Friday, 17 September 2010

Enough About The Papal Visit Already!

I not exactly sure why - perhaps because I have a subscription to the New Humanist magazine and donated to the Atheist Bus Campaign - but I seem to have received a fair number of messages urging me to attend tomorrow's Protest the Pope protest, organised by the National Secular Society (NSS).

The trouble is, though, I just don't care about the Pope's visit. Try as I might, I just can't muster up the indignation shown by the nation's 'prominent' atheists.

The arguments against the papal visit have ranged from dissecting the peculiar nature of the Vatican state to to Pope Benedict's views on women' ordinations, gay rights and contraception. One of the main objections appears to be that whilst the Pope is perfectly entitled to visit Britain, it shouldn't be an official 'state visit' funded partly by taxpayer, even though the Pope is the head of a state (a strange one admittedly, but no less so than Monaco and Liechtenstein). At least objections on the grounds of cost have some merit - the Catholic Church is extremely wealthy and at a time when the government is planning to slash public spending, £12 million does sound like excess.

Campaigners against the papal visit have been at pains to stress that their objections are to this Pope in particular, not against Catholics in general. However, that's far from convincing. It's not as though the last Pontiff was any less willing to condemn the use of condoms, demands for gay rights or the equal participation of women in its rituals, nor is it a startlingly new revelation that the Catholic Church's clerical hierarchy is deeply conservative. Pope Benedict was, after all, once Cardinal Ratzinger, an ordained priest for nearly 60 years and Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981. He didn't suddenly appear from nowhere and he certainly wasn't alone in covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Most other senior Curia officials bear just as much responsibility and Catholicism's culpability is an institutional one, not the Pope's alone.

Nor are deeply conservative moral strictures, backed by the threat of damnation, unique to one branch of Christianity - the same is also true of most of the world's major religions. Complaining, meanwhile, that the Holy See is not a proper state but a compromise agreed with Mussolini and Italian fascism may be factually accurate, but British arguments about constitutionality are rather undermined by the fact that our own head of state owes her position to nothing more than accident of birth and the political intrigues of her privileged ancestors. Most states have questionable legitimacy - and some of us believe this is the case of all states.

I may not personally share a belief in the existence of a divine imaginary friend but I can understand why, in a world where the vast majority face misery and exploitation because power is concentrated in the hands of the few, that 1.1 billion Catholics (and 1.5 billion Muslims and 900 million Hindus, for that matter), seek some meagre comfort in fairy stories. Amongst them are millions of good people who also struggle daily for fundamental rights, for greater equality and for radical change, who are horrified by the abuse of children and who often rebel against attempts to impose rigid controls over their lives. Atheism isn't a political belief, it's a lack of belief, and frankly there is more that believers and non-believers agree upon than our disagreement over the non-existence of an after-life.

I haven't seem much understanding, however, for the Protest the Pope campaigners. Instead, their anti-clericalism in advance of the Pope's arrival has more often shared a similar attitude to Peter Tatchell's fellow Euston Manifesto friends at Harry's Place when it comes to Muslims - berating for failures to condemn the actions of a few with sufficient vigour that then drifts into the territory of outright bigotry (in this case, Free Presbyterian style bigotry with comments about "a fifth column of Catholics whose primary, indeed seemingly only, loyalty is to their Church").

It just doesn't seem as though there's a clear political objective to the protests - and anyway, the victory of multicultural secularism and rejection of our 'Christian foundations', which obviously worries a powerful body like the Catholic Church enough to call Britain"a third-world country", has come about in spite of, rather than because of, the muscular 'New Atheists' and organisations like the National Secular Society.

So I think I'll pass on tomorrow's protest. A plague on both their houses, as far as I'm concerned.

3 Comments:

harpymarx said...

"It just doesn't seem as though there's a clear political objective to the protests - and anyway, the victory of multicultural secularism and rejection of our 'Christian foundations', which obviously worries a powerful body like the Catholic Church enough to call Britain"a third-world country", has come about in spite of, rather than because of, the muscular 'New Atheists' and organisations like the National Secular Society."

I think that's spot-on Kevin. There's isn't a well defined and thought out politics, just that we don't like the Pope that much. Also, awful reactionary groups like the "Protestant Truth Society" which, well the name gives away its reactionary ideas (attacks on "Romanism")... And see Ian Paisley on the telly summed things up as well.

Btw I will link to your piece as well.

Oh, the first time I saw the protests re this was on Harry's Place and that too sums things up as well!!

James O said...

I agree with a good lot of what you say here Kevin, though I'm pretty sure that at least some of the people who turned out on the protest against the Pope today (as opposed to the organisers) were less there to cheer on Richard Dawkins (who you seem inexplicably fond of if your picture links are anything to go by) and more concerned with the fact that the Pope represents a bastion of unchecked power, wealth and bigotry. No gods, no masters, right?

On another note though, I'm pretty sure Peter Tatchell never signed on to the Euston Manifesto - his name certainly isn't listed on their (not recently updated) website.

Asp said...

You can argue that attacks on the Pope equal attacks on all Catholics everywhere only if you think the institutional practices and teachings of the Catholic Church represent faithfully the beliefs of all Catholics, which is manifestly not true (I come from a Catholic country and was raised Catholic, so I should know). It's like saying that attacking the policies of Bush or Obama equals attacking all American citizens.

By conflating the opposition to the powerful who tailor institutional policies, with bigotry towards those who have no choice but to follow those policies (because they are bound by law or faith), you effectively eliminate the possibility to oppose oppression, because you are conflating the oppressors with the oppressed over whom they exert their power.

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