Getting the names right

Via Ron Lindsay at CFI blogs, Leah Libresco posts about “A new forum for Catholic/atheist dialogue.” 

Brandon Vogt, author of The Church and New Media has opened a new site called Strange Notions, that’s meant to be a forum for debate and discussion between Catholics and atheists.  For some reason, it seemed like the readers of this blog might be interested.  Here’s how Brandon describes the site (and explains the name): is designed to be the central place of dialogue between Catholics and atheists. The implicit goal is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism. As a ‘digital Areopagus’, the site includes intelligent articles, compelling video, and rich discussion throughout its comment boxes.

Ahhh no. As Ron points out, that’s not dialogue. “Dialogue” is very much the wrong word for that. If you have a goal, and the goal is to “bring” people to something, and that something is “faith” – then what you’re engaging in is not dialogue but a mission.

But calling it a mission would make the goal too explicit, wouldn’t it, and Vogt says the goal is implicit. (It’s nice of him to make it explicit by putting it in writing though.)

Libresco gives a sample of an article of hers at Strange Notions.

What will happen after I convert?
I would say that the terrifying and wonderful thing is that you’re in direct, personal contact with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Every moment of wonder you’ve experienced as the resolution chord booms in a symphony, every moment of humble awe as a stranger or friend went out of their way to show you love (or every moment of surprise as you discovered the depths of love you were capable of giving), and every moment you felt the sudden relief of pieces falling into place (whether doing a puzzle, writing a math proof, or reaching the denouement of a mystery novel) were all shadows and images that were trying to point you toward God, the Person they resembled.

Were they? Or was it the other way around? Was it a matter of taking those moments of wonder and awe and so on, and telling yourself “those only a million times more so” and that that’s a Person and that Person is named (what a coincidence) “God”? I, of course, think that is what it was, combined with the pre-existing idea of “God” and a desire to make it into something to fit the expected idea of what “God” is.

It’s decorative, but not convincing.



  1. Slow Learner says

    The dialogue is so very convincing, when the site has 29 contributors:
    ALL Catholics
    Almost all men.
    Almost all theological conservatives.
    Almost all white.
    Some dialogue…

  2. Ulysses says

    I tried to log in to Strange Notions. The system wouldn’t let me. Perhaps it already knows I’m an atheist.

  3. says

    I checked it out and–surprise, surprise–every article is basically some Catholic guy saying (to paraphrase) “this is why atheism is wrong and Catholicism (or at least some form of theism/deism) is right.”

  4. says

    Also, for a website that’s supposedly all about dialogue–even down to the little speech box icon in the header–it’s rather difficult to find a place on the site set aside for commenting or chatting. I would like to go into their chatrooms and say, “Hey, I’m an atheist. Please convert me. Hit me with your best shot.”

  5. hjhornbeck says

    Lebresco @link:

    Maybe you’re a former atheist who plans to convert to Catholicism, or maybe you’re still an atheist but are a little uncomfortable with how plausible Catholicism seems as an alternative hypothesis.

    BWA HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHA HA HA HA HA hahahahahaha ha haha ha ha…

    … oh, hang on, I’ll need a moment …

    … OK. Like, wow. The existence of an omnipotent, omnipresent creator god that perpetually screws things up is considered plausible against “the universe behaves according to predictable rules?!” You’d have be absolutely soaked in religion to state that comfortably. To see it coming from a convert who only became Catholic a year ago… yeah, that sets off all sorts of alarm bells about Lebresco.

    And what kind of dialog is this?

    Catholicism is either true or not, before and after you change your mind. Gravity doesn’t fluctuate between true and false depending on your beliefs, and neither does the Church. So your job isn’t so much about deciding as it is learning about and recognizing the world you already live in.

    Recognition does carry certain responsibilities. If you try to ignore gravity, you’ll quickly find yourself bruised or worse. If Catholicism seems to be true, but you choose to ignore it, you deny yourself opportunities for healing and strength in the face of Man’s broken nature.

    Ah see, denying Catholicism is like denying gravity, and it’s the only source for healing and strength. Way to listen to your atheist critics, there.

    Remember, there’s a lot of philosophical diversity among atheists, so the points that were convincing to you may not be compelling to someone who starts with very different assumptions. I find it helpful to approach stressful discussion not as debates, but as explanations.

    Oh, so we’re not discussing things at all, now? That facade dropped pretty quick. I like the touch of cultural relativism, too; we all just have different assumptions, and they determine what we think is true.

  6. brianpansky says

    it almost sounds like they are trying to confuse THEMSELVES (or their followers) about atheists so that they don’t have to feel “a little uncomfortable with how plausible [atheism] seems as an alternative hypothesis”

  7. says

    As a cradle Catholic who is nearly (nearly) entirely recovered from his childhood religion, I sometimes find it amusing to cross swords with Rome’s dedicated acolytes. Most American Catholics are virtual Protestants, believing very few of the Church’s main tenets (real Jesus flesh that still looks and tastes like stale bread, anyone?) and are easy to rout in debate. I mean, they don’t even really believe their own religion! But well-versed Catholics are also fun to hassle on occasion — just don’t expect to get anywhere with them. A well-catechized Catholic can cite shopworn (but, therefore, also time-tested) excuses that insulate him or her from genuinely examining any faith-held beliefs. Faith doesn’t require evidence, just stubbornness.

  8. grumpyoldfart says

    Before any discussion begins, the Catholics should first describe their god (or we won’t know what they are talking about). Here’s how they do it in the 1968 National Catholic Almanac (still available at Amazon).

    God is:
    almighty, eternal, holy, immortal, immense, immutable, incomprehensible, ineffable, infinite, invisible, just, loving, merciful, most high, most wise, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, patient, perfect, provident, supreme and true.

    Amazing, isn’t it, how they have managed to comprehend a god whom they declare to be incomprehensible?

  9. sailor1031 says

    “I would say that the terrifying and wonderful thing is that you’re in direct, personal contact with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Every………”

    Total fucking horseshit! Been there, done that. It ain’t true. It is all demonstrably false, made-up,stories. Having left RCC Inc sixty-odd years ago why would I want to have a discussion with them now when it has become so crystal clear what an evil, power and money obsessed, greed-filled organization of criminals it is?. Why would any atheist? There is NO common ground here. This is not dialogue, it is cynical catholic proselytization and nothing more. We need to tell them to fuck off – way, way off.

    Oh and Leah Libresco is an idiot.

  10. says

    grumpy – HA! That is really classic – a long list of confidently-asserted attributes, one of which is “incomprehensible.” If it’s incomprehensible how do they think they know all the rest of the list?!

  11. says

    Libresco was barely on my radar at the time of her conversion. The reason she gave — because Catholicism provides a basis for a robust objective morality, IIRC — was so transparently fallacious I figured “Good riddance” to someone who apparently failed Logic 101. This latest? Even better riddance.

  12. says

    So Libresco didn’t just convert, she went straight to becoming a missionary to atheists? blecch

    “Hey, I’m an atheist. Please convert me. Hit me with your best shot.”

    and now I have that song stuck in my head. Thanks a lot, Sally

  13. says

    Maybe you’re a former atheist who plans to convert to Catholicism, or maybe you’re still an atheist but are a little uncomfortable with how plausible Catholicism seems as an alternative hypothesis.

    Seriously? Uncomfortable with how plausible Catholicism seems? I cannot conceive of a worldview that was not already explicitly christian that would consider catholicism at all plausible as an alternative to anything whatsoever.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a ‘digital Areopagus’…

    Areopagus (the hill of Ares – should we give ’em credit for reconnecting with their pagan roots?) was the Athenian locale of the top government council and judicial court.

    Sounds so much more dignified than a mere “agora” (town square and marketplace), which name might also carry unwelcome implications of that damned heathen democracy stuff…

  15. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Among the description of the Roman Catholic god provided by grumpyoldfart at 11, I noticed that words like “evident” and “forthcoming” aren’t included.

  16. says

    @17: Or, in my case, a former Protestant who got a good extended look at Catholicism by way of a close friend who was (and remains) deep into it, and never thought it was a plausible alternative hypothesis.

  17. Erp says

    It doesn’t sound very inviting. It seems to be a Catholic spider inviting the atheist flies into its Catholic parlor.

    Now I do know an inviting Christian forum. Some of the admins/hosts are atheist (sometimes former Christians who stayed on in the forum). Many of the participants are Anglican/Episcopalian but most varieties of Christianity are represented (I’m not sure if there are any Copts but the Orthodox are represented as well as Catholics and evangelicals) and others who aren’t Christian. They have their own 10 commandments with number 8 being “Don’t Crusade” with the specific expansion that no one should be there to win converts. They appreciate good discussions on any topic in the sea (in the appropriate part of the forum) and a sense of foolishness is highly recommended. Admittedly they’ve had 15 years to work out the bugs and they run a tight but fair ship if anyone crosses the lines. One big difference from Strange Notions is that almost no one goes by their real name though everyone has to be registered to comment and only one avatar per real person. Another is the Christians who initially set it up stated “our aim is to help Christians be self-critical and honest about the failings of Christianity”; I don’t see Strange Notions creators agreeing. A third is their web pages look better (Strange Notions has overlapping text in my web browser).

  18. Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters says

    all shadows and images that were trying to point you toward God, the Person they resembled.

    My Jewish atheist DaughterSpawn received a 12 page tl;dr of bad grammar and para-logic from a Catholic high-school student ostensibly trying to persuade her to date him, but entirely about why god exists. The young man recounted this “argument from beauty and art” and explained that all those creative ideas come (duh) from the mind of god. We decided that this was better termed the argument from roller disco. He then went on with the argument from ZOMG HItler Stalin, and (our personal favorite) the argument from the survival of god’s chosen people, which is really the argument from “we haven’t killed off the Jews (yet).

    Then there was some stuff about how he doesn’t fetishize the female body like all those other boys and some more religious blather. Surprisingly enough, DaughterSpawn is not particularly planning on pursuing a romance with this young man.

  19. says

    I was skimming the comments in Leah’s blog, and I was struck by the claim that

    In addition to that, I don’t know anybody who denies non-Christian claims of miracles.

    I seriously have to wonder who the hell these people are actually talking to.

  20. Ulysses says

    Those people are doing it all wrong. First they have to show evidence that gods exist. After they’ve established that quite difficult task, they have to demonstrate their particular gods are the default. Then they have to sell the idea their preferred cult is better than the thousands of competing sects. I’m not going to consider Catholicism until I’m convinced deities aren’t figments of human imaginations.

  21. Claire Ramsey says

    This troupe of primates has made quite a rhetorical move, all in all. . . I especially like their clever hint about their implicit motives.

  22. brianpansky says

    haha lpetrich ya I just directed them to iron chariots to clear up all of their confusion on those 20 items. dialogue done. I keep wondering if those lists will ever have something new.

  23. sailor1031 says

    @23; The idea that all that art and beauty comes directly from the mind of doG. Last year I visited an exhibition of works by Picasso. Included was “Guernica”. It is easy to see how catholics would think that its inspiration came straight from the mind of their doG.

  24. anne mariehovgaard says

    Eamon Knight@15:

    Catholicism provides a basis for a robust objective morality

    =Catholicism means I get to be told what’s right and wrong instead of having to do the hard work of figuring it out for myself all the time.

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