One of the nice things for me about being an atheist is that you don't belong to a club. (In the same sense that I dare say one of the nice things for other people about being religious is that you do feel that sense of belonging.) So if some other atheist says or does something that I don't agree with, I don't feel any sense of loyalty because of our shared (or rather unshared) beliefs, no sense of kinship with people with whom I have very little in common, apart from that we don't do the whole churchy praying stuff.
In the midst of all this wall-to-wall Popery at the moment, I get the sense that a lot of atheists are being portrayed as haters. Well, more than the sense - and look, it's our friends at the Mail doing it (though there was a fairly awful bit of kite-flying flamebait in the Telegraph the other day that I can't find right at the moment). You can roll it around in your head why one minority group, Catholics, might be pandered to by certain sections of the press in a way that, say, another minority group like Muslims are not, and it might be inviting to draw some conclusions from that. But maybe there's too much drawing of conclusions being done at the moment.
Anyway, I think that's slightly unfair, and wrong, for atheists to be portrayed as haters. I'm pretty sure there is a lot of hate out there - don't get me wrong - from atheists and others, but it's wrong to say that those atheists who don't hate are haters, just as it is equally wrong to smear all Catholics, or Baptists, or Muslims or whatever with the same characteristics.
But I don't hate the Pope, or what he stands for, or the idea of Christianity, or anything like that. I may have called him "an elderly virgin" and "odious" and a "ridiculous old cunt" in the past on this blog, but that wasn't meant in a hateful way - I was trying to be insulting rather than hateful, I hope you can understand. Even as a person with no religious beliefs, I can see why a religious leader should be welcomed by this country as there are many millions of followers here - even more so in a place where discrimination has been built in to the constitution against people of that faith. It's a good way to try and reconcile things. I may not choose to practise Christianity, but I can see a lot of good things in it - I went to Sunday School and all of that back in the day, and I remember some of the positive stories, as well as some of the downright weird and scary ones. There's a force for good in a lot of faith groups, bringing people in the community together and trying to achieve positive things.
Of course, you could point to any number of areas in which the Pope's edicts and orders have failed victims of child abuse, for example, or are discriminatory in themselves against any number of other minorities. That's a difficult thing for liberals to tiptoe around - the idea that in respecting some minorities and faith groups, you have to try and respect their right to be disrespectful to other groups. It doesn't sit easily. But still - I don't have any hate, only hope that perhaps something good will come from this papal visit. Well, you have to try and have what people might call a 'Christian' attitude towards these things, I suppose, even if you don't do the believing bit.
All that said, the wall-to-wall Papa is getting me down already. I watched television this morning and looked at a camera shot of an empty street in Edinburgh before the plane had even touched down. I watched interviews with people who had met the previous Pope back in 1982, and I couldn't help thinking "But it was a completely different man, how is this even relevant?" and I find it tedious that a state visit is making national headlines when surely there are other things going on in the world. I was even faintly disappointed that generic daytime property-buying programmes with overly-chirpy presenters who look like they should have been in Bucks Fizz - I'm talking about Homes Under The Hammer here, in case you weren't sure - had been removed from the schedules in order to accommodate all this super-reverent dirge.
But that's all I have. I don't seem to have any hate. I might not like this particular Pope or be a big fan of his pronouncements or views or anything like that - and that's putting it mildly - but I think I'm such a bleeding heart that I try to be tolerant towards even people like him. Otherwise, who is the one who ends up looking disrespectful and intolerant - the medieval-mentality waste-paper-bin wearer in the carriage clock case on wheels, or the people who attack him?
I don't think there is a lot of Pope-hate anyway. Mockery and derision, yes, but mockery and derision is fine. You may recall the amount of 'hilarious' mocking that South Africa's Jacob Zuma had from certain sections of the dead-tree press during his state visit back in March, because of his polygamous lifestyle. I'm pretty sure those same newspapers will be tut-tutting at anything seen as unpleasant towards this chap Ratzinger, and won't see anything wrong with that. But that's the way it is.
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