Summer Comparisons

Summer is a slow time for the news business. Often, summer news clusters around big events rather than unexpected developments. This summer is no different. World Youth Day, the Olympics and the political campaigns dominate the headlines. But because these and other events happen to be reaching our pages at the same time, we can compare and contrast phenomens we don’t normally think of at the same time.

Olympics and World Youth Day

It’s striking that two worldwide gatherings are taking place this summer: World Youth Day in Sydney and the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. It’s easy to be cynical about the Olympics. The grandiose celebration of world togetherness can look more like wishful thinking than an indication of anything real.

But there is something that stirs the soul in the sight of rows of marching athletes waving their national flags and gathering together around the giant torch. There’s something comforting about seeing nations competing on the playing fields instead of the battlefield.

Pope Benedict XVI said it is with a sense of “deep friendship” that he will watch the Olympics while on vacation, and said he hoped that the event could be “a pledge of brotherhood and peace among people.” He sent cordial greetings to China.

His warm and open attitude toward the Beijing Olympics, ironically, points to the first major difference between World Youth Day and the Summer Olympics.

Catholic News Service reported that “dozens” of Catholics from China had visited World Youth Day. But they would only speak to the news service if their real names weren’t used. That’s because Beijing was decidedly not as warm and welcoming to World Youth Day as Benedict is to the Olympics.

Beijing persecutes Catholics (and other religions, too). It has imprisoned priests and bishops on pretexts and restricts open worship. Thus, the pageant of welcome at Beijing masks the reality which is just the opposite. China does not at all welcome the brotherhood of man.

We love the Olympics because they celebrate a great goal: the unity of many nations in mutual respect through sports. But we love World Youth Day even more because it celebrates a great reality: the unity of many nations in mutual respect through faith in Christ.

In Beijing, religions are being persecuted to prevent them from showing up at events and spoiling the false front of unity. In Sydney, persecuted Catholics snuck out of their countries to bask in the glow of real unity. Thus the event that seemed more parochial and closed — the World Youth Day event for Catholics — was really the more open and universal.

China and PZ Myers

Which brings us to another confluence of events on this week’s front page. We have two stories about persecution in China, in which we speak with human-rights activists about China’s increased persecution as the Olympics begin. We also have the only interview the University of Minnesota (Morris) professor PZ Myers has given to the Catholic press.

Myers made international news by declaring that he wanted to desecrate the Eucharist to show that “nothing is sacred.” He obtained a host, pierced it with a rusty nail then threw it in the trash, posting photographs of his antics on the Internet.

At first blush, there seems very little cause for comparison. On the one hand, you have a brutal atheistic regime that commits human rights atrocities on a large scale. On the other, you have a cranky atheistic professor who lashes out at the Catholic Church in a juvenile way. It’s true that he treated the Blessed Sacrament in a despicable way — but it’s also true that he hurt no human being.

But what the Chinese regime and the cranky professor do have in common is their atheism — and their behavior in both cases is a direct result of the same source.

Atheists would have you believe that Christians are the intolerant ones. They will pretend that Christians, given the chance, stifle debate and marginalize their opponents. They will even look to excesses from centuries ago (the Inquisition, the Crusades, witch hunts) as typical Christian behavior.

Yet, in our own lifetime, we have seen more murder perpetrated by atheist persecutors than the Church has been guilty of in her entire history. It is the atheists who have killed tens of millions of Christians in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Mexico, and elsewhere. In China they killed more than they have anywhere else — and have not necessarily stopped.

It’s the government in Beijing that is cracking down on opponents, while religious leaders like Pope Benedict XVI try to establish lines of dialogue and welcome to China. And it’s atheistic science professors like PZ Myers who go out of their way to belittle and offend those who disagree with them, while Christians try to carry on a conversation.

That’s because the logic of atheism is self-centered, by its very nature. Most atheists, of course, don’t lash out at their opponents. But with nothing to restrain them but the limits of their own ferocity, it’s not uncommon for atheists to grow violent and hateful.

Atheists want to believe that they live in a world that wasn’t created. They define the world, decide what truth is and isn’t, on their terms, and in a sense become their own creators. Their moral choices and actions aren’t limited by anything but their own imaginations and self-restraint.

The atheist mentality will thus see any appeal to a higher power as an attack on its own egoism, a threat to the world it has created. There is no special reason for an atheist to believe that he should temper his anger or the force he uses to respond to it.

Chinese Christians are learning firsthand the lengths to which atheists will go. But when a visitor asked a Catholic in China, “Do you pray that you could be more like the Church in the United States, free of persecution?” he got an answer he didn’t expect.

“No, I pray that the Church there can be more like ours,” the Chinese Catholic said. “We have learned how valuable our faith is.”