'Respect atheists', says Cardinal
The Archbishop of Westminster has urged Christians to treat atheists and agnostics with "deep esteem".
Believers may be partly responsible for the decline in faith by losing sense of the mystery and treating God as a "fact in the world", he said in a lecture.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor called for more understanding and appreciation between believers and non-believers.
The leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales said that a "hidden God" was active in everyone's life.
The Cardinal's lecture at Westminster Cathedral comes after a spate of public clashes over issues such as stem-cell research, gay adoption and faith schools.
He expressed concern about the increasing unpopularity of the Christian voice in public life, saying: "Our life together in Britain cannot be a God-free zone and we must not allow Britain to become a world devoid of religious faith and its powerful contribution to the common good."
Last year, he complained of a "new secularist intolerance of religion" and the state's "increasing acceptance" of anti-religious views.
To stem this tide, he said Christians must understand they have something in common with those who do not believe.
God is not a "fact in the world" as though God could be treated as "one thing among other things to be empirically investigated" and affirmed or denied on the "basis of observation", said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.
"If Christians really believed in the mystery of God, we would realise that proper talk about God is always difficult, always tentative.
"I want to encourage people of faith to regard those without faith with deep esteem because the hidden God is active in their lives as well as in the lives of those who believe.""
The basis of the esteem of other is the Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God no matter how much that may be marred or denied. Some folks are harder to esteem than others. Yesterday an atheist friend sent me a beautiful birthday greeting. She is easy to esteem. Dawkins is not. He shows no respect for any religion. But I have an obligation to be gracious even to Dawkins. He is but deluded by the effects of sin on the intellect.
One final comment. Does the above mean RC respect for Protestants too? I hear it rumoured that the pope is about to say something kind about Luther too.