Cardinal: The Greatest Sin Is . . .

CardinalmurphyoconnorcrestCardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the departing Archbishop of Westminster, had a few things to say about sin this week in welcoming his replacement. It turns out that the greatest sin is not clergy child abuse, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or the like. The greatest sin? Atheism.

Not only did the Cardinal identify atheism as the greatest sin but blamed atheism for past wars — ignoring of course that more people have been killed in the name of God than any other cause. The good Cardinal has also said in the past that atheists are “not fully human.”

Described as “the greatest of evils,” the cleric used the two-hour Mass to denounced those evil people who do not subscribe to a divine faith.

But furious reaction to comments that Archbishop Nichols had made about child abuse in Ireland threatened to cast a shadow over the installation. Referring to the report published on Wednesday that exposed decades of child abuse by Catholic priests and nuns in Ireland, the Archbishop had said that it took courage for religious orders and clergy to “face the facts from their past”. He also warned that the report threatened to overshadow the good done by the religious orders, chiefly the Christian Brothers and Sisters of Mercy.

What is most crucial is the prayer that we express every day in the Our Father, when we say ‘deliver us from evil’. The evil we ask to be delivered from is not essentially the evil of sin, though that is clear, but in the mind of Jesus it is more importantly a loss of faith. For Jesus, the inability to believe in God and to live by faith is the greatest of evils.” It is always good to see cleric speaking for Jesus in denouncing other humans. What does it say about God that he is most aggrieved by a lack of faith rather than murder and other offenses. This would put atheists lower in God’s book than the 9-11 hijackers or Al Qaeda who professed total devotion to the Almighty.

This unbelievable sermon occurred only days after Ireland’s Child Abuse Commission released its report showing that “thousands” of children had been abused by priests and lay persons at institutions of disadvantaged, neglected and abandoned children. It also comes the week that a new book by Archbishop Weakland explained that he and others did not know sex with children was a crime or that it was really harmful to children.

Ultimately, the priorities of the Cardinal seem a bit twisted and frankly unChristian:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13

For the full story, click here.

30 thoughts on “Cardinal: The Greatest Sin Is . . .

  1. Not that I’m defending what he said because I’m not, I do believe the basis for the Cardinal’s assertion is that in the Bible, Jesus says that the “only” unforivable sin is not to believe in God. Starting from that point one could conceivably end up where the Cardinal has. This, of course, doesn’t in any way diminish the foolishness of the statement, it only provides a biblical reference for it.

  2. Lee,

    Actually it’s specifically Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that was supposedly unforgivable. That’s a whole different ball game than not believing in God.

  3. Blaming a minority for society’s ills is one of the oldest trick in the book. The Catholic Church has a long history of persecuting minorities in order to prevent the masses from seeing just how corrupt and devious they truly are.

  4. He is right. Everything else you can be forgiven for. Christ died for your sins and all you have to do is accept his forgiveness. But if you are an atheist you obviously wouldn’t ask for, expect, or even accept his glorious forgiveness of your sins.

    Come on Jonathan Turley. You are such a clown atheist it stinks. I pity children brought up by atheists.

  5. “Not only did the Cardinal identify atheism as the greatest sin but … the good Cardinal has also said in the past that atheists are “not fully human.”

    Atheism is the greatest sin? Where’s the scienter if the “not fully human” are simply ignorant?

    Silly Cardinal, everyone knows that the greatest sin is White Castle.

  6. As, apparently, one of the worst sinners in the world, I wish there was a Hell for all of the child-raping priests, torturers, crusaders, etc. to burn in. The sooner our society is freed from the backward, midieval, irrational clutches of Christian dogma, the better (Note: I have nothing but great respect for people who try to live their lives by the teachings of Jesus, it’s just a pity there are so few of them – remember, Jesus was a socialist not a capitalist – I hope all of those rich republicans are using their money to try and find a way to fit a camel through the eye of a needle ;-)).


    It’s a good thing the church is so big on forgiveness, since it has so much it needs to be forgiven for.

  7. cherry

    I doubt you actually want to get into a serious discussion of all the reasons to wonder about the intelligence of those of you deluded by theism, but there are plenty of us atheists here to engage you if you so choose. And for the record, I completely reject the absurd notion that Christ or anyone else died for my or anyone else’s sins.

  8. As one who was born and raised a Catholic and even served a brief stint in a Jesuit novitiate, I find the remarks of Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to be, well, stupid. From a purely technical standpoint, he is also incorrect. Traditional Catholic theology teaches that the only unforgivable sin is suicide. But more to the point, far from taking a hard look at themselves, the Catholic hierarchy has been dragged kicking and screaming before the bar of justice. The truth about abuse has largely emerged in spite of the efforts to suppress it in the interest of avoiding scandal and harming the faith of the laity. Indeed, it has required the herculean efforts of the trial bar, that most maligned of species, to force the Church to look at itself. The belief in a Supreme Being is hardly a prerequisite for good parenting, and the report issued in Ireland this past week proves once again that religious faith can be used as a cruel and vicious weapon against children.

  9. Mike, I agree with your views, but want to note that in the gospels the only unforgivable sin is the sin against the holy ghost, and no one knows what that is. Mk, 3:28:
    Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven all their sins and all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin

  10. Gnostic, I guess I need to do some research. My recollection is that the sin against the Holy Spirit was somehow related to despair. Gyges made the same point you did.

  11. I love this argument. There is no sin because there is no authority judging you. I am curious as to why we put people under medical supervision when they hear voices but if those voices are named god we let them wander around, hold jobs and have children. I long for the day when this delusion is recognized for what it is, a mental illness. Those refusing treatment would be locked up. The State seems awfully concerned about a child’s welfare. Why are we allowing these people to keep their children?

  12. What I realize is it is long past time the religion delusion be addressed as a society. A delusion is a belief in something that does not exist. That is by definition a mental illness. If you start off any discussion with the words “I believe” you have lost. No belief should be respected and there are quite a lot of beliefs that should not be tolerated. As a society we do not tolerate racism. As a society the day will come when we will no longer tolerate religion and any attending delusions. It is my deepest regret that I will likely not live to see such a day.

  13. With all the Church cover-ups (anyone remember Cardinal Bernhard Law from Boston?) it seems to me that these leaders of churches (and other religious institutions) are primarily concerned with maintaining positions of power and with avoiding justice in this world with little worry for any supernatural observer.

    President George H.W. Bush once said that he didn’t consider atheists to be American citizens.

  14. lee,

    I think you are on a very slippery slope with respect to belief. We all believe things – since there are many things that we simply cannot know for a fact it is necessary to make leaps of faith. A personal example: As I implied above, I am a atheist but that doesn’t mean that I there is nothing I believe in without proof. In fact, my career (I’m a scientist) is built around the belief that the scientific method is correct. While this belief has produced great results, I have no proof that it is unquestionably true that the universe is objective (the foundational principle of the scientific method). Instead of arguing against belief (which to my mind is just a step below arguing against oxygen), instead people should be educated to examine their beliefs. Subjecting beliefs to rational examination is, in my opinion, the best way to fight against belief structures which are counterproductive to our persons and our society.

  15. “The good Cardinal has also said in the past that atheists are “not fully human.”


    The good Cardinal be might be right. See Friedrich Nietzsche,”Human, All Too Human.” A little passage might help here for those who missed this seminal work:

    “For out of fear and need each religion is born, creeping into existence on the byways of reason. Perhaps at one time, when endangered by science, it included some fabricated philosophical theory in its system, so that it could be found there later; but this is a theologian’s trick from the period when a religion is already doubting itself. These tricks of theology, which of course were practiced very early on in Christianity, the religion of a scholarly age, steeped in philosophy, led to that superstition about a sensus allegoricus. Even more, they led to the habit of philosophers (particularly those half-men, the poetic philosophers and the philosophizing artists) of treating all feelings which they found in themselves as if they were essential to man in general, and thus to the habit of granting their own religious feelings a significant influence on the conceptual structure of their systems. Because philosophers often philosophized in traditional religious habits, or at least under the old inherited power of that “metaphysical need,” they arrived at dogmas that in fact greatly resembled Jewish or Christian or Indian religious doctrines, resembled them in the way children tend to resemble their mothers. In this case, however, the fathers weren’t sure of the maternity (as can happen) but rather, in the innocence of their amazement, told tales of a family resemblance of all religions and sciences. In reality there is no relationship nor friendship nor even enmity between religion and real science: they live on different stars. Any philosophy that allows a religious comet to trail off ablaze into the darkness of its last prospects makes suspicious everything about itself that it presents as science; presumably all this too is religion, although decked out as science.” (Sec. Three, 110)

    And then there is Section 2, 43 which seems written especially for our fine Churchman:

    “Cruel men as backward. We must think of men who are cruel today as stages of earlier cultures, which have been left over; in their case, the mountain range of humanity shows openly its deeper formations, which otherwise lie hidden. They are backward men whose brains, because of various possible accidents of heredity, have not yet developed much delicacy or versatility. They show us what we all were, and frighten us. But they themselves are as little responsible as a piece of granite for being granite. In our brain, too, there must be grooves and bends which correspond to that state of mind, just as there are said to be reminders of the fish state in the form of certain human organs. But these grooves and bends are no longer the bed in which the river of our feeling courses.”

  16. This is a perfect example of my idea of a proper Christian, and explains why I cheer at news like that reporting that Hindu Fundamentalists in India had barbecued a Christian missionary and his son a la Toyota Landcruiser.

    I look forward to the coming clash of civilizations in which the Islamofascists and the Christofascists kill each other in large numbers. Let them all die and go to meet their makers.

    I am an atheist, but I really wish that the devil did exist so that I could prey to him to send demons to torture this priest for several quadrillion eternities. If I believed God existed I would certainly be applying to enlist in the hosts of hell so as to participate in storming the gates of Heaven and tearing the wings off sanctimonious angels. God has a hide presuming that he has the right to forgive anyone or anything, what about asking whether we should forgive God for inflicting on us the curse of life in this world were misery is the norm for 95% of humans..

  17. Incidentally, does anyone know where one can obtain the correct official forms to request to resign from the human species?

  18. Professor Turley, no one should be surprised at the words of this sermon coming from the mouth of a Christian.

    Perhaps you are under the misapprehension that followers of Jesus of Nazareth are entitled to call themselves Christian. They do but they are not entitled to do so.

    If Jesus of Nazareth were here today
    he would be in Guantanamo Bay.

    Jesus of Nazareth was a decidedly pinko dissident who consorted with all the wrong people and undermined the stability and good order of society. It is right that he was nailed to a tree.

    In death he became transmogrified into Jesus Christ, the son of God himself, a figure full of supreme righteousness who would be welcome in the drawing rooms of American Presidents and Latin American dictators. Forget everything that can be traced to mouth of Jesus of Nazareth and hear the words after they have been filtered by devout followers of Jesus Christ.

  19. Mr. Moulton,

    I’m truly sorry for your pain.

    I don’t want it to be so, not for you or anybody else.

  20. Slartibartfast said “I am a atheist but that doesn’t mean that I there is nothing I believe in without proof. In fact, my career (I’m a scientist) is built around the belief that the scientific method is correct. While this belief has produced great results, I have no proof that it is unquestionably true that the universe is objective (the foundational principle of the scientific method).”

    Your statement is self contradicting. It is not ‘without proof’ if it continuously and predictably produces consistent results. It may not be absolute proof, but it is evidence. And I would point out that as a scientist you probably still entertain the possibility that it could be wrong, or an illusion created by other means. Which isn’t the same a faith either.

  21. I guess I’m never going to be a Catholic. This is not a club that I would ever want to belong to so I’m crossing it off my list permanently along with the Southern Baptist Convention, The Republican party, the NRA and a few others.

    I’m amused to find out that my atheism makes me “not fully human” and in my own defense can produce several people, at least, who might be considered fully human, who can confirm that I am completely human. Ann Coulter wrote a few years ago that because I am a Liberal Democrat I am also a traitor and that I am incomplete because I am a Jew.
    I had no idea that the hyper religious among us had the preternatural ability to assign who moves up and down the evolutionary scale. Is this something they learn in church? From their parents? From AM talk radio?

  22. Josh,

    While I concede your point that the scientific method is supported by a large body of evidence, I still feel objectivism (one could say the belief that the supernatural does not exist or does not influence natural (scientifically described) events) is unproven and unprovable. (In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that although I am a working scientist my Ph.D. is in mathematics so to me proof is an absolute – mathematical theorems are proved, scientific theories are not – there is a difference between the truth status of the Pythagorean Theorem and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the prior is unquestionably true and the latter has a mountain of evidence supporting it but could found incorrect if contradicted by new experiments) Furthermore, I stand by my broader point that we are rationalizing beings that all engage in belief of some sort of other.

  23. Gee, I thought this was a law blog, not a theological one.

    If you want to keep other people’s religion out of your life, stay out of theirs.

  24. Wayne. How about your lot keeping your religion off our laws then? Hm? Not willing to, eh? Jesus told you to create a theocracy, did he? Told you abortion was murder, did he? Said you had to screw with other’s health care because YOU have a belief, did he? Said you had to be tolerant as long as everyone agrees with you, eh?

    Uh huh. Just as I thought.





    No one is buying it. They might if the RCC and Fundies hadn’t spent the last 25 years trying to run rough shod over the system, but the cat’s out of the bag on the whole “Do As I Say, Not As I Do – Fake Christian” crowd.

    How about this? You “Our God First Because We Say So” morons stay out of politics and you can keep your tax exemption. Otherwise, pony up at tax time Jesus PACs or shut the hell up. And if you think He was upset at money changers in the temple, wait until He finds out you’re sheltering lobbyists and, in the case of the RCC and just as bad as lobbyists, sheltering pedophiles.

    The problem here isn’t the lawyers. We (meaning sane lawyers who understand the mechanism and importance of Separation of Church and State) WANT religion out of government. Problems arise when you “true believers” want to force your views upon others – others guaranteed Freedom of Religion even if that choice is not YOUR religion. So don’t start trouble and you won’t have any. Is that too complicated for you? Uh huh. Just as I thought.

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