Sunday, 4 October 2009

Dawkins beware!

John Henry Cardinal Newman (painting by W. W. Ouless, 1879)

THOUGH it cannot be denied that at the present day, in consequence of the close juxtaposition and intercourse of men of all religions, there is a considerable danger of the subtle, silent, unconscious perversion and corruption of Catholic intellects, who as yet profess, and sincerely profess, their submission to the authority of Revelation, still that danger is far inferior to what it was in one portion of the middle ages. Nay, contrasting the two periods together, we may even say, that in this very point they differ, that, in the medieval, since Catholicism was then the sole religion recognized in Christendom, unbelief necessarily made its advances under the language and the guise of faith; whereas in the present, when universal toleration prevails, and it is open to assail revealed truth (whether Scripture or Tradition, the Fathers or the "Sense of the faithful"), unbelief in consequence throws off the mask, and takes up a position over against us in citadels of its own, and confronts us in the broad light and with a direct assault. And I have no hesitation in saying ... that I prefer to live in an age when the fight is in the day, not in the twilight; and think it a gain to be speared by a foe, rather than to be stabbed by a friend.

I do not, then, repine at all at the open development of unbelief ... or at its growing audacity in England. There will be, I say, in spite of you, unbelief and immorality to the end of the world, and you must be prepared for immorality more odious, and unbelief more astute, more subtle, more bitter, and more resentful, in proportion as it is obliged to dissemble.

It is one great advantage of an age in which unbelief speaks out, that Faith can speak out too; that, if falsehood assails Truth, Truth can assail falsehood....Truth can entrench itself carefully, and define its own profession severely, and display its colours unequivocally, by occasion of that very unbelief which so shamelessly vaunts itself. And a kindred advantage to this is the confidence which, in such an age, we can place in all who are around us, so that we need look for no foes but those who are in the enemy's camp.

J H Newman "The Idea of a University"

This passage from the Ven (soon to be Blessed) John Henry seems very apt as a commentary on the neo-atheists such as Richard Dawkins who atheism is "more astute, more subtle, more bitter, and more resentful" than the fairy stories attack of yesteryear. But of course, then as now, some of Christianitys' most fervent defenders are its' most unlovely. Creationists with placards who are Pro Life (but anti everything else). Why, when I see our noisiest advocates in action, does an old Latin tag from by Higher studies of Virgil's Aeneid spring to mind? "Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis tempus eget"; "Not such aid nor such defenders does the time require".

What defence does the Christian faith require? Rants about the inerrancy of Scripture? Perennial looking back to a mythic Golden age of Christian virtue? Or a reasoned, balanced defence of what is good and positive, coupled with an honest acknowledgement of the failure of its proponents over the centuries? After all, the millions who died in the Gulags of militant atheism in Soviet Russia and Mao's China scarcely give a huge amount of moral high ground to Prof Dawkins and company. He is a distinguished philospher, his support of the apology from HMG for the treatment of Alan Turing is commendable. And he had the good sense (and good luck) to marry Dr Who's raciest assistant Leela (Rose Tyler is a nice girl, but not "racy" with a hunting knife and a bikini)! But he has a quite big bee in his bonnet about theism. Richard, we know your are an atheist, we're happy for you. Don't bug us and we won't bug you. Live and let live man!

The best defence Christianity can have - its finest apologia - is transfigured grace filled men and women who live a life of service and love to their fellow mortals and who worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Or as I quoted the other day: "The real evidence is not practically speaking in scholarship but in how Jesus and the Christianity based on him manifest themselves in the lives of practising Christians. Their lives are the proofs of their beliefs." Lionel Blue

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