The Catholic Faith Is Not a Noble Lie

What is needed is a real debate on religious questions providing a rational public apologetic for the faith.

For we were not following fictitious tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his grandeur. – 2 Peter 1:16

The last few years have seen the appearance, in the English-speaking world, of several public and militant atheists.  Writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett have attacked, not only Christianity, but religion itself which they label a negative and divisive factor in the world.  This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by Catholics.  To confine myself only to this journal, I alluded to the appearance of the new atheists briefly,1 while David Carlin had already discussed the question at length over a year earlier. 2  In this article, I do not intend to go over the same ground, but to call attention to something that, in my opinion, is even more worrisome.  This is manifested in the response of certain Protestant spokesmen to some of the activities of the atheists, a response that I think reveals a deep defect in much of American thinking about religion.  We will discuss, however, not the books written by those who aspire to appear as intellectual representatives of atheism, but a more mundane project that some atheist organizations engaged in.

What I am speaking of is the international campaign which placed ads in busses, and other public places in Europe and the United States, attacking belief in God.  They have appeared in Great Britain, Spain and other European countries.  They began to appear here sometime in 2008.  I first saw them on a bus in the Washington, D.C., area in the fall of that year.  Of course, such public promotion of atheism is unusual in the United States, where generally there is a stance of giving lip service to God, or at least of not attacking his existence explicitly, however far from obeying his law we may be.  As Carlin noted, the conventions of American discourse, our “rules of good manners,” meant “that atheists and agnostics were not allowed to attack theism in general, or Christianity in particular.”

Interesting and revealing as the cultural shift is that allows such public attacks on the existence of God, what I found more interesting about the ad campaign than the mere fact of its existence was the slant or angle of the atheists’ message.  The ads pictured a (black) man3 dressed in a Santa Claus suit with the message, “Why believe in a god?  Just be good for goodness’s sake.”  This to me was interesting because the atheists did not attack the notion that God exists, they did not offer any arguments on behalf of the self-existing character of matter, or anything of that sort.  Instead, they exhorted one to be good without God’s aid.  This would seem to me to be rather beside the point:  Are we debating whether God exists, or are we debating whether we can be good without his help?  Why would the sponsors of the ad campaign take the particular line that they did?

Perhaps, the response of some Protestant spokesmen to the ads shows that the atheists were not so wide of the mark after all, and that they understood well the American religious mind.  For example, Os Guinness, a Protestant writer and social commentator, spoke in the same vein, as did the atheists, in an interview which he gave.

“Yes, you can be good without God.  There are many examples of that. The real question is can you create a good society without God?  The framers of the Constitution believed in religious liberty, for atheists, too, but were leery of a whole society that was atheistic.  Without God, you would not have virtue to restrain evil.  Freedom requires order, and there is only one type of order compatible with freedom, self-restraint.”

“In his farewell address as president, George Washington said, ‘Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.’”

“Guinness argues that: ‘There has never been a major society that has been good and sustained its goodness without God.’ Atheistic societies have been profoundly evil and totalitarian.”4

Now, how are Os Guinness’ comments along the same lines as the atheists?  Are they not the exact opposite, one affirming the utility of religious belief, the other denying it?  Yes, of course.  And this is exactly my point, and the reason why they are really so similar. Each is addressing only the question of whether religious belief is useful.  Neither seems very much interested in whether religious belief, or which religious belief, is true, but only whether it helps serve other ends—either those of personal morality, or of social peace and order.  Each seems to think that the question to discuss is the utility, rather than the truth, of religious belief.

One might argue that perhaps Guinness simply presupposes the truth of Christianity.  And I am sure that he does.  But, my point is that he does not seem to notice the fact that the atheists appear to think that believers value their religion only as a means for attaining moral goodness, not because it is true.  Guinness is correct, of course, when he says that no society can remain moral for any period of time without religious belief.  In fact, we can go farther, and say that no society can remain truly moral for an extended period without the grace of Jesus Christ and the sacraments of the Church.  But, still, this is not the point.  If we are to have any intelligent discussion of the question of religion, it must, at least, begin with a discussion about truth and falsity, not about its usefulness, either personal or social.  One cannot logically argue that because something is useful, therefore it is true.  If we engage atheists primarily on the question of whether religion, in general or any particular religion, is useful or not, we are doomed to endless wrangling about historical facts, while in the meantime we ignore the important questions:  Is this true or false?  Does God exist or not?

Guinness, in his statement, quotes part of a famous passage in President George Washington’s farewell address.

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports….  And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Of course, one must admit that Washington is correct.  Reason and experience do “forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”  But, is Washington interested in religious truth?  Does he even care which religion is employed to support national morality?  And, is it simply mental adherence to a religion, or is it the power of the grace and sacraments of Jesus Christ, that enables individuals and nations to live in social peace? The view of religion that is contained in Washington’s farewell address reminds me of nothing so much as the so-called noble lie in Plato’s Republic (414).  The noble lie was a suggestion of Socrates that the citizens of the ideal city, he and his friends were devising, be taught the deliberate myth that all the citizens literally grew together from the city’s soil, and, thus, were in the closest sense, brothers.  The myth’s purpose was to make them more devoted to their city, and to one another.  Here are some of the portions of the conversation.  (Socrates is speaking with Glaucon.)

“Could we,” I said, “somehow contrive one of those lies that come into being in case of need, of which we were just now speaking, some one noble lie to persuade, in the best case, even the rulers, but if not them, the rest of the city?”

Then after some more conversation, Socrates explains himself:

“I’ll attempt to persuade first the rulers and the soldiers, then the rest of the city, that the rearing and education we gave them were like dreams; they only thought they were undergoing all that was happening to them, while, in truth, at that time they were under the earth within, being fashioned and reared themselves…. And now, as though the land they are in were a mother and nurse, they must plan for and defend it, if anyone attacks, and they must think of the other citizens as brothers and born of the earth.”

Socrates then concludes the “noble lie” by asking,

“So, have you some device for persuading them of this tale?”

“None at all,” he said, “for these men themselves; however for their sons and their successors and the rest of the human beings who come afterwards.”

“Well, even that would be good for making them care more for the city and one another,” I said.5

Unfortunately, one must admit that Washington’s comments on religion in his farewell address differ little from Plato’s contrivance of a noble lie in order to maintain ‘national morality” in his ideal city.

Neither is concerned with the question of truth; each seeks some ideal as a social glue to help hold the body politic together.  Can this be the attitude of someone really convinced of the truth of God’s revelation to mankind in Jesus Christ, or even of someone honestly seeking to know whether God exists, and has spoken?  Catholics cannot allow the question of the truth of the Catholic faith to be reduced to a discussion of whether religion is socially and politically useful or not.  The preaching and writing of the apostles did not even mention such motives for believing.  Rather they stressed an historical fact, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the reconciliation, thereby, brought about between God and mankind.  This is the foundation of our faith, not any benefits which belief will bring either to individuals or to society.

The true question of whether God exists, or not, is closely bound up with the question of which religion is true.  It is not enough to affirm simply that God exists.  What is God like?  Is there only one God, and has he made a revelation of himself, and when, and through whom? Has he left any continuing guidance for the human race?  Both the Church, and the other forms of Christianity, as well as Islam, affirm a belief in one God, but clearly their conceptions of God differ markedly.  No one interested in attaining religious truth can fail to see that questions about the nature and actions of God are essential, and that it is not sufficient just to affirm that a God exists.

Underlying both the atheists’ ads, and the response of Os Guinness, is the philosophy of pragmatism—the notion that truth is what works. This is the unique American “contribution” to philosophy.  As a result, the religious question for many, whether they realize it or not, has become, not does God exist, or what can we know about God, or has God made a revelation, but how can I be helped by religion.  Many thus seek a religion that will make them personally happy.  If some form of Christianity seems to promote their health and happiness, this is fine with them, but, if Buddhism, or New Age pantheism, or atheism, makes them happier, then they will try one or the other of them.  This is not so much a despair of finding truth, as it is a lack of interest in truth.  Such religious pragmatists hardly advert to questions of truth.  If pressed, they might even deny the possibility of knowing what was true, or, more absurdly, deny that such a thing as truth could even exist.  But, their real concern is simply this life with its pleasures and problems.

The Catholic Church, since the time of the apostles, has preached the faith as the truth.  I have already quoted St. Peter to the effect that the apostles and their converts “were not following fictitious tales.”  Jesus Christ proved the truth of his assertions about himself by rising from the dead.  As St. Paul explains in Chapter 15 of his first epistle to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Christ was a matter that could be verified with eyewitnesses, not only the apostles, but many others, as well (cf. CCC 641-44).  In addition, the many prophecies that our Lord fulfilled by his birth, life and death, give further proof of the truth of the revelation committed by him to his Church (cf. CCC 156 and 522).  It is with arguments of this kind that we must defend the doctrines of the Catholic Church, not by seeking to prove that the Catholic religion is more useful than any other.

I noted above, that explicit atheism, and the public advocacy of atheism, have been comparatively rare in the United States, at least in recent decades.6  This fact certainly has its good side.  Belief in God is more common in the United States than in Great Britain, or continental Europe.  But, I think it also has a more doubtful side. This I will attempt to highlight by reference to a very interesting venture that C. S. Lewis, and other Christian believers at Oxford University, began in the 1940s.  This was the Oxford Socratic Club.7

The Socratic Club was begun by a group of Christians to provide a forum for Christians, and non-Christians, to discuss “the pros and cons of the Christian Religion.”  As Lewis notes, there were numerous Christian societies at Oxford, and numerous societies implicitly, if not explicitly, hostile to Christianity.  But, he was unaware of any previous attempt to rationally discuss the issue:  was the Christian faith true or false?8  He points out at least two advantages of such an approach.  First, “there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into coteries where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus.”  Second, and in my opinion most important for us in the United States, Lewis notes that there are those who “protest that intellectual discussion can neither build Christianity nor destroy it.  They may feel that religion is too sacred to be thus bandied to and fro in public debate, too sacred to be talked of – almost, perhaps, too sacred for anything to be done with it at all.”  This sort of taboo in America, on publicly denying the existence of God, is linked to a taboo on any serious public discussion of religious truth, as Dr. Carlin pointed out.  As a result, religion becomes something purely private.  It is bad manners to raise the question, one does not want to offend, as the saying goes, others.

I have never understood why anyone would be offended by an attack on his position, provided that the attack is fair, and free from scurrility.  Indeed, a Catholic should welcome such an attack, for it gives a wonderful, and uncommon, opportunity to give a “reason for the hope that is in [us]” (cf. I Peter 3:15), to provide a defense of the faith, to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church.  Unless real debate on religious questions exists, then we Catholics will lack opportunities to provide a rational public apologetic for our own faith.  So, in a left-handed way, the atheists are doing us a favor. They, at least, are raising the question of the existence of God in a public forum.  If we are too indifferent, or too ill-instructed, to take advantage of the opportunity, that is no one’s fault but our own.9

Nor is it only atheists to whom we must be prepared to give a reason for our faith.  In his January 2009 HPR article, Fr. Joseph Sirba presented the sad results of the Pew report on American religion.10 This survey confirms what most of us already knew, that there are huge numbers of Catholics who have joined other religious bodies, or who reject Catholicism but have not affiliated with any other group.  They range all the way from Mormons to Hindus to Eastern Orthodox, although the two largest groups, about equal in numbers, are Protestants, both evangelicals and mainstream, and the unaffiliated, probably secularists, or atheists, for the most part.  These surely ought to be among the first to receive our attention, since they are like the lost sheep in the Gospel, whom the Shepherd went in search of. Even though it is doubtful that very many ex-Catholics will be open to discussions of religious truth, still, just as St. Paul wrote that he became “all things to all men that I might by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:22), we should not neglect those who might be open to a rational examination of whether God exists, and which religion is true.

So let us not be shy of religious debate.  Since the Catholic religion is true, and since it is rationally defensible, we need fear no one in an honest discussion.  Admittedly, public discourse in the United States is now at such a low level, that insults and shouting are the norm for conducting many public discussions.  But, perhaps there are some honest atheists, and others, too, willing to debate in a respectful manner.  If so, let them come forward.  They might be surprised at what they could learn.

  1. “What is Faith?” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, vol. 109, no. 2, November 2008.
  2. “The Latest Form of American Atheism,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, vol. 107, no. 9, June 2007.
  3. Although some media outlets stated that the figure dressed in the Santa Claus outfit was a woman, it appeared to me to be a male with very long dreadlocks.
  4. =9525.
  5. The Republic of Plato, translated by Allan Bloom. (New York : Basic Books, c. 1968), pp. 93-94.
  6. In the allegedly more Christian United States of a hundred years ago, anti-Christian polemic would seem to have been more common. One thinks of the prominent agnostic and Republican Party orator, Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), or the writer and journalist, H. L. Mencken (1880-1956).
  7. See: “The Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club,” in C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, Eerdsmans, c. 1970) pp. 126-28.
  8. Lewis speaks of Christianity and Christians.  I hardly need to point out that, as far as I am concerned, the issue concerns Catholicism and Catholics.  “Mere Christianity,” as Lewis conceived it, is insufficient.
  9. David Carlin, in his article already cited, recommends a similar strategy of rational confrontation with atheists. I second his recommendation that Catholic intellectuals must make efforts to respond to atheist polemics and that “ordinary Catholics” must “be equipped with the knowledge needed to withstand attacks on their faith.”
  10. “The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, vol. 109, no. 4, January 2009. Fr. Sirba notes that the full report is available online at
Thomas Storck About Thomas Storck

Mr. Thomas Storck is the author of The Catholic Milieu (1987), Foundations of a Catholic Political Order (1998), Christendom and the West (2000) and numerous articles and reviews on Catholic culture and social teaching. He is a member of the editorial board of The Chesterton Review and holds an MA from St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Many of his writings can be found online at


  1. Avatar Jay Poppe says:

    Let’s have a discussion by all means. I am ready and willing. The problem is multi-dimensional. First on the capacity of people to even have those discussions. There are no priests in my area capable of such discussions for intellectual and social reasons. Their diocesan formation was not adequate to properly defend the faith. Our shepherd is not interested in anything but parishes being “welcoming,” with parish religious education being so syrupy and mundane so as not to offend or really challenge anyone. Finally, lay education for “ministry leadership” (those masters degrees offered through the diocese) only encourage what you so rightly pointed out in the paragraph on how people are seeking to be “helped” by religion. Second, there is no way to have the discussion on parish property in my area since all persons who would attempt this must first be given permission, background checked and theologically vetted by people with the same formation as mentioned above. Third, there is no will or perceived need to have these discussions, since formation is so poor. The Church militant has been replaced by feminized ecumenism in day-to-day parish life and activities, so we have no way to gather the necessary fortitude to defend the faith. The new evangelization is asking Catholics to come home, but it will fail because we have not cleaned house before the guests are scheduled to arrive.

  2. Avatar James Findlayson says:

    Excellent article!
    From the English perspective, this is exactly what’s wrong with Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent call for a return to ‘Christian Values’ that Evangelicals are getting so excited about.

  3. Jay, I’m afraid I have to agree with you. The Church in the U.S. is little interested in an intellectual defense of the Faith and ill prepared to undertake it anyway. To a great extent, I think, this is because Catholics are so Americanized, and the U.S. is for the most part not a country interested in intellectual discussions. Maybe the internet is now the best place for such dialog, since in most localities there just aren’t enough interested people and the diocesan authorities give no indication that they even see the problem.

    • Avatar Paul Rodden says:

      “…this is because Catholics are so Americanized…”
      In the early eighties I was an Evangelical here, in England.
      Around the same time, ‘Christian’ Bookshops started springing up, and speakers from America started Evangelistic Crusades.
      Being in a different culture, it was as if Evangelicalism in England was having a personality transplant.
      It resulted in a crisis of faith for me – not in God – but in how culturally-relative my ‘religion’ seemed to be.
      It was ‘out with the old, and in with the new’. It was impossible to have the ‘religion’ without its cultural expression, or else it became dissonant.
      It was as if ‘going to Church’ became more like visiting an American ex-pat community where even the turn-of-phase, jargon, and body-language, was different to ‘the real world’. The only things left that were English, were the accents, and little seems to have changed. If anything, it’s got more extreme.

      – This was one of my main reasons for investigating the Catholic Church.

      It seems to me that, from the Catholic perspective, the deposit of faith is universal, therefore it’s cultural expression can safely be diverse (and so avoid the ‘personality transplant’), whereas in Protestantism, the ‘branding’ (‘MacDonaldisation’) is primary, whilst the ‘beliefs’ underpinning it, are diverse.
      If this is the case, then maybe ‘Amercanised’ is somewhat synonymous with ‘Protestantised’, wherever cultural expression takes precedence over being ‘catholic’?

      • Mr. Rodden,
        Your story is most interesting and I’d like to read a fuller account of it. As to your point that since “the deposit of [Catholic] faith is universal, therefore it’s cultural expression can safely be diverse,” this is surely true. The outward expressions of the Faith differ in different countries and this is necessary and good. But I wasn’t referring to that when I said that “Catholics are so Americanized,” and that that is the reason for our disinclination to rationally present the Faith. Over 150 years ago Alexis de Tocqueville noted the lack of genuine intellectual debate here. He wrote, “I know no country in which, speaking generally, there is less idependence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America” (II, 2, 7); “Less attention, I suppose, is paid to philosophy in the United States than in any other country of the civilized world” and “The Americans never read Descartes’s works because their state of society distracts them from speculative inquiries…” (II, 1, 1). So I don’t think it’s a question of the Church here adopting American characteristics which are neutral, which is inevitable and good (as everywhere else), but of adopting characteristics which are bad and which are even contrary to Catholic tradition, which has always fostered speculative philosophical and theological thought. I dare say this copying of bad characteristics occurs in other countries too, but I lack the everyday experience which would allow me to identify what these bad characteristic elsewhere are.

  4. I’m dubious as to doing this thing, either. First of all, you can’t use prophecy. The writers of the books of the Christian specific Scriptures knew the writings of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Of course they were going to write it to make the prophecies come true. And of course Paul was going to stress his side of the story.

    If you turn to philosophy, the teleological or ontological etc. proofs for the existence of a god or gods, well, these questions have been refuted and restated throughout history. I’m not sure any headway can be made there and even if it were, OK, now you have a deistic god, now get to the Hebrew God, and from there to the Christian trinity.

    I am a former Catholic (now a Reform Jew) and as I lost my Christian faith, I started by having disagreements with the Catholic church (over political issues) and so went over to the Episcopalians. But then one day I asked myself, given the fact of evolution, given the way population genetics works, there never were 2 people, Adam and Eve, who sinned. And there is no evidence of an Exodus, no pharoah’s army drowned in the sea. So no divine giving of the law to Moses. Then what was the Atonement for? And when I could not answer that question, then I had to realize I was no Christian. I mention this because I recently watched Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God” and she faced the very same question. Why? For what? Maybe a lot of former Catholics have the same difficulty.

    • Well, I don’t think the situation is as bleak for Catholics as you suggest. But it is true that there always will be those who for some reason or other are not convinced by the Church’s apologetic arguments. I find the arguments persuasive, as many others have and still do. Perhaps it would be fun to do a contemporary version of the debate Ronald Knox and Arnold Lunn engaged in ninety years ago or so, Knox arguing for the Catholic faith and Lunn against. But several years later Arnold Lunn became a Catholic. Such debates would have to be conducted on a high level both of content and courtesy.

  5. Avatar Stephen J. says:

    “I have never understood why anyone would be offended by an attack on his position, provided that the attack is fair, and free from scurrility.”

    Unfortunately, I cannot recall the last time I ever heard a criticism of Christianity or Catholicism — or Christians or Catholics — that met these criteria. The most that can be said for the attacks I’ve read, heard or seen is that some of them, perhaps even the majority, are inspired (at least originally) by honest outrage at something honestly outrageous, namely the clerical abuse scandals. But I have a very hard time ridding myself of the suspicion that most such attacks, whatever their inspiration, are *driven* by one very specific thing: the disinclination of people raised in the post-Sexual Revolution era to try living by the (as they see it) impossibly restrictive Christian teachings on human sexuality.

    It is for this reason, I suspect, that these attacks are so predominantly ad hominem. The underlying assumption is, to coin C.S. Lewis’s term, Bulveristic: knowing their own motives in choosing their beliefs to be primarily self-interested, they assume that our beliefs are ultimately chosen (even if we don’t realize it) for the same self-interest, and thus assume all our arguments about those beliefs’ truth are either tragic self-delusion at best or hypocritical deception at worst — an assumption sadly bolstered by many Christians’ failure to live up to their professed beliefs, especially if the attacker has personally suffered at the hands of such fallible Christians. (And while I understand that reaction, there is no denying that it makes persuading people of Christianity’s truth far more difficult.)

    I’ve come to recognize that there is little point debating such attackers; they are more interested in justifying their own position than in considering the possibility they might be wrong, or discovering how they are mistaken in understanding us.

    • Stephen,

      Even if you’re right most of the time, surely there are some who might be open to honest debate. It’s funny you cited C. S. Lewis, who, as you know, was one of the foremost in offering debate with unbelievers.

      • Avatar Stephen J. says:

        Yes, but even Lewis recognized when debate was useless. I’ve thought a lot recently of his opening to MERE CHRISTIANITY, where he talks about “quarrelling” as a process of trying to show someone is in the wrong by some commonly accepted standard; and in his day and age, he could write, “And the other person very seldom replies, ‘To hell with your standard’,” without caveat or irony. I do not think he could have done that if he was living and writing today.

        (And I’m also reminded of the exchange, fictionalized in the movie SHADOWLANDS, between Lewis and his wife-to-be Joy Gresham:
        JOY: I’ll probably argue with you a lot, Jack.
        LEWIS: Not to worry. I like a good fight.
        JOY (With a shrewd look): Maybe so; but when was the last time you lost?)

        My experiences of debating Christianity have generally been of this pattern: I point out that “If premise A is true, then conclusion B must follow,” and the response is, “Well, that might be so, but rather than waste time disproving your reasoning from A to B I’ll simply note that I don’t accept premise A and never will.” (Although the responses are usually a great deal more acrimonious, and include follow-ups like, “Because then I’d have to forgive molester priests instead of treating them like the monsters they are, or tell my gay and lesbian friends they can never really be married, and only someone evil and vicious would do that.”)

        You cannot have an argument or a debate if people can’t agree on premises, or aren’t willing to grant distinctions between act and actor, or intent and action. And the simple fact that people launch such attacks is generally a very reliable indicator they’ve already made up their mind.

      • But starting from an agreeable premise is an important part of arguing. If one doesn’t agree with a premise, it’s useless to argue the reasoning starting with said premise. Bertrand Russell has a famous debate appearance where he states that.

  6. Avatar Mark Pilon says:

    To be fair to Mr. Guinness, I doubt he would disagree that the truth of Christianity is the important thing. Having read his “Dust of Death” decades ago, I recall that his method there was to take modern ideologies and examine whether they offered realistic responses to the problem of evil. There seems to be a similarity here in the quote at least. I’m pretty sure his apologetic argument would not lead with the social effectiveness of Christianity.

  7. Born a cradle Catholic in 1970, I too didnt receive proper catachesis from the church or my family (I also went to Catholic school growing up and there were never mention or any formal discussion on apologetics) This lead me in my late 30’s to doubt my religious beliefs and my faith in a God.

    But in spite of the militant atheists and indeed to a certain extent, because of their attacks, I found many great Christian apologetic sites and content on the Internet that I could turn to that did help to restore my faith in God and my belief and support for the Catholic church.

    Many of these resources are not Catholic but they are Christian and contemporary an do/did take on the militant atheists head on. I great example I recommend to all of you (especially cermak_rd) is this single site: and in particular his debates:

    • Avatar cermak_rd says:

      I would hope the Catholic church would have something better in its resources than William Lane Craig, the defender of the Almighty’s genocide in Joshua. Most modern theologians either try to talk that down, noting that the people writing it were trying to be rah rah! for their side; or they deny it ever happened all together. He also, apparently, believes that the promises made to the Jews real estate-wise still hold true, which might be awkward for any Christians still left in Palestine.

      He’s fond of the cosmological argument, but I don’t find it all that useful as it’s been argued against by others with just as much weightiness.Essentially, it’s arguing that something didn’t come from nothing, and yet the modern science is beginning to come up with plausible theories of how that could have come about. That’s really all it takes is one plausible theory before gaddidit no longer suffices for those who embrace a theology of the gaps.

      Also, I am not an atheist (militant or otherwise), I haven’t given up a belief in an Einsteinian (or Spinozan) deity. My biggest problem as a Christian was that I could not understand the need for an Atonement. I do not accept Penal Substitution as it 1. is unjust. 2. presupposes that an actual Fall took place which I don’t accept as I don’t believe there ever was a first couple. I can’t accept Apotheosis as a hypothesis because it is so danged Greek that I can’t believe a Hebrew deity would have thought it up. All of the other soteriologies I’ve ever seen have left me flat. I can’t believe a Jesuit or two hasn’t worked on this issue.

      • Cermak,

        I haven’t looked at many of the contemporary apolgetics websites, Catholic or Protestant, but it appears to me that many are quite shallow in comparison with the more classical apologists, e.g., Ronald Knox (whose approach to the historicity of the Gospels in his Belief of Catholics is quite original), Arnold Lunn, etc.

        You wrote, “I do not accept Penal Substitution.” I wonder if you have a too Calvinist notion of that, e.g., the idea that God the Father was angry and had to take it out on someone and God the Son stepped forward and said, I’ll take the rap. Instead, look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, beginning at about #599, and I think you’ll get a much more balanced view. And don’t worry about Catholics who want to justify the claims of the State of Israel in Palestine. The Church is the new Israel, and, as you probably know, the views of many American Catholics on the subject have been heavily infuenced by American Protestant theology.

      • Avatar cermak_rd says:

        But the catechism section still refers to Atonement in the context of a blood sacrifice, and I’m still wondering why? For what? All the sins of man? It still sounds very much like burnt offering of cows and doves to me and I just don’t believe they have any efficacy. The only person who can atone for my sins is me. I must make it up where I can and strive to do it no more where I can’t.

  8. Also, many of your readers would benefit from this wonderful site and Father Spitzer’s great book (deeply analytical and thoughtful) found here:

  9. Cermak,
    There seems to be an obscure intuition on the part of mankind that sacrifices are necessary to appease the divine, and that the more valuable the sacrifice, the greater the power it had to do so. Thus in some pagan cultures human sacrifice was rare, but when it was done, was consider to have a greater efficacy than the sacrifice of an animal. God himself, out of his love for us, offered himself as the sacrifice. Theologians seems to agree that God could have pardoned mankind in any way, including simply by overlooking sin. Why he did it the way he did will probably remain unknown to us in this life. I’m always suspicious of those who want to discover the reasons for everything that God did; we can sufficiently discover what he did (so far as he has revealed this), but very often the why must remain unknown to us.
    I think that there are many occasions when most of us recognize that others can atone for a wrong, indeed human history and story contain examples of such conduct. AGain, this seems to reflect a deep instinct on the part of humanity, which reflects the solidarity of mankind, even the solidarity of a tribe or nation. It’s only modernity (classical liberalism) that would like to isolate us so much so that no one can truly offer himself on behalf of another.

    • Avatar cermak_rd says:

      I am a why person. But you’re right, here we will probably have to part ways. Thanks for responding to my posts.

      When I lost faith in Catholicism, I really decided (before jumping into the Episcopalian faith) to determine what and why I believed as far as values. I figured I am leaving one faith because I have a clash so why not figure out where I am and then pick a religion that doesn’t conflict. That led me to where I am now. I figured out that I am a follower of Enlightenment values–egalitarianism, individualism, feminism, rationalism. SO I figured why not pick a faith that was also a product of the Enlightenment. And I’m happy there.

      I just noticed as I was watching the video mentioned earlier that Pat and I ultimately wound up with the same question of why the need for an Atonement (and I watched it years after I had converted and she had also). So I was interested in seeing if anyone had any thoughts on it.

      Again, thanks for your time and good luck.

      • Cermak,

        If I can venture one more post and then I’ll quit, I’d simply suggest that you reflect on what happened, and how we can know it. If there’s good evidence that Jesus Christ, God the Son, came into the world to save sinners, and established the Catholic Church – for all of which I would argue there is excellent evidence – then it would seem to me that our job is to conform ourselves to that Church and her teachings, even when we don’t entirely understand them. This is not to abandon thinking, but to realize when we don’t have enough data to know something thoroughly, namely, the hidden things of God, as St. Paul expresses it.

        My best to you.

      • Avatar cermak_rd says:

        Well, obviously I’ve followed another path as I actually don’t know whether there actually was a Jesus or not, and I clearly don’t believe that he is divine, which is a prime reason why I did not choose to continue with the Episcopalians.

        Even if I did believe in him though, I think the fact that theologians through the ages have differed pretty severely on issues like say slavery tell me that the source documents are not all that clear and can be interpreted in different ways. And putting my religious faith in the hands of another person is something I would be loathe to do as I would consider it to be unsafe. I am the best person to look out for my interest in religion as in everything else. And part of that involves taking an enlightened self-interest and therefore looking out for the goods of other people. No one, after all, prospers when the commons is let go.

  10. Thanks for the good post. Speaking as a traditional Protestant, I think your points resonate with a wider community. Some of us are now trying to explain to our local churches that they need to provide rationally convincing answers to skeptical questions. My experience talking with people in a variety of denominations has cemented my conviction that there is a great deal of silent doubt sitting in our pews every Sunday, doubt about central points of the faith that are common to traditional Protestants and traditional Catholics. What we choose to do about it will be of more than passing interest to us all.

    • Tim,

      Thanks for your comment. What you say about “doubt about central points of the faith” is, I suspect, true among many Catholics also, though I fear it might be something even worse than doubt: indifference.


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