I didn't pay much attention in the build up to it. And then friends on Facebook were posting about it, and there was a "Protest the Pope" movement organised, and there were a lot of jokes about sky fairies and paleolithic cults, and I was pissed off.
Yeah. I was more pissed off at the jokes and the anti-religion sentiment than I was about the Pope. This despite the fact that I've always despised the RCC's teachings on [ abortion, birth control, stem cell research, IVF and homosexuality. This despite the fact that I'm as enraged as any other right thinking person must be about the rapes and other abuses of children at the hands of Catholic priests and the ongoing cover-up, the trail of which seems to lead straight to the Pope's door. This despite the fact that I'm just as shocked as any right-thinking person would be that the Pope took steps to reverse the excommunication of a Holocaust denier. All this, and it's easier to get me riled up with a few potshots at religion. But I didn't really notice that I was reacting that way. I just got angry, and looked for reasons why the extremist atheists were wrong to be bouncing off the walls about this.
I felt that while a state visit from the Pope was obviously not something I could get behind, especially not at the cost [although really, all state visits are obviously far too expensive] it wasn't any worse than a state visit from Saudi Arabia or China. And I've never protested a state visit in my life, including ones from Saudi Arabia. Or China. And I somehow expected that the vast majority of those smug, self-congratulatory atheists preparing to go to the Protest the Pope rally and march today hadn't protested any other state visits either. I thought they were probably just protesting this one in order to take a few cheap potshots at religion. No, I wasn't in support of the Pope's visit. But I wasn't going to be protesting it, either.
In the final analysis [I thought], not only would it be hypocritical for me to protest this state visit when I never had done with any others before [and of course it was hypocritical of all of them, too], the last thing I really wanted to do with a Saturday afternoon was spend it in the company of a large crowd of religion-bashers.
Then I watched Peter Tatchell's documentary "The Problem with the Pope," which, as I expected, didn't tell me anything new. What I didn't expect, however, was for it to be nicely balanced with respect for religion, and even the RCC in general, and, perhaps more foolishly, I didn't expect the emotional impact of seeing the human consequences of the Pope's policies. Because obviously I already knew about the overpopulation in the developing world, people with degenerative diseases who could be helped by stem cell research, and visceral anger and hurt that gay and lesbian people must feel about the church's bigoted position on homosexuality. I'd seen all these things before, so why would it bother me particularly to see them again? But it did. Then I had a little talk with my flatmate, and we agreed that the paedophilic abuse scandal was reason enough in and of itself to protest, really. Then I had a little talk with myself about people being entitled to have bigoted, prejudiced views, which the Pope has [see paragraph 3], and extremist atheists also have [sky fairies, schizophrenic zombies, "talking snake supporters," leprechauns and unicorns, blah fucking blah]. Then I had a little talk with myself about which of the two was imposing their bigoted, prejudiced views through more than just the exercise of free speech, on millions of people around the world, with disastrous consequences. And in the end, I guess it all knocked me out of my own smug little self-congratulatory bubble a bit. I still wasn't going to the protest, mind you. I had work to do today.
So, I got up this morning, and had my run, and dawdled like hell, and was theoretically going to chambers to pick up some work. And then, by the time I left the house it was after 12.30, and somehow, I was going to Hyde Park Corner. It just hit me. My only remaining reason for not going was not wanting to expose myself, and my precious little feelings, to an afternoon of cracks about religion and religious belief. [Well, that and the note of evidence I have to type up, and my pupillage checklists that still aren't finished, and my case on Monday which is listed for half a day and I'm not sure what more to do to prep it. But I don't know. I'll figure it out.] And somehow that didn't seem good enough. I'd never protested a state visit before? So the fuck what? I've protested other things, there's always a first, and actually, actually, maybe, given that I'm not an atheist, I'm not a secular humanist, I'm actually an agnostic, I'm actually a believer, I'm actually a Christian -- maybe that makes mine a rather important voice to be heard at a protest like today's. To point out it's not just "extremist atheists," not even just atheists in fact. It's moderates. It's feminists. It's people who don't like homophobia. It's people who don't like Holocaust deniers. It's people who don't like old white men in fancy dress telling the rest of us how we should worship, who and how and when we should fuck, and what we should do with our bodies generally. And it's people who sure as fuck are not going to stand for thousands of men abusing tens of thousands of children with impunity granted by the religious order they've signed up to. People who think religion and the state should be kept separate (each from interfering with the other) and that it is simply wrong for a state and a religious visit to be fused in this way, so that the Pope can use our tax money to propagate his brand of bigotry not only to his faithful (not all of whom, I understand, agree with him anyway!), but to our political leaders as well. And there are Christians among those numbers. [Like, you know, all the ones that go to my church, for instance.] TRUTH.
So I went on the protest. I arrived late -- about 2.15 -- but it hadn't set off yet. I wriggled my way into the crowd and fell in behind the London Feminist Network for most of the march. It was really slow to begin with -- took ages to start and then was stop-and-start for a while. There could have been more chanting. But it was fun. There were blown-up condoms, and people in fancy dress, and noise-makers and all the rest.
There were some signs I really loved: "I believe -- but not in you;" "Thank God for secularism;" one that listed things we support, like love, tolerance, freedom, democracy, and things we don't, like, oh I don't know, bigotry, misogyny and homophobia, and then asked "does that make me anti-pope?"; a big pink one of the Pope in majorly campy robes with a quote of some aide of his, "No, the Pope is not gay" on the back; "Jesus had two daddies" which made me laugh out loud in delight; the ubiquitous and oh-so-British "Down With This Sort Of Thing" and fairly bog-standard ones saying the Pope shelters child abusers, is soft on Holocaust-deniers and that his position on condoms is killing people. There were some that royally pissed me off. You can probably imagine the tenor of those. There was a woman beside me who yelled "Talking snake supporters!" at some people walking in the other direction to attend the Catholic rally. She turned to me and said "They believe in a talking snake! Can you believe it? IDIOTS!" I smiled. I didn't tell her I was CofE. She probably wouldn't have understood the concept of an agnostic Anglican.
So yeah. I bit my tongue pretty much the whole way along but I figure it was good for my immortal soul. We were ultimately there for the same reason, and everyone's got freedom of speech, right? I have it on good authority -- Article 10.
At the rally, I stayed for probably about half the speeches. I wanted to hear Peter Tatchell, and he gave by far the best of the ones I heard. He had the audience chanting along, and once again paid -- what seemed to me -- more than lip service to the need to be respectful of faith, and freedom of expression of faith, provided it doesn't adversely impact on the rights of others. I stood stock-still with my arms folded for Richard Dawkins. There is only so much spiritual growth a girl can do in a week, and stopping hating that man is beyond me just yet. The woman after Peter Tatchell was very shrill, and started out by saying that we weren't just there to protest the Pope but also the adverse effect of religion in our society, and that was basically it for me because what she was saying was the precise opposite of what I signed up for. I was out. My back hurt by that time anyway.
So. Worthwhile use of an afternoon. I was there. My voice was heard (chanting "Love not hate," primarily). Mind you, I still object to a lot of the language I heard against religion today. I still think it's just as bigoted and prejudiced as the Pope (though, OK, fine, not as damaging), and the smug white middle classes peddling it still need a good kick up the backside, IMO. And I still suspect there were people there who had never protested anything before in their lives, and were more than strongly influenced by knee-jerk anti-religious sentiment, and if I'm right on that, I think those people are hypocrites and whited sepulchres and all that. But that doesn't undermine the fact that the message of the protest was RIGHT.
And, well, now I'm typing up my note of evidence and I'm not going to get much sleep tonight, because I have to spend pretty much all day at church tomorrow. Singing stuff. Oh yeah, and God-bothering, that too.
*temporarily at least.
X-posted to my personal journal.
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