|Harsh Judgments on the Pope and Religion
September 15, 2010
We, the undersigned, share the view that Pope Ratzinger should not be given the honour of a state visit to this country. We believe that the pope, as a citizen of Europe and the leader of a religion with many adherents in the UK, is of course free to enter and tour our country. However, as well as a religious leader, the pope is a head of state, and the state and organisation of which he is head has been responsible for:
Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids.
Promoting segregated education.
Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women.
Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
The state of which the pope is head has also resisted signing many major human rights treaties and has formed its own treaties ("concordats") with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states. In any case, we reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican.
Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Professor Susan Blackmore, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Ed Byrne, Baroness Blackstone, Ken Follett, Professor AC Grayling, Stewart Lee, Baroness Massey, Claire Rayner, Adele Anderson, John Austin MP, Lord Avebury, Sian Berry, Professor Simon Blackburn, Sir David Blatherwick, Sir Tom Blundell, Dr Helena Cronin, Dylan Evans, Hermione Eyre, Lord Foulkes, Professor Chris French, Natalie Haynes, Johann Hari, Jon Holmes, Lord Hughes, Robin Ince, Dr Michael Irwin, Professor Steve Jones, Sir Harold Kroto, Professor John Lee, Zoe Margolis, Jonathan Meades, Sir Jonathan Miller, Diane Munday, Maryam Namazie, David Nobbs, Professor Richard Norman, Lord O'Neill, Simon Price, Paul Rose, Martin Rowson, Michael Rubenstein, Joan Smith, Dr Harry Stopes-Roe, Professor Raymond Tallis, Lord Taverne, Peter Tatchell, Baroness Turner, Professor Lord Wedderburn of Charlton QC FBA, Ann Marie Waters, Professor Wolpert, Jane Wynne Willson
• The premise of Ben Goldacre's splendid Bad Science column is that science's centrality to the good of humanity must be upheld by exposing its misuse by those ignorant of scientific principles and its hijacking by commercial or vested interests.
The premise of Polly Toynbee's endless tirades against religion (Sex and death lie at the poisoned heart of religion, 14 September) is that religious belief is, always and everywhere, invalidated by instances of abuse and sectional interest and that ignorance of religion's importance in innumerable human lives is a virtue. The perversion of religion is as undeniable as the perversion of science, but Toynbee's logic contradicts Goldacre's.
When do you intend to start running a Bad Religion column which will analyse the abuse of faith for political, sectional or sexual advantage on the premise that religion is a human good which should be strengthened by exposing those who pervert faith for their own interests? Your extensive readership among believers would love to read it, and the secularists might enjoy the stories too.
Rev Dr Malcolm Brown
Director of mission & public affairs, Archbishops' Council of the Church of England
• Polly Toynbee ignores the "untold misery" caused to young people by the "freedom" to have sex early and casually: the damaging experience of abortion, the heartache of successive separations from a boy/girlfriend, too-early parenthood, and parents splitting up when children are still at home. Yes, women's bodies are a battleground in our society, and some seem to think that for this battle to be won by the cheap press and the advertising media constitutes "freedom" for women. Criticising – or indeed, demonising – the appalling attitudes to women in many religions is not helpful if it carries an implicit assumption that our current secular, commercialised way is superior, rather than admitting also its disastrous effects on women's self-image, and on the early sexualisation of children.
Dr Carol Sanders
Headley Down, Hampshire
• Polly Toynbee says: "At most 12% of the population regularly practises any faith in the secular UK." I would like to know whence she gets this statistic, as I would say the figure is always 100%. Many people, like Toynbee, continually misuse the word "faith" to mean "a religion", usually failing to see, either deliberately or unwittingly, how humanism, and secularism, and atheism, and "scientism", and even agnosticism (for example) can just as easily be included in the latter, along with so-called traditional religions. For what it's worth, faith can't really be practised, faith should never be preceded by an indefinite article, and faith cannot be pluralised. As with hope and love, we all have faith, to some degree; and yes, of course sex and death are at the heart of religion, because religion is about the way life can be lived to the full.
Fr Alec Mitchell
• Not one mention of Jesus Christ in Polly Toynbee's attack on hypocrisy and cruelty in the Christian church. I can see she wouldn't be up for the "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" bit, but she might note the other half of his summary of the law: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Quite radical in its day. And evidently still so in some quarters of Fleet Street today.
Rev George Pitcher
St Bride's Church, Fleet Street, London
• Polly Toynbee's excellent, balanced, lucid and intelligent article will doubtless bring the religio-fascists screeching out of their holes in pious, pompous indignation. It should not. It should be a wake-up call to many, certainly to those advocating faith schools. The summary truth is surely that those of a religious inclination demand an answer, but this is the retreat of the frightened and those who live within strictures and boundaries, "inside the box". To willingly submit yourself to religious dogma is to deny your imagination, inquisitiveness and potential. Those outside religion's enclosure, unfettered by dogma, can appreciate that there might not actually be any answers, but humans can dwell as happily and easily with wonderment and awe. And in the true comfort of an open mind.
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