Rotten to the core
After the free-for-all of sentimentality that reigned from John Paul II's faltering on Easter Sunday, through his demise and funeral, right up to the emergence of white smoke from a Vatican chimney, we can now settle back into our regular pattern.
There's an old European man in white robes in a palace in Italy telling us all how immoral we are. Plus ca change... In the days after Joesph Ratzinger's magical transformation into Benedict XVI, many wails were wailed and teeth gnashed over the new pontiff's legendary 'conservatism'. The new pope was anti-gay, anti-women, anti-contraception, anti-liberation theology and even, albeit briefly, an anti-tank gunner. Further evidence of this conservatism came about when Benedict was quickly confronted with the Spanish government's decision to grant legal status to gay marriage. The pope's response, stating that this was 'iniquitous' and that Spanish Catholics should be 'prepared to pay the highest price, including the loss of a job' rather than facilitate the law, was rightly seen by many as an insidious interference in the affairs of Spain, and a deeply reactionary position to take.
But, in the wake of the extravagant praise of his late predecessor, it has become all too easy to imagine the new pope as a conservative autocrat who does not reflect the thinking of the Church.
He isn't. This is no small-minded elderly church apparatchik, keeping the papal throne warm for the great reformer to come. Nor is he a representative of a faction of the church hierarchy that is on its last legs. Benedict XVI was elected by his fellow cardinals because to them he represents a pure, moral, intellectual and spiritual brand of Catholic doctrine. And in Catholic terms they are right. He is as clear thinking and intelligent a pope as one could imagine. And a very, very good Catholic.
The issue isn't whether or not the head of Catholicism is palatable to secularists. It is Catholicism itself that is unpalatable. The Catholic Church is not here to bend to the will of others. It will not condone abortions because others think it should, or ordain women priests because it might win over a few broadsheet columnists. Therefore, the goal of secularists should not be a more caring, compassionate church. The goal should be a church that may still hold its views, but not its power. As ever, education and debate light the route to progress.
Are Anti-social Behaviour Orders the new blasphemy conviction? We're only asking because a man in rural Wiltshire has been threatened with an Asbo for publishing jokes about Pope John Paul II on his website, www.lynehamvillage.co.uk .
Those who reported the site to the police were, apparently, disgusted and outraged by the fact that Mitch Hawkin had posted a spoof job advert for the position of pontiff on the web. A Conservative councillor remarked that the site was 'causing a lot of damage to the community'.
Meanwhile, over in Bristol, Leroy Trought received a two-year Asbo for changing a sign outside his pub from 'parking yard' to 'porking yard'. This caused such offence to worshippers at a nearby mosque that they sought help from Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council, who promptly took action.
Forget the law against 'incitement to religious hatred' (which didn't make it through parliament before the election, but which Labour has pledged to force through should it be re-elected); simply offend some local busybodies and you'll find yourself slapped with a gagging order - on penalty of imprisonment.
This law, meant to protect communities from harassment, is now being used to harass those who don't conform to other people's Victorian ideas of morality and decency. One woman in East Kilbride received an Asbo for being seen 'at her front door wearing only her undergarments'. An Englishman's home may be his castle, but in Asboworld a Scottish woman can't wear what she wants in her own house.
'Offences' which would be considered a waste of time in a proper court are now draining police resources and creating a climate where self-appointed guardians of morality take it upon themselves to record their neighbours' failings.
Reductio ad absurdum (as if all this wasn't absurd enough) fellow passengers might take offence at New Humanist subscribers reading their latest copy on the train, in full view of an over-sensitive believer.
There is a good reason why we have legal systems intended to ensure due process and the protection of the rights of the individual. In the few short years that Anti-social Behaviour Orders have been around we have already seen a rollback of legal checks and balances, and the introduction of a sinister mob rule by proxy.
Hot on the heels of Bowling for Columbine, Super Size Me and Outfoxed comes a documentary that should send shivers down the spine of happy-clappy evangelicals who hang around shopping centres ready to spring their brand of youth-orientated mumbo-jumbo on unsuspecting teenagers by 'speaking their language'.
The God Who Wasn't There, produced by Brian Flemming and due out on DVD next month, holds modern Christianity up to a 'merciless spotlight' - with predictably hilarious consequences.
Don't miss out on this film, a trailer of which can already be viewed at www.thegodmovie.com.