We should certainly protest the Pope. But let’s not use his visit as an excuse to run down an entire religion.

I do not believe in God. But I do not scorn those who do. I do not support the Pope. But I certainly don’t wish to have my anti-papist views used as a portal for the militant atheist agenda.

Alastair Campbell yesterday termed it ‘pro-faith atheism’. I subscribe to this entirely. Of course I object to the Vatican but I also object to the fundamentalism besieging its followers. No one was prouder than me to be counted among the secular and pluralist but I fear that many people in this debate are so busy opposing one set of principles that they haven’t stopped to consider their own.

The failure of the Catholic church to deal effectively with the sex abuse among its clergy, the subsequent cover-up and ongoing controversy, is inexcusable. The genocide indirectly orchestrated across the developing world through the prohibition of condoms is one of the more abhorrent (and measurable) results of its doctrine. The condemning of abortion and the continual blackballing of the LGBT population are deplorable. All of this I know and feel and believe. But I also know that the public uproar caused by the visit, and the media frenzy surrounding it, has gone beyond this. It has turned into something far less right-headed and increasingly self-righteous.

For too many atheist protesters, it is not freedom and truth but self-promotion and self-satisfaction that are the driving forces. Yes, we should protest. But let it not be used as an excuse to vilify Catholicism, and, by turns, Christianity and religion as a whole.

Atheist evangelism is no different to religious evangelism and it is certainly no better. Non-believers will argue that they have the infallibility of science on their side. What they fail to understand is that this conviction, this certainty, is exactly how believers feel about their faith. There is no empathy in this kind of militant atheism. And there is even less sympathy. It simply becomes one group of people telling another group of people they are stupid.

Ignorance of the wrongs done in the name of organised religion is shameful, indeed. To turn a blind eye is even worse. But spirituality is not in itself an indicator of foolishness. And it is certainly not an indicator of evil.

Of course, the very existence of the Pope is absurd and grounds for protest. The idea of an undemocratically elected spiritual leader who becomes God’s spokesman on earth and is rewarded with vast influential power and the devotional following of millions contradicts more terms than it even requires. That tax-payers money should go to hosting this diplomatic charlatan is scandalous, but before we start clamouring for a leg-up onto the high horse, let’s not forget it was our own HRH Elizabeth II who met him at the airport.

I will not be attending the marches this weekend. I detest the intolerant views embodied and indeed advocated by the Vatican. As someone who used to live in Rome, I have seen close-up the grip these can have on a culture, its credences and even its politics. But just as I have no wish to align myself with a religious group, nor do I with an anti-religious group. I consider myself secularist, even tending towards humanist, but my sole purpose as a non-believer is not the persecution of my dissenters.

Those who come to oppose the corruption and intolerance of the Vatican should seize their right to protest with gusto. Those who come to sneer at a faith that brings hope and happiness to millions of people need to think seriously about what they are trying to achieve.



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