Benedict’s quiet response to the New Atheists

William Oddie at the UK’s Catholic Herald took issue with George Weigel’s call for British bishops to get more confrontational with the New Atheism movement:

[T]here are two reasons why they won’t and probably shouldn’t try. The first is that they are probably too frightened of them, even now, to do anything of the sort. Archbishop Peter Smith even went to plead with them [before the Pope’s visit] not to be too nasty, thus handing them a propaganda triumph. It was unnecessary anyway; it was the Pope who sorted them out, simply by the loving kindness of his gentle but powerful personality, by a charisma which attracted crowds so large that their own puny demo was simply swept away. He made only one reference to the “aggressive atheism” which had by then already discredited itself, and the aggressive atheists were utterly routed; job done.

That brings me to the real reason why the bishops shouldn’t put the boot in. The Pope’s secret weapon, as I also wrote just after the visit, was British fair-mindedness: if we put the boot in now against the “protest the Pope” mob, who are still prostrate and licking their wounds, that would rebound on us: you don’t kick a man when he is down. Just ignore them is my instinct. They are harmless now: their own sheer futility has finished them off.

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Not being in England, I can’t judge to what degree the New Atheists are “licking their wounds.” Nevertheless, Oddie’s points are well taken. When your opponent is in the process of embarrassing himself, don’t interrupt him.


  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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