Okay, so the title is just to grab your attention. The Catholic Church is actually extending a rather ecumenical offer to atheists. From The Independent:
The Vatican is planning a new initiative to reach out to atheists and agnostics in an attempt to improve the church’s relationship with non-believers. Pope Benedict XVI has ordered officials to create a new foundation where atheists will be encouraged to meet and debate with some of the Catholic Church’s top theologians.
The Vatican hopes to stage a series of debates in Paris next year. But militant non-believers hoping for a chance to set senior church figures straight about the existence of God are set to be disappointed: the church has warned that atheists with high public profiles such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens will not be invited.
What Hitchens expresses in his (admittedly non-responsive) answer is essentially the problem of evil. Why would a loving and all-powerful god permit the evils that befell, say, Elisabeth Fritzl? It is (or should be) a difficult question for theists. But understand the limitations of the problem of evil.
The problem of evil is not a logical disproof of god. It could be that god is all-powerful, but malevolent. It could also be true that god is loving, but not all-powerful. Indeed it may even be the case that god is both loving and all-powerful and his reasons for permitting evil are beyond our understanding. So the problem of evil is not an argument for atheism.
This is precisely why I like Hitchens. Unlike Dawkins and Harris, Hitchens doesn’t make a case against god’s existence. He doesn’t give a damn. As Dr. Kleiner says, “The least interesting fact about god is that he exists.” The question for Hitchens isn’t whether god exists (though of course Hitchens doesn’t believe god does), but whether god is worthy of worship. In the spirit of Job, Hitchens is demanding that god account for the evil in the world. And it is not of enough for god to bark, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” That makes god sound like the “celestial dictator” Hitchens accuses him of being.
Richard Dawkins, the atheist campaigner, is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.
Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.
Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.
They have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action.
The lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court.
Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said: “This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”
Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, said: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.
The BBC recently hosted a debate on the Catholic Church as part of its Intelligence Squared debate series. This installment considered the motion: “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.”
Arguing for the motion was Archbishop Onaiyekan of Nigeria and Ann Widdecombe, a British Conservative Party politician. The opposing ticket boasted bigger names: Christopher Hitchens and humorist Stephen Fry.
Both sides traded barbs, but Hitchens and Fry landed the better blows. The debate was a total shut-out, as even this Catholic blogger laments:
The voting gives a good idea of how it went. Before the debate, for the motion: 678. Against: 1102. Don’t know: 346. This is how it changed after the debate. For: 268. Against: 1876. Don’t know: 34. In other words, after hearing the speakers, the number of people in the audience who opposed the motion increased by 774. My friend Simon, who’s a season ticket holder, said it was the most decisive swing against a motion that he could remember.