Professor Dawkins probably exists

THERE IS PROBABLY NO GOD.
NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY LIFE.
This encouraging message is now appearing on London buses, and will be extended to a further 600 buses in the provinces. The secular humanist campaign strongly supported by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association is reported as having raised £140,000 since October.

It is a strange message, given that secular humanists vigorously base their case on the purity of empirically established truth. Many recent studies have shown that actively religious people tend to be happier, to worry less and to have a longer life expectancy than the average.

Does the condition known as “Catholic guilt” still exist? It used to be spoken about much but, in my experience guilt, (by which I mean a general disposition rather than facing up to our actual failings) seems be a pretty widespread condition of humanity. I hardly ever hear the phrase “Catholic guilt” used nowadays. Am I right? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

(Just a little reminder of those happy times.

From Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History, by Charles E. Curran, 2008 – with some elision, for brevity.

“ In everyday Catholic teaching, e.g., Fr Gerald Kelly SJ, Modern Youth and Chastity,1941, all sins of impurity, even internal sins of consenting to slight sexual arousal, are always mortal sins.”

No wonder we crossed roads carefully in those days.)

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Church and Society, Moral judgment. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Professor Dawkins probably exists

  1. Red Maria says:

    The one thing which makes me unhappy is that you’ve cited something – anything – by the repulsive Charles Curran.

    Does such a fing as Cafflick guilt exist? Dunno but if it does Curran should be weighed down wiv it, in my ‘umble, totally objective opinion anway.

  2. Luckily Red Maria has a sense of humour, or she wouldn’t have got away with calling Fr Curran (or anyone else) “repulsive” on this blog. Some of his ideas may repel her but perhaps she could take the discussion further by giving her reasons. In this particular instance he was making an historical statement, which is easily checkable.

  3. Fariam says:

    I am unnerved by this campaign, not for myself, but because of the people who will be duped by it… people who are uninformed with regard to the Catholic church, religion, history, philosophy, science, etc., and take the words of people like Richard Dawkins as “gospel”, never questionoing, just assuming that everything he says is true because he says it.

    I am also concerned because I see this campaign as a deliberate “virus” attack, according to Richard Dawkin´s own definition of memes, and his understanding of religion as a virus… I am also concerned because it is a higly financed and concerted attack. Just pay a quick visit to Richard Dawkins – Myspace site to see that: complete (sales) propaganda!

    Regarding feelings of guilt, I think we need a healthy dose of it, perhaps then more people might find the courage to re-examine their lives, confront their mistakes and failings, and do something about addressing them. In the long run, a little healthy guilt can save a lot of longterm pain.

  4. catherine says:

    One criticism of religion is that it makes us less human rather than helping us to become ‘fully’ human i.e. mature. A comment by a parishioner about a parish priest may illustrate this: “He is a very religious but also very human”. The ‘but’ is very interesting and worth exploring. It is as though religion negates being fully human. I think this is how many people, religious as well as non religious unconsciously view religion. I think the Catholic Church needs to show a greater understanding of the human person. People who are religious seem very good at understanding God but don’t seem to understand their own, and others, humanity.

  5. Horace says:

    My first thought on reading this note was – “Gosh, they must be desperate!”
    It reminds me of the story about the elderly lady at the cigarette counter of the Supermarket; she looks at the display and says “Oh, how nice of them they have put it in large letters so that I can read it easily – – 60 cigarettes please.”

    Re: Fr Gerald Kelly SJ (Charles Curran) – I was at a Jesuit school at the time and we certainly were never taught anything of the sort! In fact I can’t remember much, if anything, of teaching on this subject. Sex was to do with getting married and bringing up a family and at our age we weren’t particularly interested! I do remember one remark though “God made sex pleasurable because otherwise people would never bother having children!”

    Catholic guilt!
    My favourite G K Chesterton quotation :-
    “Where’er the Catholic sun doth shine
    There’s always laughter and good red wine
    At least I”ve always found it so
    Benedicamus Domino!”

  6. Horace says:

    Sorry it was Hilaire Belloc!

  7. Frank says:

    I think the quote that Horace ascribes to GKC is actually by Hilaire Belloc.

    To Catherine I would say that the Church is where people become fully human; it is the secular world which reduces us all to higher primates. I understand the distinction people make: but that is a misunderstanding of ‘human’ and ‘religious’. The parishioner meant that the pp enjoyed a pint or a game of cards – but why should he not? If we think ‘religion’ is just for church we risk a kind of schizophrenia which is psychologically very dangerous.

    I agree with Clifford Longley’s point in today’s Herald: all the evidence points to God’s existence not the opposite. Why isn’t there a campaign to raise enough money to put another advert on the buses: “There probably isn’t anyone as silly or patronising as a certain Oxford scientist. Now stop worrying about his fatuosities and enjoy life.”

    I think Catholic guilt is an invention of ex-convent schoolgirls who want to raise a little ready cash from the media.

    Of course Charles Curran isn’t repulsive; it merely lowers usual elevated tone of the blog to mention his name…

  8. chauffer says:

    It’s quite easy to grow a bit lazy about informing an opinion when a controversy such as this arises and just wait for the Catholic editorials, commentaries or a sermon to duly present a pithy insight or two and then it’s on to the next news item, if time permits in the ‘information age’.

    My first impression though was ‘What a concession!’ given that Richard Dawkins seems to be some sort of patron. Whereas a lot of evangelical Christians may welcome the free publicity and scope for debate.

    ‘Freethinkers’ that actually live up to the moniker are really fundamentalists who are unable to acknowledge existence beyond certain scientific boundaries and the majority are probably too young to have had all that much time to think and reflect.

    Similarly, ‘Catholic guilt’ is not an expression that really means much because the charge usually stems from those that have no comprehension (at a given point in their lives) of spiritual awareness or restraint in the face of some form of temptation.

    Or maybe it’s just a recalcitrant approach to human failure which serves to deflect self-reproach?

    A more acurate term is surely needed because so much of society has grown rather miserable for having thrown off the religious ‘shackles’ of earlier generations.

  9. chauffer says:

    oops… (Para 3: ‘Freethinkers’ rarely live up to the moniker and are…)

  10. Iona says:

    As regards Catholic guilt, I remember having a discussion about the nature of guilt (as one does) with a group of friends/colleagues (one of them suggesting that it was the result of a mismatch between how one sees oneself, e.g. as a good father, and a specific action, e.g. crossing a road with one’s small child and omitting to take him/her by the hand. – but that is by the way). Later on, the discussion having turned to other things, somebody referred to my being a catholic. One of the group turned to me with interest tinged with awe; “You’re a CATHOLIC?” he said, “you must have wonderful guilt!”

    I had to explain that I couldn’t oblige him, as I was a convert).

    As regards Frank’s suggestion of a reply campaign to Richard Dawkins’s atheist buses, maybe Quentin would like to use the Herald’s pages to request short, pithy suggestions countering Dawkins’s advertisment, suitable for the side of a bus.

  11. claret says:

    Personally I find the campaign amusing. Nothing like ‘hedging your bets just to be on the safe side!’
    I think most other Christians are similarly nonplussed about it. I read somewhere that the Methodists have even contributed cash to it on the basis that anything that gets people talking about God can only be a good thing.
    I really can’t see anyone being influenced by it, one way or another, to make them alter where they stood before they saw the slogan.
    On a more sisnister level , it is surely aimed at Christians as opposed to jews or Muslims. Would anyone in authority have sanctioned something like ‘There is probably no Allah, so he cannot have had any prophets,’ to be printed on buses no matter how much was paid?
    One small point on Catholic guilt. I see that they ( the anti catholic types,) managed to include the phrase in the film Mamma Mia. Spoken by julie walters who in real life had a convent education where she was , so she claims, with a smile, regularly beaten.

  12. catherine says:

    Re Catholic guilt I think it is a good thing it is not heard of, in Catholic circles anyway, non RCs still believe it exists. A non RC friend thinks RCs live miserable lives, afraid to enjoy themselves (so the Belloc quotation is very helpful!). From a personal perspective I know someone who is still completely consumed by guilt because her marriage collapsed over 40 years ago (such a thing is not supposed to happen to a Catholic). She has been divorced longer than she has been married and yet she still cannot forgive herself and so cannot move on.To feel guilt seems pointless.

  13. I agree with Catherine. Perhaps I will do a column on guilt one day. Meanwhile, her friend has a psychological condition, which happens to be centred on a religious issue. I would recommend a cognitive behavioural therapist. Doesn’t have to be a Catholic, but a Catholic one might be more satisfactory. If her GP can’t recommend one, I suggest she speaks to Marriage Care at http://www.marriagecare.org.uk/.
    Cognitive behavioural therapy is very straightforward, and very effective.

  14. tim says:

    I’m not sure if this is on topic, but suppose, in the advertisement, “God” were to be substituted by “Global Warming”. Think of the outcry!

  15. tim says:

    Rather more on topic, it’s always said there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Shouldn’t we welcome the raising of the issue? Much more dangerous is the widespread assumption among non-believers that anyone who believes in God is loopy, but “you can’t argue with them” (the last refuge of the closed mind).

    We should not let this opportunity pass Until now, the advertising authority (or, if I’m overestimating their powers, public opinion) would probably have rejected any pro-God advertising as not quite the thing. But now, we have the right of reply – anyone got £140,000 to spare?

  16. Daisy says:

    I was a convert as a young woman, and educated in a good private school where a C of E culture was taken for granted. I can assure you that we imbibed a quite sufficient attitude about the dangers of sex (though very little knowledge of what sex meant) to give me quite enough guilt to keep me going. In fact it took me a long time to get rid of inappropriate inhibitions. But becoming a Catholic helped me rather than hindered.

  17. Posted on behalf of Harwool

    Because sometimes people with an active religious belief are unhappy it does not mean that it is their relligious belief that makes them unhappy, but perhaps when we look at the confusion of those who have no religious belief we should be unhappy

  18. Iona says:

    People have carried out surveys on lifestyles associated with “happiness”, and have found that religious people (or at any rate, churchgoers) appear to be happier and to have fewer mental health problems than non-churchgoers. So – if anyone has that £140,000 to spare – how about a picture of a group of people standing in a church doorway, smiling broadly and saying “we ARE enjoying our lives, and we stopped worrying years ago!”

  19. JohnBunting says:

    I’m a bit late with this, but a good bus slogan might be:
    “In the sight of God, you are unique: just like everyone else!”

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