It’s now been a couple of weeks since the Pope’s visit to the UK, so I feel safe to stick my head above the parapet now passions have cooled. Let’s start with a disclaimer, I am not religious. If asked I say I am agnostic. I can see the attraction of having faith and sometimes wish that I had – yet following what little I know of science and my rational train of thought always leads me to conclude there is probably no God. I never try and ram this personal view down people’s throats. I am confident I am right but I’m not arrogant enough to be certain. Hence ‘agnostic’ rather than ‘atheist’.
Anyway, I followed the Pope’s visit, particularly the firestorm of protest with interest. As the week passed I got more and more annoyed with people’s double standards. If you are under forty and IT literate enough to have found this blog then the chances are you will be on Facebook and possibly Twitter. If you have an average size circle of acquaintances from different areas of your life then no doubt they will have a wide range of political/religious views. I venture that those of a left of centre bent are less apologetic about sharing their views and more likely to use their ‘status updates’ to pontificate (whey-hey a pun) on issues of the day. If so, then like me you will probably have been struck by the absolute bile it seemed commonly acceptable to spout about the Pope and Catholicism via either medium from the start to end of the visit. It was open season. It went beyond the bounds of humour and satire. Anything went.
Now, one thing I don’t want to be accused of is being an apologist for the issues behind the bile. The Catholic Church’s response to widespread institutional child abuse has been a disgrace. It is also reasonable to suggest that their stance on contraception has compounded the misery caused by HIV/AIDS in the world. However, I couldn’t help but notice that the same people who were quite happy posting gratuitous, nasty stuff about the Pope seemed, in the main, to be exactly the same people who get in an a rabid froth and post their outrage every time a Richard Littlejohn or Melanie Philips type has one of their trademark rants at, for instance, Islam. If someone fills their backpack full of explosives and walks onto a train in the pretence that it is in the name of Islam then you can be sure Littlejohn will pull no punches. The same Pope-bashers will then share links to his articles with self-righteous put downs about his bigotry and racism. Whilst I am usually in full agreement with them on the Littlejohn abuse, am I really the only person who can see the double standard?
Perhaps I am an over-sensitive flower? Am I getting pompous in my old age? Possibly. Possibly not. I just feel that whilst there is a valid debate to be had about the impact of all sorts of religious baggage on our society – the terms in which we must have that debate need to be respectful and tolerant. That respect and courtesy needs to be equally applied to all religions. I’m not sure that it currently is. The Christians seem to be required to turn their cheeks rather more than anyone else. Religious freedom is one of the things that makes our country great. I love that I am allowed to be unashamed and unapologetic about being agnostic. People should be allowed to be unashamed and unapologetic that they have faith. The only thing that should not be tolerated is intolerance through zealotry. Sadly, it seems nowadays there is an increasing amount of zealotry out there amongst atheists.