Are the Atheists our Enemies?

I received a very kind message from my Bishop this morning who found that it was wise to put The Anglican Catholic to bed for a little while until it gets focused on positive themes and transcends the kind of themes for which I devised the three Blow-Out departments on this blog. Even there, I expect a degree of courtesy so that matters can be discussed between adults. This blog does not engage my Church or Diocese in any disputes – see the disclaimer at the head of the right-hand sidebar.

I often say it myself, and my Bishop has put it beautifully:

The fights that regularly break out in the holy places in the holy land between groups of monks charged with custody of these shrines does more damage to the cause of the Gospel than a million authors writing books like the ‘God Delusion’.

calotteAh, the Holy Mountain! Some of those monks will have only themselves to blame if the whole place is turned over to developers to turn Mount Athos into a complex of luxury hotels and rest centres with saunas and jacuzzis for rich businessmen and politicians. In the 1900’s in France, the French government became virulently anti-clerical and turned the monks out of their monasteries, took possession of the cathedrals and parish churches, took away state support for the Church as under the old Napoleon / Pius VII Concordat. Priests and pious lay Catholics were mocked in the same way as Jewish people under the Nazis. In short, what was the cause of all that?


The western world faces a secular future. Even the Muslim immigrants are enjoying life in our countries and put their faith on the back burner. Three things contribute to this process, religion discrediting itself through intolerance and obscurantism, the easy modern life (on condition of being able to afford it) and pressure from atheist intellectuals.

I am in two minds about discussing things on blogs. We clergy tend to say that we should keep quiet about all the “negative” stuff and present a rosy image of Christianity to the world, one that will appeal to the innocent and credulous. Another part of me says that we all have to be lucid about the reality so that our faith and Christian commitment will be that much more robust and be able to resist scandal and anti-religious rhetoric. Perhaps this is something we could discuss.

Certainly, the spectre of Christians fighting over sets of doctrinal articles, dogmas from Ecumenical Councils, liturgical rites, political ideologies and the “true church” alienates most people of good will. I am certainly affected by all this poison, and I am expected to be thick-skinned, being a priest and veteran at blogging! One great intuition of Pope Francis is the idea of being simple again and thus getting the real message of Christ over to people.

Some may read this and say to me – Speak for yourself! Indeed, we are all guilty of being the most effective persecutors of Christianity, far more than Robespierre, Jules Ferry, Jean Jaurès and Richard Dawkins to mention only a few ideological atheists. This is persecution from within, and we all have our examination of conscience to make when we consider our empty pews and increasing church upkeep bills with nobody to pay them.

The atheists may be our enemies, but we are our own worst enemies!

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9 Responses to Are the Atheists our Enemies?

    • ed pacht says:

      A really good post, Father Anthony!
      Just the point I’m always making! Of course we find ourselves in disagreement with others, but nothing discredits ones own opinions (even if entirely correct) more quickly than an angry and aggressive manner of presenting them, and there is no greater ornament for ones views than a firmness clothed in gentleness and humility. Sometimes ad hominem actually makes sense. I know that I’m not inclined to accept a logical argument when the evidence before me is that such views may produce an ugliness of demeanor. That demeanor may in itself be an evidence of some hidden fallacy. We certainly need to discuss issues, but can we not do it without rancor and bitterness? Can we not be Christian gentlemen?

  1. Well, Fr Anthony, I, for one, am very grateful for your blog, and learn a good deal from it, in particular (though not exclusively), from your own reflections. I have always aspired to a “generous orthodoxy” (though now we have to think up a new slogan, that one having been [mis]appropriated some time ago).

    Keep up your valuable “thinking out aloud” on this blog. Whether we agree or disagree with this or that bit, we need you to do that with your characteristic charity and grace. It keeps us from becoming spiritually and intellectually lazy. Besides that, you grapple ahead of most with the issues that the Church will surely have to face soon, once it becomes clear that the bureaucratisation of ministry – in all communions – hasn’t brought renewal, and the provision of “church schools” and “church welfare organisations” – often with government funding – has not ensured, in the case of the former, the next generation, or in the case of the latter, Gospel focussed loving care of those who need help. Although this strategy gives the Church an outward appearance of strength that’s just not there.

    Love, prayer, kindness, generosity of spirit, an honest seeking of God and joyful serving of one another . . . are the only means by which those around us will ever be drawn to the Lord.

    One more thing . . . like many (I’m sure), I don’t mind in the least if you keep the snipers out of the comment section.


    • Thank you, Father, for this kind comment. What I intuitively feel about most churches, probably what most people feel, is that there is nothing to connect to. They are the “property” of small cliques of people who know each other and share a common ideology. The rest of us, priests and laity, are simply not welcome.

      As regards “snipers” in the comment section, I have had to moderate the e-mail addresses of the worst ones, but a complete moderation policy would be both time-consuming and would take away a lot of the “spice”. I have said it before. I don’t mind people not agreeing with me. I don’t do this to be “admired”, but the balance is difficult to keep.

  2. Neil Hailstone says:

    Father you write ‘We are our own worst enemies’. How very true that statement is! I am not an intellectual or a priest and I mix with people including many unbelievers across a wide and diversified range of society although I have no rich folk among my friends and associates.

    I speak to people about our Christian Faith. Time and again, whether hearing it from intelligent agnostics and others this theme emerges.

    It has been put to me many times ‘You need to get your house in order if you want people to listen to you’. I am not attacking the RCC here and I am always made welcome when attending RCC Mass as a non communicant.

    I must be straightforward about this and say I honestly wonder whether my RC friends or those of us who are Anglican Catholic or Orthodox really understand the fallout as it affects the general public which arises from the worldwide paedophilia scandal. That is far from the only issue when unbelievers and agnostics put us under the microscope.

    We truly must work to dispel the widespread cynicism about our faith and conduct. No compromise on the essential doctrines of the Undivided Church but being seen as at least trying to live out the faith we profess. Of course we will never be perfect, least of all me,but shouldn’t we all be seen to be trying!

  3. Neil Hailstone says:

    If I may Fr Anthony a further comment. The disunity among ourselves which is against the plainly expressed desire of Our Lord Jesus Christ is scandalous. When we are running around attacking each other what on earth do we think people outside of the church make of such things. Truly we are our own worse enemies. !

    • Thank you for your two comments. Like yourself, I live in the ordinary world of our time, though away from the cities as much as possible.

      One of the nicest complements came this morning from a good gritty working man whom I am paying to help me fell a load of pine trees choking out my garden. He said to me that he had hardly seen a man so hard at work, and this was coming from someone who has spent his life on building sites as a mason and doing landscaping work. I say this, not to invite praise, but to illustrate the need for us to live the life of people to communicate with them on equal terms. Yes, he saw my chapel and knows I am a priest. That’s enough and I don’t expect him to be interested in religion. This good man damaged his shoulders when he was working as a builder carrying 100 lb bags of cement on his shoulders. Now he is trying to find new possibilities for employment, and does odd jobs such as he is doing for us. My union with such a man is to use the chainsaw, billhook and muscles – and that is human solidarity!

      I have absorbed the spirit of the old worker priests who share the common lot of humanity, where poverty means insecurity, precariousness and not having enough to live on. The Church has been alienating people for centuries, and country folk and the workers have been away from churches for decades, and in some parts of this country for nigh on a century. Catholicism in France became a preserve of the bourgeoisie – arrogance and clericalism led to Jean Jaurès, La Calotte and the long process of the French Church’s death, except among the cosmopolitan folk of the cities. It is a crying shame that the ritualist slum priest wave in the late Victorian era was so short-lived, only to be reproduced by the worker priests in the years following the end of World War II.

      I belong to an institutional Church as a priest, a small and marginal one, but I only trust churches insofar as a I trust the people running them. I have a kind and pastoral Bishop who is also aware of the travesty of ordinary people being alienated as theologians discuss things they find confusing and of no importance in their lives! We need to belong to something, without which our Christianity becomes individualistic and deformed. Some of us don’t belong to the “bourgeois” churches, not because we are not good enough for them, but because we would “die of claustrophobia” in them, shut into systems and bureaucracy. The experience of the small Church enables us to breathe, be free and yet seek to be disciplined priests around the Diocesan Bishop.

      People are welcome to try converting and evangelising people around them. I see things differently. We are in survival mode, in the catacombs and called to evangelise ourselves and suffer purification in the crucible. It is not the Churches the way they are that will impress ordinary people in any way. Genius and heroism are only found in exceptional individual persons. If it is up to Churches negotiating terms for unity, then all is lost. If it is a matter of priests picking up apples fallen from a hand cart in a Victorian street, rescuing a dismasted boat at sea or just being good and kind to those around us – then there is hope and Christ is present.

      Conservatism is no longer on the agenda, at least for some of us. We have to come up with something original and at the same time rediscover the culture and life of the universal Church.

  4. Flag of Truce says:

    Hey, Yanks! Yanks! Don’t shoot, Yanks! How ’bout a truce for a bit? Ah’ve got some ‘baccy here …

    As I’m sure you know, back during the War Between the States, soldiers would sometimes fraternize along picket lines between episodes of dutifully slaughtering each other. At some point people are people. In that spirit …

    I’m an atheist. Not a Dawkins shake-my-fist-at-God atheist, but more of an atheist-by-default. A nominal atheist. I didn’t decide to be one, I just wasn’t raised with any religion. Mom was a lapsed Roman Catholic who told (fairly credible) bad stories about it, and Dad was a lapsed Primitive Baptist who never said much about it at all. None of our family or friends were religious in any way, so “soft” atheism was just the world I grew up in. Longer ago than you might think.

    Some years ago I became interested in Christianity, and for some reason elected Anglicans as the official representatives of that faith. I’m leaving a lot out here, but as I read and investigated, I found out what a train wreck TEC was (this from an _atheist_, mind you!), and learned what Continuers were. Y’all were certainly not in it for the money or the prestige, so I thought I’d halloo over the picket lines and see what happened.

    Here are my experiences with a particular Continuing church which I will not name, but which should be familiar to everyone here.

    I had been reading one of the more prominent blogs associated with that church, and finally decided to ask a question in the combox. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the “A-word”, because the only reply I got was Ps 14:1. Just that verse; no “what are YOU doing here?” no challenges, no answers. Al-RIGHTY then … sorry to bother you gentlemen.

    I live in a major metropolitan area and can go to nearly any kind of church I want. I decided to take an inquirer’s class at one a parish of the church in quesion. Fairly early on, the story of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8) was told, but with the centurion asking for Jesus to come and cure the servant, and Jesus saying that He could do it without actually going there. I’m serious. That from a man in a clerical collar. Believe it or not, I _had_ read that story.I didn’t go back. It’s probably just as well — when I first met the clerical gentleman, he asked what Episcopal church I was coming from. When I told him I’d never attended any church and wasn’t even baptized, he seemed a bit shocked, as though he didn’t know what to do with an actual heathen.

    Some time later, I noticed that this church had opened up a small plant in rented quarters within easy walking distance of where I lived. Mmm. Visit? Maybe look at the website first. Oh look, they have sermons up. Let’s read last Easter’s sermon, the priest will probably be putting his best effort into that one. It was cribbed out of _Guideposts_ via a canned-sermon website, and had nothing to do with Easter at all.

    Three strikes. Yer outta here. Batter UP!

    I’m not saying any of this to count coup on you or pull your nose. Really, I’m not. But you can’t be _meaning_ to do this stuff, can you? Who will you recruit when TEC dries up and blows away, as it will? Hasn’t everyone who’s going to leave them already done so?

    I was about to desert and go home anyway. If you’ve grown up Christian, you may not have an idea of just how _strange_ some of the ideas are. Not necessarily wrong, just unusual, hard to understand. Never mind trying to sort out the disagreements between y’all. Do I really need to understand predestination and election before I go for coffee? Penal substitutionary atonement versus Christus Victor? Role of the Articles? I know how to book up on a subject, but who’s right? Does it matter? Or should I just walk into the closest place to where I live (big Pentecostal shack, AofG I think. Looking at some of the videos of their services, I don’t think I’d fit in there).

    But I still read, and go to and fro in the web, walking up and down in it. And you know what I found this very morning? Chrysostom’s Homily 33 on Acts, which spoke about how a heathen (okay, I’ll accept that) should approach competing claims in Christian groups. How about that? Maybe someone’s trying to tell me something. And no, I probably won’t go EO. I used to speak Russian, and I know those people too well. 😉

    ‘Bye, Yanks. Y’all keep your heads down, hear?

    PS: some of y’all probably wanted to be the Rebs, but I had a direct ancestor in the 6th North Carolina, so there.

    • Thank you for your obviously sincere comment. We don’t often get people calling themselves atheists, but there’s always a first time…

      Many of us were brought up in secular families, yet in mine we were brought up to be tolerant and kind to all. I have ended up what would have been called a few centuries ago a “Christian Humanist” as opposed to those who consider the Kingdom of God to be something like the Third Reich with its concentration camps and torture chambers. I exaggerate for the sake of simplicity, but I am concerned that Christianity is discrediting itself.

      There are Continuing Churches and Continuing Churches. I belong to the English version that took more after the Anglo-Catholic movement in the Church of England rather than conservative Protestant ideas that prevail more in the USA as a reaction against Anglo-Catholicism.

      All I can advise you is to keep an open mind and discern that Christianity is more about a particular philosophy of life and interior transformation rather than adopting a political ideology or believing in the irrational. Perhaps you could read the Gospels imagining that no organisation calling itself the Church had ever occupied its place in history. Perhaps the words might strike you in a different way.

      America is a strange place. People still debate religious questions and claim to be religious, but so often overlook what seems to be the most obviously essential – Christ himself. I wish you well in your enquiries and exploration. Just be kind and loving, just, and keep an open mind.

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