Pope’s Visit to the UK: Is Atheism a Threat?

image The Pope has finally arrived in the UK, with all the pomp and ceremony that was expected. Watching the images of his appearances today in Scotland, it is hard to begrudge the spectators their excitement. Popes do indeed know how to put on a good show.

I come from a decidedly low church background, so I am always slightly uncomfortable about flamboyant displays of religious ceremony. But I can understand how the ritual and the symbols are designed to transport people beyond the mundane of their everyday lives and get a glimpse, perhaps, of the divine.

The Pope’s visit and the religious showmanship that accompanies it would seem to sit uncomfortably in Pope Benedict’s Britain.

Leading up to this visit, it has been clear that the Pope and others in the Vatican see the UK as a dangerously secular country in which Christianity is if not under direct attack, at least under serious threat.

The Pope made that clear today in his first speech in Holyrood, where he warned against the dangers of aggressive secularism and atheism. He implied secularists and atheists were a threat to Britain’s Christian heritage and could undermine the common good.

How might those comments go down with atheists?

There probably are some who will have been delighted to have drawn the attention of the Pope. By mentioning aggressive secularism and atheism in his remarks, he gives the so called ‘new atheism’ more publicity and, in effect, admits that the church is worried about it.

Then there may be other atheists or agnostics who are not aggressively opposed to religion and can wonder why they are being singled out for undermining the common good. They can legitimately point to the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church worldwide and ask if the church mightn’t take the beam out of its own eye before it starts pointing to the mote in theirs.

I tend to think that people of faith – Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. – have less to fear from secularism and atheism than they do from the failings of their own adherents.

I say this very much as an insider, a Christian, and include myself in this. I think that the proverbial ‘person on the street’ is more likely to turn away from God or religion because of the bad behaviour of a person of faith, than they are because of reading the God Delusion.

That’s why I’d rather see the Pope be more open on this visit about the Catholic Church’s failings, and to prioritise meeting with and apologising to victims of clerical sexual abuse.

6 Responses to Pope’s Visit to the UK: Is Atheism a Threat?

  1. Tanya Jones September 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    I’ve recently been reading Newman and the Modern World by Christopher Hollis (discussed very briefly in my books blog at http://www.crystalbard.com/wordpress ) and made a note of this quotation which seems quite apposite…

    “If the world was going atheist, it was not, thought Newman, primarily because the Church was attacked by wicked men from outside but because its own champions, relying on repression rather than reason, had ceased to state the case for it and indeed, though they did not understand as much themselves, had to a large extent ceased to believe it themselves – ceased to believe that the Church should rely on the promises of Christ rather than on the support of Governments. The church had much more to fear from unbelievers within its own ranks than from the unbelievers outside precisely because the former did not guess that they themselves were unbelievers.” (p. 98)

  2. David September 17, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    couldn’t agree more… and a very pertinent comment from Newman’s perspective… But the church (in all its hues, not just the Roman Catholic variety) just doesn’t get this, and so agressively go head to head with Dawkins etc, whilst ignoring the catastrophic effects of sexual and financial impropriety and discrimination on its part… especially in a climate where the church claims to be offering an alternative voice to the overly sexualised and economically wanton world in which we find ourselves.

  3. Eric Conway September 17, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    Both previous comments totally miss the point. Pope Benedict has frequently & trenchantly stated that the dangers from within are all too frequently overlooked. More than most Catholic commentators he is all too aware of this, & is trying his best to higlight same. Nevertheless he is still absolutely correct to highlight & identify the more corrossive effects of moral relativism, atheism & other determinist ideologies at war with classic Catholic free will teaching. Indeed the effects of moral relativism are the source of much of the abuse problems. The Pope is to be commended for confronting the intolerant/irrational aggressive secularism/atheism which has been all too apparent in the sinister media response to his speeches.

  4. epsilon September 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    I agree completely with Eric Conway.

    And would like to add that Pope Benedict as our spiritual Father has come to us as a gentle and loving father to encourage us in our faith. He speaks to us all in a language we can understand whoever/wherever we are, e.g. pope-to-shool-children-in-Italy
    at whatever strata of society pope-to-Westminster-parliament

  5. epsilon September 25, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    I agree completely with Eric Conway.

    And would like to add that Pope Benedict as our spiritual Father has come to us as a gentle and loving father to encourage us in our faith. He speaks to us all in a language we can understand whoever/wherever we are, e.g. pope-to-shool-children-in-Italy
    at whatever strata of society pope-to-Westminster-parliament

  6. Eric Conway September 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    Agreed epsilon. I think it is only fair though to point out that while Pope Benedict quite rightly criticises intolerant/closed-minded secularists/atheists, etc., he is quite willing to dialogue with open-minded varieties of each. For example, two of his most trenchant supporters/friends on the continent are atheists. The German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas ; & the Italian Senator, Marcello Pera. In addition, the late Italian feminist/atheist, Ariana Falaci, was a trenchant supporter/respecter of Pope Benedict. You never hear these facts from the agenda-driven ” liberal ” media.

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