Friday, September 17, 2010

Me vs The Pope

The Pope's touring the UK. Time for me to talk about religion. To be fair, he started it by calling me a Nazi.

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
- Pope Benedict XVI, Holyroodhouse Address

So the Pope is suggesting I'm a Nazi? Maybe not, but he is putting me in the same basket, and explicitly saying that to remove religion from the public life will lead inevitably to the degradation and diminution of humanity. I decided to look up the reference to his own writings on freedom of religion and atheism, and found the following:

29. There is another aspect of modern life that is very closely connected to development: the denial of the right to religious freedom. I am not referring simply to the struggles and conflicts that continue to be fought in the world for religious motives, even if at times the religious motive is merely a cover for other reasons, such as the desire for domination and wealth


it should be added that, as well as religious fanaticism that in some contexts impedes the exercise of the right to religious freedom, so too the deliberate promotion of religious indifference or practical atheism on the part of many countries obstructs the requirements for the development of peoples, depriving them of spiritual and human resources.


When the State promotes, teaches, or actually imposes forms of practical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength that is indispensable for attaining integral human development and it impedes them from moving forward with renewed dynamism as they strive to offer a more generous human response to divine love. In the context of cultural, commercial or political relations, it also sometimes happens that economically developed or emerging countries export this reductive vision of the person and his destiny to poor countries. This is the damage that “superdevelopment” causes to authentic development when it is accompanied by “moral underdevelopment”.

- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate

Freedom of religion, by its nature, requires that the laws of the State be created using atheist approaches. If the legislators have no religion, or make the conscious choice to exclude religious consideration from the decision making process, then clearly the laws are built on atheist foundations. If, however, legislators permit personal religious belief to affect their decision making (which they should as part of the expression of their religion) then it has to be accepted that law will be made based on a compromise reached between a wide variety of differing religious views. Any such synthesis of religious views is fundamentally atheist as it treats all religions as having equal moral weight, a viewpoint which is does not fit with some, if not all, religions. In this case, the development of law is a form of "practical atheism" imposed by the State while the laws themselves embody atheistic principles which are both taught and promoted by the State.

The Pope's argument does not stop at deriding the value of atheism, which is somewhat expected of a religious leader, but goes on to say that:

Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms;
- Pope Benedict XVI, Holyroodhouse Address

As the UK is built on a Christian foundation, presumably the "traditional values and cultural expressions" that the Pope is referring are traditional Christian values. Considering several hundred years ago the Pope was not permitted on English soil, I'm not sure what era of traditional values he is referring to. "Traditional values" are not an immutable standard which the State should adhere too, they are the norms of the society which exists within the State, influenced by the beliefs and attitudes of all of its individuals. The traditional values of the UK have changed over history to be more accepting of different types of Christianity and entirely different religions. If there is a rising tide of opinion that these values are no longer indicative of the values of wider society, then there needs to be a dialogue between the opposing viewpoints, not a reactionary retreat into some perceived inviolate tradition.

The further a society moves towards freedom of religion, the further its State imposed principles will drift from the tenets of any single specific religion and towards a permissiveness that the religious may find morally reprehensible. It is not my contention that religious belief is harmful to the development of society, and in fact there are benefits to including faith in political discussion, but to have a State in which there is true freedom of religion and not merely freedom of Christianity, those of religious conviction must appreciate the crucial role that secularism plays in the creation and development of a society in which all religions have freedom.


  1. Just a quick snipe, not directed at you but rather others who've touch on similar topics.

    I can sympathize greatly with the atheists who are getting riled about the Pope linking Nazism w/ atheism. After all, I feel the same way every time someone brings up the Crusades.

  2. I'd say it's more like if someone associated your beliefs with, say, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Hindu extremists) because you both have theist principles.

    It would be a more apt comparison if I was at least one of German, nationalist or a big fan of Nietzsche.


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