God bless British apathy

In a poll of 2,000+ British people, 79% declared no interest in the forthcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

Nazi PopeIn a poll of 2,000+ British people, 79% declared no interest in the forthcoming visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

This level of apathy towards such a high-profile religious leader is significant given the nature of the visit. Popes have manifested themselves in the UK before. But this is the first state visit. Benedict is coming not just as the Holy Father but also as head of state of the Vatican.

But the British, bless ’em, still don’t care. According to the poll, carried out by ComRes for religious think tank Theos, those who have strong views are in the minority. Only 29% think that the visit will be good for Britain, while a larger number – 33% – disagree. The biggest proportion, 38%, have no opinion.

The apathy vanishes, however, when we get to the not so small matter of cost. A whopping 76% believe that the taxpayer should not foot the bill for the visit (which rises to 81% in Scotland). After all, the Roman Catholic church is rich. Guilt and oppression is a business model capable of surviving any recession.

The press release about the poll rather disingenuously claims that, when it comes to the Pope’s views, people largely “agree with his social teaching”.

Theos cherry-picked 12 “representative statements” from the Pope’s third encyclical letter, Caritas in Veritate and asked people if they agreed with them. But look at the kind of thing they chose.

Some 82% agreed that ‘technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption’; 79% agree that ‘the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure’; 63% agree that ‘investment always has moral, as well as economic significance’; 69% agree that ‘the consumer has a specific social responsibility’; 90% agree that ‘food and access to water are universal rights of all human beings’.

This is heartening, of course. It shows a strong moral sense among the general public. But the Pope doesn’t own these attitudes. Nor does any church. These are ethical beliefs common among all kinds of people, including we atheists who are in no need of an authoritarian figure like the Pope to tell us how to think.

It is typical that the faithful should try to lay claim to these moral and ethical beliefs. After all, how often do we hear the nonsense those without faith have no source of morality. (As we know, there is an evolutionary basis for morality, something I’ll come back to soon.)

So, the Pope is far from unique in espousing these attitudes. There are many of us who have come to the same conclusions without being lectured to by an ex-Nazi in a silly hat, thanks.

It’s interesting that the support started to waver with the assertion that ‘An overemphasis on [human] rights leads to a disregard for duties’, with 59% agreeing. What duties are these, by the way? One suspects that many of them may be purely religious. If would be no surprise that the Pope would prefer obedience to the church, even if it means relinquishing human rights the rest of us regard as important.

One wonders how many of those polled would have agreed to statements like, ‘It is more important to be obedient to an oppressive view of contraception even if this means thousands of Africans dying of AIDS’ or ‘Women must not have control over their own bodies or fertility’. Now, those are attitudes the Catholic church can call its own.


  1. Thad says:

    Just curious – in response to your last paragraph – I recently read an article on the success of Catholic countries (Uganda, I believe?) in Africa in lowering aids through abstinence. The statistics of other countries show that after condoms were introduced, the incidence of AIDS increased instead of decreasing. How does that account for the Catholic teaching vs. the secular view that condoms help?

  2. admin says:

    Thad, Most of the articles I’ve seen about Uganda and its abstinence policy point out that the lower infection rate has a number of societal factors. Of course, it’s typical of the Catholic church to take the credit and claim it is all due to faith-based abstinence. And the sources that take this stance seem to be those coming from a religious perspective. Maybe you need to read a little more widely, although I suspect that someone with a marian.org email address is not likely to be swayed by something as trivial as facts.

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