It’s worth asking why otherwise fairly intelligent thinkers get so dementedly exercised over the pope and the Catholic Church. What exactly is their beef? What are they objecting to? Very few (if any) of the pope-hunters were raised Catholic, so this isn’t about personal vengeance for some perceived slight by a priest or nun. And despite their current lowdown, historically illiterate attempt to equate a priest fondling a child with a state’s attempt to obliterate an entire people – under the collective tag ‘crime against humanity’ – the truth is that some of these pope-hunters don’t really think child abuse is the worst crime in the world. In 2006, Dawkins criticised ‘hysteria about paedophilia’ and said that, even though he was the victim of sexual abuse at boarding school, he would defend his abusive former teachers if ‘50 years on they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers’. Yet now he wants to put abusive priests on a par with genocidaires.But what do you expect from a brainwashed pope-worshiper who refuses to acknowledge The Truth about Benedict the Cover Upper and the Vile Vatican Filled With Old, Perverted Men?
The reason this crusade is so hysterical is because it is not really about the pope at all – it is about the New Atheists themselves. The contemporary pope-hunting springs from a secularist movement which feels incapable of asserting a sense of purpose or meaning in any positive, human-centred way – as the great atheists of old such as Marx or Darwin might have done – and which instead can only assert itself negatively, in contrast to the ‘evil’ of religion, by posturing against the alleged wickedness of institutionalised faith. It is the inner emptiness, directionless and soullessness of contemporary secularism – in contrast to earlier, Enlightened and more positive secular movements – which has given birth to the bizarre clamour for the pope’s head.
Secularism is in crisis. In Enlightened times, progressive secular movements, those which eschewed the guidance of God in favour of relying on mankind to work out what his problems were and how to solve them, were all about having a positive view of humanity. Their vision was both terrifying and extremely liberating: that man alone could master the complexities of life on Earth and improve it for himself and future generations. Today, however, we live in misanthropic, deeply downbeat times, where mankind is looked upon as a greedy, destructive, unreliable force whose behaviour and thoughts must be governed from without.
Well, sure, what else could you expect from an ultra-right-wing, atheist-hating Romanist?
This is what drives their war against religion: an instinct for ridiculing those who still, unlike contemporary secularists themselves, have an overarching outlook on life and a strong belief system. That is really what they find so alien about the Catholic Church in particular – its beliefs, its faith, its hierarchy. An atheism utterly alienated from the mass of humanity and from any future-oriented vision can only lash out in an extreme and intolerant way against those who still seem to have strong beliefs: the religious, or the ‘deluded ones’, as the New Atheists see it.
Pah-leaze! Stop the papal propaganda already!
No doubt some will accuse me of ‘defending paedophile priests’ in contrast to the New Atheist campaign on behalf of ‘powerless victims’. In truth, my only concern, as an atheistic libertarian—
Uh. What? What?? You're not a Catholic? You're a former Catholic? And an atheist? Really?
Yes, really, he most certainly is all of that. Brendan O’Neill, the editor of spiked, is a former Catholic and an "atheistic libertarian" who has been sticking his neck out on this subject for a while now and who deserves some kudos and thanks for good Catholics, in my estimation. There's no doubt all all that O'Neill and Catholics disagree about a whole host of very significant issues, but his analysis of the ongoing media furor—"witch-hunt", he calls it—is all the more powerful because O'Neill is not trying so much to defend the Catholic Church (although he is doing so), but because he is trying to save a form of rational, reasonable atheism, and he sees the attacks by Dawkins, Hitchens, and Co. as being anything but rational and reasonable. And he's right. Is he right about there being a viable form of rational, reasonable atheism to be lived in today's world? Well, that would be a fascinating topic for a conversation over a pint, but for the time being it is worth noting that non-Catholics—non-theists!—are capable of some excellent insights and cool reasoning about all of this. Again, bravo to Mr. O'Neill, to whom I tip my hat, once again.