Protests and tone

September 21, 2010

I went to the Protest the Pope march in London on Saturday. Never having been to a political protest I really had no idea what to expect. Would we have a riot? Would we be looting shops and burning cars? Of course we didn’t; we walked a set route with some banners – some amusing, some serious, some…odd – and had some fun with the odd chant (“Get your rosaries off my ovaries” was a popular one, although, not having any ovaries, I felt a bit odd chanting that. “Your priest/pope may be gay that’s okay” sung to “London bridge is falling down” was another favourite). At the end of the march we listened to some speeches (occasionally straining to hear what was said over the incessant sound of a police helicopter), cheered in the appropriate places, then went to the pub, then went home.

All in all a fun time with a serious message. So I have been absolutely staggered by the outcry amongst some people over the march. One person has “had it with Dawkins“, expressing

Disappointment at the way he failed utterly to use reason, or logic, or rationality in his speech, preferring instead emotive platitudes and fallacious diatribes. Alarm at the crowd of protesters cheering his every sentence, reserving their loudest jeering for his portrayals of the Pope as ‘an enemy’, and for his characterisation of ‘them’ as running scared from ‘us’.


Brewing anger at the way the name ‘atheist’, which I have identified with ever since I first heard it, has been dragged through the mud over the last weekend by both the Pope’s ridiculous taunting and by Dawkins’ brawling mob of ‘secular humanists’ or whatever it is they’re calling themselves now.

Another writer on Twitter, also complaining about tone, points to these pictures of banners saying

Check out the tone of 6, 16, 17, 21, 24, 26 and 30.

In order, these banners say:

  • “Fuck the pope, but use a condom” (The pope opposes condom use, has blamed condoms for the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and under Canon Law considers condom use on a par with child rape. I am not joking.)
  • “Do you fancy baby Jesus” (Do I really need to say that “Jesus loves you” and “Do you love Jesus” are both common refrains in all forms of Christianity, yet the Pope considers homosexuality a sin. The Pope is implicated in the scandal of the cover-up of pedophile priests. The joke practically writes itself. I personally found this sign poignant)
  • “I’d rather touch myself than a little child” (Believe it or not, the Pope actually opposes masturbation, and places it as the same kind of sin as child rape.)
  • “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid (with a picture of the pope kissing a child)” (This one may be considered in bad taste if you are utterly devoid of compassion or humour. But only because the Pope himself has not been accused of molesting or raping children. He is “only” accused of ensuring more children would be molested and raped under his command of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith [the successor to the Inquisition] where he protected pedophile priests from exposure, and – it is alleged – took every measure to ensure they would not face justice)
  • “By the way, I wanked this morning. Must be genocide if abortion is murder” (This is simply the logical conclusion of the position of the church on contraception and masturbation.)
  • “2 4 6 8 You don’t need a cock to transubstantiate” (I cannot for the life of me figure out how this one is even remotely offensive. The pope does not recognise the ordination of women – indeed, he now considers the ordination of women as the same class of offense as pedophilia. The only difference is that a pedophile priest will not be excommunicated, whilst a priest ordaining a woman will be. As will the ordained woman.)
  • “If I was a billionaire paedophile, I’d make my car look like an Ice Cream van” (Again, the only thing here that could be remotely offensive is the accusation that the pope is a paedophile. His car does look like an Ice Cream van.)

Seriously. This is bad tone? Fuck that! What did people expect the banners to say? “Excuse me Pope, if you don’t mind, would you possibly – in your own time of course – perhaps reconsider your position on condoms? They’re really not that bad really, and the scientific consesus is that they don’t actually cause AIDS, but no rush you understand”? Or, perhaps, “Dear Pope, when you have a moment, could you look in to the issue of the church’s cover-up of child abuse while you were head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. If it’s not too much trouble of course”.

And what of Richard Dawkins speech? What was so bad about Richard Dawkins speech?  The video of the speech he gave at the rally is on YouTube. This was a necessarily condensed version of the speech he wanted to give, the full text of which can be found on Richard Dawkin’s site here. What was it that Stuart Sharpe found so offensive that he found the word atheist “dragged through the mud”? Well,

he’s hell-bent on proving to you that Hitler not only wasn’t an atheist, Hitler was a Catholic.

Bollocks! (How’s that for tone?). Pure and utter bollocks. There is no need to prove that Hitler was a Catholic, it is a well established historical fact that Hitler was a Catholic. Dawkins was not proving Hitler was a Catholic. He was protesting. He was protesting the fact that the Pope chose, in his very first speech, to blame the rise on Nazism on atheists, and then later to warn agains the rise of “aggressive secularism” – which, incidentally, was not referring to placards on protest banners.

What the fuck is wrong here? What is so wrong about Richard Dawkins – at a protest the pope march – protesting about the pope’s absurd, deluded – and unfortunately all too common within religious circles – accusation that atheists were to blame for the rise of Nazism?  Maybe Sharpe is happy to laugh the accusation off, but you know what: I’m not. This isn’t some random nutjob in some back-water Facebook forum blaming Hitler on the atheists, this is the fucking Pope on a fucking state-visit, paid for by me, to insult me, and to call me – an atheist, a liberal and a secularist – “Nazi”, “immoral”, and “evil” in that order. Just what fucking response do people expect?

Fuck the Pope.

But wear a condom.