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.

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.

  • Melinda T

    “When your opponent is in the process of embarrassing himself, don’t interrupt him.”

    So well put and gave me a good laugh as well… I thought the Pope was spot on at every step of his journey to Britain – the man truly embodies the message of Christ and this message will always win out in the end – and I thank God for him…

  • chatto

    All is quiet on the Briton front after the Pope’s trip, and it’s not just the Catholic commentariat that have concluded that the trip was a success, and the various protests to have whimpered and fizzled out.

    Great. But should it take the Pope coming here to do that? Don’t our Bishops have a role in standing up for the faith in the public sphere? Sure, they’d be best to imitate BXVI’s fair-minded approach, but to too many of us, it seems that they aren’t doing anything.

  • Micha Elyi

    I agree with chatto’s observations. I’ll add that the Pope has left Britain but the supposedly “routed” atheists and pagans remain in place and mind you they’ll be back on their feet soon enough.…group.html

    Wow. That was quick. Now, will Britain’s bishops remain cowed and silent when the atheists also return to their soapboxes?