November 14 Feast of Christ the King (Nov 20th 2011)

Response to Faith with the Bible

Bible texts:

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

(November 14th for Feast of Christ the King, November 20th)

A. Sunday Readings;

B. Dialogue: Monotheism, Atheism

Introduction to the Feast of Christ the King

Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in his 1925 in response to growing nationalism and secularism. It was first celebrated on the last Sunday of October. In his 1969 Pope Paul VI gave the celebration a new title: (The Solemnity of) “Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe”. He also gave it a new date: the last Sunday in the liturgical year, a time for reflection on the kingdom of God and of Christ on earth and the fulfilment of God’s plan for humanity at the end of time. The feast is also a fitting preparation for the new liturgical year with Advent. `

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17). This reading is based on the metaphor of Israel as a flock and the leaders as shepherds. The image of the god, king or other leaders as shepherds was common throughout the ancient Near East. The same imagery is also found in the Old Testament (for instance Psalm 22[23]; today’s Responsorial Psalm; Psalm 94[95]:7) with reference to the Lord, the God of Israel, and in the New Testament (parable of the lost sheep, Mat 18:12-14; Jesus the good shepherd, John 10). The imagery is very expressive; the flocks of sheep would be small, the shepherd would lead them to new grazing grounds when required; he would ward off wolves, dogs or other predators; he would “know” them personally; the sheep would recognize his voice. Transferred to the social and political sphere, the flock is the people of Israel or Judah, shepherds of Israel are the kings, the princes, the rulers, and by extension the priests and the prophets. Due to their neglect the sheep, the people of Judah were scattered and brought into exile in Babylonia. (Ezekiel preached to the exiles in Babylon.) God says that he himself will now become directly shepherd of his people, take them home (to Palestine) and tenderly care for the weak. He goes further. He will see that there is a reign of peace and justice between the members of the new community (“between sheep and sheep”), and see to it that the weaker members of the community (the “sheep”) are not oppressed by the stronger (the rams and he-goats). The metaphors of the biblical text, not included in this read, spells out what is meant. The text also goes on to sat (34:23-24) that God’s servant David (that is a descendent of David) shall feed them and be their shepherd and be prince among them.

            In this text God is presented as shepherd, and clearly also king, of his people, even if David is also presented as shepherd and prince in the future.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28). This reading speaks of the completion of God’s kingdom at the end of time. In this letter to the Corinthians the reading is in the context of the resurrection of the body which some members of the Corinthian church had difficulty in accepting, a difficulty known to Paul, their apostle. Paul makes clear the centrality of the resurrection of Christ for Christian belief. Without belief in this, Christian faith is in vain. From the resurrection of Christ there follows belief in the resurrection of all believers. Christ was the first-fruits of all who have died the first of many brothers and sisters to rise from the dead. Death has come in through Adam’s sin; all are brought to life in Christ spiritually here on earth and in their bodies at the end of time. This final resurrection, when history has ended, will mean the completion of Christ’s kingdom, the kingdom of God.

            In his letters Paul rarely speaks of the kingdom of God. In exhorting the Roman Christian community to live in harmony, he remarks: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteous and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). To the Corinthian community, given to debates and personality cult, he writes that the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in the transforming power of the Gospel (1 Cor 4:2). The author of the letter to the Colossians prays that the Christian community there “may be strengthened with all power, according to God’s glorious might, for all endurance, patience and joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance on the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in who we have redemption and forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:11-14). For Paul, then, the kingdom of God is a present reality as well as an otherworld eternal one.

The kingdom of God was central to the teaching of Jesus. He proclaimed it coming in his teaching and miracles. He was destroying the power of Satan. Without mention of the kingdom he also made himself central to his mission. “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me..; he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for me sake will find it” (Mat 10:37-39). Without mention of the kingdom the apostle Paul stresses the centrality of Christ for believers and all creation. “God has highly exalted him, … that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11). The kingdom of God is centered on obedience, the obedience of Christ and the obedience of faith of believers. Christ was obedient to the Father, obedient even to death (Phil 2:8); he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Acceptance of the Christian faith meant obedience of heart and mind to Christ and his saving work. Paul had been given the mission to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his (i.e. Christ’s) name among all the nations … who are called to belong to Christ” (Romans 1:5-6; see also Rom 15:18)). The mystery of the Father’s saving plan, kept secret for long ages, revealed through Christ, the Church and Paul, was made know to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith” (Rom 16:25-26). Believers are sanctified through obedience to Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:2, 22). The life of Christians is a success against all obstacles when their obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:5-6).

With regard to today’s second reading it is good to recall that Paul is thinking against the background of two forces at work in the world, one that of (the first) Adam with whom sin and death (physical and moral) entered the world, the second force, power, was that of Christ (the second Adam) and his kingdom, from his resurrection to the final judgment and the resurrection of all believers in Christ. Christ and his kingdom and fighting and destroying sin, and will continue through Christ in the church throughout history. Christ will be king during this period, destroying his enemies of every sort (all form of sin and evil powers, every sovereignty, authority and power), the last of them being sin (personified). All this is still the kingdom of God (the Father). Christ is not an end in himself; he is the Son, who on completion of his work will hand over the kingdom to his Father. Christian obedience, and God’s work in creation, will then be complete.

Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46). This reading in Matthew’s gospel is the final section of a long discourse by Jesus on the end of time. It takes it imagery of sheep and goats from contemporary Jewish pastoral life. Both these were valued animals. They grazed together, but were separated before marketing. Jesus does not set one in value against the other. In the reading Jesus, the Son of Man, is presented both as king and shepherd. While the reading concerns the final judgment, it is also a sermon for all members of the Church on Christian living. The final examination will be on how we have served Christ in our neighbours. The six acts of charity listed are the first six of the seven corporal works of mercy of Catholic tradition: Feed the hungry; Give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; Shelter the homeless; Visit the sick; Visit those in prison; bury the dead. This Gospel Judgment scene has been very popular in art, including the early Irish high crosses (for instance Muiredach’s Cross at Monasterboice).


            A message of the Judgment scene in the Gospel reading is that the kingdom of heaven is not just about the life to come. The kingdom of Christ is very much of this world as well, and entry to the heavenly kingdom will be related to how its values are lived in this world.

Reflection. The readings can be taken in conjunction with part of the Preface for this day’s Mass: “You anointed Jesus Christ, your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as eternal priest and universal King. … As King he claims dominion over all creation, that he may present to you, his almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace”. On earth, the Church works to have the initial stages of this kingdom become a reality here on earth. All her members are called to pray that through their lives they may be witnesses that this kingdom is a living reality.



B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day 

(1) Man (humans) created by God, in God’s image, or descended from apes? 


Children will be taught that we are created by God, in the image of God. Some parents and teachers preparing children for First Communion, even confirmation, can be faced with the remark that they have heard, or been taught, in school that we are descended from apes or monkeys – as if what they had been taught concerning been created by God was erroneous.

            What the origins of this masterpiece that is the human person is something that exercised the minds of biblical writers as it does modern scientists. The opening chapters of Genesis have two accounts. In Genesis 1:26-27, after God’s creation of the world, and development from vegetation to beasts of the field, we read: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. This is paraphrased in the later Book of Wisdom (2:23) as: “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity”. A second account of creation has a slightly different presentation of man’s origin. The world at the beginning is presented as without vegetation, and only dust. From this dust God formed the shape of a man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of lifer, and this man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).

            Biblical tradition, as we today, knew quite well that each individual child was not a new creation by God. As the later book, the Wisdom of Solomon, puts it (as if King Solomon was speaking): “I also am mortal, like all men, a descendant of the first-formed child of the earth; and in the womb of a mother I was moulded into flesh, within the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage” (Wisdom 7:1-2). (“ten months” (as in 4 Maccabees 16:7, although then known that nine months was the normal gestation period.)


Human origins according to present-day science


The biblical texts speak of the origins of the human race, of man and woman as known to them and their contemporaries. Their interest or purpose is not to give the historical origins of humans, which can be presumed to have been totally unknown to them. Genesis 1:26-27 lays stress on the dignity of humans, man and woman, as images of God, created in the image of his eternity. Genesis 2:7 speaks of the Lord God forming, as it were, a dust man from the ground and breathing into him a breath of life, thus making man a living being. The author of this tradition and text, once again, had no concept as to what stood behind this in time.


            Modern science, especially since Darwin, has paid great attention to human origins. I give here a summary on the relevant information, drawn from the internet site “Humans”. (Internet link “Humans” 

“Humans (known taxonomically as Homo sapiens, Latin for “wise man” or “knowing man”) are the only living species in the Homo genus. Anatomically modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago.

“Scientific study of human evolution is concerned, primarily, with the development of the genus Homo, but usually involves studying other hominids and hominines as well, such as Australopithecus. “Modern humans” are defined as the Homo sapiens species, of which the only extant subspecies is known as Homo sapiens sapiens. Homo sapiens idaltu (roughly translated as “elder wise human”), the other known subspecies, is now extinct. Homo neanderthalensis[Neanderthal man], which became extinct 30,000 years ago, has sometimes been classified as a subspecies, “Homo sapiens neanderthalensis“; genetic studies now suggest that the functional DNA of modern humans and Neanderthals diverged 500,000 years ago.

[From Internet: “The Hominidae (pronounced /hɒˈmɪnɨdiː/; anglicized hominids, also known as great apes[notes 1]), as the term is used here, form a taxonomic family, including four extant genera: chimpanzees (Pan), gorillas (Gorilla), humans (Homo), and orangutans (Pongo).[1] In the past, the term was used in the more restricted sense of humans and relatives of humans closer than chimpanzees.”]


[[From Internet: “Homininae is a subfamily of Hominidae, which includes humans, gorillas and chimpanzees, and some extinct relatives; it comprises all those hominids, such as Australopithecus, that arose after the split from orangutans (Ponginae). Our family tree, which has 3 main branches leading to chimpanzees, humans and gorillas, could be more coherent than previously thought. Today there are several species of chimpanzee and gorillas (see Taxonomy) but only one human species remains, although several sub-species of humans appeared about a million years ago and still existed 30,000 years ago”]]

“Anatomically modern humans first appear in the fossil record in Africa about 195,000 years ago, and studies of molecular biology give evidence that the approximate time of divergence from the common ancestor of all modern human populations was 200,000 years ago.

“The orangutans were the first group to split from the line leading to the humans, then gorillas followed by chimpanzees (genus Pan). The functional portion of human DNA is approximately 98.4% identical to that of chimpanzees when comparing single nucleotide polymorphisms (see in internet “human evolutionary genetics”). Some studies put that as low as 94%. Therefore, the closest living relatives of humans are gorillas and chimpanzees, as they share a relatively recent common ancestor.


“Humans are probably most closely related to two chimpanzee species: the Common Chimpanzee and the Bonobo. Current estimates of suggested concurrence between functional human and chimpanzee DNA sequences range between 95% and 99%.

“Early estimates indicated that the human lineage may have diverged from that of chimpanzees about five million years ago, and from that of gorillas about eight million years ago. However, a hominid skull discovered in Chad in 2001, classified as Sahelanthropus tchadensis, is approximately seven million years old, and may be evidence of an earlier divergence.” 

[[Life is specified by genomes. Every organism, including humans, has a genome that contains all of the biological information needed to build and maintain a living example of that organism. The biological information contained in a genome is encoded in its deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and is divided into discrete units called genes. Genes code for proteins that attach to the genome at the appropriate positions and switch on a series of reactions called gene expression.]]



The biblical evidence, and Christian tradition, theologically regard man as created by God in his own image (Gen 1:26-27), originating according to Gen 2:7 in a human-form of a dust-man into which God breathed the breath of life – a popular presentation to which no time is affixed. Modern science speaks of a lengthy development leading to the mergence of primates, the highest order of mammals, among which are chimpanzees and gorillas. In due time (between eight and five million years ago) into one of these God would have breathed a human soul, to give rise to humanity, and the emergence of humanity as we know it at east 200,000 years ago. If there is human descent from these primates (apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, etc.) it is far removed. 


(2) Monotheism

In an age with apathy towards religion, and God, one of agnosticism and outright denial of God’s existence (atheism) a topic for dialogue with the Bible and questions of the day seems to be monotheism, belief in the one and only God which is central to the Bible, both the Old and the New Testaments. 


Some definitions. Monotheism: the belief in the existence of one and only God, to the denial of all others; henotheism: belief in one god for a nation or group, with the denial of the existence of other gods, worshipped by other persons or groups; polytheism: belief in and worship of many gods; atheism: outright denial of the existence of any god; agnosticism: the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable; deism: belief in the existence of a god, without accepting revelation (see theism); also known as natural religion; theism: belief in divine creation and conduct of the universe, without denial of revelation, as in deism.


 Possibility of a knowledge of God by reason alone? In his letter to the Romans (1:18-25; as in the book of Wisdom (ca. 30 BC) Paul writes of the pagan world: “18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” This text is noted, and Paul’s position accepted, in the first Vatican Council (1870) and also Vatican Council II (Constitution on Divine Revelation¸1965, paragraph 2), but with the observation that the realities of human nature and of history can make this difficult.

Knowledge of God through the sciences? Some eminent scientists are professedly atheists, even maintaining that belief in God (or a god) is incompatible with science. Other scientists more calmly say that some scientists are atheists, other scientists believe in God. If scientists say that there can be no knowledge outside the material, only what science can observe by its own methods, the position of atheistic scientists is understandable. The object of science is the material. But scientists also have mental faculties that can lead beyond the scientifically observable to a world beyond. There are scientists of the creationism and intelligent design traditions who put forward arguments for the existence of God, or some intelligent designer. Some scholars may observe that such attempts do nor pertain to science as such. It can be doubted whether such attempts at best can go beyond a deism to theism (a God who reveals). We have a good example of the situation in the case of Anthony Flew, for most of his life an ardent proponent of atheism (see Internet under “Anthony Flew”). In 1904, at the age of 81, he changed his mind. In an article published that year Flew states that he has left his long-standing espousal ofatheism by endorsing a deism of the sort that Thomas Jefferson advocated (“While reason, mainly in the form of arguments to design, assures us that there is a God, there is no room either for any supernatural revelation of that God or for any transactions between that God and individual human beings.”). Flew stated that “the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries” and that “the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it”. He also answered in the affirmative to the question, “So of the major theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological, the only really impressive ones that you take to be decisive are the scientific forms of teleology?”. He supported the idea of an Aristotelian God with “the characteristics of power and also intelligence”, stating that the evidence for it was stronger than ever before. He rejects the ideas of an afterlife, of God as the source of good (he explicitly states that God has created “a lot of” evil), and of the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact though he has allowed a short chapter arguing for Christ’s resurrection to be added into his latest book. Flew was particularly hostile to Islam. In a December 2004 interview he said: “I’m thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins”.

The religion of Yahweh, the Lord, God of Israel, through syncretism with Canaanite religion to explicit monotheism. The name of the God of Israel was Yahweh (often represented in Bible translations simply as “the Lord”). In biblical tradition this name was revealed by God to Moses in the desert before the exodus from Egypt. After the Exodus, at Sinai (in some texts at Horeb) Yahweh made a covenant with Israel and gave them the Ten Commandments, the first of which reads (Exodus 20:2-3”: “I am the Lord (Yahweh) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before [or: besides; or: “to rival”, JB] me”. In this commandment Yahweh demands the complete obedience of his people. It is not clear that this implies monotheism, the denial of the very existence of other gods. The question of their non-existence may not have then arisen. King David’s son Solomon built the magnificent Temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem in 996. There Yahweh was enthroned and worshipped by his people. Whatever of the theoretical monotheism, or even henotheism (worship of God alone for Israelites), in practice the gods and goddesses of Canaan were widely worshipped in Israel, at Israelite shrines in high places, at sacred trees and springs. Religion had become syncretistic with the worship of Yahweh and the gods and goddesses of Canaan. That this was so is recorded in the biblical historical and semi-historical narratives (books of Judges, Samuel, Kings) for the period between the settlement in the Promised Land to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 586/5. The Books of Kings praise only two kings for fidelity of Yahwism, and attempted reform. (Hezekiak and Josiah). Josiah (640-609) destroyed the high places and centered worship of Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple, and acted in accordance with a book found in the Temple (probably an early version of Deuteronomy). The contemporary prophet Zephaniah criticized syncretism strongly. Idolatry and false worship had even been practiced in the Temple. The prophet Jeremiah predicted total destruction because of all this. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 and Judah destroyed. The Jews are exiled to Babylon. Despite all this the remnant left behind refuse to abandon their worship of the gods of Canaan. The Jewish men and women who fled to Egypt after the disaster reply as follows to the prophet Jeremiah (New International Version (NIV)

 15 Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah, 16 “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD! 17 We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven [[=Astarte?]] and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. 18 But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” 19 The women added, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes impressed with her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?”

Explicit monotheism formulated and proclaimed to the exiles in Babylon by the prophet known as Deutero-Isaiah (about 540 BC). The Jewish exiles in Babylon, from the human point of view, had little reason to hope for any future. However, with the total disaster, the prophets had been proved right. The gods of Canaan had not saved them. Later in the exile, between 550 and 539 a new unnamed prophet (now named Deutero-Isaiah; Isaiah 40-48) arose, predicting that the God of Israel would humiliate the gods of Babylon, and save his people. With him there emerged an explicit monotheism. Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the one and only God. The gods of other nations, idols, mere nothings. Yahweh has stirred up Cyrus. Yahweh declared: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last, I am he” (Isa 41:4). “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isa 44:6; also Isa 48:12). Together with this explicit monotheism there is a sustained and biting indictment of idols (Isa 40:19-20; 41:6-7, 21-24; 44:9-10; 46:17). A question arises as to whence this explicit monotheism at this point in time: genius? current international ideas revelation? Human genius can hardly explain it, since reason has not been shown to reach knowledge of a personal and revealer God. While Buddhism may have been a contemporary religion, Buddhism is not an ontological, metaphysical religion, with belief in a personal god.  The early Greek philosopher Xenophanes of Colophon (about 55 BC) has a passing reference to the unity of god (which may imply monotheism) but he also has references to many gods. And in any case even if his words imply a certain monotheism, they were personal to himself, without influence on society or later Greek philosophy or thought. There remains the third option, revelation. Deutero-Isaiah is making explicit what was implicit in earlier Jewish religion and in the messages of the prophets, who stood “in the council of the Lord (Yahweh)”.

The Jews and the Christian Church witnesses to monotheism. After Second Isaiah, with the return from Babylon, monotheism was central to Jewish religion. For them the gods of Canaan were no more. The Eternal Father was revealed the world through his Son, Jesus Christ.


Atheism is a feature of the modern western world (in Europe more so than in the USA).It is now making its present felt in Ireland. It has been a feature of Europe and other countries for some time, and this has led to an in depth consideration of the problem by Vatican II, in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), 1965, in its opening chapter on the dignity of the human person. Consideration of the question is preceded by a section on death, and the human person’s innate desire for a life beyond death. Since the question of atheism and its origins and the Church’s response is so well treated in this document I cite it here in extenso.


 (On death)

18. It is in the face of death that the riddle of human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavours of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety; for prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast.

Although the mystery of death utterly beggars the imagination, the Church has been taught by divine revelation and firmly teaches that man has been created by God for a blissful purpose beyond the reach of earthly misery. In addition, that bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned [14] will be vanquished, according to the Christian faith, when man who was ruined by his own doing is restored to wholeness by an almighty and merciful Savoir. For God has called man and still calls him so that with his entire being he might be joined to Him in an endless sharing of a divine life beyond all corruption. Christ won this victory when He rose to life, for by His death He freed man from death.[15] Hence to every thoughtful man a solidly established faith provides the answer to his anxiety about what the future holds for him. At the same time faith gives him the power to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already been snatched away by death; faith arouses the hope that they have found true life with God.


Atheism among the most serious problems of this age

[[The Forms and Roots of Atheism]]

19. The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by God’s love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.

The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. [1] For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. [2] Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. [3] Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth. [4] Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anaemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. [5] Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. [6] Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. [7] Moreover, atheism results rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. [8] Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs.

Undeniably, those who wilfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.


[[Systematic Atheism]]

20. Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desire for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives man freedom to be an end unto himself, the sole artisan and creator of his own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favouring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in man.

Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man’s hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal.

[[The Church’s Attitude toward Atheism]]

Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly.

The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him; but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives. By contrast, when a divine substructure and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.

Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.

The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church’s teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly, [17] to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer’s entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God’s presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel [18] and who prove themselves a sign of unity.

While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God’s temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.

Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”[19]

Atheism in Ireland/Atheist Ireland

See Internet, “Atheist Ireland”(from which some of the information here given is drawn), “Atheist Alliance International”. (Internet links “Atheist Ireland”, “Atheist Alliance International”)

Atheist Ireland is an association of atheists based in the Republic of Ireland. The group was initially founded by members of, an online community which had been set up by Seamus Murnane in 2006. Its current chairperson is writer and activist Michael Nugent. Atheist Ireland is a member of the Atheist Alliance International. The organisation was launched in late 2008 at a public inaugural general meeting in Dublin. In January 2009, Michael Nugent, the elected chairperson of the group, appeared on the radio station Phantom FM to discuss its inception, as well as its aims and objectives.Its motto is the Building a rational, ethical and secular society, free from superstition and supernaturalism. It aims at secularising the Irish Constitution. In its current form the Irish Constitution (Bunreacht na hÉireann)[28] stipulates many preferences for theism over atheism but more specifically for Christian religions over other religions. Throughout the document there are references to God, religious offenses and the Holy Trinity; some act as barriers to public offices and other references restrict the document’s protection of non-Christians. It also aim at universal secular education, with all state-funded schools out of (especially) Catholic Church control. Under the heading of “Secular education” its site notes: “There are approximately 3,300 primary schools in Ireland. The vast majority (92%) are under the patronage of the Catholic Church who state “Catholic schools seek to reflect a distinctive vision of life and a corresponding philosophy of education, based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.and that “Religious education, prayer and worship form an essential part of the curriculum, functioning at its core. Such learning is founded on faith and inspired by wonder at the transcendent mystery of God revealed in the complex beauty of the universe.” A small minority of (1.2%) are under either multi or inter denominational schooling under the patronage of Educate Together. The remainder of the schools are stewarded by other minority religions. This system contrasts to Irelands agreement to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights in which a UN Human Rights Committee drew attention to the Irish Government not upholding: Freedom from Discrimination (Article 2 of the Covenant); Freedom of Conscience (Article 18); the Rights of the Child (Article 24); and Equality before the law (Article 26). In 3rd-5th June 2011 Atheist Alliance International held its international conference in Dublin, with papers from leading worldwide, and Irish (one a senator in Seanad Éireann) (atheist) thinkers.

            Atheism is active in promoting its view of life, of cosmic and human origins, and its secular morality. Its accusations of Christianity among other are that it takes from human autonomy, is against person liberty, imposes laws “from outside” (the Christian ethic). These question, and the Christian reply to them, can help believers “to be prepared to make a defence To any one who calls on you to account for the [Christian] hope that is in you, yet to do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).


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