Dawkins 1, Pope 0?

15 Apr

When the You Tube videos of Barack Obama’s pastor saying “God damn America” went viral, many Americans were quick to condemn his harsh language.  At the time, I thought: is there any conceivable way a true minister of God could think such a thing?

I actually thought there was, and is.  Martin Luther talked about God “bringing us down to hell”, before lifting us up again.  In the context of properly dividing God’s law and gospel, such language might indeed be appropriate (although not recommended for sermons!).  God breaks individuals, groups, even nations – before lifting them up and binding their wounds.  The real question is whether or not you believe God has redemptive purposes in mind, or if His condemnation is meant to be final.

Enter Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has been agitating to have the Pope arrested when he visits the UK on September 16.  The crises of the Roman Catholic Church further deepened this past weekend reporters produced a letter written by Benedict in 1985 where, in considering the “defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys”, he mentions that “the ‘good of the universal church’ should be considered” as well.  Dawkins, along with Christopher Hitchens, has seized on this. 

Just like many Americans were quick to judge that Jeremiah Wright’s condemnation of America was final, many of us now judge Dawkins’ actions similarly, and in this case, I’m guessing that’s not too far off the mark.

And yet. 

As someone who has real sympathies with the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope as well (I identify with this piece in many ways, even as I also do this piece), I nevertheless must say this: at least on the face of it, Dawkins is right.  We should feel immense outrage here – and unfortunately when it comes to the sex-abuse scandals, it seems that it is Dawkin’s outrage – not the Churchs’ – that is the most deeply felt.

Yes, I realize this is Richard Dawkins we are talking about.  And yes, I realize that there are political and rhetorical factors to consider here.  Yes, I realize we despereately need more nuance and context for the Pope’s statements (see here)!  

Still – children recognize when persons speak publicly about the importance of protecting them.  After all, when it comes to the institution of God’s Church, it is God’s “first instinct” to protect the children in it, not the rational[izing] adults.  And for these little ones, he does this in ways they can understand: appearances count.  Making things clear counts.    

So I think, in the case of abuse scandals: let the world exercise its Romans 13 function God has given it!  Let the Church face judgment for its crimes as we all must!  If Caesar deems fit, let its leaders be condemned to prison or even death!  For truly, here, the world is in the right!  Wonder of wonders, in their concern for the young and the weak they are acting like Christians, not pagans!

And yet, after the world has condemned them utterly for their crimes, we will still visit them!  When in their brokenness and rejection they confess, we will still forgive and accept them, comfort them!  They will not continue to serve as ministers, but indeed, there will be redemption!  And the enemies of the cross will either act as one thief or the other.  And then, there will be resurrection and final judgment. 

Now, with all that wild-eyed idealism released, read this piece by Colleen Carol Cambell (or listen to her speak here), in order to restore yourself to balance.  And again, make sure you read this one to.  And keep reading.  And praying.  This is one for the times. 

Remember: Christ has overcome the world.

UPDATE:  This, of course, is hardly enough.

UPDATE 2:  This is very interesting.  However, just because Dawkins was previously wrong to underestimate the effects of abuse – and is perhaps acting hypocritically – does not change the fact that now he’s got a point.


Posted by on April 15, 2010 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Dawkins 1, Pope 0?

  1. Schütz

    April 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    UPDATE: This, of course, is hardly enough

    Well, I don’t know about “enough” – what after all would be “enough” in your book? – but it surely points to a core issue any Christian should be able to understand. Sin is sin. Whatever and wherever it is found. When criminal acts of sin are uncovered in the Church, the main reaction is of course to seek justice for both victim and perpetrator. But we would not be Christian if we lost sight of the fact that sin is a very widespread occurence in the human race, and even among the people of God. These crimes did not happen in isolation (although it would be nice to think so). At a spiritual level, we must know that evil acts are connected and feed off other evil. Repentence, therefore, on the part of the whole people, is surely a first step (not “enough” – a beginning, not an end, but a beginning at the right place) to the healing of the disease. It is like a doctor saying to someone who has a disease: we’re working on the cure, but it would help if you started eating healthy food and exercising a bit.

    • Nathan

      April 19, 2010 at 11:47 am


      Thanks much for your comment. I’ve actually added your blog to my blogreader, as you look like the kind of fellow who might have a lot of interesting things to say. I know this article might come off as a bit harsh, but I think the Church desperately needs a good whooping here. I am not adverse to perspectives such as yours: I really appreciated this piece in our local paper last week:

      Of course I think this person (besides their thinking Dowd is a good representative of the RCC) has a point as well:

      Yes, of course repentance is the answer. But repentance in the context of a) outrage from the Church (see the Colleen Carol Campbell piece above), b) an admitting that some in the media (not all, of course) have actually helped them, and c) a forthright acknowledgement of – and addressing of – the facts and claims of fact that the media has brought to light over the past several weeks (the whole what did he know and when stuff)

      “Under attack from the world for our sins”. Yes, and thank God, right?

      ~Nathan (author of this blog)

  2. frontierorthodoxy

    September 30, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Although I’m not up to speed on what’s occurring in the Roman Catholic Church in Europe, in America, there have been a lot of Roman Catholics pressing for increased transparency and honesty on such issues. Another thing to keep in mind is that this is all complicated by the fact that anti-Catholicism is still a widely held prejudice in many parts. So, Dawkins and Hitchens will appeal to some of those folks as well, which will make things messier. On an atheist blog, I saw a very immature post of anger over all this. I know you’ve focused only on Dawkins, and his speech is on youtube, now, the one he gave at a rally protesting the pope’s visit, but unfortunately, there are complicating factors from their side, too.

    In the end, I tend to view things like you with respect to intra-Church discipline, though. The leaders should publicly repent and change their ways–regardless of whether we’re talking about a Roman Catholic Church, an Orthodox Church, or a Protestant one.

    BTW, a couple years ago (I think it was a while back) I wsaw an episode of 20/20 or some news show, where they investigated these kinds of sexual abuses amongst Protestant clergy. The result? They concluded it was worse, especially in the south, where a minister can set up his own independent church and then run to another state and do it all over again. Sad.

    • infanttheology

      October 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      Father Herbel (hope I got that right),

      Thanks for your comments. It is quite scary to think about things being worse among the Protestants… hard to believe, but makes sense, given the lack of accountability…

      Lord have mercy indeed!



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