Catholic-Atheist Dialogue—or Just a Soft Sell?

May 11, 2013

Catholic-atheist dialogue. The hard sell.

I read The Morning Heresy. If I didn’t do that and watch the Colbert Report, I would never find out what’s happening.  So the other day, an item caught my eye: Leah Libresco announcing a new forum for Catholic-atheist dialogue

I am interested in dialogue.  I like to discuss ideas and beliefs, especially with people with whom I have some areas of disagreement (otherwise, it can get boring).  I also like to think I am open to changing my views —that is how I dropped Catholicism and became an atheist in the first place—so I decided to look at Libresco’s post. 


Libresco’s post indicates this new forum is called “Strange Notions” and is overseen by Brandon Vogt.  Within a few sentences, however, I was put off by Vogt’s description of his site.  According to Vogt (as quoted by Libresco) the “implicit goal [of the site] is to bring non-Catholics to faith, especially followers of the so-called New Atheism.”  Ugh. 

Strange Notions has a strange notion of dialogue.  Genuine dialogue requires the parties to it to be open to the possibility they are wrong, even wrong about foundational beliefs.  Furthermore, the overarching objective of a genuine dialogue should always be the discernment of the truth.  If you go into a dialogue with the objective of converting someone, you are not going to be talking to them.  You will be preaching to them. 


Vogt’s statement of purpose also exemplifies a common misperception among the religious about atheists: namely, that we are followers of some sort of creed.  No, we have no creed, no dogma, no sacred texts, and no popes.  Dawkins, Dennett, Jacoby and others—they are entitled only to that respect which the soundness of their arguments provides.  To the extent they err (and being human, they will) there is no felt obligation to “follow” them. 


In short, Vogt may not be pursuing a genuine dialogue.  Instead, he appears to be on a mission to convert people who he mistakenly believes are followers of another faith. 


As indicated, I welcome dialogue.  I hope Strange Notions will provide a forum for dialogue, but it does not appear to be off to a good start.