Catholic Church must stop dehumanizing atheists by saying we are not fully human

by Michael Nugent on October 4, 2012

The Catholic Church makes a distinction between being human and being fully human, and it does not consider atheists to be fully human. It believes that being fully human requires a relationship with its imaginary God, and that by excluding this from our philosophy we are not fully human. Most of the time they phrase it subtly, by saying that you require religious faith to be fully human, and sometimes they let the mask slip and explicitly say that atheists are not fully human. And most worryingly, they teach this dangerous and arrogant theory of dehumanization to children through the ethos of Catholic schools.

This dangerous arrogance starts at Vatican level. The Catholic Catechism says that man is by nature a religious being, and lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God. Pope Benedict recently said that to truly live up to our being we must recognise that we are dependent on God. And Pope John Paul II said that a culture which rejects God cannot be considered fully human; that spiritual values are ultimately what make us fully human; and that Jesus came to teach us what it means to be fully human.

This dangerous arrogance is spread by Cardinals and Bishops and theologians. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has said that atheists are not fully human because we leave out the search for transcendent meaning that he calls God. Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo has said that we will be fully human when we see the shining face of God. Cardinal Paul Poupard has said that there does not exist a fully human culture that is not open to the dimension of faith;. Bishop Patrick O’Donogue has said that the fundamental needs of the human person can only be truly fulfilled through encounter with the deepest truths about God and the human person.

More disturbingly, this dangerous arrogance is embedded in the principles of Catholic education of children. The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario says its Fully Alive program was created to help Catholic parents teach their children to be fully human. An Archdiocesan Board of Education in Iowa says that a Catholic school’s program must concern itself with the whole child in development that is fully human and thoroughly Catholic. Roncalli Catholic High School in Nebraska says its students become more fully human by becoming more deeply aware of God, self and others. Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Chicago says that it fulfills a person’s right to be fully human. Holy Cross Catholic College in Bury says a Catholic College strives to be fully human. These are only some examples.

I have personally heard two Catholic theologians making this argument, at a conference on religious pluralism in education in Ireland earlier this year. Prof Gavin D’Costa said that atheists are not fully human, and he defended this argument when I challenged him about it. And Dr Nick Van Nieuwenhove said that Catholic education enables a person to become fully human, and used a bizarre analogy of atheists seeing a photograph in two dimensions while Catholics see it in three dimensions.

Ordinary Catholics, and indeed Christians of other denominations, can share this dehumanizing belief, if they hear it being promoted by theologians or priests or ministers who they respect. And it can become a test for evaluating your faith and your natural morality. If you treat other humans as being fully human, on the same basis as you are and would like to be treated yourself, then your natural morality and compassion and empathy are over-ruling the theological arrogance that you have been taught to believe about your friends and neighbors and work colleagues who do not believe in gods.

Whatever theological imaginings the Catholic Church chooses to believe, its spokesmen should not articulate those beliefs by suggesting that atheists are not fully human. They should try to think back about various other ideologies that proclaimed that certain humans were not fully human. That didn’t work out very well for human rights, did it? Or for the dignity of the human person? Or for anything good at all, for that matter. And we should highlight this dangerous arrogance every time that they articulate it. We should make clear that the Catholic Church must stop dehumanizing atheists by saying we are not fully human.

Examples at Vatican Level

  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part One, The Profession of Faith, reads: (27) “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God;” and (44) “Man is by nature and vocation a religious being. Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God.”
  • In 2012, Pope Benedict, in a letter to a Catholic meeting in Rimini, wrote that “every person is created so that he may enter into dialogue with the Infinite… To truly find himself and his identity, to live up to his being, man must turn and recognize that he is a creature, who is dependent on God.”
  • In 1998, Pope John Paul II, in an apostolic message delivered in Croatia, said that “A culture which rejects God cannot be considered fully human, because it excludes from its vision the One who has created man in his own image and likeness, has redeemed him through the work of Christ, and has consecrated him with the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
  • In 1995, Pope John Paul II, in a homily at Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Yonkers, USA, said that when he was addressing the United Nations: “My task is not to speak in purely human terms about merely human values, but in spiritual terms about spiritual values, which are ultimately what make us fully human.”
  • In 1986, Pope John Paul II, in an Angelus statement in Adelaide, Australia, said that “Jesus did not come to lay burdens upon us. He came to teach us what it means to be fully happy and fully human.”

Examples by Cardinals and Bishops

  • In 2009, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor told BBC Radio 4 that atheists are not fully human because we leave out of our philosophy the search for what Cardinal Murphy calls God. This is a transcript of the relevant section of the May 2009 interview:
    Roger Bolton: “A lot of church leaders speaking on national matters sound rather defensive but you’ve gone on the attack because you’ve talked about secularists having an ‘impoverished understanding of what it is to be human.’ They might find that quite offensive, mightn’t they?”
    Cardinal Murphy O’Connor: “I think what I said was true, of course whether a person is atheist or any other…there is in fact, in my view, something not totally human, if they leave out the transcendent. If they leave out an aspect of what I believe everyone was made for, which is, uh, a search for transcendent meaning, we call it God. Now if you say that has no place, then I feel that it is a diminishment of what it is to be a human, because to be human in the sense I believe humanity is directed because made by God, I think if you leave that out then you are not fully human.”
  • In 2007, Bishop Patrick O’Donogue in Lancaster, Britain, wrote under the headline: “The Goal of a Catholic School is the Promotion of the Fully Human Person,” that “The fundamental needs of the human person are the focus of Catholic education… These fundamental needs can only be truly fulfilled through a rich and living encounter with the deepest truths about God and the human person.”
  • In 2005, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, in a homily about the Eucharist at Saint Peter’s Basilica, said: “In the Eucharist we can deepen and improve our understanding of what the human being and the size of the challenge are… Then, at the definitive encounter with God, we will be fully human when we see God, the shining face of God.”
  • In 2002, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, in a presentation to the Congregation for Catholic Education, said: “What Franciscan schools contribute in the apostolate of education is the integration of faith, culture and life. An effort is made to raise the student to a completely human level open to divine grace.”
  • In 2000, Cardinal Paul Poupard, as President of the Pontifical Council of Culture, told a convention in Lvov, Ukraine, that: “I have a dream when Europe will shed its blinkers and open its horizons to a vision that is fully human and Christian… This is the knowledge of the strictest link between faith and culture in the human person. In fact, there is no faith outside the realm of culture, just as there does not exist a fully human culture that is not open to the dimension of faith.”
  • In 1997, Cardinal Paul Poupard, as President of the Pontifical Council of Culture, told the Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for America that: “Evangelizing man also means evangelizing his culture – this culture which is the special way by which mankind – in a given peoples – cultivates its relationship with nature, with other human beings and with God in view of reaching a truly and fully human level.”

Examples in the Education System

  • The Archdiocesan Board of Education in Gilbertville, Iowa, USA, writes in its policy manual for Catholic schools that “Development of a Catholic Christian identity in the students is a basic aim of the Catholic school community… The school’s program must concern itself with the whole child in development that is fully human and thoroughly Catholic.”
  • The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, Canada, writes of its educational program Fully Alive that the program “was created to help Catholic parents teach their children to be fully human… The program always presumes the message of revelation and, when needed, Catholic doctrine and morals are explicitly presented.”
  • Roncalli Catholic High School in Douglas County, Nebraska, USA, says of its educational philosophy: “We at Roncalli Catholic believe that when we strive to follow the life of Jesus Christ, we become more deeply aware of God, self, and others; therefore, we become more fully human.”
  • Pope John Paul II Catholic School in Chicago, Illinois, USA, quotes Pope John Paul II as saying that “the right to education is the right to be fully human” and continues “Following these words of our namesake, Pope John Paul II School provides an exceptional education to fulfill a young person’s right to be fully human, and much more.”
  • Holy Cross Catholic College in Bury, Greater Manchester, Britain, writes that “A Catholic College is a centre of community, life and study which strives to be genuinely and fully human.”
  • At a conference on religious pluralism in education in Ireland earlier this year, Prof Gavin D’Costa of the University of Bristol said that atheists are not fully human, and he defended this argument when I challenged him about it. And Dr Nick Van Nieuwenhove of Mary Immaculate College said that Catholic education enables a person to become fully human, and used an analogy of atheists seeing a photograph in two dimensions while Catholics see it in three dimensions.
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{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arthur Doohan October 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Greetings….and thanks for all the great blogs and hard work…

I am hugely struck by the bemusing notion that the Church considers a foetus to be more human than an atheist….

2 Tony page October 4, 2012 at 7:25 pm

the Catholic Church was instrumental and complicit in the barbaric practice of burning 145,000 old women at the stake! they have the affront to say IM NOT human. #atheism

3 ChrisV October 4, 2012 at 8:06 pm

The RCC must be consigned to the bottom of the metaphysical compost heap where hopefully, in a few millennia, it will somehow provide nourishment to healthier new paradigms.

4 Graham Martin-Royle October 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

So, let me get this straight, being fully human means agreeing to the rape of children and the obstruction of any enquiries into said rapes? Being fully human means stopping two people who are in love from being able to express their love just because they are the same sex? Being fully human means opposing the rights of women to control their own bodies, opposing the rights of poor families to limit the size of their families, opposing the use of condoms to stop the spread of STD’s?

Thankfully I’m not fully human and I intend to stay that way.

5 jason roche October 4, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I think the general atheist community have a bit of a tin ear when it comes to the deeper message behind what the church is saying in these matters. Sure – saying a belief in God is what makes us fully human is arrogance to the extreme however I think there is some truth in the message that we need to fulfill in some way the questions that can’t be answered by science or rational deduction. ‘Why are we born?’, ‘why do we die?’, ‘How do we live our lives?’ all have their empirical answers but can never be answered on an existential level. Being fully human is to address these questions head on. A contemplative and reflective approach to this aspect of our lives is what is required and I find this lacking in a lot of Atheist literature with the exception of Sam Harris. What I think we need to admit is that the church is right on a certain level (although I know most atheists will not be with me on this), that we cannot be fully human unless incorporate this dimension into our lives. Where the church is wrong is to suggest that these answers can be found in the form of a trancendent God – there is nothing that can or should be ‘trancended’ in our experience. That is a distraction from where we need to look which directly at our own experience with an openness to knowing and not knowing. Atheists (and I am one) risk dehumanising themselves if they don’t take this as a crucial facet of what it is to live a full and rewarding life.

6 John Moriarty October 4, 2012 at 8:31 pm

perfectly happy to be not fully human in the eyes of the deluded

7 Sean Russell October 4, 2012 at 8:42 pm

That whole ‘less than human’ argument is exactly what the church used to justify slavery. I will not be enslaved- I will do die free.

I guess this is the kind of thing we should expect from a former(?) nazi like Ratzinger. They thought several races were ‘less than human’ and look how that turned out.

8 Michael Nugent October 4, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Jason, you are giving the Church too much credit there.

Every atheist that I know addresses such questions as ‘Why are we born?’, ‘why do we die?’, ‘How do we live our lives?’ because every human being addresses those questions in some way or another. Religion tries to hijack that human trait and suggest that it is somehow their territory to claim and defend.

Then religions add in their own answers to those questions, and conflate thinking about the questions with arriving at their preferred conclusions, and suggest that the rest of us are not fully human.

9 Rodney October 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Michael, I don’t think it’s exclusively Catholic – the ‘not fully human’ meme is fairly common in other Christian churches. I was quite taken aback when reading a book about the future of religion to find the following sentence: “the ability to be spiritually aware is part of what it means to be human”. I don’t think it means what it sound like – “atheists are subhuman” – at least not for most of those who say it. I think what they are trying to say is that if you don’t have a religious belief you are missing out on an essential part of the human experience. But there’s clearly a sense of self-delusion here, in not respecting the fact that people are different and have different needs. Many people have other kinds of spirituality and lots of decent people see no need for ‘spirituality’ at all.

Of course, it’s a bit rich for the Catholic church to make such a statement when it still claims that homosexuality is ‘objectively disordered’ (a fine Stalinist type of phrase, that) and when it demands its priests and religious take a lifelong vow of celibacy. You could just as well argue that forcing a young man or woman to deny themselves the right to the opportunity of a relationship of sexual intimacy with another person – which is for most people a basic human need – makes them, in effect, less than fully human beings. I don’t think that suggestion would go down at all well, though ….

10 jason roche October 4, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Hi Michael – I truly do not wish to give the church any credit and I agree on your hijacking term. I think in fact this is maybe a clearer way of illustrating the point I’m trying to make. In my experience and in what I read in atheist literature, their seems to be a shying away from addressing or discussing the fact that we all have spiritual needs (I dislike that s word but it must suffice). I think the position you take in your post gets in the way of a more reflective discussion of what is going on here. We cannot rely on science and reason alone to satisfy all of our human needs and that is an aspect of the message that the church is promoting – and they are right whilst being misguided in their conclusions.

11 dana wichmann October 4, 2012 at 10:57 pm

My spiritual needs have always been satisfied quite nicely by enjoying “mother nature” of which I am a part of. Religous thinkers always spoil my joy by reminding me how creepy some “humans” are. I enjoy being a 100% fully human animal.

PS: Beware, I can and will bite when attacked.

12 Michael Nugent October 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm

As Rodney says, if they meant that you were missing out on an experience that is a key part of living a human life, then they would not be promoting clerical celibacy. Instead, they are specifically selecting belief in their imagined god as the essential element to be fully human.

And the experiences that they call spiritual are not exclusive to either them or to belief in their gods. They are intense psychological and emotional experiences caused by neurophysiological processes in our brains. There is nothing supernatural about them.

13 patrick rogen October 5, 2012 at 4:12 am

I think you misinterpret what the Church says about becoming fully human. It is not saying that the atheist is on a lesser order of humanity (or sub-human). Quite the contrary, Church teaching (as I understand it) affirms the dignity of all human persons. The point about becoming “fully human” refers to a fulfillment of man’s telos (or end); it does NOT mean that there is gradations to human nature (or that I am less human than my neighbour Mr. Smith because I don’t believe in a God). So, it’s not a question of essence, but about man actualizing his true end (union with God). Hence, the atheist “falls short” because he denies man’s true end and will not be able to attain the fulfillment thereof. The atheist is still recognized as having the essence of humanity and is in no way on a lesser order of “creation”.
I’m not saying I agree with this view, but I just want to clear up that official church teaching is not what this article claimed it to be.

14 Mary October 5, 2012 at 4:50 am

Oh goodie I must be one of the Hybrid Aliens…..1/2 human,1/2 alien.
= Not Fully Human :o)

15 Mary October 5, 2012 at 4:51 am

(o)

16 John Moriarty October 5, 2012 at 10:03 am

Why is it surprising that one falsehood begets another? Remind me of the old joke with the line “I wouldn’t start from here…”

17 Anna B McCabe October 5, 2012 at 10:58 am

This seems to be a new idea in Catholic teaching. I never came across it in all my Catholic education which was many moons ago. But I don’t feel any less human since becoming an atheist. In fact I feel more human since I am now more concerned with humanity and the here and now rather than believing in the supernatural or an afterlife.

18 Q.E.D October 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Patrick Rogen, I think it understood that the Catlicks are not directly saying “you atheists are subhuman” but they are saying “if you don’t admit to a spiritual dimension and submit to JC as your saviour, you have not fully realized your potential as a human being” that *is* the same as saying “you are inferior to we catholics (who have “”actualized our true end, union with God””.

19 Dave October 5, 2012 at 2:29 pm

The Catholic Church isn’t fully conscious.

20 Mackenzie October 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I went to a Catholic school from preschool through 8th grade. In my experience, they don’t actually teach that to the students. Most of what’s taught in religion class is either Noah’s Ark for the kids or sanitized church history for the students approaching Confirmation age (“what did Martin Luther nail to the door?” “why did Henry VIII leave the Catholic Church?”).

(No, I’m not Catholic anymore. Catholic schools create two things: nun/monk-types and atheists. I left Catholic school as an atheist, though now you’d find I prefer what Carl Sagan (or Delenn in Babylon 5!) said about us all being “star stuff” and the universe all being connected)

21 Anthony October 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Are there then degrees of being “fully human”–one can only be fully human if they accept God and Christ. Hence, the Jew, Muslin, Hindu, etc. are say 3/4 human, but the atheist is only 1/2. Perhaps it would be helpful and amusing if this particular Catholic ideology was pointed out to the ‘other’ religious not fully human among us.

22 Hans van den Bos October 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm

A man called ‘Adolf’ in the last century, talked about ‘untermenschen’ and we all know what he ment with that. If you don’t know, you can ask the man in Rome about him. Adolf was a catholic and a good friend of Rome. The expression non-human means the same in my view as untermenschen (lower human).
At this moment Rome has a good relation with the jewish population and some other christians, so be prepared for the future fellow atheists, we are now the target.

23 Q.E.D October 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Catholic: You atheists are soooo literal minded, all humans are created equal in the eyes of god, there are no “subhumans” in catholic teaching.

Atheist: so what’s with all the “not fully human” language?

Catholic: In our sophisticated Theology TM, human potential is only fully achieved by faith and union with God.

Atheist: yeah, so problem is, I don’t have faith and don’t believe in anything supernatural including JC, his dad and ghost.

Catholic: If you open your heart to Jesus, like me, you will achieve union with God and become fully human.

Atheist: Right, so I’m not “subhuman” but I am not “fully human”.

Catholic: Exactly, but all humans can become “fully human” through Christ.

Atheist: Gotcha, so I am human and you are “fully human”. What’s that Napoleon said in Animal Farm? Oh yeah “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”

Go fuck yourself.

24 Mike October 5, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I understand that they don’t really mean to say others are sub-human. They are saying someone misses out on something they think is essential in a human life when that someone doesn’t believe in god. This is, of course, still rather insulting. Beyond that, here’s the big problem. They are teaching people that atheists are “less than fully human” and no matter what the intention behind it is, you know full well that fundamentalists will use this as an excuse to themselves to see atheists as sub-human. It’s already happening…eating babies, worshiping a cult of death, being demons, etc. Again, the church is putting its foot in its mouth (better than putting other things in their mouth they shouldn’t, I suppose) and opening a doorway they really don’t want to open.

25 Graeme October 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm

They’re phrased it rather unfortunately, but I don’t think the Catholic church mean what you think they mean when they say that non-believers are not fully human. It’s not some kind of Nazi supremacist thing (although, it has been used to that end in the past, notably in South America), it’s more related to the assertion that Jesus made when he said “I come to give life to the full”… that is, to restore humanity into a relationship with God.

If you choose to reject that, fair enough, but saying things like “The Catholic church MUST change it’s mind about this doctrine” is a step too far. What I think they should do, is spend a good deal of time clarifying for their adherents what exactly they mean by it… which I doubt is what happens in reality…

26 Michael Nugent October 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Graeme, I didn’t say that they must change their doctrine, I said that they must stop dehumanizing atheists by saying we are not fully human.

And I elaborated: Whatever theological imaginings the Catholic Church chooses to believe, its spokesmen should not articulate those beliefs by suggesting that atheists are not fully human.

27 Michael Nugent October 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm

To all who are charitably interpreting what the Catholic Church means, I suspect that they would back your interpretation. They would say that they do not mean that atheists are not human, but that we are human but not as fully human as they are.

But this doctrine is cynical and selectively applied. They don’t say that disabled people are human but not fully human. They wouldn’t dare say that Jews are human but not fully human.

They are aware of the message that their language conveys, and they choose to continue using it.

28 Q.E.D October 5, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Graeme,

Since you are so good at parsing “true meaning” TM of otherwise plain English perhaps you can help me understand what Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor really meant when he said atheism is “the greatest of evils”:

“The evil we ask to be delivered from is not essentially the evil of sin, though that is clear, but in the mind of Jesus, it is more importantly a loss of faith. For Jesus, the inability to believe in God and to live by faith is the greatest of evils.”

or what the Bible really means when it calls atheists “abominable” and incapable of good.

“The fool said in his heart: There is no God. They are corrupted, and become abominable in iniquities: there is none that doth good.” – Psalms 53:1

– Q.E.D, subhuman and evil

29 Danny Handelman October 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Dehumanizing those who are “different” seem to be a common practice in attempting to control others, including Nazi Germany and colonizing countries more generally.

30 dana wichmann October 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm

“What the bible really means” means that god evidently can’t express himself properly. You would think a diety would do a better job. God-your fired for incompetency.

31 Jimbo October 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

The first step in committing political, economic, or physical aggression against someone is always making them out to be in some way “less” than you.

32 Kaylen October 5, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Isn’t it convenient that only ‘true’ humans are those that ascribe to the cult that keeps the pope living in the lap of luxury.

33 Simon B October 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Michael, I know it’s distressing when one human being decides they have the right to dehumanize another. However, singling out one body, person, or organisation doesn’t help your cause. This is what it appears to me that you are doing, and please correct me if I’m wrong, by pointing the finger of blame at the Vatican. Surely it would be better to ignore the false accusations and demonstrate your worth as a human being by being as fully human as you can be. By showing the world what you can achieve rather than bemoaning the pain caused by the words of others. And I suspect the best way to show them your humanity is to do what they are supposed to do according to their holy text. Show tolerance of their attitude, forgive them for their misdeeds, and do good to those who hate you. But do it in the name of humanity rather than in the name of any god. That will, hopefully show them the error of their ways.

34 Ciaran October 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Now I know where John Waters gets his bullshit from…

35 Q.E.D October 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm

SImon B is obviously from the Chamberlain-Quisling school of diplomacy

36 Dominick Garden October 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Phew Michael.

I never thought I would be in a position where I felt compelled to defend the Catholic church.
Let’s be clear though. I do not think that people who call themselves atheists are not fully human. That is absurd.
I also think that the God that people who call themselves atheists do not believe in does not exist.

It’s very difficult to define “God” of course. It has long been associated with the ideas of transcendence and immanence – that is God is beyond our human understanding and God is within everything and everything is within God.

What I think a spiritual perspective (let’s not call it religious) can provide is a sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of existence and a heightened awareness of others.

Pope Benedict may rightly be criticised for many things but some things he says are truly thought provoking including the following:

“The strongest proof that we are made in the image and likeness of the Trinity is this: only love can make us happy, because we live in relation to others, we live to love and to be loved. Using an analogy taken from biology we could say that the human beings carry in their ‘genomes’ the profound traces of the Trinity, of God-Love”

[Pope Benedict XVI]

The Pope seems to associate God with Love!

Does Love exist?

I think even those who call themselves atheist would concede that.

Kind Regards

DominickG

37 Michael Nugent October 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Simon, I am not singling the Catholic Church out. Well, I am in this particular post, but I am not generally, as you will see from other posts on this website.

I think it is important to both act by example and also highlight harmful behaviour by others. Neither on their own will be as effective as both together in bring about positive change.

38 Michael Nugent October 5, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Dominick, I’m not sure why you start by saying you are defending the Catholic Church when your next line is to agree with the criticism that I am making of it.

I agree with you about the difficulty of discussing the word God when it has at least two very different meanings. In your blog you call them the cosmic god and the social god, so I’ll use that terminology here even though my definitions would be somewhat different to yours.

Your cosmic god sounds like a placeholder name for whatever is responsible for the wonder of the universe. Your social god sounds like the god that is a moral guide. But the problem is that there is no route from the first god to the second god, other than personal preference.

You can end up defining this god as being love, but then you don’t need the idea of the god. You can just talk about love being good, and you would find most atheists and theists agreeing with this.

Similarly, where you say: “What I think a spiritual perspective (let’s not call it religious) can provide is a sense of awe and wonder at the miracle of existence and a heightened awareness of others,” I would simply say “What I think that our brains and our consciousness can naturally provide is a sense of awe and wonder at the fact of existence and a heightened awareness of others.”

I’m afraid I don’t find the quote from Benedict at all thought-provoking. That’s not because I am not interested in reading Catholic theology, but because I have read so much of it. If I get time later I will address it in more detail.

39 Chris October 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm

How can one “live freely in a bond with god”? You either live free OR in a bond, this statement alone contradicts itself.

Then again, why would you care that Christians think of yourself as a human being? I for my part couldn’t care less what those medieval believers think of me.

40 Robert Armstrong October 5, 2012 at 9:03 pm

This kind of discrimination hit home many years ago for us, when my daughter was bullied by a number of Jewish and Catholic school mates when they realised she didn’t believe in an imaginary “god-like” friend. These were good friends of hers for years, but when they told their parents about her lack of belief in a “god”, they were instructed not to hang out with her anymore because she was “evil”. How can any 6 year old be evil? And these children amp’d up the discrimination instilled and supported by their parents through bullying and disassociation. It’s one of the many reasons why I will continue to challenge the idea that a person’s relgious beliefs in this wide spread dilusion called “god” has no negative impact me or society, when in fact it does.

41 dana wichmann October 5, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I have heard so often from religous people; “I am 100% sure that god exists”. Then I must ask them then why do they need faith?
Where the bible goes wrong is “In the begining….”

Michael, I’m sorry for going off the subject at hand and using your site to simply make anti-religon statements but I am 59 years old and have been suffering the pain inflicted on me by the catholic church since I was six. As atheists we know that a human is a human period. All the rest is simply politics to gain power over someone.

human period. Humans who don’t act as we believe they should

42 dana wichmann October 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Sorry…Humans who don’t “act” human usually have a brain disorder. This disordered brain can come from being bullied and or brain washing when we are young children. Shame on you religonists, shame on you.

43 Dominick Garden October 5, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Michael.

I am impressed. You are perceptive.
But when you say there is no route from the social God to the cosmic God, I disagree. For the ancient Greek philosophers there was a route – the Logos was that unifying – cosmic – principle that ran through all things and resulted in cosmic harmony.

For the gospel writers, Jesus Christ was the personification of the Logos – the divine reason.

Of course, our world view these days is different. We tend to always see things through “rational” eyes with a subject (ourselves) and an object (that which we’re interpreting / judging?). I believe it is unhealthy to always see the world this way because it puts too much emphasis on the self.

At the heart of Christianity certainly but I’m sure at the heart of other religions too is a desire to reduce the sometime destructive expression of the ego. Maybe this is what those Catholic theologians are trying to say.

My objections are to your initial statement:

“The Catholic Church makes a distinction between being human and being fully human, and it does not consider atheists to be fully human.”

I do regard myself as a Catholic and I can assure you that this is not an article of faith for Catholics, it is not a position I am aware of any Catholic I know sharing and it is not something I have ever heard preached from the pulpit.

Nevertheless, you are right in at least two examples and I was too hasty. The claim that those who call themselves atheists are not fully human is ludicrous, untrue, unhelpful and plain wrong. It is a claim made, I believe, in two of your examples. I do not believe that it represents the official position of the Catholic church.

Regards

DominickG

44 Graeme October 6, 2012 at 7:56 am

Michael said,

“They are aware of the message that their language conveys, and they choose to continue using it.”

I think you’ve hit on it there.

Q.E.D said (quoting Psalm 14/53)

“The fool said in his heart: There is no God. They are corrupted, and become abominable in iniquities: there is none that doth good.”

I’ve heard this used by Christians as an attack on atheists that they are inherently morally corrupt or whatever. That seems to me like using scripture as a bludgeon or in a hypocritically self-serving manner to make yourself feel better than someone else. The thing is, we have modern atheists who are HONESTLY UNABLE to believe in God because their reason does not allow it. I don’t think the Psalm is referring to them, because there would have been few such people around when it was written. It’s more likely that it refers to the morally bankrupt “fools” found in the first few chapters of Proverbs, who believe they can act as they wish, because they do not fear judgement.

Modern atheists often have a very heightened sense of morality since they spend long hours reflecting upon it. Their morality is not based on divine mandate, but is more humanistic (try to make as many people as possible as happy as possible). There’s some academic problems with that approach, but suffice to say it’s the best one available if you don’t believe in God.

So, if another Christian tries to call you a fool, tell them Graeme says to think a bit harder.

45 Amy October 7, 2012 at 1:45 am

Although Catholic schools are still running throughout the world, I don’t believe they’re making much of a diffidence in the mind of a young person. We are becoming much more liberal than our counterparts 20-30 years ago. I’m a student at an All-Girls Catholic school in Ireland and although the school is based on a Catholic ethos, the students are far from what you’d call religious. There are same-sex couples and no one gives a s**t about it. Love is love. They condemn the use of condoms, yet when another girl walks in through the doors pregnant, they frown upon it.

Young people are becoming a lot more liberal and free minded. We don’t conform to these outrageous ‘rules’ trying to govern and dictate every action we take. I can speak from experience. When people ask me what religion I follow I simply say that I don’t have one. They seem to be so defensive about their ‘God’ but cannot answer any of the questions I ask them. And they don’t understand the difference and definitions of religious and spiritual.

46 Bryan Elliott October 7, 2012 at 5:15 am

That’s fine.

I mean, if I’m going to label something to be uniquely human, it’s our ability to reason skeptically, analyze methodologically, and think clearly. I’ll let the Catholics work out the consequences of that, but I think I’ll be disappointed: the Dunning-Kruger effect is a bitch.

47 Mark October 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Ex-catholic here. In the context of what the Church believes, that makes perfect sense. If God made humans then belief in God is an essential part of being human. This is a natural conclusion if you believe and take Catholicism seriously.

Why would any atheist take offense to this? Do you get upset when people make assertions based on other make-believe ideas?

48 Q.E.D October 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Mark,

Belief in things that aren’t true don’t exist in a vacuum. People who believe untrue things act on those beliefs.

Can you think of historical examples of one religion/ethnicity/religion dehumanizing other people, discriminating against them, murdering them, committing genocide against them – based on “make-believe ideas”?

Of course you can. That’s why when one sees it happen one has to call it out immediately, denounce it and make it clear that it won’t be tolerated.

Particularly when the institution perpetrating the dehumanizing has the history the catholic church has.

49 Patrick October 14, 2012 at 11:25 pm

I wonder if religous pedophiles are more human because of there faith?

50 Concernedresident October 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Patrick, paedophiles are good Catholics so long as they are repentant and seek confession. Same goes for murderers, rapists and pretty anyone who avoids blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Catholics are not alone in this, as evidenced by the Evangelical practices. Unfortunately I find myself, a reasonably considerate guy who has never commited such crimes, condemned to eternal suffering for my inability to believe. Of course there are flavours of Christianity that will allow me a chance to accept Jesus when I die and come face to face with him. However, if his dad is anything like the Biblical monster, I hope I’d have the integrity to politely decline to accept a place in his eternal circle-jerk.

51 dana wichmann October 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

What of a cosmic god=science, (what is is and the persuit of knowing what is is.). Vs Social god=superstition and the dogma from it, (for what ever reason good or bad what is is is created in the minds of humans).

PS This post is from my mind(brain) inspired by my muse(free thought)

52 Rodney October 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Prompted by this, I’ve written a blogpost on the subject: Are atheists ‘fully human’?
http://www.lifeasithappens.com/blog/?p=321

53 Marlon January 11, 2013 at 6:56 am

Part of Human nature is to be ignorant, fearful, and backward, grovelling at the feet of some imaginary deity(s). That’s the world our primitive ancestors knew. So yes, the religious can go ahead and consider themselves fully Human.
Atheism represents a key breakthrough in human psychology and thinking. We may be physiologically the same species, but atheists sure as hell seem more evolved than dumb mainstream humanity, at least on an intellectual or psychological level to me.
Be proud to be beyond human.

54 John Moriarty February 2, 2013 at 12:17 pm

We could all play the ‘not fully human’ card, given that any philosophy of value is supposed to be about attaining full humanity. All you then need is some modicum of indispensability, something religions are fairly good at?
I wonder if I am fully human sometimes…or was it you 😉 ?

55 Patrick February 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Is it fully human to cover the tracks of child molesters? Should we question the churches moral authority when they cannot even follow there own haphazard rules. “Render unto Ceaser that which is Ceasars, render unto the lord that which is the lords.” Even there own words convict them. That the church knew about pedophiles all along, there is no doubt, did they call the law like they should have? No they covered it up. I will never understand how the catholic church didn’t get run out of town on a rail, in Ireland, after what went on there.
It is my most fervent wish that it crumbles and dies in the land of my ancestors, replaced by a secular Ireland where all men are created equal. Religion is bullshit plain and simple!

56 Mary February 7, 2013 at 3:24 am

UBUNTU = I am who I am because of who we all are, the essence of what
It means to be human. African Philosophy. UBUNTU to all the human race. Mary

57 Barry April 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm

You must be out of mind making such statements and demands.
Hitler was AGAINST JEWS AND CATHOLICS.
Have you ever reviewed the statistics of concentrations camps.
Why the Supreme Rabbi of Rome became Catholic immediately after WWII?
Do you know that in Hitler’s and Stalin’s entourage were MOSTLY
aggressive atheists?
May I suggest you get some facts strait.
Although I am Jewish and agnostic , I know the history and current status of Christianity well.

58 Bryan Elliott April 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm

> Hitler was AGAINST JEWS AND CATHOLICS.

Not explicitly catholics. The Nazi party was politically aligned not just with Fascist Italy, but with the Holy See.

The catholics killed may number around 5,000 – tiny compared to the millions of murdered jews. It doesn’t even stand up to the 10,000 or so Jehova’s Witnesses killed.

Hitler was against anyone who spoke out against him – which many catholic clergy did. And the vatican’s position was complex to say the least – but Nazi Germany was not expressly anti-catholic.

59 ROBERTL QUETZALCOATL May 21, 2013 at 1:34 am

FAITH IS BONDAGE
TO IGNORANCE

60 Sarolta Tatar October 1, 2015 at 10:37 pm

I have never heard a Catholic claim that atheists are not fully human. You are gravely misinformed, no wonder that these discussions get so much out of hand. Someone has misunderstood something somewhere. The theological argument is that godliness fulfills human potential. It is based on Aristotelian concepts of potential and actuality. These are metaphysical concepts and have nothing to do with the basic, existential concept of being human, which is the unity of a body with an immortal soul. Actually, the Catholic Church teaches that death ultimately tears full human existence apart, and that resurrection reunites the two parts of being human, creating a full human being again, Every person alive is a full human being, regardless of wether their potentiality has been actualized or not.
All of this is indeed standard Catholic teaching, but it is gravely misrepresented here. These teachings stem in metaphysical arguments that are more than 2000 years old, beginning with pagan philosophy. Metaphysics was dismissed as a valid inquiry and method by the Positivists, Marxists and early Analytics. Their understanding of what consitutes a human being is materialistic, biological and scientifically categorical. That means, that there is a fundamental miscommunication here. Recently, Analytic philosophy and other schools have taken up metaphysics again, either as a method or by re-examining its basic problems. Turns out that astrophysics make no sense if metaphysical methodology is not applied to understand such concepts as “natural law”. I hope that this will lead to a “re-understanding” (for lack of a better word) of what metaphysics had to say about anthropology. It may not be accepted as valid, but many of these discussions would change, if non-religious critics understood some concepts at work.

61 Michael Nugent October 1, 2015 at 11:51 pm

Sarolta, you begin by saying: “I have never heard a Catholic claim that atheists are not fully human.”

I have given examples of this direct phrase being used by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on BBC Radio, and two Catholic theologians at a conference I attended, and examples of phrases that have this necessary implication.

Whatever your interpretation of theology, which of course is not how most people understand being human, and whatever theological imaginings the Catholic Church chooses to believe, its spokesmen should not articulate those beliefs by suggesting that atheists are not fully human.

Do you agree?

62 Sarolta Tatar October 2, 2015 at 8:50 am

I checked your article again: I have not heard the radio quote or the other quotes you refer to. Possibly, someone made very simplified statements articulated in an unfortunate manner. It is easy both to misquote a media quote and to oversimplify your message to reach the masses. If these people really formulated themselves in such a simplistic manner, then they miscommunicatef their message. That atheists or any other human being alive should not be fully human, is not official Catholic theology, and cannot possibly become that. The Catholic Church opposes both abortion and euthanasia, on the grounds that any human being still breathing is fully human, regardless of how functional they are mentally or physically. These Aristotelian principles play a part in that argumentation as well. Aristotelianism has been “married” to Biblical interpretation for at least a 1000 years, and before that, Platonism was used in the same manner. Thank you for pointing out these discrepancies, perhaps it will inspire Catholic leaders to not undervalue their audience.

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