P: Greetings, young Zachary.
Z: Ummm…. hi?
P: Yes, it’s me, Pope Benedict.
Z: I can see that. Don’t you ever get to wear jeans or sweats? That must suck. Anyways, hello. What can I do for you?
P: Well, I’m still kind of waiting for you to kneel and kiss my ring. You are Catholic right?
Z: Oh, yeah, not so much. I know I’m still on your records and all, but those are probably about 25 years out of date.
P: I know you call yourself an atheist, but I’m still the Pope, and you’re still Catholic, so down you go.
Z: Not likely.
P: Well that’s not a very good way to get things started.
Z: What are you even talking about?
Z: That’s interesting. So you’re paying for me to come to The Vatican to tell you what’s up?
P: Actually, it will be in Paris.
Z: Oh, that’s nice. I guess it wouldn’t be the most welcoming setting to invite atheists into the heart of all the Church’s opulent wealth.
P: Yeah, we thought universities would be better settings. And the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Z: *sigh* Ah, of course.
P: And we’re not paying. In fact, we’re not even inviting. We like the idea of talking to atheists, and we like people knowing that we like the idea of talking to atheists, but we actually haven’t found anyone we want to have this dialogue with.
Z: Umm… well, I’ll pretend I believe you at this point and that it’s actually going to happen and be meaningful. Tell me more.
P: It’s going to be a series of seminars on the theme of “Religion, Light, and Common Reason.”
Z: Oh neat! The only thing I love more than physics lessons is discussions about how everything we’ve learned about our universe—much of which has become common knowledge—it all points to how unnecessary religion is. Sounds interesting!
P: Actually, we are thinking of it more as a “‘courtyard of the gentiles’ where men can in some way hook on to God, without knowing Him and before having gained access to His mystery.”
Z: Wait, so my lady friends aren’t event invited? I know the atheist community hasn’t been the best at creating visibility for our female members, but I still know plenty who would be just as eager to dialogue as these men you’re referring to.
P: They can come, I suppose, but we never have any real expectations about women’s ability to connect with God, which is why we just disregard them most of the time.
Z: Yeah, about this connect with God thing. That’s what you expect from this charade?
P: Of course. You atheists are lost in the dark. You cannot truly know God because you’ve stopped looking for Him. We just want you (at least the men) to have at least a little bit of God’s influence in your life. It’s because we care.
Z: So where does the dialogue come in?
P: What do you mean? We’re having all of these seminars just for you.
Z: Are you going to listen to us at all?
P: And at the end of it all, there will be a big party for youth, and then we’ll pray and meditate inside the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Z: That’s a no.
P: We’ve got to turn back the tide of Western secularism!
Z: This is like inviting vegetarians to a slaughterhouse.
P: Aren’t you excited? You should feel so honored that we’re sinking so low as to reach out to you!
Z: Yeah. I’m thrilled. What are your actual goals? How will you know if this is a success?
P: Well, obviously, we’ll convince you you’re wrong. At the very least you’ll shut up, and at the best you’ll join our new evangelical efforts!
Z: So let me get this all straight. You want to hold a dialogue with atheists, but you don’t really want to hear from the atheists. You want to bring us to Church locations, teach us Church teachings, and have us pray with you. It’s on your terms, it uses your rhetoric, and you have made no suggestion that the Church is open to growing or cooperating more with secularism.
P: You’ve got it exactly! Doesn’t it sound great?
Z: You going to apologize for anything while we’re there?
P: Like what?
Z: Well, I’ve got a pretty long list, but since this is about dialogue with atheists… how about taking back what you said in September about us atheists being Nazis who exclude virtue from public life?
P: Nazism was not very Christian behavior—
Z: You were a member of the Hitler youth.
P: Don’t interrupt me! I’m still the Pope, you know.
Z: And I’m still unimpressed. So that’s a no to the apology then?
P: I can’t apologize. I’m infallible, and the truth is the truth.
Z: The truth is the truth, eh? Then what you’re saying is you’re holding a public dialogue with Nazis. And you’re inviting me to these seminars because I’m one of the Nazis?
P: No… no… that’s not… we want atheists to like us.
Z: Do you like atheists?
P: Not really.
Z: Are you even willing to say that you’d be willing to hear what atheists have to say?
P: It’s a pretty big step for us to say we’re even willing to talk to you.
Z: I’m flattered.
P: So you’ll come? You’ll give us a chance to convince the world we’re not archaically stodgy?
Z: You paying?
P: Sorry, times are tight.
Z: Yeah, wouldn’t want the Vatican going broke on atheists. Good luck with that.
P: Awwww, please! I promise I won’t call you a Nazi again!
Z: Too late.
(Look, everybody! I made fun of the Pope without referring to his complicity in covering up all the Church’s pedophilia!)