Of Popes and Mosques

There has been trouble at home and the colonies in recent weeks.

Back in the Motherland there has been much media upset over the Pope’s four day state visit to the UK.

Those who know their history, or at least have seen a BBC docu-drama (you know, those costume dramas women seem to enjoy) will know that we have a long and mixed history with the Catholic church. Some generations loved them, some hated them. One of our most recent leaders, Tony Blair publicly acknowledged that he did indeed have his spiritual home in the Roman Catholic Church – but only once he was no longer Prime Minister. Of course there are equally those in the public eye who do openly embrace the Catholic tradition including the likes of Ann Widdecombe who also serves in the political world. G.K. Chesterton, one of my favourite authors (In my mind I have him and C.S. Lewis fighting it out with swords…), was an extraordinarily eloquent defender of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

So, there are mixed feelings towards the Catholic Church in my dear home land. With the revelation of the sexual abuses carried out by many with official positions in the organisation, the public opinion seemed to slide, once again, towards the negative end of the spectrum.

This figure of morality and uprightness, who is a proponent of some extraordinarily conservative ethics and who has oversight of the spirituality of a vast amount of people, endeavouring to be as Christ in the world. This gentleman came to visit the United Kingdom in the first, ever, state visit.

Back in the Colonies there has been quite the stir over what it to become of the site in New York City where, on the 11th of September 2001 thousands of people lost their lives in a tragic assault on civilians. That event changed the world. That event left a scar in the New York skyline where the twin towers once stood tall.

It has taken much time to clear up that space and it seems recently thought has turned to what is to become of that place. Ground Zero they call it.

For a Brit, like me, it has been difficult to grasp what the issue is, but with some background reading I garnished that a group of Muslims are attempting to have Mosque and community centre approved in the part of the city where the devastation took place. It’s difficult for two reasons: 1. I haven’t felt the national wound that a large scale tragedy and upheaval like that brings and 2. I am very used to Islam in the public realm. Sheffield, the city nearest my university, has a massive number of Muslims and so Islam is a large part of the local culture, with Mosques as much a part of the social furniture as Churches and banks.

Now, this benign building project has mushroomed into a national debate, with some calling it an ‘unnecessary provocation’. Still others point to the US constitution which states religious liberty as a law by which the country is to be governed. There are those who see it as a threat to be feared and others who see it as a beacon of hope for a tolerant and fair society.

Please be aware that I do not intend to make any judgement either way. I can’t imagine what the pain this country feels is like, and I do not know the ins and outs of the law here. I merely wish to point out the media frenzy surrounding this issue.

Much like the media frenzy surrounding the Pope’s trip to the United Kingdom.

The United States often has visits from the Pope. Catholicism has a large presence here – people know what they’re about.

I’m not sure people get too outraged by his presence here. There are many high profile figures with easily as conservative views. Granted some of those people may be guilty of manipulating the media to spread their views, but none the less such a conservative voice is familiar.

And then there’s Islam. In the United Kingdom there is really none but the extreme Right Wing parties who outright oppose an Islamic presence in the country.

Two media fires, two causes.

But there is something intriguingly similar about both.

It’s not the conservative views both Islam and the Pope tend to represent. It’s not even the perceived evils perpetrated by these institutions.

It’s the reactions of the respective nations.

Great Britain, who prides herself on tolerance and her multi-cultural transformation. Great Britain who has, in many ways, been forced to adapt to massive changes in the population and their beliefs, lifestyles and preferences.

And America, our rather more conservative cousin who for many years has boasted of it’s freedom of religion and freedom and justice for all.

We’ll see how tolerant Britain really is when this figurehead of religion comes to stay.

We’ll see how free religion really is in the United States when a a community centre and Mosque are built.

I think Britain did herself proud. With a massive hype about everything from the cost of the trip, to the Pope’s apparent lack of response to recently revealed abuses, Britain can clearly tollerate a voice she has not heard in a long time, is clearly willing to allow into the public sphere to share views. Did Britain over-react to the Pope? Why no, of course not.

Sarcasm aside, it seems that Britain is really not used to hearing the religious voice. Contrast that to America, where if you flick through the radio on a Sunday Morning, there are all kinds of religious voices broadcasting. Maybe we can learn something from the Americans:

One does not have to fear an unfamiliar voice.

But is that not a lesson America can learn from us? What of Islam?

It’s easy for me to sit and tut and condescendingly say that ‘not all Muslims are terrorists’. I don’t know what it’s like to have the entire nation shaken by the sudden death of thousands of innocent civilians.

To me it is clear at least that there is no way to determine how any one culture will respond to something new or different. It’s enlightening to me to watch Britian through American eyes, and likewise to view America through British eyes.

I will judge neither, but I have learned much.

Like maybe it doesn’t matter how intellectual, how tolerant we like to think ourselves, when confronted with something new or different, we react like schoolchildren: Scream and point.

Or maybe the law doesn’t always determine what happens. Maybe the Media can be whipped into such a frenzy that it can permit the most absurd things.

Maybe that’s true.

Though it probably isn’t.

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7 Comments

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  1. …you’re British?

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  2. Right:

    There are several points which I wish to address in my pseudo-‘commentary’. You may have to bear with me as I attempt to reproduce them in a semi-linear order, matey.

    First, I’d like to explore the Pope’s recent visit, as this has been more of a local matter on this side of the pond than the so-called ‘Ground Zero Mosque’. In the post you say there are ‘mixed feelings’ in the UK about the Catholic Church. This is manifestly true, of course. What I’m interested in is that you relay these controversies as just… controversies; perhaps what I mean to say is that it comes across that you see peoples’ outrage over Ratzinger’s policies/beliefs in a detached relativistic way.

    Take this: “This figure of morality and uprightness, who is a proponent of some extraordinarily conservative ethics and who has oversight of the spirituality of a vast amount of people, endeavouring to be as Christ in the world. This gentleman came to visit the United Kingdom in the first, ever, state visit.”

    You don’t explore your personal opinion of his stance on contraception, which undeniably is contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS among the catholics of the world (to say nothing of the other things you’ll happen to agree with him on, such as ‘pro-life’, or a negative stance on LGBT orientation/lifestyle, etc)?
    Also… child-rape… I’d say there’s a case to be made for the Pope being less than helpful in his so-called attempts to make changes to the incidents continued occurence, stretching back to before he became supreme pontiff. This aspect of the ‘controversy’ is merely mentioned.
    These are some pretty hot topics, and I suppose that’s my only real puzzlement – that the only thing which comes across (to me) is that you’re perhaps of the opinion that the opposition to the Pope’s visit was somehow hypocritical simply due to those who disagree with him Not Shutting Up about it.
    I don’t want to put words in your mouth, and I’m conscious that you say in the post that you “will judge neither”, but I couldn’t help being curious…
    …It occurs to me that this is precisely what the comments section is for, and I hereby solicit your opinions while renouncing any implied criticism that you should have adressed them in your post – sorry.

    Tangent Warning! 😉
    “Sarcasm aside, it seems that Britain is really not used to hearing the religious voice.”
    Really? I know we haven’t got it as heavy as the states, in regard to christianity, but with Islam? That’s something Britain is going to have to increasingly deal with, on little matters tied up in faith-schools, and cultural mores like honour-killings, and Female Genital Mutilation. But that’s a discussion for another time, if ever. Suffice it to say, that Britain’s ‘problems’ with the religious voice stem not from hardly hearing it, but from not taking notice of it, in the name of ‘multiculturalism’ (which I mean in the sense of some utopian goal where all mutually incompatable value-systems somehow manages not to explode oneday into sectarianism).

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  3. I don’t think Britain IS tolerant to faith. It is tolerant to faithS which is a huge difference.

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  4. You’re right, I didn’t explore my personal stance on the Pope. I don’t intend to, either. Plenty of people have pointed out some very damaging things about him. I see no reason to sling more mud. Especially because I happen to not want to alienate my Catholic readers.

    It intrigues me that you didn’t mention anything of Islam and the many crimes of that ideology in today’s world. Surly if I ought to condemn one, I should condemn both? I chose not to, because there is enough hate on the Internet already. People make mistakes. Even people with vast amounts of power and prestige. There are some very clear theological reasons for this, but I don’t feel the need to explore them.

    The faith schools business will be very intriguing to watch. See what the Daily (hate)Mail has to say on the matter. They always epitomise mass hysteria. It seems in England we are used to separating ‘extremism’ from ‘mainstream’ because so many of us have grown up with Muslim neighbours.

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  5. “It intrigues me that you didn’t mention anything of Islam and the many crimes of that ideology in today’s world.”
    See my comments on Female Genital Mutilation, honour killings, etc. If that isn’t ‘mention’, then… phew, I guess I’ll try harder. I guess its because the Pope was higher in my priorities when I was writing.

    So the reason you won’t comment on the Pope’s influence in a negative light is you don’t want to alienate some readers? Sling mud? That’s… disappointing; that you can say “People make mistakes”, and consider that enough. Covering up institutionalised child-abuse, and encouraging lies about condoms is only worth a slap on the wrist for the Pope. If I were defending him, personally, or at least his visit, I’d feel somewhat obliged to address at least some of the negative effects of “this figure of morality and uprightness”. This is what I mean when I say:
    “These are some pretty hot topics, and I suppose that’s my only real puzzlement – that the only thing which comes across (to me) is that you’re perhaps of the opinion that the opposition to the Pope’s visit was somehow hypocritical simply due to those who disagree with him Not Shutting Up about it.”
    But since you don’t intend to explore any of these things, and simply expect people to concede the platform without comment…

    The faith schools situation is a far larger one than the Daily Mail rag could do justice to (no surprises there – appalling waste of paper). I’m not sure what you’re getting at when you said:
    “It seems in England we are used to separating ‘extremism’ from ‘mainstream’ because so many of us have grown up with Muslim neighbours.” Is this a general comment, based in comparison to something in the US? Or a pejorative poke at the UK’s attitude?

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    • The part about Islam was in the ‘tangent’ so I assumed it wasn’t directly associated with the first argument.

      Also, I did link to a couple of places where they were a lot more vocal about the Catholic Church’s various wrongdoings. The point of the post was to comment on British and American culture, not to list the crimes of Church. Slap on the wrists? I can’t be certain, but he may get more than that coming to him. You’ll notice though, that I didn’t state either the positives or negatives. I merely stated that he represents a certain idea for a certain group of people and he came to stay. That is all.

      There are already plenty of places where all sorts of religious crimes have been documented and explored. I don’t intend to do that all over again.

      Also, the fact many of us have grown up with Muslim neighbours may be the reason we haven’t freaked out as much about that faith. It’s hard to hate someone you actually know based on the violence of some who share that faith.

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  6. Point conceded on the Pope front. I apologize if it appears that I’m doggedly pursuing this, so I’ll relent. It just bugged me a little that there was a perceived implication that the response from the Protest the Pope folk was inappropriate. I think I get you now.

    Hmm, I can see what you mean r.e. the greater number of Muslims in the UK for a longer time, compared to the reverse in the US. I think the greater majority of muslims are fairly integrated. The problem is when the state turns a blind eye to the things that aren’t… liberalised, shall we say. There are serious problems with the values of Islam clashing with the western ‘values’ of the Enlightenment, some of which I have already made mention. In that case, I’d say its worse than the States, over here, since very few elected officials want to raise the point.
    “It’s hard to hate someone you actually know based on the violence of some who share that faith.” Obviously, yet that doesn’t mean you don’t challenge the person about the notion that whomever commited said violence claimed to do so in the name of said faith. In Islam, the penalty for apostasy is death. If apposite, I will ask whether someone who believes the Koran if they support this; especially when someone supposedly ‘liberal’, like Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University will only admit there could be a moratorium on the stoning of women for adultery, in muslim countries.

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