Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Charm offensive

Pope Francis has been waging a charm offensive. This includes his overtures to atheists. 

From an Evangelical standpoint, outreach to atheists is part of Christian evangelism. Of course, you have to have something to offer them. 

However, I seriously doubt that the new pope's charm offensive will make a dent in the ranks of atheism. In terms of the target audience, there are roughly two kinds of atheists.

On the one hand you have faux intellectual atheists. These are atheists who indulge in moral and intellectual posturing, but they aren't thinkers. Their script is handed to them by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, James Randi, Bart Ehrman, PZ Myers, &c. They dutifully learn their lines and recite their lines on cue. When they get into a debate with a knowledgeable Christian, they have nothing in reserve. There's only so much they can fit onto their flashcards. 

Now, some of these pseudointellectual atheists are reachable through friendship evangelism. But a papal charm offensive won't reach them, since that's just a talking head. It doesn't connect with them at a personal level, mano-a-mano.

On the other hand, you have intelligent atheists. These are often drawn to science or philosophy. However, they can't be charmed into Christianity. They will find flower-power papal interviews offensive, patronizing. Too much like the hippie Jesus of Godspell. 

They pride themselves on their rationality. To reach them through speaking or writing, you have to argue for your own position and argue against their position. 

Now, some intelligent atheists are also reachable through friendship evangelism. Beneath the intellectual facade is a creature with emotional vulnerabilities. Every human has the same emotional makeup. The same fears and yearnings. Emotion is the great leveler. Whether you're Isaac Newton or someone with Down syndrome, you have the same emotional needs. 

Brilliant atheists have love affairs. Scream and swear at colleagues, siblings, spouses, parents, children, boyfriends, or girlfriends. They are wounded to personal tragedy. They long for happy, meaningful lives. 

But a papal charm offensive won't reach them at that level either, for that's a mass medium. One-to-many rather than one-on-one. 

Moreover, many priests have attended liberal seminaries. If an atheist sits down with a priest and begins to ask some probing questions, what answers do you expect he's going to hear? This is why lay Catholic apologists have tried to take up the slack. 


  1. Perhaps one of the ironies is many if not most Catholic apologists or at least epologists seem to be more theologically, politically, and socially conservative than many if not most Catholic clergy. I wouldn't think an atheist would become a liberal Catholic since atheists seem to revile liberal Christianity far more than conservative Christianity. If a Catholic apologist is able to persuade an atheist to become a Catholic, then it'd most likely be to a more conservative form of Catholicism like the Catholic apologist's. However, where will the ex-atheist turned Catholic Christian go? Isn't the Catholic church in the US becoming increasingly liberal? If the atheist has become a bona fide Christian, I expect he or she will quickly find greener pastures outside the Catholic church. In other words, it's conceivable Catholic apologists lead atheists into the Catholic church, while the Catholic church leads these newly minted Christians out of it.

  2. The only conservative catholic (if you can call him that ) who is supporting Francis is the buffoonish Mark Shea.