The Post-Christian Atheist
by William Hopper,
author of The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions
The Church’s edict condemning Galileo’s model of the solar system is often quoted to show the folly of the Roman Catholic Church. What most atheists fail to quote, though, is the explanation for this edict, offered Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542 –1621):
“If there were a real proof… we should proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should say that we did not understand them. But I do not think there is any such proof. “
Herein lies the history of the Church. The dogma and canon are not born of serene moments of purity and insight, but from a long history of committees that react poorly to challenge. But it is also a history of a few calm voices— like that of Cardinal Bellarimo— that have firmly but quietly offered sensible, measured opinions. The problem is that the frenetic voices of the fanatics is always louder than common sense. This was true at the Nicene Council in 325, it was true with Galileo in 1616, and it is equally true today. Historically, the great doctrines of Catholicism were not born of divine guidance, but wrought from angry debate, cruel accusations, and summary execution.
For a very long time the laity were only told the dogma and canon that came out of these debates. Few, if any, were privy to how the institution they had sworn their lives to was formed. It is only in the last century that many dusty tomes that no one had paid attention to have been cracked open, and their contents finally proliferated. For the first time average people are now able to see and read the real reasons for the laws that have governed them, and the darker history that contributed to the creation of The Holy Roman Catholic Church.
For the faithful, it is a tale of how the Word of God endured centuries of scandal and sheer stupidity, remaining intact despite the fallible and corrupt hands to which it was entrusted. For many, though, the real tale of what has been created from the simple origins of Christianity is more than just a dark spot. It calls into question the heart and soul of the faith, and the motivations of those who still control it.
For many years atheists have been portrayed as angry rebels out to destroy authority. But this is a new era. A new time. Those who have always had doubts about the veracity of religious claims now have very real, very solid reasons for asking what the truth really is. Instead of screaming “There is no God!”, the modern atheist is now asking “What’s real?” How much of what we have been spoon-fed from on high has been actual Gospel and how much is politically-motivated subterfuge?
These are questions that each person must answer on their own. But before they can do so, they have to know the full story of the faiths they hope to understand. Not just the clean, holy versions of history that they teach in catechism classes and synagogues. This is why I wrote The Heathen’s Guide to World Religions. Regardless of how devout a person is, they need to know the real history of a faith before they can say they believe it. They need to know about the human greed, avarice, lust, and insanity that have contributed to the creation of all religions. From there, they can take the facts they find and ask their priest, rabbi, or imam to justify or explain it all.
For those with blind faith, I have no doubt that they will find something in the words of a cleric to allay the worries that history introduces. For others, the questions will remain. But at least they will be informed.