The Pope is visiting the UK. I have been toying with the idea of writing a post about him for a while and couldn’t quite decide what to write. A lot of the people I follow on twitter are very anti-pope. Be they lapsed/reformed-catholics, gays, atheists or humanists. But I don’t have the same problem with him.

He’s been invited as a Head of State by the Queen. We’re footing the State-related bill – he’s paying for the church bits, to put it simply. And yes, his state is a little odd, but it’s still, formally, a state. So if the Queen had invited another Head of State who was doing things people may disagree with – say Bush, or Mugabe – yes, being irritated about that is fine.

Similarly with the Pope’s treatment of gay people, women, his views on condoms and child abuse in the church. Protesting this is fine.

But when it all gets mixed-up with anti-religion feelings I start to feel uncomfortable.

In a speech at Holyrood, Benedict urged Britain to guard against “aggressive forms of secularism”. He said: “As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a ‘reductive vision of the person and his destiny’.” (This was in stark contrast to his strongest comments to date on paedophillia in the church and depoloring of the church’s failure to act swiftly and decisively in the past).

I have a problem with what I, too, would term aggressive secularism for a number of reasons:

  1. Aggressive secularism is wholey negative. It is an argument against religion more often than an argument for secularism. Any argument which is in the negative always makes me uncomfortable. I find people who argue for something FOR more convincing.
  2. People like Richard Dawkin have turned his form of secularism into a quasi-religion, and sought religious-type following of dogma under the auspice of science in the same way the church does under the auspice of faith.
  3. The aggressive secularism arguments are often mis-directed at faith, not the church and ignore the fact that while the two are linked they are not the same. Religious people are the first to acknowledge people are fallible – Priests abuse children, just as Doctors kill (e.g. Harold Shipman). It happens. It is the responsibility of the church to ensure it is handled properly, it is not a fault of faith.
  4. Aggressive secularism is as dangerous as aggressive religion. Indeed one will breed the other.
  5. Religion is, generally speaking, understanding. Christians understand people may have other faiths. Aggressive secularism – by being wholey negative – causes resentment from all faiths.
  6. For all it’s faults, and there are many*, religion has formed a positive basis for the way this country is run, with laws on murder, encouragement of families who care for and look after each other, and rules for how you should treat others.
  7. * = many of the faults of ‘religion’ are not the fault of religion itself, but a fault of the Church’s teaching of it. Such strong animosity towards homosexulaity, for example, or the anti-condom stance of the Catholic church.

I guess my key points are these: If you want to protest, get it right as to what you’re protesting about – the church, or religion? And, that whatever you believe should be fine. You should be allowed to believe whatever you want. But when you start arguing against what other people believe, rather than for what you believe, then that is – quite rightly – called ‘aggressive’.

As the Dalai Lama’s said: “Perhaps the most significant obstruction to inter-religious harmony is a lack of appreciation of the value of others’ faith traditions.”

2 Responses to Pontificating

  1. Lee Williscroft-Ferris says:

    Very interesting. We were saying ourselves that we felt a little uncomfortable with some of the anti-religion rhetoric at the protest. Banners such as ‘Religion is stupid’ seem to be totally irrelevant and offensive. Most people there were certainly not there to criticise religious belief per se. However, I don’t agree that ‘aggressive secularism’ necessarily has to take the form of intolerance. I would say that no religion should have any part to play in matters of state and I would pursue that aim aggressively. That doesn’t mean that I’d seek to deny anyone’s right to worship freely. But it’s a private matter and has no place in the political sphere. Put simply, organised religion is largely incompatible with the ideals of modern democracy. France got it right in 1792. But it’s refreshing to read a blog that takes a more nuanced view.

  2. kkob says:

    The Holy See is a relic and not a true state, that’s plain enough. Why does this religious figure get given special treatment above other religious figures who do not have the luxury of a 2,000 year history of power.

    Aggressive secularism is nothing more than being a vocal secularist, not wanting religious doctrine informing government and laws which apply to everyone in this country regardless of religion or lack of.

    Atheism and secularism are closely allied but distinct. Your issue is with aggressive atheism.

    “As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century”

    WTF is this old man on about? Most people took him to mean the Nazis – the Nazi who were lead by Christian anti-jewish dogma, and their catholic leader Hitler, who the then Pope seemed to not find too much fault with until way after Hitler killed himself. The catholic church is hypocritical to the extreme.

    Secularism is arguing FOR the abolition of separate faith school to prevent communities being divided by religion. FOR the correct teaching of science in all schools, and the freedom of the curriculum from religious interference. There’s a whole host of other things too which you can easily google to find 🙂

    People are protesting the catholic church’s many many many many faults and whose dogma passively is condemning millions of people to death, persecution and this in the poorest regions of the world, where the church’s power is at it’s strongest.

    In a time of austerity, under the Tory axe of spending cuts, should the tax-payer be footing a bill for a hypocritical church state to come and preach it’s own hateful dogma? I think not.

    I must also mention that atheism doesn’t inspire the kind of hate that religion can. Religion has the power to make good people do very very bad things indeed. Atheism can not inspire this because it is not the forwarding of a dogmatic agende, but the absence of one.

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