Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor “Atheists Not Fully Human”


Many previously thought that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor was a little off his rocker. Earlier this week in an interview he stated that “atheists are not fully human” because we do not “search for transcendent meaning”. In other words, because atheists do not seek the answers to larger questions such as “why are we here?”, “Where do we come from?” and “Is this all that there is?”, atheists have not fully developed their humanity.

This is, from my perspective, a huge presumption on the Cardinal’s part. As an atheist, asking the bigger questions is one of the major reasons many people become atheists. Rather than reaching the conclusion that there is a higher power or grand designer involved, we choose to listen to science and let logic and fact answer those bigger questions. Skeptics weigh the information at hand, weed out the fact from the fiction and use the scientific method to evaluate the facts.

When Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor says things like this, he is speaking out of ignorance. I say ignorance and not stupidity because ignorance can be educated. He seems to be a cognizant man capable of clear thought. He is simply misinformed.

Yes, I understand that what I just said sounds like I’m delusional and living in a candy-coated world. I would just prefer to give the Cardinal the benefit if the doubt. Because if I don’t and he really did know what he was saying, that implies a number of horrifying thoughts.

If atheists and other non-believers are not fully human, or less than human then we can be treated the same way African-Americans were. They were once thought of as less than human and summarily treated like animals. Dictators through the ages have used that “logic” to commit genocide. If the Cardinal truly believes that we are less than human, to what lengths will he go to assure our “humanity”? Are we in for a  modern Inquisition? The ramifications of the Cardinal’s comments are horrifying.

The insult is secondary. I am fairly certain if he was sincere in his statement that it was meant to insult the atheist community as a whole. Perhaps he feels it is justified. After all, high profile individuals in the atheist and skeptical community have said some unkind things about the Catholic Church. Apparently it’s okay to stoop to petty vengeance. Again, that is IF he understands the ramifications of what he said.

I may want to live in a candy-coated world but I’m not naive. I believe that the Cardinal knew full well what he was saying and what it implied. And to that I reply, “Fuck you, you sonofabitch”.

Sorry, dear readers. Sometimes I just can’t be a good skeptic.

***Unfortunately YouTube removed the video of the interview for violations. Please google “Cardinal Cormack Murphy-O’Connor “Atheists Not Fully Human” for other perspectives on this interview.

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8 Comments

  1. Jason said,

    February 5, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    I have to say, I find your complaint rather odd. What is actually wrong with what the Cardinal said ? If you embrace a functionalist view of what makes someone human as, in my experience, most atheists do, then he is just doing the same thing that someone who declares a functionally impaired or unborn human being a “non-person” because they lack some functional ability.

    Instead of saying someone is a non-person because they don’t think well enough or something he is just using a different functional criteria.

    To be honest, if you accept a functional criteria for what makes someone human, you can’t really fault his reasoning. You’d need to jettison the whole functionalist approach to “personhood” to be able to complain about it really.

    And besides he does have a point. If human beings are made to worship God and be in relationship with him, then there is something deeply defective about the atheist who rejects that fundamental part of our human nature. It is an if that is true, but it does follow from the assumption.

    I don’t understand why atheists get so offended at people making perfectly reasonable observations. And besides, it is far less rude than many of the things your coreligionists have said.

    Jason

    • Ukemike said,

      January 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      “To be honest, if you accept a functional criteria for what makes someone human, you can’t really fault his reasoning.”
      —————————————–
      Surely I can. He is incorrect in his assertion that “search for transcendent meaning” is a necessary function of humanity. Why does meaning have to be transcendental. All the atheists I know have searched for meaning. Many have come to the conclusion that if you want meaning in your life you have to make it yourself.

      I give thanks to the legions of scientists that spent their effort searching for the nature of reality with the scientific method instead of navel gazing for something transcendent.

      It would easier, and no less insulting, to argue that religious people are not yet fully human since they have failed to mature past magical thinking and their ethics are based on a divine reward/punishment scheme.

      • Jason said,

        January 8, 2011 at 4:14 am

        “Many have come to the conclusion that if you want meaning in your life you have to make it yourself. ”

        You realize that adults call this “playing make believe” right?

        “It would easier, and no less insulting, to argue that religious people are not yet fully human since they have failed to mature past magical thinking and their ethics are based on a divine reward/punishment scheme.”

        It might work better if the argument you are putting forward is sound but it isn’t.

        And you have completely missed the point. IFF what makes someone a human being is a result of some functional capability they have, as most atheists contend when it comes to the unborn, then the only difference between the thinking of the arch bishop and the average atheist is the choice of criteria. The actual argument is itself identical.

        The problem is that functionalist accounts of humanity are the problem not what criteria is picked.

  2. Smitty said,

    February 9, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Jason,

    His statement is objectionable whether or not you have a functionalist view of what it means to be human, because his definition of human is absurd and bigoted. Not all definitions of humanity are equal, and coming to a particular conclusion about the God hypothesis is not a requirement for being human. Of course, he’s free to come to a different conclusion, but that doesn’t mean his conclusion is immune from criticism. The fact is, his conclusion is baseless and bigoted, and people should point that out.

    You seem to imply that, if you hold a functionalist view, then you have no grounds to criticize or object to anyone else’s definition of what it means to be human. By this logic, you should not object to someone saying that blacks are not fully human, or jews, or women, or any other minority… or even Christians for that matter. Someone could reason their way to such a conclusion just as the cardinal did, and they would be just as wrong in their reasoning. The cardinal’s conclusion is prejudiced against atheists in the same way saying blacks aren’t fully human is prejudiced against blacks. The effect of this statement is to demonize a minority group of people based on their religious beliefs. It promotes discrimination and discourages empathy and compassion for a group of people, and as such, it should be condemned by people of all religious persuasions.

  3. Jason said,

    February 9, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Sorry Smitty you are mistaken. You are partially right his view is absurd and bigoted, but no more or less so than other such functionalist views of human beings. The only difference is that he happens to be using a different set of criteria. The problem is with the whole functionalist idea of what makes someone a “person”, that is bigoted and evil to the core, whining about a particular manifestation is just a denial of reality.

    Of course the Cardinals claim is prejudiced against atheists in the same way as denying the full humanity of blacks if prejudiced against blacks. You are missing my point.

    If you are going to say it is alright to have definitions of personhood based on some arbitrary set of criteria a person possesses, then it is hardly reasonable to whine about where a particular person, employing exactly the same sort of reasoning with a different set of criteria, chooses to draw the lines. The problem is with the entire concept.

    I have no problem with condemming the Cardinal for indulging in this sort of throughly unbiblical approach to human nature (assuming he isn’t being misrepresented), but the problem is with the starting assumptions that humans require some set of criteria beyond being human beings to qualify as persons. Once you accept that starting assumption, it is nothing more than churlishness to whine when someone wants to draw the line in a different place.

  4. ianam said,

    February 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    To be honest, if you accept a functional criteria for what makes someone human, you can’t really fault his reasoning.

    If you had any familiarity with honesty, you wouldn’t make such a ludicrous claim.

  5. ianam said,

    February 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    he is just doing the same thing that someone who declares a functionally impaired or unborn human being a “non-person” because they lack some functional ability.

    Your whole stupid dishonest argument seems to start from this strawman. The fact is that no one — certainly not those who are criticizing Murphy-O’Connor’s statement — declares any functionally impaired human being a “non-person”. Nor is the basis for considering fetuses not to be persons a matter of their functional capacities.

    But even if this weren’t a pathetically dishonest strawman, it’s beside the point, because Murphy-O’Connor didn’t refer to a functional capacity, he referred to a behavior — and even then he mischaracterized it.

    Once you accept that starting assumption, it is nothing more than churlishness to whine when someone wants to draw the line in a different place.

    So, someone who thinks that chairs can be sat on is just being churlish if they criticize someone who claims that something isn’t a chair if you can’t butter your toast with it?

    People like Jason, who are grossly dishonest, ignorant, and stupid, are all too human.

  6. Jason said,

    February 10, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    “The fact is that no one — certainly not those who are criticizing Murphy-O’Connor’s statement — declares any functionally impaired human being a “non-person”. ”

    I’m curious to know what you base this on. I am quite familiar with the works of atheists like Peter Singer and others who do exactly this sort of thing, and to be honest, i’ve yet to encounter an atheist that doens’t embrace this conception of “personhood”. If you don’t then you can disagree with the cardinal.

    I’m not dishonest or ignorant, i’ve talked to plenty of different people over the years about the concept of personhood embraces this functionalist criteria when they are weeding out those who are expendable.

    As for a “behavior” I am pretty sure atheism is _not_ a behavior but a belief. But that quibble aside, there is nothing dishonest about singling that criteria out as one for deciding personhood once you start down the road of allowing arbitrary criteria to decide what makes a human being a non-person. That is just the logic of personhood theory. You can call me names all you like, it doens’t change the reality of the situation.


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