Practical and Actual Atheists

Pope Benedict on Practical Atheists and Actual Atheists

I realize I spend an inordinately large amount of time writing about Catholicism.  It is not that I have any particular vitriol for that religion.  It is more that the insanity that is uttered by Catholic clergy is almost non-stop blog material.  I suppose we do not need any further proof that the Catholic Clergy can say whatever it wants—regardless of whether or not it makes sense.  In case you do, read on.

Today Pope Benedict stated that “practical atheism” is more dangerous than “actual atheism”.  You can read about this story on the Catholic News Agency website here.  Quotes used in this blog are from that article.  The Pope defines “practical atheists” as people who identify as Christian, but live as if god does not exist.  This is different from us “actual atheists”, in that we are really atheists.

The article states:

“While actual atheists often think deeply about God before rejecting belief, practical atheism “is even more destructive … because it leads to indifference towards faith and the question of God,” the Pope stated.”

I must be honest; I have no idea what he is talking about.  How can the Pope possibly think that indifference, and perhaps indecision, about god is more damaging than outright rejection?  There can be no bigger threat to religion and the god idea than, to use his own words, an “atheists [who has] often think deeply about God before rejecting belief”.  We are not coming back.  We reject deities completely.  You have about zero change of re-converting an atheist who has thought deeply about god and rejected the notion.  There can be no bigger threat to Christianity than that…the more of us there are, the less of them.  It is simple math.

Yet, the “practical atheist” still believes in god.  Christian leaders still have a chance to bring this person back into the fold.  They have not completely rejected the foundation of your religion.  Why are they functioning as “practical atheists”?  Probably because they are upset with some Church teachings, perhaps on same-sex marriage, divorce, abortion, or contraception for example.  They may be upset, but this is hardly more dangerous to you than outright atheism.

The Pope goes to discuss the idea that it is harder to be a Christian since the time of the Enlightenment, because– get this—they now have a burden of proof that didn’t exist before.  (Funny how the Pope gets what most theists I encounter do not).  Before you think the Pope is on the right track here, he then continues to point out that this rising tide of enlightened secularism has led to a moral and spiritual disaster…this from the guy who has had to oversee the world’s largest pedophile ring…

It is because of us actual and practical atheists that people are now ethically confused, which has made it easier to hold, ““an ambiguous conception of freedom, which instead of being liberating ends up binding man to idols,”.  Huh?  No really….huh?

The article is quite long and filled with topics like the ones I discussed above.  Here is what it is missing.  The Pope never states exactly how it is that “practical atheists” are a larger danger to Christianity than “actual atheists”.  I hope he won’t mind, but I am going to give it a go for him.  “Practical atheists” are dangerous to him because they have a much larger voice than “actual atheists” if they choose to use it.  People like me have talking almost nonstop for years about what we view as the faults in Christianity.  The reality is that this affects little change.  If the Pope’s “practical atheists” start doing this, it’s a whole new arena.  Now we would have people criticizing from within.  These are people in the pews or who used to be in pews, but still count as Catholics, demanding change.  This is a much bigger problem for the Church.  Want proof?  Look at how Rome has treaded the LCWR—and they aren’t even “practical atheists”…yet.  Rome can, for the most part, ignore us actual atheists.  They will not have that luxury if the “practical atheists” start speaking.  I have been writing on that for the better part of a year.  Perhaps he and I don’t really disagree on this point after all…other than the fact that I will continue to encourage “practical atheists” to speak up…and perhaps make the very fulfilling move to “actual atheism”.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.


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8 thoughts on “Practical and Actual Atheists

  1. Cephus from Redlands, CA, United States

    Actually, I agree with him on the face of his arguments, that there are a lot of self-identified Christians (and other religions) who don't really believe, they just pretend to believe so they look good to their neighbors, who are probably doing the same thing anyhow. If all of these theists who actually don't buy into any of the religious BS would just be honest and call themselves atheists like they actually are, the percentages in the U.S. would probably reverse, 20% religious, 80% nons.

    Wouldn't that be a great thing?

    1. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

      That would be nice….I think that there are a lot of people on the religious fence right now, and that He should be worried about them. The funny thing is that I would say that most of the things that put these people on the fence, the Church's social teachings, are being doubled down on…

  2. Quattrone from Carmel, IN, United States

    Yeah I agree with the Pope as well. "Practical atheists" are essentially what the hypocrites are. When people claim to be Christians then go around doing very unChristian things, its the people WE point to showing how hypocritical they are. It makes them look bad when in effect like the Pope says, they're not really committed "Christians" at all, they're just going through the motions because of peer pressure or fear or whatever. Sure its damaging.. to THEM. Not to US because they're generally not the ones pushing to outlaw abortion or same sex marriage or stem cell research etc. They're just along for the ride. REAL Christians are damaging to us because its generally they that organize political action groups and identify with a particular party and enact laws that infringe on everyone's freedom.

    So from the Pope's perspective, I don't disagree with him.

  3. hausdorff from Oak Park, MI, United States

    This reminds me of a sermon that the pastor at our church gave when I was growing up relatively close to when I left religion altogether. In fact it may have been the last sermon I ever heard (certain is the last one I remember). The topic was being fired up for Christ, he pastor said that a lot of people luke-warm for Jesus, and that's no good, if you are doing it right you should be on fire for Christ. The idea is you don't want people who come to church out of obligation and then spend the rest of the week acting like those evil atheists. As Quattrone said, it makes the church look bad. You have to remember that from their perspective, you are either being Godly or you are evil, you don't want people pretending to be church-like but acting like heathens. It's a worst of both worlds, people are being evil, and they are also giving the church a bad name, potentially motivating others within the church to also be evil and perhaps keeping new people from joining the church. Makes me think of wolves in sheep's clothing.

    The thing I really remember from the sermon, was at one point the pastor said he doesn't want people on the fence about God, you need to choose one way or the other. He said he'd rather have someone leave entirely rather than be luke-warm. I'm sure the intention was to get people fired up, but my response was "fuck you"

  4. Loren Miller from Bedford, OH, United States

    I think there's one facet of the "practical atheist" which Bennie the Dick fails to mention, though he may have realized it at some level. A practical atheist may be already be disaffected from the religion he or she supposedly subscribes to, but continues to attend church out of ingrained habit. They may have grown apathetic to the doctrine and the dogma but used to the fellowship and society provided by a given parish. The practical atheist may have, even unconsciously, evolved out of the need to please the demands of a petulant god, perhaps because of its representative's insistence that birth control is sin or that women's rights must bow to the dictates of the church. Such people are a handful of steps away from being fully blown atheists, at least in part because the church hasn't kept up with them or bothered to evolve with a changing society.

    What Joe the Rat fails to understand here is that he and his fellows have created the practical atheist by not connecting with their audience, by speaking over their heads or insulting their intelligence or not recognizing the needs of the individual parishioner. This is the product of the church's speaking AT their audience rather than TO them and of indulging in dictates rather than conversations. The denizens of Vatican City think that the world is OBLIGED to listen to them because they have the TRUTH, and they are so in love with this errant concept that they've convinced themselves of it despite the fact that it is becoming increasingly apparent to the world at large that they no more have exclusive claim to the truth than I do.

    It is the absolutism and intransigence of the RC church which has created the very wormwood which Ratzinger complains of, yet I doubt he can bring himself to recognize that it is the very nature of his organization which has given rise to this turn of events. Indeed, they may never come to grips with this fact until the catholic church finally renders itself utterly irrelevant to a world which no longer listens to it.

  5. reasonbeing from Duluth, MN, United States Post author

    "What Joe the Rat fails to understand here is that he and his fellows have created the practical atheist by not connecting with their audience"—exactly–and not only that, they are doubling down on those same issues. In a sense creating an ultimatum for fence-sitters…which is okay with me, some will come our way….


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