The presence of nonbelievers teaches the faithful that belief “cannot be taken for granted”, said Fr. Felix Körner, S.J., a German Jesuit priest and scholar of Islam, in a webinar Thursday.
“[It also teaches] that we have to find good arguments, but also to accept our capacity to have faith and trust in God, in gratefulness […] If atheists ask questions, we can clarify in the discussion and in our own thoughts what we really mean much better,” he said.
“Sometimes we also find atheists who do exemplary work and so we are also being challenged in our practice by them. So I would very much like to see the presence of atheists not as something we grudgingly accept but also to see it as a good challenge to rethink whether we are already what we claim to be – children of God,” he added.
He said this in response to a question in the open forum by Yeremia David Sombounaung, a student of Widya Mandala Catholic University (WMCU), who asked if the “more and more coming waves” of atheism and agnosticism should make the religious feel “threatened” or if they should view it as a form of plurality of religious life.
“I am always thrilled to watch Bart Ehrman’s explanation particularly about Christianity. As we know, [he] is one of the agnostic scholars that profoundly described his personal perspective in which I presume can affect believers in some sense. On the other hand, he has a charity in which it is good…” Sombounaung said, as context to his question. A New Testament scholar, Ehrman is an ex-fundamentalist Christian who became an agnostic after grappling with ‘the problems of evil and suffering’.
For Fr. Körner, who is also director of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures and a professor in the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, religions must accept that they will never again have a “100% followership” in any society which, he said, is good.
“Not all people of one society will follow us and not even those who follow us follow us in all points. And that is good because it brings religions to its essence. If at the basis of religions is the recognition of the other – first of all, God – then our life in a plural society – where there are contradictions, where people are objecting to religious people, and where they have different religions and some people are not even interested in the religious question – that is interesting for us.
“To take that new chance to be an inspiration for people and also for the social and public order. But only an inspiration where we can give good arguments, where we can discuss, where we can criticize, but not in the sense of we have the power to implement this. But we have the power of witness, the power of argument, the soft power of being a different political strength in our world,” he said.
Fr. Körner is the resource speaker of the Pakighinabi (conversation series) on religion: “Can religions be political? Should they?” held via Zoom.