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On Secular Repentance | Crisis Magazine

"(T)here is a curious blind spot in these various calls for the Church to repent. Secular figures rarely feel a need to disavow their own complicity in crimes, even when many of them, still living to this day, bear no little guilt for atrocities that make the Church’s sins pale by comparison.
Take the Inquisition. Beyond question the Church was involved in religious trials that probably led to the deaths of several thousand people over the centuries. Though the process was conducted under a strict legal code, it was wrong to execute people for their beliefs. But as the Polish poet Cszelaw Milosz has reminded us, communism in some of the larger countries killed more people on average per day than the Church killed in centuries. Rare is the Western intellectual who supported communism and repented of that monstrous error."
Interesting perspective!

On Secular Repentance | Crisis Magazine


  1. Hi Tim,

    Interesting article. The author insinuates a lot without coming right out and stating it.

    I regard myself as a "secular" person, but I fail to understand why I am obligated to admit complicity to crimes which I did not commit, and carried out by regimes which I did not support.

    I think the author is making a category error. He appears to treat all secularists as if they are members of a unified, homogenous whole who share a common mission - much like members of a religious faith community.

    If the author is seeking apologies, I suggest he approach soviet communists for that. If he is trying to make secularists "guilty by association", then I think he is making a dishonest argument. If he is trying to diminish the crimes of the Catholic Church by saying others acted even worse, then I think he is employing deceptive rhetoric.

    IMHO, whenever one puts an ideology (e.g. communism, capitalism, nationalism or facism), or a religous view (e.g. Catholicism, or Islamic fundamentalism) out of the reach of reason and criticism, then one is setting the stage for abuses that can lead to atrocities.

    Secularism is the principle of separating government insitutions from religious institutions. Secularism is the belief in our right to be free from religious rule, or from governments that wish to impose religious rule upon us. I fail to see how these ideas necessarily lead to the murder of innocents.

    In fact, given the list of atrocities he attributes to Catholicism, I fail to see how he can insinuate that Catholicism necessarily prevents evil.

    If his argument is that Communists killed more people than Catholics, therefore Communists are worse than Catholics - then he may have some kind of a crude point. Not sure he can indict all secularists for the crimes of communists, just as he cannot indict all religious believers for the crimes committed by a single religion.

    Just my two cents.


  2. Martin: Well put. I agree entirely. The reason I posted it was because I wanted to explore the following:

    Given that there are religious obligations that Christians carry which demands an examination of conscience (with the accompanying obligations of justice to effect reparation), is there a similar process that naturally occurs within atheists.

    This is not saying that atheists are better or worse than believers or incapable of recognizing good and avoiding evil. It's really more of a process question as it relates to both individuals and cultures. Christians and Christian communions have a process that should inspire sincere repentance. What accomplishes the same in secular organizations or individual non-believers? Is such a process even necessary?

    The next question is: Shouldn't this make a difference?.... and my rumination ended with: Why don't I see a difference between believers and non-believers?

    I appreciate the time you offered in preparing your thoughts. Thanks.


  3. Hi Tim,

    Firstly, I would point out that the article makes no mention of "atheists" - although I appreciate that "secularist" is sometimes used interchangeably with "atheist". Which is part of my problem with the article, it implies a lot without being very explicit.

    In any case, you ask: "Given that there are religious obligations that Christians carry which demands an examination of conscience (with the accompanying obligations of justice to effect reparation), is there a similar process that naturally occurs within atheists."

    The simple answer is, No. Beyond a common absence of a belief in a deity, there is very little one can say that is necessarily true of most atheists. There are subsets of atheists, such as Secular Humanists, who hold to a loose canon of "positive affirmations" about themselves and the world that they live in, however, they are only a small subset of the larger whole.

    If you are interested in Secular Humanist affirmations (or beliefs), you find them here:



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