There are too few of you! Also too many!

Julian Baggini says why he declined to add his signature to a letter protesting against the pope’s visit and why he thinks the pope-protest is a bad thing.

Consider for a moment why almost every secular, liberal-minded person thought that Pastor Terry Jones was wrong to plan to burn Qur’ans on the anniversary of 9/11…The main problem is that by burning the holy book of all Muslims, the protest would fail to target jihadist murderers and would be seen as vehemently anti-Islam.

But jihadist murderers are not necessarily the only problem with Islam; it is not necessarily the case that being anti-Islam is self-evidently bad. It could be the case that there are many things wrong with Islam, and that it is reasonable to be critical of Islam and even anti-Islam. One can be anti-libertarian, anti-socialist, anti-Tory, anti-union. Why should one not be anti-Islam?

The kinds of protests against the pope we’re seeing in the UK do not, of course, match the idiocy of Jones’s pyrotechnics. But they too are creating divisions at a time when mutual understanding is already at a low…

But if it is forbidden to “create divisions” then we can never change anything. If it is automatically and self-evidently bad to “create divisions” then we just have to accept whatever the status quo is without a murmur. Baggini is “creating divisions” just by writing this piece. So what? Yes of course protests against the pope “create divisions”; my relationship with the Vatican, for instance, is at an all-time low. But I don’t think that is a reason to stop saying how bad the Vatican is.

Take Britain’s five million Roman Catholics. They are a very disparate bunch. Many despair of their church’s stance on women priests, homosexuality, condoms and child abuse. They would also like to take this trip as an opportunity to let the pontiff know that his British flock cannot be loyal on these issues. A few have even joined the Protest the Pope campaign. But how many more could have found common cause with their secular brethren had not the latter opposed the trip outright. “Nope pope” is not a slogan of a campaign that is doing its best to bring dissatisfied Catholics along with it.

But you can always say that, about anything – if you made your message more anodyne and ingratiating, you could find common cause with more people. Finding common cause with more people is not always the goal; sometimes the goal is to say what one thinks needs to be said.

It strengthens the perception that Britain is under the sway of what Cardinal Walter Kasper called an “aggressive neo-atheism”. It means that when the pope made a comparison between “atheist extremism” and Nazism, far from seeing it as the absurdity it is, many found themselves wondering if he had a point. We atheists can protest about the slur as much as we like, but we ought to realise that the more we engage in polarising disputes, the easier it will be to portray us as contributing to an atmosphere which, at its extreme, leads to assassination plots against religious leaders.

He says, doing his bit to portray us as contributing to an atmosphere which, at its extreme, leads to assassination plots against “religious leaders.” And what are “religious leaders,” anyway? The pope is the only official one in the world, and none of them are leaders in the democratic sense; they’re just men who have reached the top of some clerical hierarchy or other. The rest of us are under no obligation whatsoever to obey them or “respect” them or bend the knee to them in any way. They’re not the bosses of us. They’re not anyone’s leader except maybe the clerics of their own institutions. I trust I can say that without being accused of contributing to an atmosphere which leads to assassination plots against them.

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. Party lines are the death of rational, free-thought movements: divided we stand, united we fall.

So…the protest against the pope is very naughty because it doesn’t find common cause with more people, but on the other hand, the protest against the pope is very naughty because it is too big and everyone is piling in and it’s a party line and divided we stand, united we fall.

It’s both of those? At the same time? Srsly?

All right; in that case they cancel each other out and I will feel free to ignore them.

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