Pope Benedict and Secular Britain

I do a monthly stint on Downtown Radio's Sunday morning religious magazine programme, "Dawn Reflections" where I take a look at the Sunday papers and then offer a reflection on the big news story/ies of the week from a Christian perspective. Normally I have to dig fairly deep in the papers to find any stories relating directly to faith in its broadest sense, but this week that was not the case, because apparently Britain has had a fairly significant state visitor this week… And, to the newspapers' delight, one that was not without controversy…

Despite the fact that Northern Ireland was not on Pope Benedict's itinerary, there has been quite a kerfuffle over here regarding whether or not the Moderator of the Presbyterian church should or should not have shaken hands with the Pope, whilst Free Presbyterians and Orangemen from here joined in a veritable kaleidoscope of people going out of their way to protest against the Pope's visit: secular humanists, those objecting to the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to homosexuality, women’s rights, the use of condoms to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa, and of course those appalled at the shameful abuse of children under the care of Roman Catholic clergy and institutions. Everyone knew that there would be a range of such protests… but the atmosphere was not improved by news reports concerning Pope Benedict’s friend Cardinal Walter Kasper making comments about the UK being like a third world country and having a militant strand of atheism within it… The fact that it was quickly announced that Cardinal Kasper was not coming with his friend to Britain because of gout, suggested that the Vatican was embarrassed by such reports… in exactly the same way that the British Government was embarrassed by news stories concerning some of the original planning meetings for the visit, including suggestions that the Pope should visit a condom factory or open an abortion clinic… But we’ve forgotten all that now, and Cardinal Kasper’s gaffs were, briefly front and centre.
I’ve absolutely no idea what he meant about Britain being a third world country… although it is worth remembering that British papers regularly, sensationally and inaccurately describe British hospitals as something from the third world… But I doubt it was as crass as that… I do hope it was not a reference to the multiculturalism of London, as one Vatican aid claimed it was, as that is equally crass. However there is a certain truth behind his comment concerning militant atheism… And that theme has been coming out again and again in the Pope’s sermons, together with, thankfully, a sense of contrition and shame for the child abuse scandals.
However, I am not convinced that majoring on the increasing secularism and atheism in Britain is wise or necessary… I’m not convinced that these are the most dangerous enemies of the gospel… Nor am I convinced that the church, of whatever denomination automatically deserves a seat in the circles of power or the public square… We have to earn the right to be heard… and the biggest obstruction to that… and indeed the biggest enemy of the gospel can be the inappropriate behaviour of the church… be that how we deal with the most vulnerable members of society… or how we deal with those who are different from us… be that within or between the different denominations or with those outside the church… The way to deal with militant atheism, or militant Islam, or any militant body outside the church, is not to play them at their own game, but to play by Jesus’ rules and follow his example… He said:

A new commandment I give to you – love one another as I have loved you – by this others will know you are my disciples – if you love one another…

John 13: 34-5

We don’t earn a hearing by pomp and ceremony, preaching sermons or protesting loudly… but by words and deeds of real sacrificial love…


Patrick M said…
It's also hard to know what such comments complaining about Britain's increasing secularism actually hope to achieve. Listeners are hardly going to smack their foreheads and say 'Of course! - we need to get back to our Christian roots' (whatever 'roots' means).

To me they sound too much like an attempt at applying some political pressure against the influence of secularists. If so, a tug-of-war about who should have cultural power and influence is, as you say, not an attractive or gospel like response to the challenge of discipleship as a minority in a plural culture.
Very true, I wrote a different piece on my own blog ending in a similar train of thought.

No matter what religion, faith or no faith we each have, we all have a shared humanity with ethical and moral values, hopefully religious and non religious leaders remember this.

I also liked a piece written by the comedian Dave Gorman on his blog discussing Values and what really is the difference between Christian values to that of other peoples values, quite an interesting idea to evaluate when you think about it and it seems the pope's speeches were indeed quite insular to the world around him. Maybe time he got blogging :)
Thanks... I'm always wary of critiquing the position of other religious traditions, lest I fall into the besetting sin of this society, ie. always pointing out the speck in the other guy's eye without addressing the railway sleeper in your own, but I suppose the reasons the pope's statements got to me were a) they seemed to be the only thing he had to say, b) it seemed a bit rich to be asking to be taken seriously in the modern world when both indivuals and the institution had behaved so appallingly, and finally c) sadly this "poor us" attitude re modern pluralist/secularised society as opposed to the idyll that was christendom, is pervasive across institutionalised Christianity. The person I follow didn't walk the corridors of power, except a few hours before the powers that be decided they wanted rid of him.
Anonymous said…
Love one another........... if we practiced these words as commanded by God the world would certainly be a better place to live in. Lets pray for the courage, wisdom and peace for all Chrisitans, indeed all peoples, to be able to live Jesus' message.

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