Nostra Aetate

I’ve missed the anniversary by a few weeks. This shortest of the Vatican II documents, however, is well worth an examination, especially in these times in which some Catholics seek to turn back the clock of reform.

The whole document is here, titled the Declaration On The Relation Of The Church To Non-Christian Religions. It should be noted that non-Christian religions include not only Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, but also any pagan religion, as well as the world’s minor religions.

In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely he relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

A focus on what will follow: what we hold in common, namely morals, values, belief, sacred actions, worship, prayer, and other human efforts to reach beyond ourselves and seek the Divine.

One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.

Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

The acknowledgement of a common search is just that; nothing more.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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24 Responses to Nostra Aetate

  1. Atheist Max says:

    You stated,

    “A focus on what will follow: what we hold in common, namely morals, values, belief, sacred actions, worship, prayer, and other human efforts to reach beyond ourselves and seek the Divine.”

    Unfortunately, this is a blunder.

    Our collective human ‘longing’ is a reflection of biological urges.
    Our clear awareness of our sense of fairness (morality), our longings for a parent figure, and our natural desire to understand our cosmological place are all explained through biology and evolution.

    When we instead ascribe these impulses to a god or to
    unfounded claims of supernatural causes
    we miss our own reality.
    And we miss our own lives, including the true natural beauty of everything around us.

    Religion is a primitive poison of the mind.

  2. Todd says:

    Not at all. Since God created people, down to each individual person, I believe that commonality between faith systems is a way to bring people together, including people without faith. I don’t miss anything in my own life by faith, and it’s certainly not an obstacle to a constructive sharing of human experiences within the context of the universe.

    • Atheist Max says:

      You said,
      “I believe that commonality between faith systems is a way to bring people together, including people without faith.”

      Then what explains this?

      “The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam.” (Surah 3:19)
      “Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it.” (Surah 2:216)
      “Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends.” (Surah 5:51)

      “Cursed be he who does the Lords work remissly, cursed he who holds back his sword from blood.” (Jeremiah 48:10
      “Seize all the non-believers and execute them before the LORD in broad daylight…” (Numbers 25:1-9)

      “To those who would not have me as their king, bring them to me and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
      “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! …what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but division.” – Jesus (Luke 12:49-51)
      “Jesus said…Except they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death.” (Rev:1:22)


      One of the thousands of religions in the world are true
      but we don’t know which.
      Or All of them are false.

      Is it not more likely that the child’s evolved, innate search for a parent – handed to each child as a survival instinct is enough to unite humanity?
      How can these conflicting creeds ever be overcome IF each member of each creed is relying on FAITH?

  3. Todd says:

    I’m more interested in what your atheist creed says. Your via negative approach is rather common, but it doesn’t get at what you. Max, hold as positive truth. You profess atheism, but you define yourself publicly based on religion. What’s up with that?

    But to answer your question rationally, you are presuming that each proponent of faith is a perfect vessel representing an imperfect god. Why would I assume the messenger gets it right if the product is violence and division?

    • Atheist Max says:

      You ask, “Why would I assume the messenger gets it right if the product is violence and division?”
      So far, the most successful religions (those with most adherents) are the violent ones. Isn’t such success a statement by God that they are on the right track? Isn’t success a sort of validation?

      Does Jesus not give warrant to violence and division? The preachings of Jesus are perfectly aligned with the most divisive and violent impulses in people.

      Yes. I identify myself as an Atheist. Why? Because America is a predominantly Christian nation and Christian privilege tends to make unbelievers seem like a smaller group than we really are. Being ‘out’ is a way to be clear that people like me not only exist but have a right to our own view of these things.

      I have no “Atheist creed” but let me speak to your concern. Let me elaborate on what I think is positive about Atheism:

      Let’s get this out of the way:
      1. Atheism means “I do not believe in a God”. That is all it means.
      I am not claiming God to be impossible. I cannot prove a negative.

      2. I am also AGNOSTIC meaning “I do not know” if god exists. God may exist for all I know. I cannot prove a negative.

      3. So I do not ‘know’ if God exists (agnostic) and ‘I do not believe’ (atheist).
      It is my opinion that God is not real.
      But I am open to proof OR a simple demonstration of God’s existence if someone has it.

      Is there an Atheist Creed? No but…The challenge of life is to determine what we humans can and should do with each other, how should we interact and how can we survive on this earth with maximum heath and safety for all.

      Religion tells us conflicting messages about how to do this. Worst of all, it hands full responsibility to God. As in “it is in God’s hands.”
      Yet paradoxically, there are thousands of supposed gods across the world depending on geography – and religion compels us to interact in the real world under an array of contradictory, violent, even inhuman capacities. Killing 30,000 witches during the black death did nothing to save any lives and it did not stop the plague. These are inhuman injunctions.

      If we try instead to see each other as Humans just trying to survive in an uncertain world, responding to each other’s needs as we see them we are far more likely to do good works, keep each other safe, and help each other in productive and useful ways.

      We are already moral beings without a god. We can be more moral and better behaved without these terrible teaching of Allah, Jesus, Yahweh and the like.

      • Todd says:

        I usually suggest shorter comments. Long works better in an email.

        – I don’t buy the theory that the most successful religions are the ones with the most adherents.

        – Jesus predicted division, yes, but Gospel author also had the benefit of half a century of experience before he related that saying of Jesus. It was already part of the lived experience of Luke’s community, if not a wider stretch of Christianity. Jesus giving warrant to violence? No, that’s not in the Bible.

        – I would agree with your “challenge of life.” I would disagree with your sense of religion putting things in God’s hands. Not part of my creed. Curious: I would agree with your sense of atheism but disagree with your sense of religion. Imagine that.

      • Atheist Max says:

        You said, “Jesus giving warrant to violence?
        No, that’s not in the Bible.”

        This is most important because if I am wrong about Jesus inciting violence I have failed completely to understand anything about the Bible despite 44 years as a Catholic.
        It is of course not my idea that Jesus incites violence. Countless Saints have not only done violence themselves but incited it directly:

        “About heretics there are two things to say. Their sin deserves banishment
        not only from the church by excommunication but also from the world by death.”
        – St. Thomas Aquinas

        One can only wonder how so many Saints
        could arrive at such violent recommendations
        if Jesus does not give warrant, permission
        and encouragement to think this way.

        “The master shall cut him to pieces” – Jesus (Luke 12)
        JESUS describes through a parable what he intends to do to his own enemies,
        whoever they may be.

        “..bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King, and execute them in front of me.” (Luke 19:27)
        Again, Jesus as the nobleman in a parable describes the consequences of not obeying him.

        “better that he be drowned with a millstone” (Matt 18:6)
        An explicit injunction of what should happen to those who harm innocents.

        “Deem [them] unworthy…remove your blessings of PEACE” (Matt 10:13)
        To “remove” a blessing of peace would have dire implications for the victim.

        “I have come to bring fire…What constraints!
        I am impatient to bring..division.” (Luke 12:49-51)
        Without better clarification I see this as incitement to violence.

        “Hate your parents…hate your life”(Luke 14:26)

        “Eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or
        “Be condemned to Hell” (John 6:53-54) (Mark 16:16).
        Worthy of a Godfather.

        When an Atheist behaves badly, at least he cannot claim
        to have God on his side when he tries to do violence. And isn’t divine permission for violence the worst kind? Think of 9/11, or Rwandan genocide. Religion is always ready to do terrible things.

        “Slay them wherever you find them” – The Surah

      • Todd says:

        Long comment, Max. But I think you’re reaching in all of your citations. Jesus tells parables, stories that illustrate a point. Shaking dust from shoes is dramatic. But it’s not a violent act.

        As I said before, believers who misrepresent God don’t negate the existence of God, they just bring shame on themselves and a loss of credibility to their faith.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “believers who misrepresent God don’t negate the existence of God, they just bring shame on themselves and a loss of credibility to their faith.”

        Do you include Thomas Aquinas?

      • Todd says:

        I do. Thomas was a product of his age, a man of his times. A saint, even admirable in many respects, but not a perfect man.

      • Atheist Max says:

        Is it ever moral to Kill a non-believer simply for lack of belief
        or for believing in a different deity?

      • Atheist Max says:

        We agree that killing is non-believers is wrong.
        Why did God command it?

        Kill Followers of Other Religions.
        1) If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12)

        1. In those days, was God immoral – since we both agree this is an immoral law?
        2. In those days, was God not capable of timelessly perfect laws – since this law is rightly considered imperfect by both of us?
        3. When Jesus says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” is he talking about this God?
        4. When Jesus says, “this is love for God: to keep his commands..” (1 John 5:3) is he not talking bout this God?

  4. Atheist Max says:

    “Shaking dust from shoes is dramatic. But it’s not a violent act.”

    Let’s see the context of Matthew 10:13-39
    “As you enter the house, give it your greeting. “If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.
    “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17″But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say”For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21″Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22″You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. 24″A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25″It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household”Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27″What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28″Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
    34″Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35″For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW;…”For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.”And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39″He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”

    1. Jesus instructs followers to be absolutist in preaching: Take it or Leave it.
    2. Jesus warns them the message is designed to be confrontational.
    3. Jesus threatens all who do not accept the message are “unworthy of me.”
    This gives a defining characteristic for any follower to identify anyone for whom judgement cannot be avoided.
    4. Jesus offers a promise to those who must die for the benefit of his message. And far worse “He who has found his life will lose it.”

    In the end, Jesus leaves his followers with no option to ‘shake off the dust’
    as the stakes have are increasingly raised to the highest level imaginable.

    This is an incitement to unspeakable horrors against humanity.
    In that context “deeming” someone unworthy and ‘removing a blessing of peace’ is an act of war upon people who initially meant you absolutely no harm.

    Why is this not a gun to the head of an innocent, harmless un-believer?

    • Atheist Max says:

      My overall point is:

      Jesus raises the stakes from, “shake the dust as you leave” to
      “He who does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me…He who has found his life will lose it….”

      If the message of Jesus is “Love God and Love your neighbor” how can it possibly comport with this nonsense?
      It is spectacularly incoherent.

      • Todd says:

        You have made a classic misinterpretation here, Max. Jesus describes consequences; he doesn’t prescribe them. People make choices in their existence, and there are consequences to these. It is the essence of freedom.

        Your commentary about guns and war looks like emotional exaggeration to me, completely unhinged from reason.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “classic misinterpretation”

        Where is the classic interpretation? Where is the book which clearly explains the proper interpretation and the improper one?

      • Todd says:

        Hey Max, you just have to read more closely. Your classic misinterpretation is that just because somebody talks about something, you’ve assumed assent to the position.

      • Atheist Max says:

        You don’t seem to realize that a moral compass is required to navigate the Bible.
        Without such a compass, the Bible is as dangerous as an executioner’s handbook.

        Jesus’ purported message: “Love” or else!
        Yet it simply cannot follow:

        The Bible then, cannot be the source of morality – as it is an obstacle to it.

  5. Todd says:

    Hi Max. Good to have you back.

    One classic mistake here: the Bible is a cookbook. While it’s true that many believers make the same mistake, that doesn’t mean it’s not still an error.

    Being in right relationships, moral, ethical, loving, is the essence of life as a Christian believer. The Bible is not a recipe book in the sense of following instructions to be good.

    As for your last quote, I would argue it is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    And your third error: the assumption you make about my ignorance. You don’t really know me, Max.

    Try another at-bat tomorrow?

    • Atheist Max says:

      Well, certainly I don’t know you. That is why I said, “you seem not” instead of “you don’t.”

      I’m confused about some answers you’ve given regarding the role of the Bible in your beliefs. You acknowledged that it is “NEVER” right to kill nonbelievers. Glad to hear it.
      But I assumed (wrongly, apparently) that you were allowing your own sense of morality to decide this and not the Bible’s morality.

      1. I’m trying to figure out what the Bible means to you.
      So far it seems to have no role in your beliefs. Am I right? Are there limits to how you use the Bible?

      2. We agree that killing non-believers is wrong.
      So why did God command it in the Bible? Is this something to dismiss?
      If so, what else should be dismissed? How would you determine other parts of the Bible to dismiss?

      3. Who has the authority over these decisions of Biblical relevance? Isn’t it up to the individual?

      4. How do you define a ‘wrong’ interpretation of the Bible?

  6. Todd says:

    There are limits, of course. I’m not a Biblical literalist, and millions of Christians also reject literalism. If you think you’re sowing consternation and doubt by presenting the Bible as a literal document to use against believers, I’m afraid most of our readers are laughing over this. You’re asking the wrong questions, my friend. I suggest evangelical Protestant web sites instead.

    If you’re looking for my approach to the Bible, I suggest you read–but don’t comment–on any post that treats the Scriptures. We have several hundred of those here.

    • Atheist Max says:

      Well. I was a Christian for many years and I was not a literalist either. That is how I dealt with the dilemmas of the Bible.

      But that does not solve these problems
      because as a Christian you MUST accept SOME of the Bible as literally true.
      That is what I was trying to point out to you.

      Unfortunately, it makes no sense to accept “He is risen” as literal
      if you also must accept this as NOT literal: “Many prophets awakened from the dead and walked through the city.”

      If Jesus’ Resurrection is the final proof that he was God – what does it say about all the risen bodies in Matthew? were they also born of virgins? Were they also gods? You would probably say I’m wrong to go in this direction. But why? It seems these decisions are all in the hands of the reader.

      Regardless of how much one reads about ‘how to read’ the Bible, it is still up to the reader to decide for himself what is real and what is not.

      I could read a biography of Norman Mailer and see parts of his life I agree with and parts I disagree with. I can choose his good statements as wise and reject his bad statements as bad considering where they fit into his life.
      Why put Jesus in a higher category 
if you are going to do the same thing with his words that we both do to Norman Mailer?


      Sorry I asked dumb questions.
      Sorry if you think they are a laughing matter.
      Sorry if my questions are so unintelligent.
      Sorry if I’m so arrogant that I dared to ask questions at all.

      Yet you say I am a fool to not love this guy:

      “I have wiped out nations, devastating their fortress walls and towers.
      Their cities are now deserted; their streets are in silent ruin.
      There are no survivors to even tell what happened.
      I thought, ‘they will have reverence for me now! Surely they will listen to my warnings, so I won’t need to strike again.’ But no!”
“Even if they stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn’t help them. Away with them! Get them out of my sight!”
“and that slave will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it…Much is required from those to whom much is given.”

      Without your answers, I am left with nothing but
      an impression that you and your religious crowd have accepted on some strange authority
      that a violent monster is okay with you – and you don’t mind this.

      Cue the laughter. This time coming from me.

    • Atheist Max says:

      By the way, I have no reason to consider you any more of an authority on the Bible than myself. So if you can’t answer my direct questions here, I won’t be wandering through the vast array of possible answers given by you elsewhere.

      I was not trying to ‘sow consternation and doubt’.
      I was asking serious questions – your answers of which would have been enlightening to me. Even now, I don’t get the sense that you have ever considered them seriously at all, which confirms a suspicion I have seen in others who are indoctrinated at an early age.

      I got the message.
      And I’m leaving with an even emptier bag than I came in with.

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