So, Pope Benedict XVI is visiting our shores and despite the controversy surrounding the remarks made by Cardinal Walter Kasper they seem, to me at least, to have pretty much hit the nail on the head.
When I say that, I am not referring to the remark about multi cultural Britain but about the ‘aggressive atheism’ that is widespread in this country today. I was subsequently interested to note that the Pontiff himself, far from ignoring this controversial topic, underlined that this trend is, indeed, a concern to the Holy See.
It has certainly been my experience that when in a normal setting, down the pub or in the office for example, lively debate on intimate issues such as sex, depression, periods, cancer or disease are energetically participated in by the majority of people but mention the Bible or God and the conversation stalls, uncomfortable looks are exchanged and at best the protagonist is silently labelled a ‘Bible Basher’ or a nutter. At worst, wholesale fury erupts and, in my opinion at least, a generally, fairly badly informed majority, drag out the well worn examples of the atrocities that have been perpetrated in the name of religion.
However, as a very wise person once told me, ‘…a church is only as virtuous as the people that represent it’. Man as we know is fallible and therein lies the enormous distinction between religion and spirituality.
Spirituality is a matter of personal responsibility, of attempting to develop a healthy conscience and listening to it even when; especially when, it whispers to your heart that you are behaving unkindly, thoughtlessly or unfairly.
Honest and thorough examination of your conscience will lead you, inevitably, along the path of integrity toward the twin pillars of humanity and sacrifice that support the gates of human kindness. Through those gates, no intentional suffering is possible, no act of compassion too challenging and the evil that mankind perpetrates simply cannot exist.
This journey will take most people their entire lives (and then some) as the very best intentioned amongst us are prone to, not to put too fine a point on it, royally cocking it up on a daily basis.
The problem in contemporary society is not that people are aiming for the spiritual bullseye and despite their best efforts, falling short but that actually, that they are perfectly aware when they are doing the wrong thing. In spite of this insight, many opt to go right ahead and big-fat-old-do-it-anyway. They want to do what they want to do and being told no, by God, their conscience or anyone else, is just simply rather inconvenient.
This, I suspect, is where modern Britain is falling out of step with spirituality and let’s face it justification (it wasn’t my fault, he made me do it <insert finger pointing here>) has always been the final refuge of a weak argument.
I also note that Professor Dawkin, whose militantly atheist views are well documented, will be leading a protest at Downing Street today and I wonder why he is working so hard to convince us that God does not exist. Why does it matter to him if, in the face of illness, bereavement, poverty or abuse some of us, in the small, lonely hours of the night take refuge and comfort in the hope that our little sorrows will be noticed and that our prayers find their way to the ears and heart of a benevolent God.
For the life of me, I cannot understand what is so frightening about openly admitting a desire to believe in God if it means that as people, we will try a little bit harder to care for both our own spiritual welfare and that of the people around us.
That scares the shit out of me.