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Column: The Pope's shoes7 February 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
The new Equality Bill has caused quite a lot of commotion. The Pope made it known that he thinks the bill threatens religious freedom. The gay movement is at the forefront of the protests. They maintain that the Roman Catholic Church cannot refuse to open lay positions to gay people.
These reactions made me think: the Pope, who wears the most adorable little red shoes, can’t really be that vehemently opposed to gays. I put this opinion down to my Catholic upbringing.
I must admit I felt far more affinity with the previous Pope. In January 1945 on an empty platform at a train station in Poland, John Paul II, rescued a fourteen year old Jewish girl from starvation and took her to Kraków. Benedict XVI is from Germany and in our family we consider it a bit of a delicate issue.
And yet the Pope has a point. Personally, I think it is fine for gays to adopt a child, but I also believe that a Roman Catholic adoption agency has the right to refuse such a case. There are plenty of other adoption agencies that gay couples can consult.
The other day I met an editor who works for a ‘lesbian publisher’. ‘We only publish lesbian books,’ she explained to me. What makes a book lesbian? I wondered, but it doesn’t bother me.
The Church is conservative; otherwise it would have disappeared long ago. The churches in my Dutch home town, which converted to the modernist approach, now all stand empty. When I think back to the masses with pop music, ‘beat masses’ as we called them, I still break out in a rash.
Did you have mass music experiments like this in the UK, or did you think it would affront pop groups such as The Beatles?
Just one church in my home town is still going strong, and that is the one which remained faithful to providing traditional masses. Even better, they have extended this service to other groups; on early Sunday mornings there is a Polish mass for immigrants from Poland. Praying Polish plumbers cause me to be overcome with emotions.
Once on a Sunday afternoon, completely off-guard, I strolled into St Patrick’s Church in Soho Square. To my surprise a mass was in progress, in Chinese! I was touched. In China Christians are persecuted but right in the heart of London one is completely free to celebrate mass in Chinese.
China is a prime example of what happens when a profoundly secular government meddles in the affairs of religious minorities. Unfortunately, no one organises protest marches for these fledgling communities.
Sometimes churches are their own worst enemy. Take the case of Klaas Hendrikse from Middelburg (capital of the Dutch province of Zeeland), a minister in the Dutch Protestant Church, he is allowed to continue his ministry in spite of the fact that he preaches to all who will listen that God doesn’t exist. For the sake of us all I hope this madness doesn’t spread.
Orthodoxy should not be confused with fundamentalism. Any orthodox church will adhere to strict rules but does not expect anyone outside the congregation to follow their way of life. A fundamentalist church has similar strict rules, however they think everyone else has to adjust their lives to comply with their laws. A fundamentalist government, therefore, provides the nightmare scenario.
A secular nursery can, of course, refuse to employ a Jesuit who applies to be a nursery attendant. Likewise a school based on Islamic principles can refuse a Jew, a Jewish school a Muslim and a Christian school an atheist, assuming that these applicants do not endorse the principles of these organisations.
Anyway, why would you want to join an institution if you disagree with their basic ethics?
Can atheists be fundamentalists? Yes, of course, when they express opinions about how non-atheists go about their life. China not only persecutes Christians but also the Dalai Lama, even beyond their country’s borders.
Actually the Dalai Lama has officially proclaimed: ‘Homosexuality and Buddhism are irreconcilable.’ Interestingly, people do not seem to take much offence to this statement.
You may not agree with the opinions of the Pope or the Dalai Lama, but they both have the authority to set the rules within their own faith communities.
This should not be confused with a government issuing religious laws for all they happen to govern, I am thinking in particular of Iran or Saudi-Arabia. Whether promoting the cause of the secular state or the religious community, I am totally opposed against fundamentalism.
China is strongly against a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama. Protesters in the UK are adamant that during the visit of the Pope, the Queen and the Pope should not meet.
My conclusion is that China and the anti-Pope protesters in the UK are on the same side as the people who do not allow others their intellectual freedom. I think that in protest I am going to buy a pair of red shoes.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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