Monday, April 11, 2005

saccharine sanctimony

American TV is a sight to behold, but I didn't see as much of it as I might while I was over in the US because half of the TV channels seemingly shut down their output to concentrate on the death of the Pope (and, absurdly, the marriage of Charles and Camilla - which I watched on my return and thought was, radical republican that I am, rather nice).

The Americans love the fact that the British public are in two minds about Camilla, but watching American TV you'd never guess that people have have mixed feelings about the Pope, too. Judging by what Vic tells me, there was a similarly one eyed outlook in the british media too, which can be largely summed up thus: the pope was a great bloke he was very religious he helped bring down communism with reagan who is great too we now realise and the pope was firm on morals whereas the rest of us just shilly-shallied around with stupid ideas like being gay or listening to women or condemning child-abusers. Great.

So let's ignore all the fucked-up rubbish he talked on contraception, abortion, women, homosexuals and modenity. Polly Toynbee wrote, while I was away:

"He was a good, caring man nevertheless, they say, as if it were a minor aberration. But genuflecting before this corpse is scarcely different to parading past Lenin: they both put extreme ideology before human life and happiness, at unimaginable human cost. How dare our prime minister go there in our name to give the Vatican our approval for this? Will he think of Africa when on his knees today? I trust history will some day express astonishment at moral outrage wasted on sexual trivia while papal celebrity and charisma cloaked this great Vatican crime."

Now, let's be clear. I have no problem with the world mourning the loss of a world-figure who affected many (we'll leave aside the Africans who were infected with HIV because of his teaching), nor with Blair attending his funeral. Doubtless if I were a Catholic (and there are plenty of moderate, liberal ones about) I too would be upset at the death of a figure I would have grown up listening to (if not obeying), and I see no reason why those people should not be represented by their Prime Minister (especially as he's practically a Catholic himself these days).
But I do have a real problem with the conflating of the Pope's death with the notion that his kind of extreme conservatism was palatable by virtue of his profound religiosity. I have a great deal of respect for people from the Church community, but that doesn't mean I'm prepared to tolerate rampant bigotry and backwardness - both things which should be lastingly associated with the deceased Pope's reign. Toynbee finishes:

"Today's saccharine sanctimony will try to whiten the sepulchre of yet another Pope whose obscurantist faith has caused pointless suffering; it is no defence that he was only obeying higher orders."


Anonymous said...

Er which people from the church community do you respect then?

jonathan said...

There are really plenty of engaging people from the church community - Rabbi Lionel Blue, Indarjit Singh, Rev. James Jones, the whole Christian movement which is behind the 'Make Poverty History' campaign, the Anglicans who have the courage to support the ordination of women and gay clergy, the methodist movement which the Labour party grew out of etc. I find Blair's religiosity pretty odious, but it's worth bearing in mind that he's by far from being the only recent senior Labour figure who is (or was) a Christian (there's also John Smith, David Blunkett, Tony Benn, Jack Straw, Gordon Brown etc etc). Anyway, I don't really know that much about religion, which is why I never try to condemn it, so I'll stop here...