Dawkins, Hitchens and Arresting the Pope

In the wake of the latest revelation by abuses by the Roman Catholic Church, again with cases of child abuse and molestation by priests, but this time mostly in the British Isles, several well known atheists, secularists and all-around opponents of religion from the U.K., including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (henceforth called Ditchkens), have called for the arrest of the Pope during his upcoming trip to the isles. Ditchkens have even gone so far as to consult lawyers over the matter. Notable in this is that while Ditchkens is no friend of the left, many British leftists have jumped on board with this campaign. However, is this really something that leftists should support? Two British radical bloggers, Liam Mac Uaid and Bristol Red have taken up this discussion.

Presented below are both their articles on the discussion. As usual, posting these articles does not imply endorsement.

Let’s Not Arrest the Pope by Liam Mac Uaid

The largest May Day related workers’ event in this neck of the woods is not going to be organised by a union branch, Respect, the Labour Party or the SWP. Our Lady of the Assumption is having a special Popemass to celebrate the migrant workers who live in the parish. It will be pretty well attended. Feel free to chastise them for their ideological backwardness but the hard fact is that they get more out of their membership of the Catholic Church than any other organisation they could choose to join.

It would make for an interesting spectacle if a few of the liberal and left secularists demanding the arrest of Pope Benedict tried to rustle up support for their campaign among some of the most exploited workers in London.

Reading Richard Dawkins, George Monbiot, or even that scourge of the ultra-left’s fantasies Dave Osler call for the cuffs to be slapped on Benny Ratzinger the phrase “one-sided, undialectical and therefore wrong” comes to mind. The demand might strike a stirring chord with the militant godless on a mission to free the unenlightened churchgoers from their ignorance. It’s much more likely to be seen as a malicious provocation by the churchgoers who, probably correctly, will see it as a clumsily disguised attack on their religion itself.

To be consistent why not add to the warrant the Church’s role in the conquest of Latin America, the burning of Girolamo Savonarola, its support for the Hitler and Mussolini? As the leader of the organisation the Pope should carry the historical can.

And if we’re in the mood for dishing out arrest warrants would the pre-election period not be a good time to demand the arrest of all those present and former ministers with direct political responsibility for the ongoing wars and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan? New Labour’s period in office has been one long spell of wars of aggression. They are rather proud of it if Blair’s performance at the Chilcott Enquiry is an indicator. Gordon Brown may have said something comparable to Ratzinger’s “you have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured” to the people of Afghanistan but it hasn’t made the news. The Labour Party’s NEC may have said something akin to theEnglish Bishops’ “these terrible crimes, and the inadequate response by some church leaders, grieve us all. ” Or perhaps not.

A lot of people who are strongly anti-war, instead of calling for Brown to be arrested, will be without great passion, trying to persuade others to vote for his party. Many of them will have a sneaking sympathy with Dawkins and Monbiot.

The left liberal intelligentsia is making a wrong call on this issue. Most working class Catholics make a distinction between clerics who abuse children and those who don’t. None of them would have a problem with arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning abusers. They would be understandably angry if hostile outsiders use the abuse as a flag of convenience to sneer at their own religious beliefs.

If you try to engage with them by humiliating them for their beliefs they will circle the wagons. If you make a distinction between the abusers and their experience of their local church you might even be able to persuade them that there should be no religious control of schools or medical facilities and that clerics have no particular right to impose their ideas on the rest of society.

Losing It? by Bristol Red

Unlike many of my comrades on the left I’ve got quite a lot of time for Richard Dawkins. I loved the full-on polemics of his “God Delusion”, and I have a certain amount of sympathy for his no-nonsense brand of anti-clericalism. Maybe that’s because I had orthodox religion shoved down my throat while I was growing up – sixteen years of hectoring religious indoctrination. When Dawkins describes that sort of thing as child abuse, I can see where he’s coming from.

Obviously there are aspects of Dawkins’ approach that are problematic in the present political climate. But at least he hasn’t gone down the same route as those who, like Christopher Hitchens, use their radical atheism as a cover for sabre-rattling in support of the US/UK military. Dawkins’ bullish secularism has rather been deployed, in the main, against the fashionable denigration of rationalism and the growth of domestic phenomena like so-called “faith schools” (which are nothing more than institutes for the indoctrination of the young into one or another absurd fundamentalist belief system).  I intensely dislike many of Dawkins’ fellow travellers (Hitchens and the execrable Sam Harris, for instance), and his comments on Islam and its role in the modern world frequently betray the parochialism and willful political naivety of his class. But I’ve found many of his interventions both provocative and entertaining.

His latest initiative, however, smacks of show-boating. And it suggests that Dawkins may finally have gone over the edge. According to media reports, Dawkins (along with Christopher  Hitchens and others) has consulted lawyers with a view to attempting to arrest the Pope when he visits the UK in September – on the grounds that he was complicit in cover-ups of child abuse within the Catholic church. Dawkins is quoted as saying:

“This former head of the Inquisition should be arrested the moment he dares to set foot outside his tinpot fiefdom of the Vatican, and he should be tried in an appropriate civil – not ecclesiastical – court. That’s what should happen. Sadly, we all know our faith-befuddled governments will be too craven to do it.”

Clearly there is some kind of case to answer, judging by recent revelations. But there are aspects of this which I find deeply distasteful. Why does Dawkins save his sharpest attacks for minority religious groups (Catholics, Muslims) who are already the target of mainstream prejudice and bigotry? Why does he slip so easily into the kind of language which seems designed to generate the maximum heat and the minimum light? I don’t hold any brief for the appalling Joe Ratzinger, but it seems to me that the way Catholicism has been singled out in the mass media has more to do with old-fashioned English “anti-Popery” than it does with any genuine distaste for the power and excesses of organised religion. By ignoring the wider political context and conveniently forgetting the historical background, Dawkins does a great disservice to the cause of secularism. By using the florid and provocative language of a Paisleyite, he does something rather worse.

I found Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” personally liberating. It helped me to complete a long journey of emancipation from the damage inflicted by a religious upbringing. But I suspect it’s author may have finally lost the plot.


Posted on April 28, 2010, in Religion & Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Dawkins, Hitchens and Arresting the Pope.

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