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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Atheism, Philosophy | 1 comment

Give the Pope a break

Ever since the Pope’s homily earlier this month, the Interwebs have seen plenty of commentary from atheists poking fun at him for being corrected by the Vatican, and of course for not being infallible. (Having said that, my SkepticInk colleague Staks Rosch offers a more balanced piece than the norm on HuffPo.) But besides the fact that much of the ridicule directed at the Pope misunderstands the doctrine of infallibility (the Pope isn’t always infallible according to Catholic doctrine – it’s something which needs to be officially invoked), I think it also misunderstands the significance of the Pope’s homily.

Regardless of how much we continue to – and should continue to – disagree with many aspects of Catholic doctrine, it remains true that some religious folk think that their faith is the only way to moral virtue, and that atheists are somehow morally defective, by necessity. For a Pope to deny that this is the case is a big deal, regardless of those other disagreements. It’s progress, and should be celebrated.

As I comment in a recent column on the Daily Maverick:

You don’t have to like the Pope, or respect him and his Church, to regard it as a good thing that this influential person makes a statement undermining the idea that you can’t be morally decent without religion. That idea keeps atheists from speaking out, declaring their non-belief to family, friends, or the electorate. It is used as a form of pressure to get people into faiths in the first place, because who would want to be perceived as an immoral (even evil) person?

In other words, there’s a big picture here, beyond our egos. There are in fact various big pictures, competing with the ones describing child abuse in the church, or the sexism of Catholicism. Progress is possible at various rates, at various times and through various forms of strategy – but to deny that this is progress of any sort is as blinkered a reaction as we like to accuse religious folk of falling prey to.

Read the rest of the column for more.