Letter to a young atheist

Anonymous wrote a comment on the post Channel 4 sex propaganda and pleaded with me not to delete it. Unfortunately, I could not post it as written but am happy to post it with the expletives edited out and offer a considered reply.
this world is [expletive deleted - "messed" up would be better, really] i mean come on a new age is here u ppl need to c that. god is dieing, want to know y?
cuz it is a dumb superstition. there 100s of reasons y "god" cant b real and only "ur god" thinks sex is a bad thing unless under "conditions". get over ur selfs i was raised atheist and i don't do drugs,i don't have a STD and i go 2 every class that i have even if i don't want to, u don't need god to b a good person. the [abbreviated expletive deleted - perhaps "rubbish"] that comes out of the mouths like those u ppl have [expletive deleted - perhaps "hacks"] me off. (administrator plz don't delete my message i read and respected the opinions of the other ppl and i hope u do the same.)
Dear anonymous

Thank you for taking the trouble to post a comment. First of all, you probably know that you cannot at the same time say that God is dying and that he does not exist. But I take it that you mean that belief in God and organised religion is dying out. That is true in England but false in many other parts of the world. As regards our own Catholic faith, the number of Catholics worldwide, and indeed, the number of priests and religious sisters, is growing all the time.

More important, though, is the claim that God cannot be real. I would reply to that by saying that nothing else can be real if God is not. We need to enquire where things came from in the very beginning. It is no good saying that it is all "just there", that the big bang "just happened." To posit the existence of a first cause makes sense of the universe. The alternative, espoused by Richard Dawkins in his most recent book is to posit the existence of a multiverse or many universes. This gets us nowhere because you still need an explanation for those other universes - or you are left with saying that they are "just there."

I am glad to hear that you don't do drugs - in my experience, many young people do nowadays: far more than when I was offered cannabis some 30 years ago (I did refuse it!) Your desire to be "good" is most commendable in the society in which we live where many young people see no good reason to be good. However, there is still a debate to be had about what constitutes "being good."

You speak particularly about sexual morality so let's take that as an example. Every person who has sexual desire (and that is most of the human race) will, at some time or another have to decide that sex with this person will be a bad thing. It may be because the person is drunk and it would be taking advantage of them. It may be because the person is attached to someone else. It may be that you have no genuine love for them, only an urge to have sex with them and you know that would be using them. Any reasonable person would agree that you cannot have sex just whenever you want to, regardless of whether they have any religious faith.

The strength of our sexual drive has led to every society having certain rules and restrictions on sexual behaviour. Our society pretends that there should be no restriction except that you should only have sex if you want to. This makes a very powerful statement about the meaning of sex - trivialising it as something merely recreational. Traditional Christian, Jewish and Islamic morality and indeed the traditional morality of many societies outside of those faiths has recognised that the sexual act is something important, not trivial, and that it has a built-in procreative meaning. That is why in Catholic teaching sex is "restricted" to marriage - not because it is bad but because it is good.

I am glad to hear that you have not been diagnosed with an STI. However, do be realistic about this. The transmission rate of STIs has rocketed in recent years, despite the widespread availability and use of condoms. (See England stats on STIs where I look at some UK Government statistics.) I fear that many young people just have not been told the truth about this. I recommend Pam Stenzel's DVD Sex has a price tag. It's down to earth, no-nonsense, and she doesn't talk down to her audience. She has a "public school" version which you might prefer to the "faith-based" version.

You say that you have read and respected the opinions of other people and I'm happy to take that as genuine. But just to help out here: calling someone's faith a "dumb superstition" and saying that rubbish (you used another expression) comes out of our mouths is not a good way of showing respect for people's beliefs. I accept that if you were "raised atheist" and your parents brought you up to be a good person, you will always treasure the values that they passed on to you. Finding out more about the Catholic faith, and understanding it more will not compromise any of that love and respect that you have for them - it would actually put it in a whole new light.

One result of my posting your comment so prominently will be that many people round the world will now be praying for you. Now since you don't believe in God, I presume you don't believe in prayer as such. Nevertheless, you can take it that there are many people around who are wishing you well and hoping that you prosper in the wisdom and strength of character and that you will need to continue being a good person. They will also be praying that God changes your heart, you experience a conversion and embrace the Catholic faith - but if God doesn't exist, you've nothing to worry about on that score :-)

BTW, going to classes is a real smart move. You'll not regret that - and any of your friends who skip classes will.

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