Saturday, 4 November 2017


By: Mathhew Parris - The Times.

I belong to an excellent institution called the London Library. To mark the 500th anniversary this week of the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 theses, the library has had on display its copy of one of the books produced by Luther in 1517 after (it’s said) the young monk nailed his propositions to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. The furore then was immediate. The books reproducing his theses appeared within weeks.

A stone had been thrown into the lake and five hundred years later the ripples are still spreading. We oversimplify but do not traduce history to say that 1517 was the birth of the Reformation and (though Luther never intended it) the birth of Protestant Christianity. It also (as Luther did intend) spurred the reform of Roman Catholic thinking, though at the time he was greeted with a persecuting fury.

Image result for martin luther

I look at that philosophical atom bomb of a book: at pages, his hand may have touched. I look at the coarse, pudgy, disobliging features of the man who wrote it. And I reflect — an atheist myself — that Martin Luther lifted Christianity to a higher place but failed, as Christianity is still failing, to make the final leap.

As (one hopes) every schoolchild learns, close to the centre of the German theologian’s objections was his complaint against the sale of indulgences by the Church. An indulgence was a get-out-of-Hell-free card, explained by one contemporary in the verse: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings/ The soul from purgatory springs.”

I say “close” to the centre because the patently corrupt practice of selling indulgences for the living and the dead was really only a caricature of a perfectly defensible doctrine. Many Christians still subscribe to it: the hope that we may improve our chances of eternal life by doing good. Giving money to the Church was, after all, doing good. Luther was not against doing good. But he held that for personal salvation, deep, inner faith in God was what counted, and all that counted. Without faith in your heart, no amount of good works, no amount of money given to the Church, the poor, or other worthy causes, could rescue you from Hell. “Good works” might be a consequence of that personal faith, but the faith alone, not the good works, was the key to Heaven.

This, Luther’s great, central inspiration to succeeding ages, was therefore not really about reform of Church corruptions: it was the doctrine that, in the end, it’s between you and God, and a private affair. The nonconformist conscience to which his ideas led holds that God knows you directly, and you must know him. There are only two of you in this relationship and no intermediaries. No rites, no priests, no practices, no incense, no images, no tithes, no blessings, cursings, permissions or prohibitions by other human beings, can bring you to salvation or lock you from it.

This, of course, represented a direct challenge to the authority, worldly as well as spiritual, of the Catholic Church: hence the fury Luther provoked.

The philosophical and theological step Luther made has been of untold benefit to modern civilization. It frees people from fear. It elevates the individual as against the herd, the private conscience as against official or conventional morality.

Reward, if it exists, is surely unnecessary as a reason to be good

In Africa, in particular, I can testify to the work of missionaries in releasing people, particularly in traditionalist rural areas, from feeling cowed by the shades of the dead and the hierarchies of the living; and by the imagined powers of inanimate objects, of witch-doctors, and the pronouncement of curses.

Even as a confirmed non-believer I can sense the liberating effect for modern western civilization of a God who is your private friend, and to whom, in the end, you are finally and only responsible. It gives each person an autonomy, and in their eyes disempowers the mob. It can inspire acts of great courage. And — Luther was right here — it is far closer to any idea of Jesus’s teaching that we gain from actual study (which Luther advocated) of the New Testament than was the development after Christ of Roman Catholic teaching. So as an atheist I’m a Protestant atheist.

However, the leap Luther made points to, and cries out for, a second leap. “Why bring good works into it?” he asked. Maybe so. But why bring salvation into it, either? Why the need for any reward at all? Is virtue not its own reward?

In asking this question may I put to one side the issue of whether God, or Heaven, or Hell, exist? I don’t think so but let’s assume they do: it makes no difference to my argument. What Luther failed to question was the need for any selfish reason to lead a moral life or to love God. God, if there is a God, is surely intrinsically and overwhelmingly loveable? Reward, if such reward exists, is surely unnecessary as a reason to be good. If we have a moral sense at all, and we do, being good feels good. Even if this life were all, what further incentive is needed?
Religion should elevate and priests should leave deterrence to the police

On Monday morning I listened on BBC radio to the Rev Dr Michael Banner: a clear and intelligent Thought for the Day in which the dean of Trinity College, Cambridge, came close to saying that salvation cannot be sought, but may arrive (he said) as an “unmerited” gift of God. Twenty minutes later I listened to the always-thoughtful Dr. Rowan Williams. The former Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t mention Heaven or Hell, reward or punishment, at all.

Compare these two theologians to the vicar who wrote to me after I’d questioned the role of damnation in the Christian life. How (he protested) could he discourage his parishioners from shoplifting if Heaven and Hell were absent from the furniture of their imaginations? What a low view this man took of his congregation.

Of course, punishment deters vice. Of course, reward may encourage virtue. But both appeal to the lower side of human nature. Religion should elevate, and priests should leave deterrence to the police. The epistemology of salvation and damnation degrades the moral life, cheapens what motivates us, and ignores what stares any sociologist in the face: that from infancy mankind is imbued with a strong grasp of moral reasoning and an instinctive desire to find and cleave to what is right.

It is good to be alive and people, mostly, live to be good. Enough of original sin. If Christianity is to live another 500 years, how about original virtue?


I always find what Matthew Parris interesting - whether I read his newspaper articles or hear him speaking on radio and TV.

He is a very bright man.

Obviously, I do not agree with everything he says. He is an atheist and I am a believing Christian.

I think he makes a very good point in the contribution above.

He is basically saying that we should love for the sake of loving - and refrain from doing wrong - not for the sake of reward or lack of reward - but for the sake of love and goodness itself.

Like many others, I learned this at school when the Christian Brothers and nuns taught me the difference between PERFECT CONTRITION and IMPERFECT CONTRITION.

Perfect contrition was when you were sorry for your sins because you were so upset at hurting God - who is love.

Imperfect contrition was when you were sorry for your sins because you might go to Hell.

As Christians, we believe in the teachings of Jesus and that means that we must accept the ideas of Hell and Heaven because Jesus clearly spoke of both states/places.

Personally, I believe that human WEAKNESS will not bring someone to hell. God understands and forgives WEAKNESS.

That which has the capacity to take someone to hell is EVIL.

Most of us are weak, very weak. Hopefully, not too many of us are EVIL.

I summed out my ideas about goodness, badness, weakness and evil in a PERSONAL CREDO I composed in 1994:


Bishop Pat Buckley

I believe that in this world it is impossible to understand God.
I believe that God made this wonderful universe and all that exists.
I can find God in nature, in animals, in birds and the environment.
I believe that God made all men and women,
That He made them all equal,
And that He loves and cherishes them all equally.
I believe that the whole human race is the family of God.
I believe that there may be intelligent life on other planets
And if so, they too are part of God’s family.
I hold that religion and faith are two different things,
That religion can be both good and bad
And that it is spirituality that counts.
For me your religion is an accident of your birth
Or a gift of God’s great providential diversity.
There is no one true church.
All churches and all religions contain aspects of the truth.
But only God is truth.
No man is infallible.
A Buddhist or a good atheist is as acceptable to God as a good Catholic.
I believe that sex is good and so is the body.
The only sexual act that is sinful is the one that uses or abuses.
I believe in people, especially suffering people.
I believe in the power of weakness.
I believe that all men and women will be saved.
I believe in a packed Heaven and an empty Hell.
And even Satan might get another chance.
I believe in the freedom of God’s sons and daughters.
I believe that dogma is often evil.
I believe that life is a journey towards God
And that no one has the right to insist that you go a certain road.
I believe that God and reality are too big for my poor words.
I believe therefore that I am only at a beginning.
Only knocking at a door.
And I believe that the best is yet to come.


Image result for heaven and hell cartoon


  1. For a self-confessed "confirmed non-believer" Matthew Parris has quite a lot to say about faith, about Christianity and what we should and shouldn't be believing.
    It is always interesting of course to hear an outsider's opinion.
    Our own experience is per se very different as, of course, it should be. For we are not on the periphery, going round the outside of the building looking into the windows and commenting on what those inside should be feeling and doing. No, we hopefully by conviction as well as accident of birth, are inside at the very heart of the warmth and love of everything that's going on.
    That is such a beautiful privilege and away above anything that the outsider(however intelligent and opinionated) could possibly imagine.
    I too, write and lecture on Christianity but from an insider's vantage point.
    I rarely lecture to confirmed unbelievers as that would be from a position of conjecture and partial understanding.
    I find it's not a bad policy to adopt!

    1. 02:01, I don't believe Parris has a lot to say about Christianity per se, but about truth.

      Christianity isn't, and hasn't always, necessarily been about truth. Which is why an outsider's perspective can be helpful, instructive.

      Sadly, too many Christians (and you appear to be one of them) turn hostile (morally and doctrinally uppity) when an atheist dares to speak to orthodoxy his perspective on truth.

      We Christians need to be humble enough to listen more, and preach less.

      Truth, even divine truth, can come from and through atheists as well. (Sorry, MMM, for daring to associate you with a deity you don't believe in.)

    2. At 02:01
      Well said. Inspiring, I might even say. Thank you.

    3. MourneManMichael5 November 2017 at 20:38

      No problem Magna.
      I can understand the aspirational concept of a benevolent deity, and indeed it could be comforting to "know" such existence to be a reality.
      But as I've said I just can't subscribe to that belief. I prefer truth as I, with my limited abilities, understand it to be.
      And in how I should relate to others, it's a useful truth, (in evolutionary terms), that I follow the Golden Rule I've earlier
      So while I don't believe 'in God', I believe in the essence of the Christian aspiration to follow the ethical codes evolved by humankind over the millenia.

    4. I believe in your 'Golden Rule', MMM. No one may disbelieve in it and yet call himself 'Christian'.

  2. Yes, it is curious, isn't it, the strength and energy that people who profess to be unbelievers or who claim to be outside the Faith, put into dissecting our business for us! Perhaps God does attract them after all and His mysteries will give them something quite outside their own experience to ponder about. Their perspective will of necessity be stunted as it will possibly be only from the historical point of view.
    But still, it's good to see it.
    Matthew Parris frequently obsesses over such matters and I seem to remember an article he wrote in The Spectator four or five years ago in which he ventured the opinion that if he were a believer he would definitely wish to be a fundamentalist. He would be there by conviction and not regard the Church as a sort of social necessity to which you had some allegiance out of habit. He would have us believe that as a fundamentalist, he would have valued his faith and would have been a lifelong searcher into
    its truths.
    Interesting thoughts from a smart man.
    But perhaps not smart enough.

    1. MourneManMichael5 November 2017 at 09:10

      I don't think it's to do with 'smartness', or intelligence. Speaking as a confirmed unbeliever, an ex RC seminarian once absolutely following my cradle catholicism, I can only describe my own journey. Doing that with subsequent understanding of individual and social psychology and other study I know that having never really questioned or doubted the 'faith', from initial concerns at some doctrines (when at/about third divinity) and particularly after leaving seminary and experiencing a wider involvement/experience, I began to question the more, shedding my rearing's cultural influences and finding so much of RC "teaching" (apart from the sound moral imperatives therin) simply irrelevant to day to day living.
      So for the next 40 years or so I just never thought about religious matters finding it all an irrelevance.
      In my 60's I found that there was a system of understandings based on reason which places no reliance on theistic centered revealed beliefs, and reading further about Humanism, I find absolutely no reason to subscribe to any theistic beliefs or religion: rather, the reverse.
      Put at simplest: if there is a God, with any interest in humankind, why does He/She/It make the whole mish mash rigmarole of religion, in its myriad of guises, so convoluted, incomprehensible, controversial and divisive? It seems to me that believers of all
      shades are, in the end, reduced to "explanations" dependent on the nebulous realms of "faith", of which I certainly have none. All the 'evidence' in my opinion stacks up against such faith based religious belief.
      And I don't need religion as a moral compass.
      The 'Golden Rule' (do as you would be done by), and the Humanist logo, "Good without God", seem sufficient guidance for me.
      In everyday life I'm an inveterate people watcher. I'm eternally intrigued by interactions. Perhaps with respect to religion I'm eternally intrigued at individual's beliefs, and putting them into the perspective of their experiences vis a vis my own.

    2. You're still around then, MMM. You don't completely cut the string, walk away and never look back.
      Not that you're not very welcome!
      You are.

    3. MournemanMichael5 November 2017 at 12:51

      You've made me smile Anon@11:57, for in truth I don't know how to take that. But I'm smiling anyway. Thanks.

    4. I am a Christian, 02:04, but, generally, I'd rather listen to an atheist than to an 'orthodox' Christian, one reason being that I find atheists less guarded, less hostile, than Christians.

      So many Christians are touchy and aggressive when the rationality of their beliefs are questioned, or when they are asked to account for them; it suggests fragility of belief rather than strength.

      Try watching a few videos by atheists on YouTube. You won't be bored, and you may learn something.

    5. Oh don't worry Magna... Believe me I have been been there.. seen enough... got the tee-shirt... No time to be bored..Life's too short and so we are more choosy on what merits our attention.. But nice to see you here and hope things are rattling along smoothly for you....

    6. Ha ha! - - good one Magna.... But we're probably a bit spoiled here on this blog with the niceness of our atheists... Hope that nice MMM sees this... He doesn't need to hide behind the sofa! He never would anyway.... But take my atheist workmate (and a certain neighbour) - - Oh dear.. It's me that's running for cover! How can they get so het up and belligerent over something they believe isn't real? I try to stick to talking about the weather but since they found out that I have more degrees than the thermometer, there has been no peace!

    7. That can't be easy @15.42
      Have you tried going out in disguise?

    8. Magna at 14.41. The only people who'd tolerate your superior knowledge and condescension are Atheists. You feel at home with all groups except Catholics/Christians. I couldn't bear your arrogance or nastiness for one moment. You possess a strange christianity, not the template of Jesus, sadly! Aggie, go back to was so nice not having you. Welcome to MMM again - an atheist/humanist with a little humility, kindness, tolerance and honesty, and always calm and respectful towards others.

    9. 16:24, you've (sniff) hurt my fragile feelings.

      I'll need counselling after this!

      15:26 and 15:42, thank you.

    10. MournemanMichael5 November 2017 at 22:34

      Thanks Anon @ 16:24 for your positive comments.
      But to be fair to Magna, even though he does veer into negativity from time to time, he does make insightful contributions albeit some of those are way above comprehension to many of limited perspective.

    11. MournemanMichael5 November 2017 at 22:44

      Pat: at this point I'm so exasperated at attempting to negotiate reCapcha's labyrinth on my phone I felt like chucking it altogether! May be easier visually on laptop or desktop but infuriating negotiating countless attempts on phone!

  3. "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (St Paul - Corinthians 13:2)

    "Perfect love casts out all fear." (St John - 1 John 4:18)

    Love is the the true mark of a church or Christian. When one is infused with God's love and grace, no philosophical-, logical-, theological-, epistemological-,metaphysical-,scientific-, rational- or historical arguments are necessary in order confirm belief in God and His promises.

    Fear is caused by not knowing God and His love. When one is confronted by a true selfless Christian who has been completely emptied of the Ego and derives a pure joy and delight in seeking the good of others - such experience can be an occasion of conversion and epiphany for the witnessing person.

    I have met such people who have never had to utter a word about God or the Faith - but still evangelize by their serene presence and genuine love, empathy. I leave the presence of these living saints always being confirmed in my faith and imbued with a sense that God is indeed alive - and not dead as Nietzsche proposed.

    1. Yes - "evangelise by their sincere presence and never have to utter a word about God..."
      I get completely what you are saying @ 9.52
      My Opus Dei work colleague is very much like that....

    2. I agree with the poster who said he didn't think it "had to do with smartness or intelligence"..
      Matthew Parris has both in spadefuls but that doesn't guarantee a Saul/Damascus moment (though it's interesting that he has deep admiration and would identify with those who would be very committed and not lukewarm)

    3. I remember Matthew Parris writing a piece in either The Times or Spectator in which he pulled the plug completely on Boris Johnston over the Tory MP's antics concerning the Brexit business. He accused Boris of destroying the link between satire and reality which was tantamount to saying that he was a buffoon not to be taken seriously. I don't think Parris, himself was still a Tory MP at the time though.

    4. That is correct.. Parris hasn't been in the government since around Margaret Thatcher's era but of course, would have been still attending their Party Conferences to report on them as a journalist and commentator.

  4. Pat, sorry to change the subject when you're trying to focus on heaven and hell, but I see that Sean Brady has got another gig lined up following on from the Raphoe clergy retreat which he led this year. The good cardinal has now been chosen by the headless chickens in Clogher to lead their retreat in June 2018. An almost 80 year old retired clergyman is the best Clogher can come up with! How appalling.

    1. 12.30. If you're a priest, utter shame on you for your ignorant ageism. If you are a nin cleric, utter shame too on you for such a hate filled comment. You have a lot of baggage. What concern is it of yours to be trawling through Cardinal Brady's diary for 2018? God bless the Cardinal.

  5. Oh dear! - - let me check what you're saying here.. "an almost 80yr.old retired clergyman" "is the inferior choice that the " headless chickens"of Clogher have come up with?

    Why not volunteer to give of your own youthful and superior services for this retreat?
    Or failing that, revise your policy on ageism...
    Or failing that, just shut up....

  6. "Perfect contrition was when you were sorry for your sins because you were so upset at hurting God - who is love." That is wrong. Perfect contrition is perfectly unconcerned with what is in it for yourself. You reject sin for God's sake and not at all because sin hurts you or you feel terrible at what you did to God. It is obvious that perfect contrition is a trick for it is clearly impossible. It is easy to think, "I choose goodness even if I have to be tormented by Satan for all eternity over it as long as it is the right thing to do. I choose it for God's sake." But that is self-deception. It is arrogant too, Nobody can be that good. Perfect contrition is not Biblical either. The Church invented it to avoid being accused of terrorising dying people who could not get a priest to forgive their sins. The theory is that perfect contrition absolves your sin even without a priest as long as you would confess your sins and take absolution if a priest was there.

    1. You are right about 'perfect' contrition; it is purely and self-servingly a Catholic phenomenon.

      There can be no such thing here, because no one can know God well enough to experience it.

      There are degrees of contrition, each made known by personal closeness to God as he actually is and not as he is conceived.

  7. 12.3o. Get a life. It's none of your business what Cardinal Brady may be doing in 2018. In this month of November , you should pray for the deceased faithful departed. Stop placing burdens of your odious ignorance on us. Pat should ignore your nasty jibe. Don't you have more important concerns?

  8. Heaven and hell are human concepts and at best analogies of what might or might not exist beyond this reality. Jesus tells us through the resurrection there is more. We are free beings and in many ways authors of our own fate. If we create hell on earth it is possible the consequences of those choices follow us beyond. Cross and resurrection are two sides of the same reality. I do not believe suffering exists just so God can see us struggle

  9. I really don't care how I am judged. If God believes the Institutional church is right. Good luck to them. If I am wrong. I still can't win. I give up. I spent too long going to church on Sundays to be berated and told I did not count. I don't give a shit anymore. If I go to he'll. Be done with it. I live a healthy and happy life and bother no one.

  10. Clogher diocese, especially during Joe Duffy's far too long and utterly uninspiring tenure, had a bad record in child abuse terms, so inviting the retired Wounded Healer to lead a retreat for Clogher priests is insensitive in the extreme. It can only have come from the current Diocesan Administrator, who obviously attended the same charm school/emotional intelligence courses frequented by Joe Duffy, Peter O'Reilly, La Flynn and Shane McCaughey.

    1. Joe Duffy's far too long and utterly uninspiring tenure?

      Did he not leave a fine legacy in the Monaghan cathedral? Wasn't that worth all his years in office?

    2. Ex-curate (Diocese of Clogher).5 November 2017 at 21:28

      Were those charm school and emotional intelligence classes given by Mgr Dick Mohan? Lol.

  11. The Enniskillen parish once had Noel Treanor as one of the priests

    1. That's right... Noel Treanor was a curate in St Michael's Ekn in the middle of the 1980's

  12. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

    1. @ 21.20
      Hey matey! Sorry to blunt here but it's Joe Duffy we were talking about and he ain't no Christopher Wren, so you might need to do a bit more "circumspice" of your own! LOL

    2. I was being sarcastic! LOL

    3. I get you... Lol

    4. And isn’t he a good Irish scholar who was ordained a bishop in time for JPII’s visit in 1979 - so a long life of inspirational service to the church of Clogher.

    5. He ordained a lot of Clogher’s greatest.

    6. Seosamh Ó Dufaigh may not have Christopher Wrenn’s talents / but CW needed s patron of the arts in order to achieve what he did. Oerhaps it’s as s patron of yhe arts that SOD will be remembered.

    7. Joe Duffy destroyed Monaghan cathedral. Archiseek is especially harsh in its assessment. He created that ludicrous runway up to the cathedra, which has pride of place and assumes the position of the tabernacle (kicked off to the side) and where the altar, reredos and big six formally sat.

      JJ McCarthy, the Irish Pugin, in designing the cathedral, had the altar and tabernacle as the intended focus. In the old arrangement the cathedra was on the left hand side of the sanctuary and at a lower level to the altar. Not good enough for Joe. Aul Joe also wrecked the basilica on Lough Derg.

      There was a similar dynamic in Enniskillen, where Sean Cahill, the superannuated Vocations Director, stripped all that was numinous out of St Michael's, Enniskillen, where again the tabernacle is shoved to the side like a poor relation or embarrassing uncle, and a pink throne for the celebrant sits in the middle of the reredos, where the tabernacle used to be.

      Congregations in Enniskillen and Monaghan have dwindled.

    8. 22:30 "He ordained a lot of Clogher’s greatest". Lol, such as Cody Cleary, Paddy McPhillips, Martin Grainger, Michael Hand, Kieran Farmer, Ciaran Murphy, Jack McCabe, who are among the many Joe ordainaed and who quickly packed in the priesthood, or in Jack McCabe's case when he was sent to prison.

      Fr McCabe had been given a glowing reference by Joe Duffy when he applied for a job in an integrated school, despite Fr McCabe's history of abuse when he was a teacher at St Michael's College, Enniskillen.

  13. Pat, I know it's totally off the point, forgive me. I watched 'Songs of Praise' today from Milton Keynes and was really inspired by the work going on there. I don't know what part of England it belongs to (pardon the ignorance) but it was inspiring.

    1. Get a map from Google.

    2. Milton Keynes?
      We are 45 miles on up out of London, (sort of NW direction as you leave the city)
      Call up and see us!

    3. Diocese of Northampton.

  14. Matthew Parris describes himself as a 'Protestant atheist' and goes on to tell us that faith is meaningless and good works are all that matter. Luther taught the opposite. This heretic whose anniversary is now being celebrated in the Church despised Jews and instructed his followers to burn down their synagogues and businesses and not to feed them! (See Luther's 'The Jews and Their Lies'). The NAZI's used that booklet to justify doing exactly that.
    And now we have Ireland issuing a stamp with Che's image on it. Che! who despised black people (read his diary) as being incorrigibly feckless. The world is on its head.

    1. I thoroughly agree with you @ 22.40 and in the meantime, we will have nutters on telling us that we are being "defensive" when we dare to stand up for our beliefs.
      I should jolly well hope so!

    2. So you are blaming Martin Luther for the crimes of National Socialism?