An Open Letter to Father Moyle

Dear Father Moyle

In your recent open letter to atheists you ask, “Why is it that so many in the atheist community cannot bring themselves to get past their anger whenever they engage in discussion about religion?”  You complain that, “The language of many of [the] atheist contributions in public debate is laced with venom and dripping with sarcasm, ”  and you wonder why comments from atheists so often depict the religious as being “‘malicious’ or ‘venomous’”.  Maybe I can provide some answers.

In your letter, you explain that, because Christians and other religious people are oriented towards a “culture of life and light that ends with the gift of eternal life” venom is not a part of the theistic arsenal.

While you do pause to consider whether the sins of the Catholic Church and various clergy may play some role in our aggravation, you quickly brush this thought aside as if 2000 years of clerical transgressions matter little when compared with those halcyon times when the church stood as a ‘paragon of grace’ through its ‘faithful ministry’.  Ultimately, you conclude,  atheists’ irritability must be caused by our self-imposed nihilistic view of life.  To be sure, we non-believers stew on the petty injustices of the Church because we don’t understand that all these sins will be sorted out later, in heaven.  In contrast, all those happy, smiling Christians are so beatifically joyful, good-humoured and just plain Christ-like, because they they know any earthly injustices will be set right in the world hereafter. (Don’t worry about the children dying in the Sudan folks – God will sort it out later.)

To begin with, Father Moyle, if you really want to know why we atheists are cranky, may I direct you to Greta Christina’s blog post Atheists and Anger .  Greta Christina provides a comprehensive laundry list of things you religious folk do that really annoy us.  I shall follow, soon, with my own.

In your letter,  you skip over the sins of the church and the clergy as if they were nothing more serious than an old village vicar nicking the odd glass of altar wine or shrieking, “Jesus, Joseph & Mary” when he stubs his toe.  I really hate to give credence to your stereotyping of atheists as angry and sarcastic, but may I suggest that any human being who isn’t angry at some of the following sins of the church needs more than a quick confession and a few Hail Mary’s to save them.

It’s hard to imagine, I know, but we atheists get really upset that the Catholic Church’s prohibition on condoms results in thousands of needless deaths from AIDS in Africa and South America.  Having no belief in an afterlife we find it outrageous that the church thinks it’s perfectly alright to sacrifice the lives, health and financial viability of vulnerable women and children in order to prop up a Papal proclamation.

We also get inexplicably annoyed when little children are frightened by stories of demons, hellfire and damnation.

Forgive us for being grumpy, but, for us, it’s a natural reaction when he hear of parents allowing their sick children to die agonizing and unnecessary deaths because they believe, quite literally, that prayers, not medicine will effect a cure.

Has it never occurred to you, Father Moyle, that we atheists get angry because you religious types give us a whole lot to get angry about?

My friend, Terry, recently spoke publicly for the first time about how he was savagely beaten repeatedly by his religious father who was simply doing as the ‘Good Book’ directed him.  Spare the rod and spoil the child.  This fifty-something man cried as he talked about his brutal upbringing in a family that put all their efforts into obeying the word of God.

“He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24)

“Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)

Just last night, a Facebook friend posted forlornly, “… no one lets an Atheist join in any reindeer games … :(

It turns out his whole family of warm-hearted Christians had gathered for a pre-Christmas celebration just 15 minutes from where he lives – but chose to exclude him because of his atheism.  Perhaps he should be grateful that his parents only break his heart by excluding him from family gatherings.  If they followed the Bible religiously, they’d be breaking his bones with a good stoning (as directed in Deuteronomy 21:18:21).

My friend Helen’s husband insisted that, in accordance with scripture, his  family obey him as unquestioningly as he obeyed God.  When his adult daughter wished to date someone outside the church, she was evicted.   Helen was then instructed to treat her daughter as if she were dead.  When Helen disobeyed this directive, she, too, was cast out onto the street. She is now forbidden from seeing her other children and has never met her grand-children.

Another friend, Bill, is in his late 50s.  He is still so traumatized by sexual abuse by the Christian brothers at his Catholic school that even discussing it makes him physically ill.  It may be true that those who abused him were not acting in accordance with the Church’s teachings, but the Church has consistently covered  up such  transgressions, leaving thousands of lives destroyed.

You complain, Father, about ‘grumpy’ atheists and their verbal spats with Christians.  How do you compare this with the ‘grumpy’ Catholic nun who beat David Lane, a child with spina bifida, with a pair of scissors for the sin of telling a childish lie?  How do we grumpy atheists compare with the good Christian carers at the Catholic orphanage whose treatment of one child was so appalling that, at 80,  his single good memory of his childhood is that someone brought him a glass of milk, once, when he was six?

You might argue, Father, that these transgressions were human, and not the fault of the Church.  And yet your Church consistently covered up physical and sexual abuse, your Pope enjoined those who reported sexual abuse to keep it secret.  Now, thanks to Wikileaks, we know that the Vatican used its diplomatic immunity to try to thwart the inquiry into systematic sex abuse in the Irish church.  Indeed, the whole self-protective machinery of the Catholic church, worldwide, has functioned to protect the church from scandal – even if that allows abusers to continue their assaults.

So no, Father Moyle, these things do not fade into insignificance when compared with those mythical times when the church has been a ‘paragon of grace’.  I’d certainly like to know when these rare events occurred!  Was it during the witch burnings or the Inquisition, or during the Crusades when the Catholic church was clearly the aggressor? Where was the Church as a ‘paragon of grace’ when Jews were being persecuted in Medieval Europe?   Oh, that’s right, it was the Church that was driving the persecutions.  But, there I am being sarcastic and grumpy again.

Did the Church display itself as a paragon of grace when the Vatican put its support behind Hitler – your clergy even acknowledging the Führer with the familiar salute?

Perhaps you claim that this Camelot of Catholicism occurred in more recent times with the work of Mother Teresa.  Have you read former-nun, Colette Livermore’s account of her experience with the blessed mother?  I think you should.  As a nun with the Sisters of Mercy, Colette found herself, “in a situation where initiative was punished, intelligence was derided, and even saving lives could be punished if it involved a trivial breach of the regulations.”  Colette notes that while the order had money – plenty of money – to buy essential medical and educational supplies, it wasn’t used for this purpose because poverty was glorified above saving lives.

Does withholding medical treatment from dying people make me grumpy, Father?  You bet it does!

And finally, let’s look at those calm, polite, Christians you contrast against us cranky, venomous atheists.  Here are some examples of Christian tolerance and charity for you.  They’re all taken from the website Fundies Say the Darndest Things and are typical of the kind, generous and tolerant postings found on Christian websites:

  • [Talking about an eleven year old girl who was raped and then buried alive] – god was sacrificing this child as a way to show others the light. much as he did his own child. what a beautiful gift he has given us.
  • If u have sex before marriage then in Gods eyes u are married to that person if a man rapes a woman in Gods eyes they are married it sucks for the girl but what can we do lol
  • I honestly don’t care about your rights. If it were up to me, all Atheists would be burnt at the stake and or cast into a river with weights tied to their ankles and or placed before the firing squad, etc etc etc.
  • I’d like to make a movie about hell, or somebody ought to, that would be fun. Imagine all the noise and the stench and smoke and the abject squalor and the horrid awful incessant torture, a huge place constructed for a hundred billion hideous people screaming and moaning and gargling their own blood. Meanwhile church folks up in heaven laughing and calling down to the atheists “I told you so.”

And all the toilets in heaven flush into holy divine pipes, and all that poop is piped to hell, where it is heated to 500 degrees and dumped on the atheists. That’s basically what God will have going on for all eternity, and he’ll never get tired of it.

Hot-damn!

Also, Father, if you’re looking for grumpiness, maybe you should compare our vitriolic offerings against those of some of your fellow theists.  For example,  Jason, a member of Theology Web writes:

“Should we kill atheists for there body parts?

What do the other human persons here think?

No doubt someone will object, saying something obviously ridiculous like, but atheists are persons.

But clearly this is mistaken because anybody without a well developed belief in God is obviously not a full human person.

What could be more obvious than that?

How many full human persons do you know without a well developed belief in God. Obviously none, because if they were full human person they would have a well developed belief in God.

Now some people might object to killing atheists for there (and obviously it is there and not thier as they are not whos but whats) organs but think of all the full human persons that would benifit from the organs and the medical research that could be done on these non-persons.

How could anybody object, they are not human persons and if you think we should not kill them then that is just because of out dated ideas and because they must really just want people to suffer. For shame on you!

So what do people think?

Should we kill these atheist human non-persons for the benifit of fully human persons?”

[original spelling preserved]

While Jason explains later that his post was ‘in jest’, another poster, ‘Archimedes’, takes the proposition seriously:

I think Jason’s reasoning is ironclad. If one agrees that fully developed relationship with God is a requisite for personhood, then atheists and agnostics are not persons, and harvesting their bodies for organs is not morally any more suspect than (here it comes) abortion. Of course, the atheists will not consider a relationship with an imaginary being as a necessary component for personhood, but this question wasn’t directed to the cattle at all but rather to theists who agree with Jason’s premise…

Another Christian internet poster, David, says:

I think it’s time for another holocaust. This time, instead of Jews, how about atheists. We urgently need to round up all atheists in the world and lead them to the chambers. Our world would be such a better place.

Please, Father, spare us the remonstration that these people aren’t ‘real Christians’.  They’re real all right and they take their teachings from the very same book you preach from – except they probably don’t cherry pick quite as much as you do.

So, yes, Father, we atheists are grumpy.  We’re grumpy because theists are raping children then covering it up.  We’re grumpy because you exalt a woman who had her own health problems treated  at some of the finest and costliest hospitals in the West, but kept vital medical care from the poorest of the poor because she thought poverty was God-ordained.   We’re grumpy because the Church’s teaching on condoms perpetuates HIV/AIDs and condemns devout Catholic women in third world countries to unwanted pregnancies, poverty and preventable diseases.

In Australia, atheists are grumpy because, in the name of God, vulnerable young women were lured into a Christian treatment programme for sufferers of depression and eating disorders where, instead of medical care, they were subjected to exorcisms.

We’re grumpy because some Australian pregnancy counselling services hide their Christian agendas and tell barefaced lies to their vulnerable clients about how abortions lead to breast cancer.  A claim for which there is not one jot of credible evidence.

We’re grumpy that our elderly relatives cannot choose to die with dignity because your Church uses its money and power to enforce your views on those who don’t share them.

We’re grumpy because your Church’s view on homosexuals fuels homophobia and results in the suicides of teenagers.

We’re grumpy that after centuries of killing, raping, torturing, corruption, sexism and homophobia, churches accumulate massive wealth by accepting tax-exemptions based on the laughable assumption that they are a benefit to society.

I could go on, and on, and on, Father, but I think you may have got my message by now.  Yes, atheists are grumpy and we find it very, very hard to remain civil when people, like you, try to defend an institution which is so stinkingly corrupt and evil that, were it not the Catholic Church, it would have been closed down years ago.

We know that Christians are not necessarily bad people (many of our family members are Christian) but we also know that these people prop up the institutions which cause so much hate and suffering.

Despite your intimations to the contrary, we also know Christians can be every bit as vitriolic, intolerant and hateful as we can – turns out Christians are human too.  We atheists are reminded daily that faith in an after life does not preclude Christians from hateful, nasty, depraved, despicable, intolerant and discriminatory behaviour and invective.

As we have seen, faith in a supernatural deity doesn’t stop people from flying planes into buildings, or from  blowing up abortion clinics, the London underground or a Bali nightclub.  Faith didn’t stop a fervently religious theist from shooting a doctor in cold-blood as he stepped out of his local church.  In fact, in all of these instances it seems, faith and a fervent belief in the afterlife, precipitated these evil actions.

So, in short, Father, if you’re looking for the cause of atheist anger, you need not look very far.  Simply open the door of your Church, take off your theistic blinkers and take a good, hard look inside.

Chrys Stevenson

Related Posts

Greta Christina’s Blog:  Atheists and Anger

Pharyngula: Bad Diagnosis – PZ Myers responds to Tim Moyle

Yahoo7:  An Atheist at Christmas by Australian Skeptics (and http://www.ratbags.com/ )

Thinker’s Podium:  More Atheist Anger

AlterNet:  Why Religious People are Scared of Atheists by Greta Christina


Atheist Nexus Submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission – Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century – written and researched by Chrys Stevenson in collaboration with the Australian members of Atheist Nexus.

Catholic Bishop Castigates and Threatens Hospital that Saved Woman’s Life by Amy Newman, RH (Reproductive Health) Reality Check

Gladly’s Book Recommendations

Gladly gets madder than a bear with a sore head when people in glass churches throw stones!  If you liked this article you might be interested in reading further from Gladly’s favourite online bookstore, Embiggen Books.

Letter to a Priest by Simone Weil

Hope Endures by Colette Livermore

People in Glass Houses:  An Insider’s Story of a Life In and Out of Hillsong by Tanya Levin

The Australian Book of Atheism by Warren Bonett (editor) [with a contribution from Chrys Stevenson - aka Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear]

Holy Horrors:  An Illustrated History of Religious Murder and Madness by James A Haught

Holy Hatred:  Religious Conflicts of the 90s by James A Haught

The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse by Geoffrey Robertson QC

Jesus Freaks:  A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge by Don Lattin

14 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Father Moyle

  1. AndrewFinden says:

    On the whole I agree with you Chrys, that there are things, even things perpetrated by religious groups that we should be angry about, and that his glib dismissal of them is completely uncalled for.
    I found myself reading Greta Christina’s list agreeing with many of her complaints, only to come towards the end of her list and find

    And I get angry when believers act as if these offenses aren’t important, because “Not all believers act like that. I don’t act like that.”

    Indeed – I am not saying these are not important, but it is a valid personal defence from culpability!

    While I do share much of your concern, indeed, anger, I don’t agree when you write:

    Please, Father, spare us the remonstration that these people aren’t ‘real Christians’. They’re real all right and they take their teachings from the very same book you preach from – except they probably don’t cherry pick quite as much as you do.

    Again – of course it should not be a response as a means to minimise the impact of the actions, but it is fair to recognise that not all who claim to be Christians are actually following Christ! (Claiming to be Scottish doesn’t make me so). You seem to have implicitly assumed that if someone is not following the hyper-literalistic interpretation that such extremists and fundamentalists hold, then they are by default ‘cherry picking’? Most often when non-believers accuse me cherry picking it becomes obvious that they share the faulty literalistic hermeneutic of fundamentalism (odd bedfellows there really). Just because someone uses the bible to justify certain actions does not necessarily mean they are justified in their interpretation! Now, I don’t mean to get into a tangent about proper hermeneutics, but simply want to give a word of caution about assuming the validity of such fundamentalist hermeneutics. Understanding the bible and how it fits together within the meta-narrative is not simply ‘cherry picking’. Such faulty hermeneutics makes me angry ;)

    And again – that is certainly not in any way an excuse for those who misuse the bible, as if misuse renders the actions insignificant.

  2. Cardinal Sin says:

    Oh dear, Andrew the clever xtian eh?

    OK, so how is it possible to know who is ‘misusing’ the Bible Andrew?

    The fundie gooks clearly don’t think they are.

    The kiddie fiddling priest doesn’t think he is.

    The Army chaplain endorsing our SAS soldiers killing Muslim peasants doesn’t think he is.

    George W Bush stating his ‘for us or against us’ never thought he was.

    Blair ‘praying for guidance’ before becoming a war criminal didn’t think he was.

    Those flying airliners into buildings KNEW they were right.

    The English kings burning Jews and casting them out of England for 400 years didn’t think they were doing anything wrong, how could they, when it was God who made them kings?

    So, never mind the bollocks, sorry, hermeneutics, do please explain precisely HOW it is possible to know which particular cult has the ‘right’ interpretation of the Bible, or even the right version of the Bible, or, the right ‘holy’ book for that matter.

    How do I know that you are a ‘real xtian’?

    • AndrewFinden says:

      @Cardinal Sin wrote:

      Oh dear, Andrew the clever xtian eh?

      Your Grace,

      While I fully respect why Atheists like Chrys are angry, and indeed, their right to be and express such anger, I also respect very much that Chrys is not patronising and snide to people just because she doesn’t hold the same meta-physical views.

      OK, so how is it possible to know who is ‘misusing’ the Bible Andrew?

      How do you tell if someone is misusing any other text?

      So, never mind the bollocks, sorry, hermeneutics, do please explain precisely HOW it is possible to know which particular cult has the ‘right’ interpretation of the Bible, or even the right version of the Bible, or, the right ‘holy’ book for that matter.

      I don’t want to de-rail Chrys’s post here with what is quite a tangent, so I posted my response here on my blog, to which you’re most welcome to read and comment.

  3. Next Revelation says:

    Charity is Humane – Greed is Parasitic – Murder is Animalistic –>

    We are Human – We Should be Humane.

  4. [...] comment was made to me over on Chrys’ blog by a commenter who goes by the name Cardinal Sin (CS from here on). It’s fairly tangential to [...]

  5. clovissangrail says:

    Yes, atheists are grumpy and we find it very, very hard to remain civil when people, like you, try to defend an institution which is so stinkingly corrupt and evil that, were it not the Catholic Church, it would have been closed down years ago.
    Very well put, Chrys. No complaints from me.

  6. 64Shorter says:

    If it were not for the two millennia of violence, I’d not have too much of a problem with Christians–likewise Moslems, Hindus or whomever. For a majority of the world’s people, resorting to religion provides hope in a dirty world. I, of course, do not believe in one jot of it. But I would never take a crutch from a cripple.

    Unfortunately, there IS that history of violence. No-one has yet mentioned the erasure of meso and south American culture and literature by those ‘god’-believing Conquistadores. Then there were Bruno and Galileo and other scientists.

    From where I stand, Catholicism and other branches of Christianity peddle absurd beliefs. The beliefs of Islam and Hinduism are even more absurd. Why do people follow these nonsenses? In essence, because humanity is collectively and individually unable to confront the fact of its finiteness. The sheer absurdity of the ‘after life’ stories leaves me open-mouthed. The beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks were equally ridiculous and were long ago rejected. Unfortunately, I can’t see the lingering primitive religious beliefs of humankind being expunged any time soon.

    • AndrewFinden says:

      Then there were Bruno and Galileo and other scientists.

      To be fair – the Galileo is not the whole Church vs Science thing it is often made out to be. Not only was Galileo quite good at being intentionally provocative, the objection was scientific – he was challenging the prevailing Aristotelian view of the day (which the Church happened to also accept) and actually at the time didn’t have all the data that would later arise to show that he was right. The objection was primarily based on the current scientific knowledge and his inability at the time to actually overcome some of the objections.

      I think there’s plenty to be angry at the RCC for without misusing this event.

  7. Jim McDonald says:

    COPY OF MY POST ON MOYLE’S BLOG:

    Fr Moyle, You are accusing atheists of being nihilist? Nihilism, last time I checked, refers among other things to a belief that life is meaningless. Excuse me? On what basis to you tell your readers that people who do not believe in a god think that life has no value? There is no valid logic in your equation between nihilism and atheism. Every atheist I know, and I know a few, places a supreme worth on the value of human life. Indeed, for atheists generally I would suggest to you that it is precisely because they DO place the highest worth on the value of life that they DON’T believe in a supreme being. Surely nihilists might be atheists, but the converse does not follow in logic. It is a rather ridiculous sophistry you dump on people who happen not to subscribe to your belief: you assert that we are angry because we don’t believe your creed? It’s a rather silly circular proposition don’t you think? If anything makes me angry it is that people in your position as the spiritual leader of your parish should promulgate such caricatures in the name of Christianity. Some of the things church leaders and ultra-conservative politicians say about atheists are in my view evil, unlawful and unchristian and are no better than those Islamists and fundamentalists among other religions who call for the death of unbelievers. Jim

    • AndrewFinden says:

      There is no valid logic in your equation between nihilism and atheism.

      Nietzche thought there was:

      The death of God will lead, Nietzsche says, not only to the rejection of a belief of cosmic or physical order but also to a rejection of absolute values themselves — to the rejection of belief in an objective and universal moral law, binding upon all individuals. In this manner, the loss of an absolute basis for morality leads to nihilism.

      But, of course, despite not holding to any view of objective values (or indeed, holding on to them without any solid philosophical basis) most Atheists aren’t actually Nihilists, and Fr Moyle shouldn’t say that they necessarily are.

  8. Zane says:

    I am interested to see if anyone has actually taken on what the RC Church is actually doing here in Australia. A person in another country like Moyle means nothing other than to flex a persons whine muscles. I would personally like to be involved in some real activism, RC church hurt so many people every day and have done for many years. Just the teachings alone, the message that is sent out regarding the treatment of women, children and people who are homosexuals. It is appalling they are allowed to still discriminate. I have not come across any secular or even non religious organization that is or has taken action against this institution. I am sure there is enough people in Australia atheist or other who would be interested in pursuing exposing Pell, I am not talking about writing blogs either or letters. A collective action. The RC church has to be protested against they are an abomination. People stand up for wikileaks but not for the people who are harmed by this evil cult.

    • Zane, perhaps you should consider that blogging is only a part of what most of us on the Australian atheists blogroll do. I agree that more direct action needs to be taken, but you should not underestimate the power of public opinion. My blog alone won’t change the tide against the tyranny of the Catholic Church, but the collective blogging (and reading) of thousands of blog posts and articles does help to diminish the Church’s power by putting them on the defensive. There are many organizations in Australia that work in various ways to ensure that the Catholic Church does not always arise victorious. Just because you don’t see people picketing outside Cathedrals doesn’t mean that real and serious work is not going on behind the scenes. Exciting plans are also underway for 2011. Stay tuned.

  9. [...] responded here, saying, “Has it never occurred to you, Father Moyle, that we atheists get angry because you [...]

  10. Thanks for your comments Chris… even though most of what you offer is little more than a sad assortment of straw man fallacies. At least I made you think!

    Fr. Tim Moyle

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