Saturday, 2 October 2010

Religion as Performance

The Pope left our shores on Sunday 19th September. His warnings against 'aggressive secularism' and against excluding or marginalising religion from public life were welcome. Yet it was all riddled with inconsistencies. In his Westminster Hall speech Benedict chose Thomas More, predictably enough, as a hero of conscience against an overweening state, but how many would have stopped to reflect on More's own refusal to allow religious freedom to Protestants? Benedict talked too of the role of religion in helping to 'purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles'. It is not easy to know exactly what this means, but his context certainly seems to be the traditional Roman view of the exalted ability of reason. Meanwhile kneeling with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the shrine of Edward the Confessor was a step forward in relations between the Anglican and Roman communions, apparently. Ho hum.

Perhaps the abiding memory of the visit was the sheer performance of it all. The Pope is the great celebrity, the great actor, the politician, even kissing babies. People seeem to think they are blessed by his touching them or stretching a hand over them. The 'mass' is performed by the priests - thousands of people attend but are observers. A mass is held for schoolchildren. What remote similarity has this to the Lord's Supper or eucharistic thanksgiving? How tragic in the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation to see so many of the people of Scotland kow-towing to the head of the Roman church.

But the Reformation is 'history'. All that is 'irrelevant' now. So we can return to medievalism and superstition in religion and that is 'progress', not seeing that the kind of religion the Bishop of Rome would introduce would be spiritual slavery and cultural primitivism .

I think the four days of the papal visit were the saddest I have witnessed in this country for a long time. Richard Dawkins is less of a threat to Truth and to the honour of God and of Jesus Christ than the Pope is. The elevation of this man (albeit ephemeral, no doubt, for most) surely speaks volumes for Britain's hardness of heart and utter blindness in spiritual things. How we need to pray for our land.

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