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On the Pope’s visit 21, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Opinion, UK.
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The Pope’s visit to the UK passed without any drama aside from the temporary arresting of six street cleaners who were overheard making a joke about unleashing his Popiness from this mortal coil sooner than expected. They have since been released.

The best commentary that I’ve come across so far on the visit is in The Times of London by Oliver Kamm ($) who took issue with the Pope’s speech where he lamented the:

“increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance…There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere.”

Kamm points out that this is:

…outstandingly dishonest – as if there is anyone in this debate who genuinely urges that the “voice of religion be silenced”, or that relegating religion to the private sphere is the same as silencing it – the Pope’s message stands against the single most important advance in Western civilisation in the past 250 years, namely the separation of civic and religious authority.

Secularism does not hold that religion should be driven out of public debate. Christians are, and should be, entirely at liberty contribute to politics and other areas of public policy, and to cite their inspiration and their inferences from it. They should not, however, be accorded a position at the head of the queue – or, say, a bench in the House of Lords – purely because they wear clerical garb or profess certain unprovable doctrines. The reason this principle is central to a free society (as is lamentably lost on Baroness Warsi, an obscure minister) is that religion has been a divisive force throughout history. Its claims can’t be adjudicated except by “faith”, and have hence historically (and to this day) been settled by conflict.

And to the key line, which to my mind goes far beyond the Catholic Church:

The Catholic Church has every right to express its view on social issues, but it has no right to be listened to: that will depend on the quality of its argument, not on the place it imagines it merits for purely extraneous reason…If the faithful wish to take part in public debate about matters of national life, then they will have to use reason to advance their arguments, which will be judged according to that criterion and that alone. They don’t get a free pass by claiming divine inspiration, let alone revelation. [Italics added]

Indeed, this is surely the core (if somewhat tautological) issue: the belief in the divine right of religion to pontificate, to be listened to, to chastise, to condemn or to praise on the basis that it is…well…religion, as opposed to any other institution or group that must earn the respect and space it deserves.

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