Charles S. wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a 21 years old and have been an atheist for the past eight years. I recently attended a Catholic Church for the first time. That was about two months ago, and since then, I have been to Mass about six times. I love it and I am interested in the Catholic Church, but not for the normal reasons. Although I think it would be wonderful to be a Catholic, it's still nice to be an atheist as well, so I was considering resorting to a fairly new ideology, Catholic Atheism.

Catholic atheists attend a parish, are part of a Catholic community, but do not do everything that normal Catholics do, including:

  • receiving Holy Communion
  • saying the Nicene Creed, and
  • not claiming that they are truly Catholic.

I assume you would consider them a "Catholic in Name Only," since Catholic atheists are generally liberal and don't completely agree with the Church's teachings. Soon I am going to go to RCIA, convert around Easter, and join a parish as a regular member. Basically, what I'll be doing is being a part of a parish, enjoying being part of a Catholic community, without actually being a "true" Catholic. I don't want to be a true Catholic; I just want to be a Catholic atheist. I am drawn to the Catholic Church because of its:

  • history
  • beauty, and
  • generosity to mankind

not because:

  • I want to go to Heaven
  • have a relationship with Jesus Christ, even though Catholic atheists believe that Jesus existed and follow His teachings, or
  • share the Gospel with others.
  • What do you personally think about this?
  • Have you heard of anyone being a Catholic atheist before?

If needed, I could provide:

  • links to web sites
  • give you book titles addressing the issue
  • point out famous Catholic atheists, and
  • even provide a list of what is believed and practiced and what is not.

Thank you,

Charles S.

  { I'm an atheist being drawn to the Catholic Church and Atheism; could I be a Catholic atheist? }

Paul replied:

Dear Charles,

My first thought is that a "Catholic atheist" is like a "square circle". It makes no sense. A Catholic that might be an atheist would seem to fit into one of these two categories:

  1. Someone who was baptized Catholic and somewhere along the way denounced his faith and proclaims God does not exist; or

  2. A baptized Catholic that does not admit publicly or even to themselves that they no longer believe, or the awareness of this has not yet risen to a conscious level. He may continue to go through the motions of Catholic rituals out of habit or tradition but reject many or some of the Church's teachings on faith or morals.

However, what you're suggesting is a desire to convert to Catholicism while deliberately and consciously admitting a non-belief in God and Catholicism. It is like deciding to be the manager of the Boston Red Sox because:

  • you like their uniforms
  • their hundred-year tradition, and
  • you enjoy hanging out with the players;

but you root for the Yankees to beat them and hope the Yankees win the World Series. It's like deciding to marry a woman because:

  • you respect her family
  • like the family business

but don't believe in marriage and plan on having affairs with other women throughout your life. The essence of being Catholic is belief in God as understood through Christ and His Church, and the assent to be obedient to His will.

Feel free to elaborate more if I am missing something here.



Charles replied:


I definitely think that you're missing something here.

Although I refuse to believe in God and being a Catholic requires the belief in God, I am not claiming to be a true Catholic. You see, if I were claiming to be a true Catholic and I didn't believe in God, you could easily call me out on that, but I do not want to call myself a true Catholic, just a Catholic atheist. Now, although I do agree with your two categories of so-called "Catholic atheists", for a third category, I would throw in my situation, since it basically correlates with category two. I will for a fact be baptized as a Catholic.

I know that I am going to go through with this, but my baptism won't really mean much to me.
It will only do enough to "get me into the Church." Everyone will believe that I truly believe everything that the Catholic Church is teaching and I'll still be treated like a Catholic, but in reality, I'll have a outer Catholic shell and an inner atheist core, hence "Catholic atheist." It's just like your square circle example; theoretically, you could fit the shape of a square into a circle, but the square would have to be smaller than the circle and hidden.

To me, God is not the core part of being a Catholic; the traditions and customs are, since that's what makes one denomination of Christianity different from another (that they share the belief in God), but I am willing to respect the Catholics by not doing any of their "sacred" customs, such as receiving the Eucharist (unless I have to receive the Eucharist for Confirmation; then, I'll receive the sacrament that one time only). I am willing to be cautious and respectful the whole time I am part of the Catholic Church, hopefully for a long time. The best way for me to explain this to a Catholic so that they truly understand this, is by stating that I want to be a cultural Catholic.

For example, there are people out there that follow Muslim customs and traditions, but they don't believe in Allah and never will. They:

  • don't eat pork
  • they read the Quran, and
  • they go to Masjid often

but they lack that belief in God. Those people are cultural Muslims and that's exactly what I want to be — except I want to be a cultural Catholic, not a cultural Muslim.

  • Does this make more sense to you?

I am sorry if I am confusing, but I've had the idea to do this for over a month and if I don't do it, it's going to bother me. I basically feel like I have to be a part of the Catholic Church for a while.

Thank you!


Mary Ann replied:

Charles —

We have lots of cultural Catholics already. They are baptized Catholics who believe what they choose and live however they want. Most of them do it out of drift, laziness, weakness or ignorance. Some just can't give up the cultural part of Catholicism which form a part of their identity. You, however, want to do it on purpose from the beginning. This is:

  • subversion
  • deceit
  • blasphemy, and
  • sacrilege.

You would profane holy things for your own amusement. As St. Paul says of those who eat the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily, they eat and drink damnation. 1 Corinthians 11:29

At the very least, I will say that what you propose is impossible, because one cannot put on a culture like a robe. To be a cultural Catholic, one must have absorbed Catholic ways of thinking and acting from a family and environment from one's childhood on.

The only thing you can do is pretend to be a cultural Catholic but beware: God is not mocked, and doing and saying these Catholic things will change you.

Mary Ann

Charles replied:


Then, I will simply go on to absorb what it's like:

  • to be a Catholic
  • to think like a Catholic, and
  • act like a Catholic.

I guess I can do that until I feel as if I am enough of a cultural Catholic but ultimately, I still like my idea much better. I am willing to respect the Catholics by staying out of their way.

Thank you for your response!


Mike replied:

Hi, Charles —

After reading both Paul and Mary Ann's answer and your reply to each of them, I may understand where you are coming from.

I do think you are responding to a call of the Holy Spirit, but you have to follow through in truth.

You said in your reply to Paul:
I am willing to respect the Catholics by not doing any of their "sacred" customs, such as receiving the Eucharist (unless I have to receive the Eucharist for Confirmation; then, I'll receive the sacrament that one time only).

This doesn't make sense. If you wish to become Catholic "their sacred customs" are "your sacred customs". What you are being drawn toward is a family of one faith, not a family of 30,000 faiths.

What I sense in your reply to Paul is a respect for not infringing on the sacred, which is admirable, though you don't cognitively understand certain aspects about God and the Church He founded on St. Peter and His successors.

You said:
I am drawn to the Catholic Church because of its:

  • history
  • beauty, and
  • generosity to mankind
I found it interesting that for all the reasons you say you are being drawn to the Church: Truth or salvation, was not one of them.

A good friend of mine, Clayton Bower Jr., a fellow Catholic apologist who passed away a few months ago, gave a very good talk titled: Atheism's Weakness. I can send you the CD if you want.

Within the talk he says there are four types of Atheism:

  1. Dogmatic Atheism
  2. Philosophical Atheism or Agnosticism
  3. Psychological or Adolescent Atheism, and
  4. Practical Atheism

Dogmatic Atheism is a dogmatic declaration that there is no God. They depend on dogma to put forward the assertion that there is no God. So Atheists, like Catholics, do believe in dogma!
An Atheist dogmatically believes there is no God and tries to back it up with science.

Philosophical Atheism or Agnosticism, whose camp I think you are partially in, has the person honestly not finding any acceptable answers for why God would exist. This can be justified and understandable based on ones background, but it's very different than Dogmatic Atheism.

Psychological or Adolescent Atheism is based, not so much on a true cognitive belief that there is no God, but is a reaction to overbearing religious parents and teachers just to get under their skin. Adolescent Atheism is a reaction to parental or adult demands. There is no real in-depth study of whether God exists, or not. The teenager or youth rebel just to identify themselves and their own identity. They are basically saying: "I'm not like this overbearing parent."

Practical Atheism, whose camp I also think you are in, is equivalent to what you call Catholic Atheism. Why?

Practical Atheism, which a good number of Catholic Christians have fell into, says we can go about knowing there is a God, but behaving like there isn't one. He says:

There's an old saying "If you were arrested for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence against you?"

And a bumper sticker on the car or a Rosary in the window wouldn't be enough.

That said, who we say we are, and what we do, should go hand in hand for anyone who calls themselves a Christian.

I've met people who call themselves Christians but have no problem supporting abortion and
so-called "gay marriage" (There is no such thing.) Their life is a lie. When someone lives a life where their words contradict their actions, their credibility or believability goes down.

  • Why would anyone with an IQ of 1, believe anything a self-proclaimed Catholic says, when they vote for abortion and support same-sex "marriage"?

    We've been around for 2,000 years; everyone knows what Catholics believe.

Don't get pulled into the culture that says, "because everyone is doing it, I'll do it too."

You said:
not because:

  • I want to go to Heaven
  • have a relationship with Jesus Christ, even though Catholic atheists believe that Jesus existed and follow His teachings, or
  • share the Gospel with others.

To me, God is not the core part of being a Catholic

I'm going to guess that what you really mean is:

I want to be Catholic for the fringe benefits of being a Catholic, but not for the core reasons, because:

  • I don't know the core reasons, and
  • if I did, I would have to change my behavior or lifestyle from what it is now.

Being a Practical Atheist or Catholic Atheist, is not what is drawing you to the Church. I truly sense the biggest area that has to be address in your young life are the philosophical aspects of:

  • Is there a God?
  • Who is He?
  • Why am I here in this world?
  • What is my purpose in life?

You would probably be interested in a question and answer Catechism that gives you answers to questions that are on your mind.

The two best source are:

Do not take Mary Ann's reply lightly. She is right on the nose. By entering the Church under false pretenses you will only hurt yourself. This is serious stuff Charles and sadly many Catholics who have not been catechized correctly, are afraid to stand up for their faith, a divine faith the
Early Church Fathers were more than happy to die for.

  • How many Roman Catholics, living in the United States today, would be willing to die for the Church?
Hope this helps.


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