Regis College at the University of Toronto is hosting an eight week course on atheism called “Responding to 21st-Century Atheism” with the goal, according to instructor Fr. Scott Lewis S.J., not being necessarily preparing students to evangelize but to feel “less threatened and more willing to view the challenges of modernity and science as an opportunity for religious traditions to change and grow.”
In an exclusive interview with The Cardinal Newman Society, Fr. Lewis said, “Our theology cannot remain unchanged – it can and must develop in new directions.”
The course description states that a number of faculty of Regis College, including Fr. Lewis, will “explore responses to the challenges presented by contemporary atheism. Eight lectures will discuss the role of Scripture, tradition, theology, psychology and pastoral studies to address the questions about human living posed by today’s culture and climate of disbelief.”
Fr. Lewis said that “preparing people to evangelize is not my concern at the moment.”
In an email exchange, where he was asked about his ambitions for the course, he wrote:
Atheism is one of the most important issues of our time. It is growing and there is a new militancy to the movement. Unfortunately, intolerance, bigotry, and close-minded attitudes abound on both sides of the issues and it is hoped that theists and atheists will be more able to be more respectful of one another and willing from the other side. I felt that a school of theology is the perfect place to address the issues of atheism in our culture. I am surprised and disappointed that Catholic (and other) theological faculties have been slow to respond.
I would like students to appreciate the breadth and depth of the problem. There are no quick fixes or easy answers. But most of all, I would like them to feel less threatened and more willing to view the challenges of modernity and science as an opportunity for religious traditions to change and grow. We have nothing to fear from truth.
Preparing people to evangelize is not my concern at the moment. My ultimate aim is a respectful dialogue between atheists and non-believers. We need to understand atheism in all its forms and the intellectual basis for it. Evolutionary science is probably the biggest challenge to theism, but psychology, other sciences, as the problem of suffering and injustice also rank high on the list. There are important findings and insights in scientific fields that cannot be ignored or explained away – they are a challenge and invitation to reexamine how we envision God, creation, humanity, and the relationship between them. Our theology cannot remain unchanged – it can and must develop in new directions.
Reportedly, the class has over 150 students.
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