religious backdrop civilization has no economy for the
    formation of morals and consequent ethics beyond human opinion and
    convenience.  Without some religious
    substrate upon which civilization is formed we become insects very soon.  Of course Dawkins would argue that we are
    merely a variation of insect anyway so we should live as such. What is the
    value of a human life to a real card-carrying atheist?  Why would any life have any inherent value at
    all under this ‘dead end’ scheme of the Universe?  Most of the most horrific human and civil injustices
    have been perpetrated by those who have become ‘God’ to themselves and to their
    citizens and haven’t given a second thought to killing millions of people to
    achieve their end. China comes readily to mind, and this is why the Chinese
    Government is at odds with the Catholic Church today.  China loves Richard Dawkins as his point of
    view fits in very well with their own where human life is almost completely
    without any inherent value as a unique being ‘made in the image of God’. Soviet
    Russia comes to mind here too, and Hitler had a very serious grievance with the
    Catholic Church and sent 5 million Catholic souls to the death camps.  Hitler would certainly not have any problem
    with Dawkins’ point of view. 

    It has been a popular
    attack on religion to claim that it is the root of all evil, and to be sure
    many religions are essentially evil in outlook and in practice.  After all, if you get the wrong view of God
    and adopt religious practices accordingly the results are evil more than not. Islam
    comes to mind here, as their carnal theology caters to the appetites of carnal
    men. However, atheism is at the very core of so many brutal cold evils and
    again it is itself a form of religion.  Moving
    away from a malevolent religion into a benevolent religion is the right
    approach, not throwing all religion away simply because most of them are flawed
    and some are malevolent.  Atheism is not
    the benign solution Dawkins would have us believe, nor is it remotely benevolent
    in principle, and simply pretending to counter all religion as ‘bad religion’
    while itself is a ‘bad religion’ is hypocritical. So I would be very interested
    in knowing what possible benefit atheism has generally and specifically.  Why is atheism and the total destruction of
    religion to be preferred as beneficial to civilization, knowing that destroying
    this  most human inclination (religion) will
    be an attractive vacuum to many alternatives as it always has and does.  Dawkins rides the current civil ‘mood’ which
    is becoming more and more secular, but he offers nothing concrete as a positive
    alternative. In reality he wants ‘science’ to usurp the position of religion,
    which puts him in the best position to profit from this shift giving him all
    the more motivation to slander and undermine religion.  It’s always like this in any schism/scandal
    as those pushing the issue to break point are most likely to be enriched by the
    fallout.  Dawkins is no different than
    any other heretic of any other age. I suppose the only people to not see this
    are those who have not seen it happen a thousand and one times before
    throughout history.

    This all boils down to ‘what’s
    in it for Dick’.  Richard Dawkins is in
    it for himself, period.  He has no interest
    in service to humanity by any benevolent means. 
    He is the barer of the flask containing the hemlock and bids us drink
    and be ‘saved’ from these evils foisted upon you poor victims of a cruel
    delusion, all the while propping himself up as the true messianic visionary.

  • Paul L.

    sorry about that, my computer is in the process of evolving back into a toaster;)

  • Playup27

    Basically what Dawkins is doing is very clever because he argues the case for apples with pears and vice versa. Many take up a discussion on this false premise which Dawkins knows in advance to be beyond any resolution .Life is a tapistry which may be likened to a chess board on which chess and draughts(checkers) may be played.But you cannot analyse these differant games in the same way - they have different rules of engagement. . .Similarly with Science and Religion re Cardinal Newman : ‘the two worlds and the two kinds of knowledge respectively are separarted off from each other ; and therefore as being separate, they cannot on the whole contradict each other’

  • Anonymous

    No wonder you appeared to be browned off in your post!

  • m francis

    lets be honest.   the reason that our faith is being eroded is that our own priests have lost confidence in themselves since the abuse scandals.   none of you  were out  there  pointing out all the good done by our missionaries priests and nuns abroad.  None of you petitioned our pope for stronger rebuttals and for our own form of aggressive catholicism,as practised by the disciples of our past  who make the challenges we face today look like childsplay.   It is not good enough anymore for our clergy to ask us to be the good samaritan to everyone that hates us,be that homosexuals,muslim extremists or atheist, because our message is simply not being communicated and our church does not appear to have the sophistication  or courage to lead from the front.   I dont advocate violence as used by muslim extremists but simply a new reactionary approach, where every comment made by atheists like Dawkins is challenged publicly,every  loony left council who try and replace our cross on the top of Christmas trees with an insulting LGBT flag and every shop that shows its Christmas stock before the first day of December is blockaded by placard waving demonstrators.   Civil disobedience requires a higher level of faith than that shown currently.    These are the type of actions that are carried out by people who are confident in their own faith and it is only these actions that will get us noticed. If you cant be bothered then you can call yourself a Catholic but not a practising one.

  • Realist

    I agree. The ‘Mother and Child’ relationship which brought the sword into Christianity. Have you seen ex-Catholic Michael Portilla’s ‘Constantine’ which he produced for Ch. 4 about 3 yrs ago?

  • Realist

    >and as many laypeople who have undergone an adult conversion experience as possible.<
    That's what it's all about. But can you keep them in the church when they receive the Holy Spirit? Many Charismatic Catholics have become pentecostal/evangelical.

  • Realist

    >Christ said that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Rock that the Church is built on …

    Christianity is thriving in China, Africa - and churches are being built in Russia and former Soviet Bloc countries whilst ours are shutting and selling sacred vessels.<

     Those Christian believers who identify the Rock as the Holy Spirit are also spreading  in house churches throughout China and indeed in South American countries. They just have a much lower profile than the Catholic church.  

  • Realist

    >  .. is your disbelief in unicorns an intrinsic part too?<

    You mean to say that you don't believe in unicorns:-)
    Certainly none have been found in the fossil record – as yet. Listen to the Irish Rovers; they've been about a bit. 

    And you could listen to C. S. Lewis' whimsical poem; 'The Unicorn'.

  • Playup27

    I think we can all agree that Marxsism,Leninism,and any other ‘ism’ which obliterates by tyranny (ie the people are not asked for their opinion) God and ‘faith’ from society has proven itself to be an abject and total faiure.The Berlin Wall was knocked down by the very people it was built to protect -again  were not asked whether they wanted it built or not in the first place.And the aperatchiks were the ones driving around in ‘good motors’ while the workers had to make do with the dreaed ‘Trabat’.Napolean (Animal Farm) revelled in it all.
    The word ‘Love’ is glaringly missing from your ‘moral stance’.When ‘reason’ becomes the the supreme and final judge of everything, it is being used incorrectly.”Their are more thing in Heaven and Earth then are dreamt of in your philosopy(Hamlet)”.God and Faith must come into the equation otherwise we run into catastrophy -Robespiere,Hitler,Stalin ad infinitum.
    “Love wants to knoww the person who loves.Love -true love – doesn’t make us blind” (Benedict XIV).It makes peole see and God is Love- nothing more but Infinite Love

  • Paul L.

    This is
    exactly what I’ve asked Oconnord. What does atheism offer? What is ‘love’ in
    the atheist mind? As far as I can tell it’s nothing beyond personal whim and
    physical/emotional attraction/gratification. Is there any self sacrifice? None
    that I’ve even seen beyond the usual ‘what’s in it for me’? ‘When reason
    becomes the supreme and final judgment of everything’ in the atheist eschatology,
    we become insects, cruel and efficient, because our love is rooted only in
    ‘self’, and as extension the ‘hive’, which is again only the extension of self.
    The nature of religion is to help us expand beyond the insect realm through a
    theology/philosophy that takes its cues beyond the animal realm; however, ‘bad’
    religion steeped in poor theology and dysfunctional philosophy makes us only
    advanced insects.  Only Catholicism opens
    the door to the true human nature, ‘made in God’s image’.  Atheism offers nothing, not even an advanced
    state of ‘bugology’, just death with no point of ever having been in the first
    place. It’s awfully easy to ‘look out for number one’ when you think you’re ‘God’.  Right?

  • Playup27

    No science can actually be hostile to theology,but it is Private Judgement(Dawkins in this instance) that infects every science which is touched with a hostility to theology (Cardinal Newmans :Ideas of a University-page92) .Both science and theology ultimately lead to an absolute tru th of convergance just as a geometrical and algebraic(Descarte) approach to a scientific problem lead to the same conclusion. eg Newtons ‘Principia Mathematica’ is written in the form of glassical geometry but a more succinct algebraic approach gives the same results for planetary motiom.Dawkins maintains by false and prejudicial reasoning that their is discord between science and religion which considering the vast number of eminent scientist,past and present who found or find no such dicord (Einstein :God is subtle but he is not malicious) demonstrates his ‘incorrect use of reason’.Hence is reasoning is fundamentally flawed and ‘non-scientific’.
     (Benedict XIV : ‘those who seek the truth are on the path of seeking God.’)

  • Playup27

    And therefore we have a dilemma ;People who believe in God and his commandments  but constantly disobey them to various degree (unfortunately we are all sinners) and people who do not believe in God but try to live decent lifes but again without Gods help fail.But in this contradiction they are not being true to their belief-fortunately for them they are being hypocritical ; .He does not believe that does not live according to his belief (Fuller 1732) and in this sense Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung . were true to their belief -  the ultimate trumph of Darkness over Light.
    The highest Belief is the ultimate Belief in God eg The Apostles Creed (Credo) and all other positive beliefs must originate from this.
    Without faith it is impossible to please God.For he who comes to God must believe that God exists and is a rewarder to those who seek him.(Heb. 11;6)

  • http://twitter.com/PJTPOOAM Thomas Poovathinkal

    DEATH OF ORGANISED (CONTROLLED BY CLEVER, DISHONEST AND HYPOCRITICAL

    PEOPLE) RELIGIONS IS GOOD. THEY ARE POLITICAL ENTITIES.

    IF ORGANISED RELIGIONS DIE PEOPLE WHO WANT CAN FREELY SEEK OUT GOD.

  • http://twitter.com/PJTPOOAM Thomas Poovathinkal

    WITHOUT GIVING FOUNDATIONAL IMPORTANCE TO THE WORD OF GOD IN LIFE,

    ALL ELSE IS GOING IN CIRCLE ENDLESSLY.

    Thomas Poovathinkal

  • http://twitter.com/PJTPOOAM Thomas Poovathinkal

    THE SECRET OF A FLOURISHING CHURCH LIE IN APOSTLESHIP.

    LOOK AT ST. PAUL: HE WAS NOT FROM AMONG THE 12 ORIGINAL APOSTLES AND YET

    HE IS THE BEST.

    MOTHER MARY WAS NOT  ONE OF 12  APOSTLES AND YET SHE IS THE QUEEN OF

    THE APOSTLES!

    JESUS SAID TO A MAN, “COME AND FOLLOW ME.” BUT THE MAN REPLIED, “LORD,

    FIRST LET ME GO AND BURY MY FATHER.” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “LET THE DEAD BURY

    THEIR OWN DEAD, BUT YOU GO AND PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” WAS THIS

    NOT AN OFFER OF APOSTLESHIP?
    .

    THOSE WHO CLAIM TO HAVE INHERITED THE OFFICES OF THE 12 APOSTLES MUST

    THEMSELVES BE APOSTLES FIRST AND FORMOST IN WORD AND DEED  AND IN LIFE.

    WHEN THIS IS ACCOMPLISHED, EUROPE WILL COME BACK TO CHRIST AND TO HIS

    CHURCH.