Siding with the already strong

There’s another thing about Julian Baggini’s rebuke of atheists for ganging up on the pope. It is the fact that it overlooks the gang on the other side. There was the gang that toddled obligingly along to Westminster Hall yesterday to listen deferentially to the pope telling them what’s what.

Pope Benedict tonight used the keynote address of his visit to Britain to protest at “the increasing marginalisation of religion” in public life, maintaining that even the celebration of Christmas was at risk.

In a dense, closely argued speech to an audience that included four former prime ministers, the pope said social consensus alone could not be left to decide policies…

Below him, seated in neat rows that stretched to the back of the vast, 900-year-old hall, were hundreds of parliamentarians and religious leaders.

Among them were Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Sir John Major, Lady Thatcher, William Hague and Nick Clegg.

That gang. The state, basically. There is also the vast majority of the mainstream media. Yet Baggini chooses to characterize atheists and protesters as being too many and too much and too rough.

I am glad that people are protesting on the key issues that the pope has got very wrong. If only a few people were doing so I might have felt it necessary to sign the petition. But when everyone starts piling in, it is perfectly reasonable for others to say it is time to back off before it gets too ugly.

Why is it the people saying “no” who are piling on and likely to get ugly? Why is it not the monarchy and the government and the media who are creating and enforcing a coercive consensus? Why is Baggini treating power, hierarchy and privilege as normal and protest against those things as deviant and excessive? Why is he worrying about “polarising disputes” and “contributing to an atmosphere” and “party lines” and “collateral damage” only in relation to the protesting minority while letting the theocracy-embracing majority entirely off the hook? Why is he blaming us while shielding them?

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