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article imageArchbishop of Westminster: One Step Forward, Half a Step Back

By C.S. McClellan     May 8, 2008 in World
Tolerance of unbelievers has never been a strong point with the Catholic Church, so a recent statement by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, The Archbishop of Westminster, will probably be welcomed by most atheists and agnostics.
In a lecture at Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor expressed the need for respect for those who don’t believe, and called for “more understanding and appreciation between believers and non-believers.” He even went so far as to say that believers themselves may be partly responsible for a decline in faith, and remarked on the increasing unpopularity of public statements of Christian belief. But he warned that God isn’t simply one fact among many, and that "If Christians really believed in the mystery of God, we would realize that proper talk about God is always difficult, always tentative.”
But such apparent open-mindedness isn’t quite what it seems. Despite his belief that “proper talk about God is always difficult, always tentative,” the cardinal had no trouble insisting that God is active in the lives of atheists as well as believers. This is only a short step from saying that atheists and other non-believers really do believe in God, even if they don’t realize it, a position taken by many believers, and not necessarily just Catholics.
As the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor must uphold and protect the values of his religion, making the line between condemnation of and respect for unbelievers a very slim one. We should probably admire the grace of a performance which allows him to make it clear that atheists are wrong in their disbelief and still urge Christians to show them “deep esteem.”
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