Preaching by The Book? My Correspondence with Father Tim Moyle

My regular readers may recall that, in December, Father Tim Moyle, a Catholic priest, wrote an open letter to atheists, Dear Atheists: Why the Long Face?

Father Moyle believes we atheists are angry because we, “… will never experience ultimate justice, peace or love” and “… cannot look past the annihilation in death.”

I responded here, saying, “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?”

After detailing the religious behaviour which gets us riled up, I  concluded:

“… 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.”

Prompted by this exchange of blog posts, Doug Steley of Victoria (Australia) decided to contact Father Moyle personally.  The following article details Doug’s response to Father Moyle’s hypothesis about atheist anger and documents the correspondence which followed.

I’m delighted to welcome Doug as a guest blogger on Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear.

 


Preaching by The Book? My Correspondence with Father Tim Moyle

by Doug Steley

I am in the midst of an interesting exchange of emails with a Catholic Priest in Canada by the name of Father Tim Moyle.

Father Tim posted an article on why atheists like myself are angry.

I have to admit I found it curious that someone who appears to have been a life-long, very devout Christian like Fr Tim would know much about how atheists think,  but he professed to be an expert on the subject so who am I to disbelieve him?

So, I documented the reasons why I had become an atheist and why I was still angry –  angry at religion, and somewhat angry at life I guess –  and why I am certainly angry with people who try to tell me things that are not true.

This is the email I sent the priest, edited slightly as on re-reading it there were sections that weren’t well written.  (As a dyslexic, I still have problems reading and writing.)

Hi Father Tim

I recently read your blog on why we atheists are angry and I must admit you put a slant on this I had not considered before.

I have been an atheist for the last 25 years after 25 years as a Christian so, unlike you, I think I possibly have more of a perspective about these things.

In my short life I have seen a fair amount of death. I have quite often been in life threatening situations as both a Christian and an atheist and, I have to admit, that there is very little difference when you are seconds away from death.

I am neither angry at death nor particularly afraid of it.  I know my death is inevitable and I just plan to live as long as I can (and remain useful to society) and to die, hopefully, as peacefully and as pain free as I can.

I would also at this point say that this is pretty common amongst my atheist friends.

May I ask you one of the questions that I have asked for decades now and which is one of the main points of my becoming an atheist?

I would really appreciate your answer on this.

As I said, I was born into a  Christian family. I am also severely disabled with dyslexia and could barley read or write until I was 20.  At school, I was regularly beaten for being stupid and lazy and abused by the good Christian teachers and other students because I came from a broken home (that was unusual and shameful in the 1960s) and because I could not cope with my school work.

At night, I would regularly and earnestly pray that I would be able to learn my lessons and be a good student or that my teachers would understand that I was trying and not cane me.  This never happened and I continued to be a poor student and I continued to be caned and strapped for my mistakes. I was also abused and beaten for being a liar. I would be accused of not studying and of not doing my homework because my grades were so poor. If I lied and said that I had not studied I was hit for not doing what I was told. If I told the truth and said I had studied as hard as I could, I would be hit for telling lies. There was no way to escape this.

Before you say, “God does not give us any more than we can cope with”  here, I did have two close friends at school in similar situations. One committed suicide because he could no longer cope with the abuse and the other has spent her life in and out of mental institutions.

Anyway, the question that has kept arising in my mind for many years now is:

If someone eventually loses their faith after years of abuse at the hands of Christians and after earnestly praying for help from God and Jesus both as a child and later as an adult to no avail;

If that person then rejects religion and says “There is no God or at least no God I would care to praise”,  then is that person doomed to hell for eternity according to the Bible’s scriptures?

If a person abuses an innocent child so badly that they lose their faith and suffer physical and mental harm, but that person asks for the  forgiveness of Jesus and prays for their own salvation, why are they then promised eternity in the paradise of heaven according to the Bible?

As you can see, I have quite a personal interest in your reply. I have studied the Bible for many years, both as a Christian and as an atheist, and, so far, the only scriptural answer I can read is the abused will go to hell and the abuser to heaven.

I cannot see how this can in anyway be called justice or love, and this is one of the reasons I left the church and religious beliefs behind.

I must admit, in the 25 years since I left I have been happier and had far better friends than I ever did as a believer.

Anyway, thank you for your time, I hope you have a safe and happy Christmas season, I look forward to hearing from you perhaps in the New Year.

Doug

His answer arrived quite quickly, within a few days, and full of good cheer, confidence and platitudes and I must admit it was somewhat surprising in its sweeping challenge  to the teachings of the Bible as I understood it.

Doug,

Short answer:  No. People who have suffered as you have and lost your faith as a result are not destined for hell. Live a good life, love the people in it and then trust in the providence of a loving and forgiving God who understands abuse, pain and suffering too. As to the ‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle line’… if that were true, why do psychiatrists and therapists have such a good business? Why do people suicide? Clearly the events of life are capable of crushing us and this has nothing to do with God. Remember our faith teaches us that he is not the only spiritual power at work on the earth.

May you be blessed with a Christmas of peace, love and joy!

Thanks for writing.

Fr. Tim

Could this be true? Atheists and unbelievers who live a good life will be welcomed into heaven and true Christians who have followed the faith and asked forgiveness are punished?  This was pretty amazing stuff and bordering on the heretical.  It sure went against everything I had been taught in the Bible that no sin was too great to be forgiven if someone believed and asked forgiveness –  as any Christian must regularly do  – and that people were only saved and granted access to heaven by their faith,  not by any good works.  No faith, no belief, no heaven!

I immediately sent back an email questioning the scriptural validity of these comments and got this reply:

Doug:

Sorry. Can’t help you with this one due to time constraints (next 72 hrs  Christmas are kind of hectic for priests). It is Catholic teaching however and I could refer to the Catechism if you like and send you the references.

Logic itself should be enough though to validate the point I am making. No one can know the state of mind/heart/soul of another before God. We cannot judge what is in one’s soul if when they get to the end of their rope, they lack the grace, strength or capacity to go on. I simply do not believe in a God that would punish someone for all eternity simply because the trials and struggles of life became too heavy for them to bear. Exempting those who commit existential suicide – no rational person would willingly choose to end their life if they could see another path to relief. Does this not demonstrate in itself that they are suffering from an illness of the heart/mind/soul – especially if they follow through with ending their life? If God will not deny someone eternal life because they died of a physical illness, why would he do so for someone that suffers an illness of the spirit?

Fr. Tim

Ah ha! Logic!  The Catholic Church was using LOGIC to define the word of God Almighty!  This was, indeed, a new and interesting turn of events.  Here, I must admit, I don’t know much about the Catechisms.  I am not a Catholic, but I was interested to see what he had to say, so I waited until the New Year and reminded him of his offer to send the Biblical and Catechism references he referred to.  Unfortunately, this time there had been a lot of his parishioners die from the cold and he was busy.  Could I remind him later in the week?  As requested, I waited and replied, reminding him of his promise.

To that email I have had no reply as yet and I am getting the feeling that I never will.

I will continue to ask questions of Fr Tim. If he is willing to make sweeping statements then I am happy to discuss the issues with him.

Sadly, as I often find in such discussions, Christians are more than willing to make such sweeping comments but, when asked to defend their comments and back up their statements, they suddenly find they are busy with other things or fall silent. I do note that Fr Tim has found time to keep his blog updated and posted many new comments and items since our discussion began.  He has time to spread God’s word to those who don’t ask questions.

But, when it comes to one small voice asking questions, he falls silent.

Odd?

Doug Steley

Postscript: Since he wrote this article several days ago, Doug has received further correspondence from Father Moyle – none of which, according to Doug,  provides Biblical references for Father Moyle’s assertion that God would not deny access to heaven for an atheist who lost their faith as a result of psychological or physical abuse by his earthly representatives.

In Father Moyle’s defence, despite having some strange ideas about atheists, he seems like a nice, intelligent  guy who has constructed an image of ‘God’ which is completely at odds with the deity which (allegedly) speaks through the Old and New Testaments.

It seems that in order to cope with the cognitive dissonance Father Moyle has done what, ultimately, any intelligent, rational Christian must do – abandon or creatively interpret scripture so as to create a deity in his own image, with his own sense of fairness, logic and reason.  And that, Father Moyle, is exactly our point.

Chrys Stevenson

3 thoughts on “Preaching by The Book? My Correspondence with Father Tim Moyle

  1. Jim McDonald

    I might have posted my response to Moyle’s article previously. But here he is attempting to fall back on logic!

    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

    Reply
  2. RichardJ

    Hi Chrys/Doug,

    I have had almost exactly the same experience with two priests, both Anglicans. They say they’re willing to discuss faith, but when the hard questions start flowing the somehow forget my email address or say they are too busy. Anyway…. Any wonder I’m an atheist.

    Reply

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