KEEPING THE FAITH; Saturday Essay; on His Historic Visit to Scotland, the Pope Said Religion Was under Threat from Aggressive Secularism. Here, a Leading Writer from a Different Church Background Says Benedict Is Right
Byline: by John MacLeod
ONE might readily groan at the earnest, online description of the Prayer Room at Liverpool's John Lennon International Airport. It is set beside a 'Rainbow Garden' and marked with a chaplaincy logo 'which represents human spirituality'.
'The many colours of the rainbow serve to remind us that, while all human beings may be different from another, when we stand side by side in peace and harmony, every hue enriches the whole...'
Such group-hug inclusiveness owes less to the great creeds of the church than the engineered, politically correct righteousness of Topsy and Tim. And one imagines few passengers ever bother to negotiate the terminal's ramps, malls and corridors to find this little space and 'address issues of wholeness' in a 'moment for reflection'.
But, on several occasions in 2008, a 59-yearold self-styled 'philosophy tutor' and militant atheist called Harry Taylor went to great and repeated trouble to locate the chapel and on three occasions he left extraordinarily offensive literature.
It contained cartoons so blasphemous, obscene and puerile that they cannot readily be described in a family newspaper. One anti-Muslim image was so vile that none of the websites that subsequently ranted in Taylor's defence dared carry it.
In April this year, Taylor was very properly convicted of religiously aggravated intentional harassment and given a five-year Asbo, while his six-month prison sentence was suspended. Yet even this light sentence was an outrage of the first order for Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society.
It was, he insisted, 'totally out of proportion for what Mr Taylor did. Nobody can deny that he was being deliberately provocative in leaving these rather mild cartoons... but in the end he didn't harm anybody and was simply making a point about the existence of such a facility.'
Of course, in the view of the National Secular Society, the airport chapel should not exist. In fact, it should be closed. Or torn down. Or made illegal. It seemed entirely lost on Mr Sanderson and his cohorts that Mr Taylor's antics could have hurt highly vulnerable people, seeking a moment of peace in an anguished day.
In itself, the incident was tiny and Harry Taylor himself appears one of life's sad losers. But it crystallises a growing and new phenomenon in British public life - the enon in British public life - the bigoted and vengeful atheism which Pope Benedict XVI bravely addressed (though with characteristic delicacy of words) in Edinburgh on Thursday.
THIS is not the place to comment on the complex cultural and constitutional issues raised by the occasion - the first state visit of any Pope to the United Kingdom, at the invitation of a Protestant Queen on a Protestant throne - nor on the present controversies and vulnerabilities besetting the Roman Catholic Church.
The Pope's address to the Queen, by the portals of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, had to negotiate untold sensitivities, not least those raised by his origins in Germany where his own generation has carried a burden of guilt these 65 years.
But, in remarkable tribute to the society in Britain our forefathers built, moulded by the attainments of the Reformation, the Pope observed that today 'the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.'
This was not merely the cautious tribute of a characteristically thoughtful man. It was an explicit shot across the bows of forces remorselessly driving our nation and society back to a new dark age.
It is self-evident that since the 1950s we have moved from a society where religious observance and at least occasional churchgoing were the respectable norm to one where any sort of public devotion has become a positive, even embarrassing, eccentricity. …