Saturday, 25 September 2010

By Special Request: The Pope

OK then, seeing as you were all teasing me in my comments box, here are my considered views (as opposed to the ill-considered ranty ones you would have got if I'd written this a week ago).

I was brought up as a Catholic. I'd like to say I was born into the faith, seeing as my parents were both observant Catholics at the time, but the church doesn't allow that, newborn babies being full of sin and evil as far as they are concerned. Needless to say, I'm not a Catholic any more - I parted company with the church in my early teens, and tried a couple of other religious/spiritual identities before settling down as mostly atheist with a side order of agnostic.

I have no quarrel with any individual Catholics - or individuals of any faith, come to that. Some of my family are Catholics, and I have friends of many faiths and none. I would never deny anyone the right to the happiness and comfort that faith can bring. However, I abhor many of the Catholic church's policies, such as those on women, gay people, condoms, and secrecy.

The Pope is not just an individual Catholic, he is the head of the church and its abhorrent policies. I have no objection to him coming to England - he is the spiritual leader of some of the people on this island, and they have every right to a visit from him. Also, I'm entirely in favour of freedom of speech. I do object to an expensive state visit. We don't extend this privilege to other heads of religious bodies, so I don't see why we should for the Pope.

I wish the Pope hadn't chosen atheists as the current enemy of the church. The whole atheists = Nazis thing has been covered extensively, so I'm not going to bang on about that. What worries me is that it seems the Catholic church always needs an enemy: infidels, Jews, Muslims, witches, Protestants, Communists, the list goes on. Just this month an official Catholic blogger was writing about 'the enemies of the Pope' and 'the enemies of the State'. Perhaps I have no right to say this, not being a Christian myself any more, but it doesn't seem very Christian to me to declare enmity on whole swathes of the population.

(Which reminds me of the Milton Jones gag I caught on TV the other night, which went something like this: A man at a festival sees a stall, run by Christians, giving away burgers.
Festival-goer: Can I have a burger please?
Stall-holder: Are you a Christian?
Festival-goer: Do you have to be a Christian to get a burger?
Stall-holder: Yes.
Festival-goer: How Christian is that?)

The official atheists aren't helping by embracing the position of enemy. I'm no great admirer of Richard Dawkins, and he made me really cross when he described the Pope as 'an enemy of humanity'.

So much of this seems so knee-jerk and un-thought-through. Which, of course, is one of the Catholic church's specialities. The church doesn't want its adherents to think about things, it wants them to follow its rules. Sadly, this also seems to apply more and more to the state we live in, at least if our education system is anything to go by (and this isn't a lone view: for example, the Society of Authors is so worried about the extent to which children in schools are taught by rote and procedure these days, that they are preparing to engage with the Secretary of State to advocate that children should once again be taught to think for themselves).

The media, of course, has a key role in all this. And they do think. Oh yes, they do. They think about how to sell newspapers, increase viewing/listening figures, and attract more advertisers. Fat lot of help that is. Yes, there are some excellent journalists and broadcasters, and at least we've still got a BBC which is independent of some influences. But most of our media is commercial, and commerce is its primary driver.

I am noticing more and more discontinuity between the messages from organisations which claim to speak for people, and my own experience of life in our society. I've blogged about this before in relation to the Government. It also applies to messages from religious organisations. It's not only the Pope who is positioning atheists as the enemy: the Archbishop of Canterbury was quite happy to join him there. Yet I'm getting on with my family and friends, of Christian and other faiths, as well as I ever have. I don't feel like anyone's enemy; do any of you feel like mine? Or anyone else's?

I'm not sure what is going on here, but I am sure I'm going to go on thinking about it, and that we all need to form our own views, discuss them with others, refine them and think again. And really, however unsatisfied I feel at times with the pronouncements of political and religious leaders and with their official policies, the good news is that I live in a part of the world where I can express my views without fear of repercussions in the name of religion or the state. That makes me very lucky.


Juniper said...

An interesting post. I was brought up Church of England and went to church, was in the choir, youth group etc. etc. When I got married this pretty much lapsed to the point where I stopped going to church even at Christmas and Easter because I consider that hypocritical. (and those who get married in church and have christenings, but have no beliefs in their normal life, but that is another subject!).

I often come across Christians and it never fails to amaze me how 'un-Christian' some of them are in their thoughts and actions. I liked your quote from the burger stall sketch.

I don't consider myself atheist or agnostic or anything; I just try and live life in a compassionate way and treat others as I want to be treated myself; and take responsibility for myself instead of relying on others to 'save me'.

Sorry for the long comment!


Queenie said...

Juniper, long comments are as welcome here as short ones. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think taking responsibility for ourselves is the key, really.

Debs said...

I'm a catholic, but not a very practicing one. I agree that we're lucky to live in a place where we are allowed to have our own views about religion and wish that it was the case in more countries.

I'm amazed at how many dreadful things have been done in the name of religion by so-called religious people, but unfortunately I think it's the people who carry out awful acts that we hear about far more than those decent people who do good things mainly because what they do isn't very newsworthy.

Pat said...

I think I am a Christian - at least I try to be.
It doesn't matter to me that you are not because you are a good person and if I make it to Heaven you certainly will.
Blind faith? Perhaps but it is as much a part of me as the birthmark on my coccyx. Immovable.

Queenie said...

Debs, I absolutely agree. "Millions Of People Were Kind Today" may be a headline that wouldn't sell papers, but it's so important.

Pat, you are entirely lovely, and if I do find myself in Heaven I will be very pleased to see you there.

Shane said...

A most powerful, measured and humane missive, sharing many other fine qualities with this short presentation (albeit offering a more emphatic polemic edge).

I find the terms 'religious views', 'beliefs' and 'faith' to often resonate with your point about the church's appetite for its followers to not think... religious belief as learned or habituated, rather than as firstly felt, experienced, or reasoned. 'Faith' is perhaps suggestive of something of the hit-and-hope of this kind of subject matter.

On this, it would have been interesting to read the thoughts of others amongst your regular readers.

Also, if I may be so bold as to correct one tiny detail: Pat's birthmark on her coccyx: I've seen it, and it's as much a birthmark on her coccyx as I am a French man on a velomoteur. It's a small, discreet, entirely tasteful image of David Beckham, and one that she shouldn't be so shy about. In time, she will forgive me for sharing this information.

Queenie said...

Shane, thank you for this, and I hope Pat sees it. 'Emphatic polemic edge' - does that mean 'rant'?! I did try your link but it crashed my browser :( no idea what's going on there seeing as I'm techie-ally ignorant.