Is atheism to blame for global warming?
Pope Benedict is upsetting atheists again. This time he has been speaking about the environment and suggesting that atheism is dangerous to the natural world. Well, that's how the story has been reported. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society has dismissed the pope's comments as "inflated" and "self-serving". At the risk of sounding like the pope's press officer, this seems to be another example of a media-driven papal puff piece. Here's what the pope actually said:
"Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where his existence is denied? If the human creature's relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the 'final authority,' and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible."
Yes, of course, this could be read as the claim that all atheists are selfish so-and-so's who are driven by an urge to exploit the world. But that's not how I think the pope intended his words to be read. I think Pope Benedict's comments are addressed to believers as much as they are addressed to non-believers. Every person of faith knows what it is like to live without faith -- to confess a statement of belief while denying that confession with their lives. I think that's also what the pope has in mind in these comments.
But some humanists are plainly upset by the comments, in any case, because they seem to suggest that only people of faith can ultimately care for the created world (if that's what Pope Benedict actually said). Some of the world's leading environmentalists, poverty campaigners and human rights activists are, of course, people of no faith whatsoever. Peter Singer, the Australian humanist philosopher at Princeton University, gives 20 per cent of his income to poverty charities, campaigns for animal and environmental welfare projects, and challenges the value system holding together today's international financial activity. He does so on the basis of utilitarian moral principles and without any recourse to supernatural commitments.
Atheist campaigners say this is not the first time Pope Benedict has challenged the moral commitments of secularists.
The fact that the pope's opposition to atheism is news is itself more interesting. It's hardly a suprise to discover that the pope regards atheism as a form of philosophical sin and that the denial of God's existence is A Bad Thing. Isn't that the theological equivalent of Dog Bites Man?
Read the pope's full address here.
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