Yesterday the Pope finished his four-day tour of the UK by beatifying a 19th Century theologian which is, by my reckoning, the least controversial thing he’s done this week.
The Pope’s lacklustre attitude to the child abuse scandals have been covered in great detail elsewhere and I won’t go into it here – suffice it to say that before becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – the Catholic body responsible for managing issues of morality and matters of faith – for 24 years, and updated the 1962 Crimen Sollicitationis (Crime of Solicitation) to form “an explicit written policy to cover up cases of child sexual abuse by the clergy and to punish those who would call attention to these crimes by the churchmen” (Father Tom Doyle, a Vatican lawyer who was sacked for criticising the church’s handling of child abuse claims via This is London), so his attitude to this issue is neither new, nor out-of-character for the Vatican.
No, my (other) main issue with the Pope’s visit is the keynote speech he made in Westminster on Friday, wherein he claimed that the UK was becoming aggressively secular and that the voice of religion – Christianity in particular – is being marginalised – and the BBC says that, ‘in his speech at Westminster Hall, the Pope called on those in attendance to seek ways to promote faith “at every level of national life”‘.
I believe that he is wrong.
It is my opinion that the increasing secularisation of society could be a good thing – if handled properly. By lending greater weight to any one attitude to deity (and I include atheism in that collective attitude), the government cannot hope to create their sought-after happy and multi-cultural Big Society. A secular sandpit in which we can all commune with our own deities in our own way without fear of oppression, provided we obey the laws of the land, is – in my opinion – the only way to do this. No exemptions on religious ground for drug use, child abuse or bigotry. A flexible faith will find ways to grow past these issues and be stronger for it, and part of a healthier society.
There have been issues with this in the past – it is the right of a service provider to deny service to anyone on reasonable grounds, but is a religious aversion to homosexuality reasonable grounds for denial? No. Should a Sikh child be allowed to take a kirpan (or a Wiccan child an athame) to school, in defiance of the school’s ‘no knives’ policy? No. Should public sector workers be permitted to wear religious jewellery (in accordance with the workplace’s health and safety protocols)? Yes.
That’s not to say that I think that the public celebration of Christian holidays should be abolished – while the monarch remains both the head of State and head of the Church of England, this is a Christian country, and to deny that is to deny both my ancestors and my heritage. My argument is that society should strive for tolerance – if not acceptance – of all faiths and that the state and public bodies can use institutionalised secularism to better serve people of any or no faith.
It’s not rocket surgery – one law for everyone, the end. It makes us all equal in the here-and-now, no matter which invisible sky wizard says your people are the ones chosen to inherit a magical teapot in the ever-after.