Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Popes and Fears

Blurry Light StarsRetrospect is a great thing and in terms of the Pope's visit to the UK, its something that has raised quite a few questions in this neck of the universe.

The first few questions were obvious, they were raised well before the Pope had even landed and before we knew what exactly we were going to receive. The main theme was the questioning of sanctioning the Popes visit as a state visit which meant the UK tax payer paid a high price for his visit. Saying that, the pastoral events were being paid for by the Vatican through charging for tickets to those events however ticket sales were apparently slow so maybe it cost the Vatican a little too?

Just on a side note whilst talking of cost, the government departments paying out of their budget amazingly included the Department for Education (maybe for the 'Catholic' school children who undoubtedly had a say in their beliefs), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (ermmm why?) and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (What the!?).

When the Pope did land and the visit got underway way he took to the stage and offered a hand of friendship. In my post from the time entitled 'Has the Pope forgotten the golden rule?' I asked; "a hand of friendship to whom?" With retrospect, the answer appeared to have been only to members of other faith groups and the political elite. In essence just those the Church wishes to keep onside. The liberal faithful, the secular of any religion or lack of and those without a faith based belief system were made out to be the villains of society. Sadly this is understandable given the Popes viewpoint, summed up quite elloquently in the Popes own words:

"We recognise that the church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth."

Or to put it in other terms the Church will continue to preach what would be described as Christian truths and values, which includes tolerance, but yet be intolerant or alienate/preach hate towards people because of other 'truths', which in reality are determined by a council of human beings interpreting a text full of gnomic verses and accounts. A truth strongly influenced by a book that it is reported even the Catholic Church hierarchy no longer swears by. Obviously one of the other aspects to the development of the Christian faith is the tradition that has evolved through people and society over time, and the sad truth to a fundamentalist like the Pope is that those aspects have grown to become more tolerant but what does the Pope really expect?

Within that changing society, it seems there is one thing the advisor's of the Pontiff have been taking their time to consider, religious marketing, for as well as playing their age old political game, the method of spreading ideas and belief in society has changed radically through the fast paced technological advancement and the refining of commercial marketing methodology.  Here is a rather interesting blog post about the subject of religious marketing written in 2005 by a religious individual who delves into the pros, cons and possibilities of religious marketing.

The main focus of the Pope's visit though were the big keynote speeches and they were quite refined with clearly well thought through wording, but if there is one thing that was underestimated it was the public and press's ability to pick things apart and question what we're being told. The over the top focus on the non-religious in what is meant to be a secular state (except for the spiritual peers called the Lords Spiritual, in the House of Lords) will likely only have pleased and comforted the converted. In fact, the debate which followed seems to have opened up the church to more scrutiny than it might like.

Whether it was the protests against the Popes visit and his leadership's desire to stick to what I would describe as unethical truths such as not allowing the use of condoms to protect against aids or the Vatican's view of anything or anyone non-heterosexual. Or whether it is the dialogue entered into afterwards such as Evan Harris in the Guardian who put forward his personal secular manifesto to lay to rest any misconceptions the Pope tried to assign in his state funded rants. Or even the odd lack of action given the words of "deep sorrow" regarding the child abuse scandal's within his organisation. It brought it all to the fore.

Personally, I just want to be able to live my life in a peace loving, fair and ethically sound society which values equality and tolerance of anyone's beliefs which do not break the law. A secular law which defends the rights of religious organisations and individuals and their beliefs but a law free of any one religions prejudice or favouritism, a law which takes human values from the depths of human knowledge and understanding as its foundation. Sadly the Pope would appear to see this as some aggressive this or extremist that, else he wouldn't have said what he did.

As Dave Gorman asked, "when people say 'Christian Values' " as the this Pope and previous Popes have made reference to, "do they mean values which are peculiar to Christians. And if so, what are they?"
Dave hinted that in his view these are just 'Human values' and that is the opinion I also share. If there are values specific to Christianity that persons of other religions or no religion should be forced to live by or under the influence of, then maybe someone like the Pope should tell us why - without reverting back to 'because it is' or 'because I said so' or 'because it is what I was told' or 'because it Gods way'. If they really are values of the one true faith that humanity doesn't already posses at large then they shouldn't be that hard to back up.

The political nature of the visit seemed to be reflected through the language used and the choice of those praised and those the Pontiffs words attacked. The Pope spoke of an "aggressive secularism" but in reality secularism is no threat to institutionalised religion and personal belief other than to weed out intolerance and hate which in all honesty should lead to public life being led closer to the golden rules of the values deeply entwined in most religions including his own. One thing I do know, Human values do include Christian values and the Pope need not fear other than for his organisations power granted to him by a human council rather than a Godly being (unless the College of Cardinals are hiding something).

The only thing "aggressive secularism" will damage is the influence in the halls of power in States other than his own which the church historically holds, well, that and the hurt it might personally cause members of many churches but especially the Pope due to his openly aired belief that its his job to save us from being doomed to punishment in an afterlife... even if you say no thanks. As proven by his willingness to dictate to others even if it leads to a contradiction in his faiths teachings and by proxy had led people (through fear) to act in ways which could kill them way before their time or destroy their hopes of happiness which don't impact on anyone else.

I hope the Pope does come back to the UK, and maybe he'll also come to Ireland soon. After all, freedom of speech (which I'm sure we wouldn't all enjoy in the same way inside Vatican City) opens up people and organisations to scrutiny. On the plus side his visit did seem to bring some comfort to those who have been brought up or chosen to live or following Christian or more specifically Roman Catholic beliefs and it has opened up further dialogue (obviously not with the Pope) but between people who live in the UK. Though I don't see the reasoning for the excessive cost (given people still live in poverty in the UK and the current financial climate) the visit did go a little way to bring into focus to the wider public's conscious a debate which will undoubtedly grow much larger in years to come.

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