I wasn’t able to follow all the news, never mind all the news-analysis and pundit chatter, about the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK this past week. I knew it was happening, and had a sense of its historic character. I saw some headlines about the major events and reactions.

Rolling around in the back of my mind has been that constant blogger’s question, “Do I have anything worth saying about that?”

I never gave it my full attention, but the possible-blog ideas that came into mind were all pretty Protestant. No fan of the Oxford Movement or its effects, I felt a little irked about the symbolic date chosen for the Newman Beatification. All the ceremony and pageantry of papal visits leaves me cold. I have a lot of sympathy for Roman Catholic culture at the popular level, but the official stuff makes me feel belligerently low-churchy. The tension surrounding a face-to-face meeting between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury made me think of about fifty punch-lines for fifty snotty jokes. In general, as a deeply satisfied free church evangelical Protestant, a lot of funny quips have flashed through my mind. Hate to waste funny quips.

But then I couldn’t ignore the “protest the pope” invective, which got louder and more insistent. Protesters making up nasty slogans, holding up signs with “messiah” mis-spelled, voicing their outrage that things like Popes are permitted on their British soil. I don’t even want to describe the scope of these things. It has been extremely ugly.

And through all this, Benedict’s leading message has been a high-level critique of the aggressive secularism that has such a death-grip on the British mind. It’s a powerful argument, and he’s honed it very well over the years. I’ve been reading Benedict since he was Ratzinger; since he was just a theologian. Of course he’s said lots of other, capital-R capital-C Roman Catholic stuff, but the main point he’s been driving home has been his sustained, principled critique of the secular ideology of the contemporary world.

It seems to me that my interests are being represented by the Pope. What I mean is, the reproaches that fall on him are also directed at me and mine. When the tribes of village atheists come out to the streets with their postmodern versions of “écrasez l’infâme,” they are not upset about the things that divide my Protestant principles from his Catholic commitments. These semi-literate stepchildren of Voltaire simply hate religion, period, and want it all to go away. They lash out at the Pope because he’s famous, he’s said Christian things in public, and now has dared to come near enough to yell at. That’s mere Christian hate there.

So here’s what I learned from the public reaction to the Papal visit. I have a lot of objections to the distinctive elements of Roman Catholic theology. It occurs to me to blog them, or say them, or bring them up on this occasion. But that would be stupid. The Pope protesters are protesting me and my church as well. He’s using his platform to deliver my message to that hostile crowd, and I’m grateful for that.

Besides, when the last king is hung with the entrails of the last priest, I would rather be found among the blessed dead than in the howling crowd trying to shout “sola scriptura” over the deafening roar of “to hell with religion.”

Articles by Fred Sanders

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