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.