Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

You Have To Laugh

The thing that bothers me most about the Pope isn't anything he's said or done (we all make mistakes and have silly beliefs) but that people will turn out in their thousands to be in his general vicinity- simply because of what he is. Look at him; there's very little there to detain us. He's old, he's ugly, he doesn't have his predecessor's bully-boy charisma, nor any particular vibe of holiness; he has nothing very interesting to say- and clearly knows very little about the culture he presumes to address- and when he speaks he mumbles- reading from a script. If he were not the pope- not dignified by office- but just the elderly professor he would have been if he hadn't been so ambitious you wouldn't give him a second glance.

One of the things he's been saying is that the decay of faith begets tyranny. Actually no. I couldn't disagree more. The habit of faith- the taking of things on trust- the deferring to a person dressed up like a Christmas tree just because he has a high-sounding title- is what begets tyranny. National Socialism went down a storm in Benedict's native Bavaria because they were already soused in the flamboyantly theatrical, authoritarian, sickly-sweet, plaster and gold leaf culture of Tridentine Catholicism. Tyrants down the ages have used religion as a handy tool (often despising it as they did so) and clerics- in very great numbers- in spite of the faith they're supposed to have in something quite different- have been only too happy to crown them and bless their flags and sometimes- even- their execution squads.

The one thing most likely to stop a tyranny from gaining a grip is the cultivation- in the individual- of a lively, sceptical, irreverent intelligence.  We defend ourselves against power by highlighting its absurdity, and refusing to accord a man especial respect because he has a costume and a title. Benedict- who has been an inquisitor, a censor and a scourge of independent thinkers -  has spent most of his career enforcing conformity and repressing the one thing that best guarantees our freedom. Driving down our streets in his funny little car, conducting his open air spectaculars, he is doing what tyrants and the friends of tyrants have always done; he is using theatrics to overawe us and boot us into line.  This being Britain- with its longstanding history of finding important people funny- he's not likely to have much success. Even so, we owe it to ourselves to keep up the great tradition- and laugh and point. The price of freedom is eternal mockery.
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