Sunday, April 8, 2012
As I was preparing for the Easter Triduum, I happened to come across an article in a Catholic diocesan paper reporting on the “Reason Rally” held in Washington, D.C. on March 24. [More here] A principal speaker was the well-known Oxford don Richard Dawkins. Having read and learned more about the rally, I was intrigued to see that the critique of religion, especially Catholicism, was not really based on reason or fact but on mocking disbelief. Dawkins encouraged his audience to attack Catholics, not by rational argument, but by mocking and ridiculing them—us—in public.
He encouraged atheists to be public in their own identity—I was not aware of them being prevented or prohibited from this—for the sake of a more openly secular society. I wonder, though, if his proposal would encounter opposition from those sectors of society who might claim that he is imposing his belief, and therefore a kind of secular religion. But that is not why I write today.
I do write because of his mockery and ridicule of Catholics, for this is what happened to Christ himself. In Saint John’s Gospel, Pilate and Jesus at the trial discuss truth. Pilate was skeptical in great fashion when he asked: “What is truth?” Ironically, the very university where Professor Dawkins has labored for many years was founded by our predecessors whom he mocks and ridicules. Dawkins does not see that they were in pursuit of the truth he claims to accept; moreover, he does not understand that they were also in pursuit of a truth beyond the one that he accepts.
Perhaps one day, Professor Dawkins and an appropriate representative of the Church might engage one another in a spirited debate about truth. Some years ago in 1948, Betrand Russell and Father Frederick Coppleston did just that over the BBC radio.
What we can take from the Dawkins “Reason Rally” this Easter day is this: rather than taking the bait of Dawkins’s torment and responding with our own, unbecoming scorn, how can we of the Church better explain what it is we believe and why we believe what we do—with reason? Our Lord was able to do that with those who scoffed at him. With his help, might we do the same? It takes something more than any human person has, but this something can be ours with God’s help and the temperament of His Son.