There are some who now seek to exclude religious belief from public discourse, to privatize it or even to paint it as a threat to equality and liberty. Yet religion is in fact a guarantee of authentic liberty and respect, leading us to look upon every person as a brother or sister. — Pope Benedict XVI at Bellahouston Park

A Catholic friend in England remarked that she had to stop following news of the papal visit on Twitter: even in that truncated form of communication, the anti-Catholic rhetoric was too much.

Click here for more posts on the Pope's UK visit I know what she meant. Having spent the day reading blogs, and articles, and blogs, and more articles, and more blogs, and been unable, every single time, to stop myself from being sucked into the black vortex of the combox, I largely felt at the end of it that I wanted to take a bath, and then find a Mass to go to.

To be sure, there were the crowds lining the streets in Edinburgh. There was, as William Doino has said, the triumph of the Mass in Glasgow. But while all this was going on, as well as in the run-up to it, there were the people who sat at their computers and typed out responses to the BBC’s “Have Your Say” feature for September 16.

“What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?” the Beeb asked its online audience.

“Absolutely nothing,” said a lot of people.

And, “Sorry, who is he? What does he do?”

And, “A further waste of MY/OUR money in times of supposed hardship, and the spread of something I personally would eradicate.”

Eradicate? Just stamp it out? The whole Catholic Church? The way you’d eradicate ringworm?

This would be troubling rhetoric from one commenter, however anonymous. But of course we all know it’s not just one commenter. At least, we presume it’s not just one sad person in a basement someplace, pressing post over and over and over again, coming up with endless variations on old fool in silly hat, spread of AIDS in Africa, discrimination against half of world population, homophobe, paedophile, criminal, face of evil. Disgusted, nauseated, livid, wouldn’t open the blinds if he passed by my house. Roman Catholicism has nothing to contribute to the modern world. A seedy little man with distinctly malign views.

I had to peel my eyes off the screen at last. There is something mesmerizing in these comments, after all: the multiplicity of ways in which it’s possible to say I hate this man seems endless. Again, it’s not a surprise. It’s really very drearily not a surprise. And yet I wonder, who are these people?

I don’t mean, who are they individually? Individually, I can imagine them. It’s the culture I can’t quite wrap my head around, at least not on the basis of the combox sample. It’s a sample which does not appear to include any people who actually plan, or even want, to attend the papal events. It’s a sample vacant of any input from, say, the recording secretary of the Anglican Society of Mary, just back from a pilgrimage to Walsingham. It’s a sample stunningly lacking in the perspectives of people with something to do besides foam at the keyboard.

How many of them are there out there? How many of them would sympathize with the foamers if they had time and internet access, and how many would not? From this geographical remove and through the lens of the internet, it’s impossible to gauge what, exactly, the standards of cultural sanity are in Great Britain, though plenty of people will step up to tell you that those standards are multicultural, tolerant, and areligiously moral in nature, the areligious morality being a far more evolved morality than the religious one, which is why you can say with impunity, under cover of anonymity, anyway, that a person like Pope Benedict XVI is a total waste of space , and you begrudge him his very existence.

That a person can think, and can voice the thought, that another human being, however vile to the thinker, is a waste of space is disturbing. That other people are so ready to elaborate on that theme is chilling, even in the rare Scottish sunshine. Equally chilling, though, I suppose, is how easily the internet comes to stand in for the real world.

That notwithstanding, some related links:

Damian Thompson: Glasgow Mass a Spiritual Triumph. Liturgical Triumph Not So Much.

Papal-Mass Composer Also Excoriated in Combox

Meanwhile, Patrick Ward, blogging at the official papal-visit site, foresees a peaceful day in London , even as the Guardian collects the usual ersatz miracles.

Live-Blogging at The Catholic Herald

Articles by Sally Thomas

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