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Atheist philosopher AC Grayling turns down Assisi invitation

By on Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A C Grayling accepted the invitation from the Vatican thinking he would have a discussion with the Pope (Photo: PA)

A C Grayling accepted the invitation from the Vatican thinking he would have a discussion with the Pope (Photo: PA)

British philosopher A C Grayling has withdrawn from attending an interreligious event to promote world peace hosted by the Vatican.

Although the professor of philosophy had originally planned to attend the third “Prayer for Peace” in Assisi, Italy, he later changed his mind on discovering that it was an event for pilgrims.

Professor Grayling told The Catholic Herald: “I thought it was originally to have a discussion with the Pope about the place of religion in society but then it turned out it was a minor event and what they wanted was these guests to accompany the Pope on a pilgrimage. So I decided to withdraw.”

The invitation to Professor Grayling is surprising given his criticism of Pope Benedict XVI in the run-up to the papal visit. In May 2010 he wrote an article for the Independent entitled, “Why no Asbo for the Pope?” stating: “Is the Pope in any danger of receiving 100 hours of community service for hiding hundreds of paedophiles from the law all round the world? Is he likely to get an Asbo? Or has he been invited to the United Kingdom as an official visitor who will meet the Queen and be feted and courted, secure in the knowledge that efforts to arrest him and put him on trial for heading a huge criminal conspiracy will fail?”

Pope Benedict is reported to have invited several other prominent non-believers to the interreligious event in Assisi, in accordance with the Vatican’s “Courtyard of the Gentiles” project, which seeks to promote discussions between Christians and non-believers around the world.

Other atheists expected to attend and participate in a panel discussion include French philosopher Julia Kristeva, the Italian professor Bodei Remo and Mexico’s Guillermo Hurtado, founder of the philosophy magazine, Dianoia.

The event is due to take place next week to mark the 25th anniversary of the first Assisi gathering. The inaugural event took place in 1986, under Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate, and drew together many Christian denominations and members of other faiths.

  • Laurence England


  • Anonymous

    Perhaps he could go for a haircut instead.

  • geoffreysmith1

    “Or has he [Pope Benedict] been invited to the United Kingdom as an official visitor who will meet the Queen and be feted and courted, secure in the knowledge that efforts to arrest him and put him on trial for heading a huge criminal conspiracy will fail?”  A C Grayling.
    Maybe he was invited because the “efforts to arrest him” were bound to fail because the “huge criminal conspiracy” was nothing more than a bizarre figment of Grayling’s imagination?
    The thought of Dawkins & Co trying to barge past the entourage of heavies walking alongside the popemobile in order to arrest Pope Benedict was absolutely hilarious.

  • Anonymous

    If the vatican wants to promote world peace it should disband, sell off its vast priceless treasures and feed the hungry. Also buy some condoms with the proceeds and distribute them in Africa.

  • Honeybadger

    You are out of your tree.

  • Honeybadger


    Not surprising, though…

  • Honeybadger

    It sure was, lol!

  • Seangough

    The Catholic Church runs the biggest aid agency in the world, has more aid workers than any other organisation in the world, is the biggest healthcare provider in the world, and provides almost half of HIV/AIDS related care in the world. I don’t think selling a few paintings is going to make a huge impact on that!

  • Adam

    A. C. Grayling? A philosopher? Since when.

  • Bob Hayes

    No doubt you are making the same recommendations to pharmaceutical companies, financial institutions, governments, quangos, other corporate bodies and all – corporate or individual – who have more than the necessaries of life. Indeed, you will be leading by example, will you not? 

  • Brian A Cook

    This is sad.  This pope has been making efforts to meet atheists halfway.  This one was specifically invited to meet believers of different religions in good faith (no pun intended) and he rejected the invitation. 

  • BTyler

    On the subject of condoms for Africa. Have you ever looked into this or are you just trotting out the same (very tired) argument that the Catholic Church is somehow the cause of the African Aids epidemic? Africa is awash with condoms. Condoms will never be effective against HIV until traditional patterns of promiscuous behaviour are addressed. The Catholic position is straightforward: no sex before marriage, then one partner for life. I guarantee this would reduce the HIV transmission rate more effectively than throwing condoms around.
    Tough, I know, but no-one is forced into it. It’s a choice.

    He has set fire and water before
    you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer.

    Sirach 15:16

  • ms Catholic state

    In India…..though Catholics make up only 1% of the population, the Catholic Church is second only to the government in providing health care.  Absolutely astonishing…..and a not too well publicised fact.  The Vatican must have the worst PR system in the world.

  • Anonymous

    “A C Grayling has withdrawn from attending an interreligious event to promote world peace hosted by the Vatican.”

    The Vatican doesn’t need pompous conferences to debate world peace. It could start TODAY to have a real effect on world peace by doing the following:

    - Stop its program of indoctrination of children into believing superstitious nonsense that will affect many of them for their whole lives;

    - Stop its program of encouraging an orgy of reproduction in a world that is already struggling to cope with high population;

    - Stop discouraging the use of contraceptives that save existing lives and that stop children being born with serious diseases;

    - Offer to fully fund a full investigation and genetic analysis program in Spain that would help to alleviate the suffering of thousands affecting the the theft and sale of babies carried out by many of its officials.

    - Immediately comply with all demands to release full information pertaining to cases of sexual abuse of children around the world.

    The Catholic Church doesn’t need to ponce about having meetings or conferences with anyone. It just needs accept responsibility for its mass atrocities, that were entirely of its own making, and get its house in order before it considers itself remotely fit to engage in any kind of future partnerships or cooperations. 

  • ms Catholic state

    The Catholic Church will never stop bringing Jesus Christ to the world.  That is her Divine mission.  Secularism will bring only degeneracy and death… we can see from the spiritual and demographic death of the West.  Both these afflictions go together.  As it says in Holy Scripture….the wages of sin is death.

    Secularism has nothing to offer anymore. Despite all its loud protestationss….it has been a complete failure.  Make way for the New Evangelisation!

  • Anonymous

    This is the usual smoke and mirrors from Ratzinger and his accolytes.   While Roman Catholicism is infesting the planet like a plague baccilus he finds himself, having been exposed following the paedophile scandals, to attempt to appear open to changes.  No serious person would want to be part of the Vatican charade.   It is all just too obvious.

  • Acleron

    As he didn’t accuse the catholics of causing the HIV epidemic in Africa, why bring it up? Condoms are effective in preventing transmission of infection. The Center for Disease Control is very clear about the effectiveness of condoms. When I’ve asked for any studies showing that condoms are not effective, there has been silence. Perhaps you have such references.

    But assuming the CDC are correct, why should Africans follow your quaint views on morality when a far better system is available?

  • Acleron

    Sounds more like the pope wanted an entourage to show he was being supported by all these other groups. Meeting atheists halfway would involve him actually doing something. See SimonNorwich above for some examples.

  • BTyler

    The Vatican has done a lot to speak out for peace in a violent world. 

    By ‘program of indoctrination of children’ do you mean teaching them about the Catholic faith? Yes, hopefully it will affect them, and show them how to be more compassionate, forgiving, and appreciative of Creation. Perhaps it will teach them about the nature of love and sacrifice, of giving. How about this from the Catechism (1932): The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

    What does atheism have to offer? Oh, wait, we’ve seen that already… 

    ‘Orgy of reproduction’. Colourful language. In which countries do you see high population densities causing poverty? Singapore? The UK? Poverty leads to large families, not the other way around. Again, the Catholic Church is at the forefront of reducing poverty.

    Catholics believe in no sex before marriage, then one partner FOR LIFE. This is a choice, albeit a difficult one. It’s also the only surefire way to defeat HIV/AIDS. If you can’t walk that path, then don’t – your choice.    

    Name a country in Africa where individuals are forced to become Catholics, or forced not to use condoms. 

    With regard to Spain, let’s see what unfolds. I’m sure the Vatican will do whatever it can, and with compassion, for the victims of any crime committed by the Spanish Church. It sounds very similar to what happened in East Germany in the ’70s, when children were taken away from families that failed to follow Socialist guidelines.

    With regard to the child sex-abuse cases: you’re out of touch with everything the Church is doing. The Church has put its house in order. 

    The fact remains that a child is most likely to be abused by a close family relative. Of course, no one in the media wants to talk about this. Better to keep hammering away at the Catholic Church!

    What a shame AC Grayling won’t attend the conference. I suspect the reason is that sharing a billing is unthinkable for someone with so large an Ego.

  • Anonymous

    “Secularism has nothing to offer anymore.”

    If secularism is given a chance, which it has never had, it offers protection against all the atrocities I listed.

    The Catholic Church had the chance, and still does, to perpetrate atrocities, and it has grasped the opportunity with both hands.

    We have a clear choice between perpetrating atrocities against people or protecting people. You’ve made it clear through your gibberish which option you and the church favour.

  • elaine kilshaw

    why does everyone who supports the bible throws it in to the mix when discussing religion. Have they not minds of their own, well come to think of it, no they dont.
    Of course AC Grayling is right in not attending as this will just be made into a political debate.
    I would like to invite the Pope to attend a meeting with me aout the poverty and rape of little children and give me an explanation as to why he condones it all the time. I believe money is the churches god, male or female whatever god may be.

  • Bob Hayes

    Secularism has had plenty of chances, in case you had not noticed. 

    Sometimes it has been characterised by inertia and decay, at other times it is largely rudderless – such as Britain today, with its cross-party hegemony extolling the cult of the individual and hedonistic selfishness. And then there has been dogmatic secularism, pursued with great zeal during the twentieth century and manifesting itself in the Holocaust, the Gulag and numerous other bloody acts.

    What I always find strange about advocates of secularism is that they hold it to be an absolute truth without any sense of irony.

  • Bob Hayes

    If you re-read your opening sentence you will find you have answered your own question. Maybe taking a ‘chill pill’ before putting finger to keyboard would give you an opportunity to think through the issue you raised.

    As for your allegation about the Pope, that is simply untrue and you know that to be the case. Whether a believer or non-believer there is nothing clever or good in lying for its own sake. 

  • BTyler

    USA, France, India, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey are all constitutionally secular.

  • Anonymous

    @SimonNorwich”Stop its program of indoctrination of children into believing superstitious nonsense”

    We teach our children what we believe to be true. Will that be a crime in the secularist state?

  • BTyler

    The Pope has an entourage over 1billion strong. I don’t think he’ll miss AC Grayling. 

  • BTyler

    Punctuation and grammar 4/10.

  • BTyler

    Sure: Dr. Edward Green, “Rethinking AIDS Prevention: Learning from Successes in Developing Countries” 
    I suppose ideas such as fidelity, sexual honesty, abstinence etc must seem quaint. 
    No one is compelled to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. It’s a choice. But maybe a smart one (even if it is rather quaint) under the circumstances?

  • Anonymous

    There are many countries that are labelled secular, but they are not truly secular because they still allow religions to get away with atrocities that would result in more immediate investigation and imprisonment if committed by non-religious groups.

  • Anonymous

    The holocaust and the gulag had nothing to do with secularism. They were caused by extreme totalitarian ideologies. In fact, Hitler was raised as a Catholic and took advantage centuries of prejudice against Jews that had been in-built into European society by Catholics.

    However, I don’t know what you’ve got against such atrocities as the Holocaust and Gulag, if you support the kind of things officials of the Catholic Church perpetuate. They would seem to be right up your street.

    Secularism is about treating everyone in society on fair and equal terms and not allowing religious groups a privileged position. It’s nothing to do with an “absolute truth”.

  • BTyler

    Ding Ding! Godwin’s Law!

  • BTyler

    No. Secularism is just another kind of intolerance dressed in fluffy pyjamas. Just like atheism it offers ‘Man as God’, with all the horror that entails, and the vacuous moral relativism we see all around us.

  • Anonymous

                                 Quite a mind that can blame the Catholic Church for the Holocaust. In  which not only Jewish people perished, but thousands of Priests and Nuns. Warped mind.
     It was secular values which allowed it to happen.Simples.

  • BTyler

    Ah, the ‘wrong kind of secularism’?

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘However, I don’t know what you’ve got against such atrocities as the Holocaust and Gulag, if you support the kind of things officials of the Catholic Church perpetuate. They would seem to be right up your street.’  —  This is not debate, it is just childish muck-slinging.

    ‘Secularism is about treating everyone in society on fair and equal terms and not allowing religious groups a privileged position. It’s nothing to do with an “absolute truth”.’  —  Suggest you re-read and think through what you have written. 

    Consider, ‘Secularism is about treating everyone in society on fair and equal terms and not allowing religious groups a privileged position’. It therefore must follow from your commitment to ‘fair and equal terms’ that no group in society should enjoy ‘a privileged position’. Your assertion is not predicated on any unchallenged scientific law: it is your view of how society should be organised – your belief, your faith. You are – by this statement – building the foundations of something you hold as an absolute truth. Welcome to the world of believers. Think about it.

  • ms Catholic state

    Secularists revel in how equally they treat all religious groups…..while treating the unborn child with less respect than an animal.  Sorry…..but that’s not a good enough recommendation for secularism. 

    And Catholicism stresses the equality of all human beings, regardless of their religion…so we don’t need secularism to teach us about equality.  (But of course we recognise Catholicism as the one true Faith.)

  • Ian

    FFS – do you even know what Secularism means?
    Secularism is not atheism – in a secular society, your right to practice whatever sort of myth/cult is protected. It also means that people should be protected from religion & it means that you cannot enjoy priveliges over me just because you happen to adhere to one of these cults.
    Now i do think that secularism isn’t quite there because we still have the utterly despicable indoctrination of innocent minds (get ‘em when they’re young eh?), the mental abuse about mythical nothingness like hell. Religion also enjoys the privilege of discriminating against others. The list goes on – including the things listed by SimonNorwich.

  • Bob Hayes

    Do your concerns about ‘utterly despicable indoctrination of innocent minds’ extend to a critique of the indoctrination of young people by advertising, commerce, fast food manufacturers, TV, the ‘respectable’ (sic) sex industries etc.? There is a vast array of interests seeking to suppress childhood and turn it into nothing more than a period of pre-adult preparation for the role of ‘consumer’. Many of those you might like to think have rejected what you term the ‘myth/cult’ of religion are in fact prostrate before the altar of acquisitiveness and vanity. 

    If you step down a moment from the anti-religion soapbox you might glimpse something of the wider world. 

  • Honeybadger

    Well said!

  • Honeybadger


  • Honeybadger

    The very question.

  • Honeybadger

    We all have minds of our own, love. God gave us free will.

    It’s clear from your post that you prefer to believe ‘black legends’ than use your grey matter to find out the truth and accept it.

    And Assisi is not a political debate!

    Your writing is not only poor but it shows how little you know.

  • Honeybadger

    You are a nasty piece of work.

  • Honeybadger

    Indoctrination of the deluded horror stories that is atheistic, secular nonsense has caused more grief, torture, death and dictatorships than anything else in the history of the world.

    Communism, Nazism – you name it.

    Sheesh! These people learn nothing.

  • Honeybadger

    They won’t. Simple as. These people don’t care a damn about feeding the poor and throw condoms at them in the hope they go away. Why bother getting their hands dirty when the Roman Catholic Church quietly gets on with it and yet gets publicly slagged off at every opportunity.

    The Vatican is financially in the black. An amazing feat, considering the rest of the world is in deep financial doo- doo, including the USA.

    Perhaps if they took a few tips from the Vatican on how to get their countries out of the mess, they might learn something.

    Fat. Chance.

  • Acleron

    There can be a debate about the numbers killed by religious leaders vs secular leaders but that isn’t germane. What is relevant is that Stalin, Hitler, Mao etc didn’t engage in their progroms because they were atheist, their aim was gaining and keeping power. If they had believed in a the holy green teapot, it wouldn’t have made any difference. But the religious wars are by definition caused because the people are religious. Because one group believe in one invisible friend and another group believes in a different invisible friend, they commit atrocities against each other.

  • Acleron

    But that is only a book describing his viewpoint. Are there any studies that show the CDC studies to be wrong? 

    The human race has had many thousands of years to evolve and inherit many traits from our ape-like ancestors. Our genetic heritage is to enjoy sex. That makes ideas such as abstinence, almost perverted. I have little idea what you in particular mean by sexual honesty. Fidelity is different, we appear to have developed to prefer the family unit and I don’t advocate anything against the family unit, however, many sexual interactions take place outside of family life. So, unless you can rebut the clear statement of the CDC, the smart thing is not to follow your church’s teachings.

  • Rowancarstairs

    The Churches mission is to preach the Gospel and to bring souls to Christ not to mock Christ and the very Church he founded on earth, the Jews would call the Churches present attitude, ‘self hating.’  Christ did not say to Peter deny me and let second rate scholars with huge egos get a kick out of rejecting the request of my Vicar on earth. I think It is clear that Christ is telling the Holy Father to stop compromising with the world and instead save souls and through the power of the Holy Ghost call upon all to accept Christ and his Church. That is why the Church needs the Society of St Pius X because when modernism, relativism and compromise brings, as it is doing very successfully, the Church of Vatican II to its knees, there will need to be a repository of faith to rely upon for truth. We only have to look back at Clement XIV to see the parallel in the late 18th century, but now of course we live in a world where progress has given man a new dignity along side God and history has nothing to teach.      

  • BTyler

    Kajubi P, et al. (2005) “Increasing condom use without reducing HIV risk: results of a controlled community trial in Uganda.” J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr: 40:77-82. 
    Richens JJ, et al. (2000). “Condoms and seat belts: the parallels and the lessons.” Lancet 355(9201): 400
    Wilson, D. (2004). “Partner reduction and the prevention of HIV/AIDS”. BMJ 328 : 848
    When you talk to people on the ground (I spend time in East Africa) a lot of the NGOs are saying the same thing. Deeply ingrained patterns of promiscuity are the problem, together with a perceived reduction in risk – not any absence of condoms. Deeply unfashionable, I know.As for our ‘genetic heritage’? We might share 98% of our genes with chimps but we are qualitatively different. It’s the two percent that makes the difference. Watch a group of bonobos, and you’ll catch my drift…

  • ms Catholic state

    Of course atheist tyrannts carried out their evils due to their atheism.  They don’t believe in giving account to a Higher Power….since they don’t believe in a higher power.  They see themselves as the ultimate moral arbitrar, so they believe they can do as they like if they have the power to.  A very dangerous mentality as we have seen througout the 20th century.

    Might is Right….that is the chilling mindset of atheism.