Thursday, 9 September 2010

An atheist's view of the Pope's visit to the UK

I hope Pope Benedict XVI is accorded a courteous state visit to the UK next week. Those who object to the man’s negative position on divorce, contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and women in the Church should still respect his position as a world religious leader.
Britain's Catholics have a right to celebrate the visit of the Father of their faith. It does come at a time when the country is strapped for cash but it is a cost that should be borne by the state in tandem with the Church.
Some of the loudest voices of dissent allege that he didn’t act in the child abuse scandal when he was in a position to do so. But making one man the focus of their complaints misses the scale of the evil that needs to be addressed around the world.
Protestors will do their causes no good if they attempt to disrupt the appearances of this frail, elderly man however strong their objections.
I stopped believing in a God many years ago but I have never been anti-religion. For a start I could be wrong; I know and respect intelligent people who are believers; and I understand – and envy – the comfort that can come with faith. When the drugs don’t work, I might yet repent.
Atheism seems to have developed a militant wing in recent years in the UK. This may be, in part, a reaction to blood spilt in the name of religion - Islamic terrorism and before that the conflict in Northern Ireland.
I would suggest the majority of people in the UK still look to their churches at big events in their lives – births, marriages, and deaths – and to provide education for their children. The rest of the time religion didn’t feature in their lives in the same way it does in the US. British politicians, for example, are not damaged if they admit to being non-believers.
The names of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and most recently Stephen Hawking won’t resonate in many homes as atheism’s standard-bearers. But they give media types more encouragement to attack religious belief.
All of which brings me back to the Pope’s visit. Religious tolerance and free speech used to be prized in this country and I doubt if Benedict will court controversy.

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