New pope reaches out to Nones

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday (March 19) at the Vatican. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

With a new pope comes new alliances. Newly ordained Pope Francis is eager to establish peace between religious and nonreligious groups. We can all work together for peace, he said.

But the new pope may have a few challenges waiting for him in this area. Martin E. Marty, professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, see’s many disconnects between the papacy and Catholic members, but a much larger disconnect between Catholics and Nones.

The “Nones” of “no-religion” haunt believers. And in Catholic cities like Chicago, half-full parking lots and pews testify to the indifference in the face of which the new Pope will try to make a difference.

But no doubt Pope Francis will do his best to reach past this indifference. During his first ecumenical meeting the new Pope expressed a desire to reach out to those who don’t belong “to any religious tradition” but feel the “need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God.”

While, he admits to continue to hold by his predecessor’s view that the elimination of God from humanity will often lead to violence, he does not let this belief cause him to dismiss the Nones altogether.

But Francis, who has set a humbler tone to the papacy since his election on March 13, added that atheists and believers can be “precious allies” in their efforts “to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.”

Now, I am not a Catholic, nor do I claim to be nonreligious, but there is something truly wonderful about people from two radically different perspectives joining together for a common goal. Especially since I have just come from perusing the Westboro Baptist Church’s website where intolerance and hateful language abounds. That is one group I fear no one will be able to reach any time soon. But while the WBC seems to have lost hope in humanity, it is refreshing to see the fervor of others to keep that hope alive.

Of course, I am not naive enough to think all is sunshine and lollipops between the Pope and Nones. Nor do I have the foresight to know if his promises will be acted upon or reciprocated. I’m sure there are those who have no love for Pope Francis, and no doubt he will make mistakes and decisions that will cause debate. But it’s a step, or at least a glance, in the right direction. For now I will chose to be hopeful in his acknowledgment of the religious/nonreligious difference, while still finding some common ground to stand on.

Perhaps an atheist for Pope…

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins for pope? If you don’t know, Richard Dawkins is one of the most pronounced atheists in the world today – so naturally he would be a great candidate for the papacy.

At least that is what a few humorous gamblers implied on the gambling site  paddypower.com. Among the 72 other pope candidates to be bet upon, Richard Hawkins appeared with the ironic odds of 666-1. But this seems to be more than just a funny gimmick. Apparently stunts like these are often present in moments of religious decision.

The Christian Post recently added an article discussing reasons behind the seemingly fruitless practice:

British atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has emerged as a contender among a leading Irish bookmaker’s list of candidates to replace a retired Benedict XVI as pope and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, which a religion and pop culture expert believes could be a sign of discontent among the Catholic faithful.

The article went on to quote Dr. Jennifer E. Porter, religion and pop culture teacher at Memorial University in Canada

I think betting on Richard Dawkins, Bono or Father Dougal McGuire are tongue-in-cheek ways for people to highlight their criticisms of what they see as a Catholic Church increasingly out of step with mainstream priorities, and the conviction that the church does not ‘hear’ what ordinary people are trying to say… Don’t believe in a literal God? Vote for Dawkins!

While obviously futile, the ballet for Dawkins seems to have been more of an avenue to make certain people’s opinion heard. Did it do any good? Time will tell, but I am going to go out on a limb and say the new pope isn’t thinking twice about atheist who didn’t even come close to sitting on the papal seat.  At best, it seems to have provided a good chuckle for the few people who actually heard about it.

Hazards of crossing an atheist

Be careful the next time you offend an atheist, they might take you to court for discrimination.

Usually it’s the religious folks who are fighting for less discrimination, but there is a new trend starting. Freedom from religion has spurred many secular groups to find equality with religion or simply to remove religion altogether.

The Wyndgate Country Club recently lost a court battle with the Center For Inquiry (CFI) in the Richard Dawkins lawsuit. The club had the nerve to cancel an engagement with Richard Dawkins back in October of 2011 and in April 2012 CFI filed a lawsuit saying the club was discriminating against Dawkins because he is an atheist.

The country club’s event coordinator told CFI that the owner “does not wish to associate with certain individuals and philosophies.” This is primarily because of an interview Dawkins had with Fox News earlier that month, in which he talked extensively about his atheist views. However, the club stated later in the 2012 court papers that while the event was cancelled, it was not out of discrimination. In fact, they say this is just the CFI’s ploy to gain publicity.

The CFI is ecstatic after their victory in the case:

This is an important victory for nonbelievers in the fight for equality under the law, one that makes clear that discrimination based on a lack of religion is just as unacceptable as discrimination in any other form. In fact, this is perhaps the first time that federal and state civil rights statutes have been successfully invoked by nonbelievers in a public accommodations lawsuit.

Who is right here? Is CFI embellishing the truth? Or should the Wyndgate Club have done a little more checking on public laws before deciding to cancel the event? One thing is for sure, Wyndgate didn’t think this one decision was going to make them pay out considerable funds a year and a half later.