Chile, the Pope, and British Atheism

During his state visit to Britain just now, the Pope has expressed concern that British values and way of life could be eroded harmfully by increasing aggressive atheism. His comments are informed both by his religious beliefs and by his formative childhood experiences in atheist Nazi Germany. So he has authority in what he says. It behoves any host to listen politely to their invited guest, so I wonder what we construe in the vitriolic opposition to his visit by Britons who like to be identified by their membership of humanist organisations. (Are they atheist?). They criticise the behaviour of the Pope, but are we to discern their values from their behaviour also?

I read a moving article* today of the plight of the miners trapped underground long-term in Chile. They see themselves as being on a long shift (much longer than the half-day shift they expected). They've appointed people to particular tasks. One of the miners is now pastor, and part of his responsibility is to lead daily prayers and to prepare sermons. It appears that these are recorded, and published, although I haven't found them online. I presume that the miners are Roman Catholic, as about 90% of the country are, and so part of the Pope's extended flock.

This leads me to my test of whether Britain is aggressively atheist and whether that is harmful to society.

If there were a similar disaster in Britain, would the victims appoint a pastor from among themselves? How do you feel about that? Do you think that any atheists in the group would oppose such an appointment aggressively? If the atheists did act in this way, do you think it would be harmful?

(Comments welcome, as always!) 

* The Week, quoting an article in The Guardian newspaper.

1 thought on “Chile, the Pope, and British Atheism

  1. Hi, Richard!
    If there were a similar disaster in Britain, would the victims appoint a pastor from among themselves? How do you feel about that? Do you think that any atheists in the group would oppose such an appointment aggressively? If the atheists did act in this way, do you think it would be harmful?
    Yes, I do, because it would be a direct attack on people's right to religious expression and freedom.
    There is not much I agree with the present Pope about, but I do agree with him on aggressive atheism having a potentially corrosive effect on British society. It's as harmful as fundamentalist religion wanting to impose its way on others, i.e. not allowing atheists freedom of expression. I see it everywhere, this corrosive effect: Christ is someone to be mocked, the biblical illiteracy is off the scale. Even an atheist friend of mine admits that a lack of biblical knowledge on a merely cultural level impoverishes people studying literature, to give just one example.
    The Church has certainly often acted as an oppressive force in its history (four hundred years ago, people were fined if they didn't attend their local Anglican church *snort* ) but aggressive, militant atheism is something I eye with deep wariness, because I think it's every bit as illiberal as that which it professes to oppose.
    Oh, and good on the miners. That's really moving. What an awful situation. 😦 Brave, brave men.
    Philippa

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