Andrew Sullivan really does believe in the truth of Catholicsm

April 3, 2021 • 10:30 am

Andrew Sullivan is a semi-pious Catholic who has been reluctant to specify exactly what tenets of Catholicism he embraces. It’s certain that he’s not a Biblical creationist, as he insisted when we famously crossed swords ten years ago. When I maintained that the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 were taken literally by the early Catholic theologians, and are still embraced by many Catholics today, he resorted to invective and obscenity in attacking my claim:

There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? I defy anyone with a brain (or who hasn’t had his brain turned off by fundamentalism) to think it’s meant literally. It’s obviously meant metaphorically. It screams parable. Ross [Douthat] sees the exchange as saying something significant about the atheist mindset – and I largely agree with everything he says, except his definition of “fundamentalist” doesn’t seem to extend much past Pat Robertson. It certainly makes me want to take Jerry Coyne’s arguments less seriously. Someone this opposed to religion ought to have a modicum of education about it. The Dish, if you recall, had a long thread on this subject in August. No one was as dumb as Coyne.

Well, it was Sullivan who put his foot in his mouth, for all the early Church Fathers, including Aquinas and Augustine, believed that the Genesis creation story was literally true, and about 40% of Americans continue to do so today. Even among Catholics creationism is widespread. Although the Vatican formally has no objections to evolution, many Catholics do. As I wrote in a 2012 paper in Evolution:

27% of American Catholics think that modern species were created instantaneously by God and have remained unchanged ever since, while 8% do not know or refuse to answer (Masci 2009)

Since then I’ve queried Sullivan about what he really believes as a Catholic. Was Jesus the Son of God? Did Jesus perform miracles? Was he resurrected? Sullivan has never, as far as I know, laid out what he believes, which is very odd for a believer, especially an intellectual one.  But we can be sure he doesn’t think that homosexual acts are a “grave sin” that doom one to hell if unconfessed, for Sullivan is gay.

In this week’s column, Sullivan is back to osculating religion again, and repeating his belief that America would fall apart without Abrahamic religion. Click on the screenshot to read the osculation.

After a year of missing Mass because of the pandemic, Sullivan forced himself out of bed of a Sunday and went to Washington’s National Cathedral. Given his animus towards the Catholic Church’s attitude towards gays, and his hatred of its pervasive sex abuse of children, one wonders why Sullivan goes to Mass at all.

My first guess was that he liked the ceremonies, songs, and sermons, which satisfies some need for ritual and spirituality. And indeed, that’s a big part of it:

. . . The one thing Catholicism teaches the bored and distracted church-goer is that your own mood doesn’t really matter. The consecration will happen regardless. Your inspiration is not the point. And what makes this all cohere somehow is physical, communal ritual — and that, I realize, is what I really miss.

I miss the silent genuflection; the chanting in unison with others; the simple standing up and kneeling down and standing up again. I miss the messy democracy of the communion line, and the faces I recognize from decades in my parish, and the faces I don’t. I miss enacting something ineffable with my body, using words I never chose myself, and using them uniquely in this space. I miss the irrational, collective order of it all. I miss the liberation of submission to something far larger than myself.

Well I won’t denigrate the man for wanting some kind of ritual, though he does admit it’s “irrational”. Why irrational, though? Because the significance of the ritual lies in submitting himself “to something far larger than myself.” And by “larger,” you can bet he doesn’t mean “a big crowd of people.” No, he means God. And since there’s no evidence for a God, he’s submitting himself to a phantom.

I’m always baffled when a smart person, especially a journalist, believes not just in a god, but in the dictates of a particular Church. And, indeed, Sullivan finally admits that he believes some of the tenets of Catholicism:

And, beneath all this, only poking above ground every now and again, I miss the weekly reminder of what I deeply believe within the folds of my consciousness: the command of universal love; the fact of life after death; the radical truth of experiential mystery; and the centrality of the Gospels to eternity. Many atheist or agnostic friends sometimes ask me how they too can have a leap of faith. And the truth is I have no idea. I have never leapt anywhere. I have trudged, stumbled, meandered, persisted, and resisted all my life. But to have one part of my existence directed to the timeless and the mysterious just once a week all my life has given me something priceless.

Here he sets himself apart from Jews and Hindus, and many other believers, by affirming that he does belief in life hereafter and the importance of the Gospels. Further, he has no idea at all why he believes what he does. There was apparently something about Catholicism that resonated with him. (I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that he was brought up Catholic.)

Well, I’m not going to tell Sullivan that he’s basing his priceless feelings on a delusion, but I can say it here.  Is it wrong to condition your beliefs and actions on a religion whose tenets have no empirical support? Yes, of course. Would Sullivan still go to Mass if he didn’t think there was a god or an afterlife? Indeed, the Bayesian analysis of a theistic god surely militates strongly against one, so he’s worshiping something that probably doesn’t exist. Nevertheless he feels it exists, and therefore predicates his life on it—a very odd attitude for a journalist who relies on facts.

Well, maybe I’m being too hard on the man, trying to argue that what brings him solace is fictional. After all, it does bring him solace:

I couldn’t say exactly how this counter-rational aspect of my life affects the rest of me, but it definitely stabilizes things. It gives perspective. It makes the awfulness of the world less intolerable, it momentarily breaks what Michael Oakeshott called “the deadliness of doing”.

and

It is good to get out of the addled brain for a while, to live in the soul and the body alone. And I wish I were better able to convey how life-giving this is.

and

I see the calm it gives others too: the repetition of little acts, the recitation of the same words, the unity that such rituals can give a life over the decades. I saw it in my Irish grandmother — rattling through the Rosary like a freight train.

It’s not our brief to tell Sullivan to stop believing in a lie, but it’s perfectly fine to write it here.

As his article winds down, Sullivan argues that one of the benefits of “true” religion—presumably his brand of religion—is that the need for meaning isn’t co-opted into other forms that are harmful. He specifically mentions the fusion of Republicanism with Evangelical Christianity, as well as “wokeness”, which he—and John McWhorter—consider a distortion of religion. Unfortunately, Sullivan characterizes wokeness this way:

. . . .a profoundly atheist view of the world as merely the arrangement of power structures.

I’m not sure how he sees atheism as essential to wokeness, and it’s certain that many of the Woke are religious. But showing the supposed problems with alternatives to religion is the way Sullivan finds reassurance in his belief.

But what I can’t cut him slack for is what he says at the end of his piece: that America would be the worse if it gave up “humble” faith:

These pseudo-religions will fail. They are too worldly, too rooted in contemporary culture wars, too baldly tribal, and too shallow in their understanding of the world to have much staying power. But they can do immense damage to souls and our society in the meantime. They lack the one thing that endures in religious practice: something transcendent that makes the failure in our lives redemptive, and sees politics merely as the necessary art of attending to the imperfect.

It took centuries for Christianity to begin to model that kind of humility and conviction, and to reject earthly power as a distraction from what really matters, what really lasts. And it would be a terrible shame if America threw that glorious inheritance away.

I’d ask him, as I did in an email for his “dissents” section (a comment he never published), how the atheistic countries of Scandinavia and Northern Europe manage to thrive having abandoned their “glorious inheritance of religion”. How do those nonbelievers manage to find solace? And not just that—they’ve constructed governments and societies that in many ways are more humane and moral than America’s.

And that’s my Easter homily.

64 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan really does believe in the truth of Catholicsm

  1. A few days ago I watched a 2008 interview with Philip Roth. I loved this and wrote it down: “When the whole world doesn’t believe in God, it’ll be a great place.”

    1. I’ve got to agree with that sentiment. Only time will tell when, if ever, that will be. Not in our lifetimes I’m afraid.

    2. I don’t really think it makes that much difference – the stupid & selfish remain stupid & selfish either way? On the other hand… In as far as they are culturally dominant & used by men to control women, whether overtly or as a by-product, then yes, it would make a difference. Character is fate, & nice people are nice regardless of religion, or nasty despite lack thereof. Look at Sikhism – the original premise was syncretic & tolerant, but it quickly became wrapped up in tradition & rules & intolerance.

      “I wish I loved the human race,
      I wish I loved its silly face…”

    3. I doubt it. Being an atheist doesn’t equal being rational. I would hazzard to guess most of the woke identify as atheists. Then there was the Soviet Union.

  2. Augustine did not claim that Genesis was literally true, I don’t know how you could get that impression. In the City of God he presents alternate interpretations of different parts of Genesis, offering some literal and some figurative interpretations of the same passages without claiming to be certain which one is correct

    1. As I said in Faith Versus Fact, Augustine had both a literal and a metaphorical interpretation of the Bible, and especially Genesis, but there is abosolutely no doubt that he was a creationist, and that every living thing was created in one instant. He accepted God’s creation, the Flood, and Adam and Eve as our ancestors. One thing is for sure: Augustine did not envision and certainly would not accept the truth: the Darwinian evolution of life on the planet.

      Oh, and the “Big Bang”? That was God’s doing as well.

      1. And, as you have also said, but in my rough Canuck words:

        Some literal, some just stories and metaphors, eh? Well then, tell us your general criteria for distinguishing which is which.

        Met by dead silence.

  3. I get the feeling that Sullivan is one of those believers who took the religion presented to him as a child, Catholicism, and turned it into a customized personal religion. This allows him to continue to participate in the organized ceremony without too much mental conflict. He picks and chooses the set of ideas that are notoriously hard to challenge (existence of god, the afterlife) and places others under a comfortable interpretation (the Garden of Eden is figurative). All this allows him to attend church, gaining the solace and comradery that he covets most, without feeling too guilty for believing in myth. He does feel a little guilty, which is why he lashes out a bit at atheists.

    1. Oh, absolutely. Nearly every religious person does that, and the only question is to what extent. But Sullivan has found the parts of his Catholicism that make him feel better, and so those are the parts he has decided to believe. It’s not a conscious choice, but for each and every one of us, our brains make unconscious choices all the time to keep us sane. We don’t know that the process is happening, and it can be painful to examine them when we catch them (and it seems Sullivan is not particularly interested in examining this one), but a person who’s truly interested in the truth tries to identify those unconscious choices, examine them, and divine (heh) the truth of the matter in each. Still, nobody is devoid of these unconscious decisions, and nobody is able to catch and examine anything close to all of them, to say nothing of arriving at the truth of them when they do. Our existences are built in part by unconscious choices made to keep us sane, and we’ll never know about the vast majority of them, and we often won’t arrive at the truth when we catch and interrogate them.

      1. I’m sure some of the idea filtering is unconscious but surely Sullivan hears things in church that he doesn’t believe and recognizes them. Some of the ignoring must be conscious.

        1. However, with the ubiquitous conspiracy theorists of 2016-2021 and counting, the extraordinary and sickening numbers of such peoples’ denials of evident facts, one really begins to wonder about how easy it is to keep stuff out of the consciousness!

          Despite his writing ability, I wouldn’t rank Sullivan as very far outside that group of dangerous people.

    2. This would be the case for all believers, in varying degrees of individuality.

      Few believers even know all the tenets they are supposed to accept in their particular faith. Nobody even knows if all the “Christian” denominations are unique, or which are identical or compatible. It’s mostly not even possible to say what it is they believe, exactly — who is they, and who’s the spokesperson that signs off with authority that something is truly believed the way he says (we can be pretty sure it’s a he, if there’s such authority).

      How can we even place any confidence in two people literally next to each other on a church bench believing the same thing. People in a particular group, who go to Bible study together, may synchronise their beliefs, but they are few. Most believers merely go along and don’t appear to even treat religious “knowledge” as important. They have a few key “insights”, like an afterlife or the deep infantilism of religiousity of having a “father” watching them, and the rest goes in one ear on Easter Mass and leaves the other no later than lunch. Most religious people have not even a lay interest in theology.

      Further, I’d say that even Christianity does not exist. Certainly historically, various denominations, then cast as competing sects, didn’t think of the others Christian kin, but as heretics and enemies, long after a Peace of Westphalia. Only the shrinking blue dot, with its immense irrational activity, has reminded believers that some others are more different than they are. But arguably, is “folk” Catholocism with his reverence of Virgin Mary is not what the men in the Vatican believe.

    3. I think you’re correct in that he very much internalizes the feeling of camaraderie and connection the Church gives him. On other occasions he has talked about how he enjoyed the recitation of the Nicene Creed because it made him feel a communal sense of belonging to a group that was separate from others. I’ve heard similar expressions of belong from other people speaking about their various faiths. Of course, he’s really describing the light side tribalism. Unfortunately, humans seem unable to avoid tribalism’s dark side which is to exclude, “other”, and at its worst “demonize” those that do not belong to the group. I know Sullivan is quite aware of this as well but he still feels the good side of it and who can blame him for enjoying that feeling? I have never felt I belonged anywhere to that extent and maybe that’s a good thing. I’m pretty sure that feeling of separation is shared by many others.

      1. I agree. I suspect the “dark side” is largely unavoidable. We need others outside our group in order to feel a strong sense of membership. There is a universal church in being one with all humans, and it does give us solace of sorts, but we would need to be challenged by another sentient species. Dolphins and chimps just aren’t doing it. Perhaps we need an alien invasion to bring us all together. 😉

      2. “….to exclude, “other”, and at its worst “demonize” ..”

        And I’d add : …and torture, and kill, and commit genocide…, though I don’t distinguish much militarism, nationalism, nazism, racial supremacy, etc. from religious beliefs.

    4. i has been my experience that every believer, whatever their professes affiliation, believes in their own unique and personal version of their religion.

      1. You’re right, to some extent. However, Sullivan is a public intellectual who writes about his relationship with his religion so it is more relevant and comment-worthy. He either has to confront his filtering of his religion or continue to ignore the elephants in the room and have them pointed out by our host and commenters.

  4. Nice analysis and a happy palliative for Easter. His comment about atheism and wokeness is a stomach turner. I have to say I don’t know why Sullivan gets so much press here. There are better and less mushy-headed talking heads that cover many of the same topics. Thomas Freidman anyone? His March column on China was a powerhouse.

  5. I’m not sure if he’s heard that the Pope wasn’t going to bless same-sex unions recently or just that he doesn’t care as long as he’s “connected with the great mystery.”

    I’m glad I left that heaving pile of morally bankrupt excrement called the Catholic Church seven years ago. It is back-sided thinking like that which Andrew spouts that makes me weary of other cultish movements like wokeism.

  6. First, I have to applaud Sullivan for being willing to openly discuss his admittedly irrational beliefs. I’ve been very hard on him in the past for continually dodging questions about his religion. He’s a public intellectual largely aligned with atheists and skeptics, so it can’t be easy for him to speak openly about this. I’m sure the internet — including many people he considers political bedfellows and even friends — will have a field day with this column, and he knows it. Having said that…

    Sullivan’s article seems like one part justification, one part disposal of his responsibility for spreading the poison of the Church, and one part cry for help. He knows that what he believes is irrational, but he also can’t help himself. And I think I understand many of his reasons, even if they’re slightly buried beneath the text of what he’s written.

    I understand people who grew up within a church (or other organized religion that forms a community) pining for the good ol’ days, lamenting what has been lost. We’ve lost all sense of community across most of the country, of belonging to something greater than oneself. Rather than a higher power, I’d really like to belong to something “larger than myself,” with that something being a community rather than a god. There’s no doubt that religion can be a force for good, giving people a sense of cohesion, responsibility to one another, and causing the dimmer among them to follow certain universal rules of behavior simply by threatening punishment after life. But we’ve found ways of doing that without religion, and the trouble is that we’re not doing them, which pushes people like Sullivan to pine for their religion.

    I think religion is ultimately poison, but that’s largely because there are so many of them. If there was one universal religion in which every religious person believed, and which taught that no unbeliever should be persecuted in any way, I imagine that such a religion would work out quite well as a tool for social cohesion, fostering of communal belonging and responsibility, and filling a gap that many people feel in their lives.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas since people have started talking about Wokeness as a religion. We need to find a way to bring back that sense of community and responsibility to each other, and that way simply cannot be by dividing everyone into racial and other skin-deep “identities,” because that will be just as (if not more) destructive as religion, and we’re intentionally creating competing identities to fight it out, which is absolute insanity. Such a plan can only end one way, and it’s very grim.

    “Given his animus towards the Catholic Church’s attitude towards gays, and his hatred of its pervasive sex abuse of children, one wonders why Sullivan goes to Mass at all.”

    Because, I think, he cares for the church, not The Church. There’s a hole in his life that he can’t seem to fill without all that ceremony; the sense of belonging he gets when he walks into what can be a room full of strangers and having them all greet him as a friend; the idea that there’s something greater and more important than the insanity of the modern world, and to which he can turn once a week so as to forget about everything else. It’s like a shot of heroin: at least I can feel good and have all of my problems and those of the world melt away for just a few hours.

    1. The fact that there are so many religions is one of the atheist’s most potent tools as their existence amounts to a virtual proof that they are 100% man-made. I wouldn’t want to give that up. So I’m a “no” on universal religion.

      1. I agree. I was just hypothesizing about a nonexistent belief structure, and I’d need to add a raft of beliefs and dictates beyond “don’t punish unbelievers.” My point was simply that religion, when not competing with other religions, can work well as a tool for social cohesion and mollifying the common need for belief in something “greater.” I still wouldn’t want to live with that religion around, as I still don’t want people believing in religion at all, but I don’t think people believing in gods and other such nonsense can be overcome, so it would be nice if we had found a way to use that human tendency for good. Alas, we did not.

        1. Yes, it would be nice to have some of the benefits of church without needing to believe in the tenets of religion such as deities and the like. Unfortunately, there is no reasonable substitute as far as I can see. There seems to be a need for a substantial shared belief to make it work. I don’t see an Atheistic Church as workable. What we need is a religion analogous to the Seinfeld Show, a church about nothing.

  7. >>He sets himself apart from Jews and Hindus, and many other believers, by affirming that he does belief in life hereafter and the importance of the Gospels..>>
    Traditional Jews don’t believe in the Gospels, but many certainly do believe in life hereafter. My late mother used to tell me that her Yiddish-speaking grandfather often referred to the ‘yenne velt’ (the world to come). Indeed, in classical Jewish tradition it is the hereafter that is the ‘real’ world. Modern Jews, I include myself, do not incline to such belief.

  8. Went from catholic (barely) in grade school, to agnostic at a catholic high-school, to atheist after college (on my own, not BECAUSE of college) to believing religion is a BAD thing because of the four years of Cult 45. If there ever was someone in America that had the mark of the beast, it was 45.

    One good thing: my mother was a science teacher (and later principal) of a catholic grade school, and she NEVER taught creationism. We were taught that the Old Testament stories were written as parables that people of the time could understand.

    The New Testament, on the other hand…

  9. There was a bit on the local evening news about the steep decline in religiosity in America, where the % of the “nones” have been increasing. They had a talking Catholic Head (a priest) tut-tutting over how the nones are of course wrong. They have forgotten about the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and how believing in Him earns you eternal salvation, blah blah blah. I just laughed at my T.V. No, Mr. Sullivan, we are not worse off for leaving behind religion. What changes come from that are a “net good”.

    But I do wonder how the data presented above has maybe changed now. Since the % of nones has increased, what would be the beliefs among current Catholics now? One suspects that among them there has been an actual increase in the % who believe in a literal instantaneous Genesis and fixity of species. They are maybe a smaller (and older) group, but they are also more of the hard-core variety. If so, then the rebuttal against Andrew that Catholics don’t fall for literal beliefs in the O.T. would be even better.

    1. I look forward to the day when the TV news has an Imam or a Swami as its Talking Religious Head. I’ve also seen columns wherein the writer extols the virtues of Easter or Passover. (I’m thinking of Bari Weiss in connection with the latter.) For balance, I’d also like to see an Imam write a column in a widely circulated news source extolling the virtues of Eid al Fitr or a Swami the virtues of Diwali. Disclosure: I don’t believe in any religion or religion in general. I’d just like to see what would happen if, say, the Chicago Tribune published these types of alternative religious opinions. I guess I would just be feeding my Schadenfreude by this.🙃

  10. “And since there’s no evidence for a God, he’s submitting himself to a phantom.”

    I guess the thing is, the key to religiosity is submission rather than factual truth. There is a felt need to escape the self and focus on something that will take over responsibility for events, like a child letting his mother set the day’s agenda. There must be a certain relief in that, but I don’t find it very ennobling or courageous.
    A big down-side to such “irrational” beliefs as he calls them, is that irrational beliefs can be used to justify evil acts. The cost of rejecting responsibility for living truthfully, whatever it’s joys, is the inquisition and everything other burden the church has foisted on humanity for thousands of years.

    1. One of the prerequisites for being a religious person is the ability to believe in things for which there is no evidence. They hide behind the fact that there is no evidence that they don’t exist.

  11. He gets so close to the truth with this sentence…

    It took centuries for Christianity to begin to model that kind of humility and conviction, and to reject earthly power as a distraction from what really matters, what really lasts.

    Why would that be, Andrew? I’ll tell you. For a good 17 or 18 centuries your beloved Catholicsm and its Protestant offspring ruled the bodies and even the thoughts of rich and poor alike. And what did it give us? A great deal of misery. Secular ideas like universal human rights didn’t and never could come from religion. Religion exists to divide and subjugate. Religion could only begin to “model humility” when it lost its power to terrify.

    You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.

    ― Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian

    1. “Secular ideas like universal human rights didn’t and never could come from religion.”

      Some thinkers see universal human rights as actually springing from the concept that we are all made equally in the image of god, and thus deserve equal treatment. I know we have other rationalisations for according each other rights these days, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it took a theological input—however mistaken— for us to do something as unlikely (given most of our history) as making equal rights a sacred cow.

      I’ve been spending too much time lately pondering on how an atheist should approach the big topics previously reserved for religion. Forgiveness, redemption, charity, brotherly love and so on. How shall an atheist understand them with his world view? We do need to figure those things out, else we shall miss out on some of the more intangible benefits of religion that people like Andrew Sullivan enjoy

      1. “Some thinkers see universal human rights as actually springing from the concept that we are all made equally in the image of god, and thus deserve equal treatment. ”

        Peculiar how it took somewhere north of 1500 years for that to occur, and then, and still, only to some—e.g. evangelism in Georgia and their recent voting laws.

      2. Which religions ever cared about “equal rights”?
        Not Ch’y for a start, or at least the Church.
        No it’s a business.
        And patriarchal.

      3. Of course not. Already in the Bible, men and women are not made equally. Some people were “chosen” to hear the revelation, most were not. God is angry about mixed marriage between “his” people, and surrounding ones, e.g. Ammonites and Moabites, wants them outright killed, and they “shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord” either. So much for equality. The whole idea that God made humans in “his image” is hilarious anyway.

        Apologists try to flood the internet with side-splitting explanations, e.g. how biblical instructions on how to treat your slave is somehow not what it plainly says, but somehow about mercy and helping the “slave”, or how death-murder-kill-thy-neighbours-and-rape-their-women somehow doesn’t mean what it says, because God changed his mind or something — but in case you didn’t get the memo: this is the internet. Peer pressure, and bullying to change what is plain to see don‘t work anymore. Nobody buys this drivel, not even a growing number of Christians.

  12. What struck me the most in that whole article was referring to “life after death” as a fact.

  13. Isn’t the Washington National Cathedral Episcopal?
    They’re Catholic-adjacent, but that’s it.
    Incidentally, it’s a magnificent building.

  14. Despite my current affiliation with the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, my background is in what was called in Edwardian times “the Hebrew persuasion”. As such, I have both memory and a nostalgic soft spot for certain Jewish rituals, and can therefore understand Sullivan’s nostalgia to some extent. My favorite ritual was always the Passover Seder, and some attempts to keep it up are recounted at: http://www.krabarchive.com/ralphmag/CC/seder.html .

  15. Without reading all the comments and risking repeating the thoughts of another, the reason an intelligent person can believe certain things and find comfort in irrational ritual is because that person is trained so.

    I’m sure there were millions of intelligent persons that walked into machine gun fire, while on the other side millions of intelligent persons pulled the triggers. There is not one person born a Christian, they must be trained as one.

    Sullivan feels the tug of his training, like a bell eliciting saliva.

  16. It’s obvious that Sullivan doesn’t understand his own religion. Catholicism (and all of Western Christianity) depends on a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal Original Sin/Fall of Man event. This has led to several embarrassing instances of Catholics trying to reconcile these beliefs with modern biology and paleontolgy (some of which our good host has discussed before.)

    1. Yes indeed. The same 1950 Encyclical that okayed evolution stated that belief in a literal Adam and Eve from which we are all descended is a non-negotiable part of church doctrine. If Sullivan disagrees, he’s not following Catholicism as the Pope sees it. If Sullivan thinks “anyone with a brain” would reject a literal A&E, he’s calling his own faith stupid.

      I really have no idea why claiming the authors considered it literal makes him so angry. The story is over 2,500 years old. We’re talking stone age people here. No, that doesn’t mean they were dumb, but it does mean that they had no idea about deep time or cosmology. Thinking the Earth was formed in 6 days by God isn’t terribly farfetched for such a people.

  17. “After a year of missing Mass because of the pandemic, Sullivan forced himself out of bed of a Sunday and went to Washington’s National Cathedral.” There is a Catholic cathedral near Dupont Circle, but the cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue commonly known as Washington National Cathedral is Protestant Episcopal. I doubt if Sullivan went to mass there.

  18. When I asked this kind of questions to one of my believer siblings, the answer was, “I believe in God because without God there is nothing”. So, that’s the problem, what’s more important, truth, or to have something that makes life worth living? I’m not sure you can have both.

    1. If you accept that the universe is natural and deterministic then it follows that there is no supernatural. But people have evolved, so far, to try and derive predictability out of chaos – but there is no meaning to be derived. Some people find this deeply unsettling.

      In seeking ‘Meaning’ many people bring their own ‘meanings’ into their lives. In the past the main way of doing this was to accept the meaning pre-assembled by the religion industry, but people have also found meaning in family life, philosophy, politics sports teams, patriotism, humanism, meditation, art, and so on.

      If people want to find their ‘meaning’ in pick-and-mix aspects of the religion of their culture, well I wont stand in their way. Unless they want to compel me to play along, of course.

  19. Two examples of Abrahamic believers: The guy who killed a policeman in front of the Capitol yesterday was Muslim, specifically from the Nation of Islam; And the guy who murdered ten people last week in a Boulder supermarket was also a Muslim.

  20. When I tell people that I am not religious, they always ask, “But what about the afterlife.”. It seems to me that religion is a con to control people because they think that’s the way they will live forever. Surely the advertising authorities should question this con? There is no evidence to support this afterlife story.

    I daresay that most people lack critical thinking skills. They’re happy to waste this life because if they believe strongly they’ll have another life to waste.

  21. Sullivan: “There’s no evidence that the Garden of Eden was always regarded as figurative? Really? Has Coyne read the fucking thing? . . . No one was as dumb as Coyne.”

    The response of someone who can’t stand the idea of someone differing with him.

    Take the ordeal of Job, literal or metaphorical: does Sullivan approve of the treatment of Job, not to mention his kinfolk? Why did they have to die/be killed as part of a celestial wager? I remember thinking that as a child growing up in the Southern Baptist Church. I also remember, after several weeks of bearing up under sermons refulgent with Old Testament exegesis, finding myself weary of all the “sacrificing.” But a youngster doesn’t ask questions, so as to “Keep The Peace.” As with Job, so with me, I gathered, when I contemplated whether I would treat Job that way: “Where were you when I hung the moon and the stars?” At the end of the tale, Job is the recipient of some sort of “restorative justice,” including new kinfolk. Apparently sparing the old kinfolk wouldn’t do.

    To paraphrase a well-known fundamentalist bumper sticker, Sullivan says it, he believes it, that settles it.

    Apparently, anything is true if someone thinks so.

  22. The person (whoever he is – I normally skip over these posts and I’ve forgotten who this god-squaddy is) is in a bad place ( his text, re-formatted):

    what I deeply believe within the folds of my consciousness:
    1-the command of universal love;
    2- the fact of life after death;
    3- the radical truth of experiential mystery;
    4- and the centrality of the Gospels to eternity.

    Respectively, he believes in
    1- a command honoured more in the flouting than the following
    2- a flat out lie – which still has to receive any supporting evidence at all
    3- a lie, if the words have any meaning at all (dubious)
    4- and some incomprehensible mush which also semantically evaluates to nothing

    It’s always a shame to see a brain wasted.

    Next time somebody sees this (checks title) “Andrew Sullivan” organism, can they ask him for my 20 minutes back. I can give hime the “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” episode I have on the radio in exchange, and he’ll get far and away the better of the deal.

    When did WEIT/ WP stop accepting list tags?

    1. the radical truth of experiential mystery

      Yes, that really stood out as word salad on steroids, to mix metaphors. What does journalist Sullivan think of lived experience leading to ‘your’ truth and ‘my’ truth?

      It recalls my attempts to learn a language by using a dictionary to read a text. The dictionary authoritatively gave me the meaning(s) of the individual words in a verbal group, but sometimes there was just no way I could put them all together to make sense of a phrase.

      1. My guess is that all Sullivan means by “the radical truth of experiential mystery” is the wonder at how human experience and consciousness arises from 3 pounds of neurons. I’ll go along with the wonder and that we truly experience it, but stop short of the woo that many extrapolate from it. Perhaps this is just a rhetorical flourish that got out of hand.

  23. “I’m not sure how he sees atheism as essential to wokeness, and it’s certain that many of the Woke are religious.”

    And even those who aren’t tend to have a soft spot for the religion, since they believe it’s a refuge for the oppressed and marginalized. They’re right, but it’s a dead-end refuge. Some churches provide charity and social services, but the European welfare states do a bigger and better job.

    I would also point out there are very few examples of prominent atheists who are woke, aside from a small-timer like P.Z. Myers. The New Atheists are routinely trashed by the woker parts of the media.

    1. Sullivan is wrong, but not entirely so.

      Few woke people are deeply religious unless many young college-educated white liberals are.

      The New Atheists of today who care a lot about their atheism (like Richard Dawkins) are a small subgroup of a formerly larger New Atheist community. Some years ago, most of its members went woke. What explains the trashing of today’s New Atheists is that those that are left often do not subscribe to wokeism despite being progressive in their politics. Such a similar but defiant group makes a great enemy for the tribal mind.

      1. Now that you mention it, I have noticed a large trend of atheist podcasts going woke, most notably prominent ones like The Scathing Atheist, Cognitive Dissonance, and the How-to-Heretic, citing stuff like “white privilege” and praising CRT while laughing away cancel culture as if it were a paranoid response from the right which is way far from the case.

        I know Friendly Atheist was already doing that years before 2020 though that may have influenced those podcasts since Scathing Atheist usually cites Mehmet’s new articles.

  24. “There was apparently something about Catholicism that resonated with him. (I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that he was brought up Catholic.)” – According to Wikipedia (I know….),

    Sullivan was born in South Godstone, Surrey, England, into a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Sullivan#Early_and_personal_life

    As always in such cases, it would be remarkable if the imaginary deity they believed in was not also the same imaginary friend shared by their family or compatriots.

  25. Well done in your takedown of Sulli there.
    He’s bright – sure – but misguided. Often I find those folks have had very hard upbringings.

    His pontificating on things he evidently knows nothing about (economics, Brexit, marijuana, law, the War on Drugs to name a few – and with so much CERTAINTY – aided by his accent*) often pisses me off.
    Don’t hold your fire, PPC (E).

    D.A., J.D.
    NYC https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/
    *I know the accent trick, I’m Australian. I use it.

  26. “…the atheistic countries of Scandinavia and Northern Europe ……’ve constructed governments and societies that in many ways are more humane and moral than America’s.”

    Yes—and I’d be interested to know of even a single way the U.S. has something more humane and moral. Maybe ‘many’ should be ‘every’.

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