All entries for Friday 17 September 2010

September 17, 2010

Why I care: The Pope

Anyone following me on Twitter or Facebook today may have seen me be rather uncomplimentary towards the Pope, and this whole visit. Some people think I’m taking it too seriously, that we should just live and let live and I shouldn’t be acting like a Dawkins militant atheist. Well sod that. This does matter. I’m even prepared to risk sounding like Lily Allen when I say that the open arms with which we’re welcoming the Pope to our shores is really not okay. And apathy and a lack of opinion and live and let live claims from friends that I otherwise have intellectual and moral respect for are not okay either.

This fucking matters.

The child-abuse thing is awful. But it’s a cheap shot and it’s a flimsy argument. One I made myself in a recent blog. Things happened. Awful things. But we don’t know how involved the current Pope was and things are happening to try and sort it. It’s too slow, too late and not enough but it’s something. There’s action. You go up to the Pope today and he won’t tell you that child abuse is okay.

Homophobia. It’s awful, it’s bigoted and it’s institutionalised. I can’t imagine how gay people must feel seeing their country venerate someone who thinks their entire life is a sin. But bigots exist. They just don’t like people who are different. And we can fight against that where we find it but we find it in a hell of a lot of places. It’s an uphill struggle.

But then there’s AIDS in Africa. Ben Goldacre covers the facts and the scale in heart-wrenching detail. The headline: 2 million deaths a year. A huge chunk of which could be prevented if people weren’t told that using condoms will send them to hell. Keep that in mind while you consider this.

Most developed nations, most huge multi-nationals, most religions, are in some way democratic. If we really don’t like something our government does, we have the mechanism to vote them out of power. Religions are generally fractured, with different holy-men reigning over different regions and different denominations. Those that make unpopular decisions see their followers wane and disperse to different flavours of the same religion. Big companies are run by a board of directors but they answer to share-holders who can number in their thousands and can oust them with enough votes.

This is all good, it means there are checks and balances. It also means change, real change, is slow. Things have to be done gradually else the backlash can destroy any chance of them being done at all. The price we pay for democracy.

For the Catholic Church, uniquely, this is not so. One man rules. His is the divine word of God and cannot be questioned. You don’t get fired from being Pope. You answer to no-one. You don’t get ousted. It’s a job for life and the only way out is death. That may well make him the most powerful man on the planet.

You see, the Pope could turn around tomorrow and decree that condoms were now permitted by God to fight the greater evil that is AIDS and save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in a second. All he has to do is say it. There is no down-side. It doesn’t encourage people to have sex; trust me, if a 6% chance of catching AIDS doesn’t stop people shagging, nothing will. It wouldn’t even be that controversial, Catholicism is one of the few religions that still oppose condoms. Even the fundamentalist Muslims are in conflict over the issue. And if there is a fallout, so what? It was the word of God and you don’t question it.

Millions of lives, present and future, could be saved in an instant. And not only does the Pope not act, he even goes out of his way to make it clear that condoms are a sin when he gets the chance. How? Why? This isn’t a toss-up like the Iraq War, where thousands will die if we do but thousands may die if we don’t. There is no downside. You lose what? I’m sorry but but if you want to preach abstinence, fine, but the threat of catching AIDS is not a fucking weapon in your arsenal. Jesus didn’t hold his people at gunpoint while he preached.

And yet the Pope does nothing.

One fucking sentence out of his mouth and a few million people in Africa live instead of die. He’s not directly responsible for what’s happening. But he could accomplish so much by doing so little, and yet he doesn’t. The way I see it, that makes him culpable. Enabling child abuse is bad. But at least he doesn’t still openly call it okay. Enabling what could ultimately be genocide? Well you can make your own mind up on that.

But if you honestly think the answer is spending 12 million quid (when the country is broke) on having him turn up to give a couple of speeches is the answer then you’re fucking retarded.

That’s why this fucking matters to me and why the whole thing makes me really, really angry. And it’s why it should make you angry too. And if it doesn’t then honestly, there’s something wrong with you.

It’s not okay. His inaction is not okay. Us welcoming him to our country is not okay. And us shrugging our shoulders and saying “well it’s just religious politics bollocks” is not okay either.

Care. Give a damn. Join the chorus of people mocking him either on the internet or protesting this for real. Let the world know that we do not approve and we expect, nay, demand more if he wants to be venerated like he expects.


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