What is notable about these protests, however, is that much of them have come from atheist and agnostic organisations, particularly the British Humanist Association (which, in the interests of disclosure, I confess to being a member of). Atheism and agnosticism are growing trends within British society. In 1990, around thirty percent of Britons stated that they were not members of any religion, which has risen in 2007 to slightly under forty-five percent. Admittedly statistics defining who is an atheist are notoriously difficult to trust, owing to the problem of what question to pose (for some reason, "Are you an atheist?" is not simple enough). We can see, however, that numbers of atheists and agnostics are increasing as numbers of church-goers declines. Numbers of 'atheists' and 'Christians' in the UK are relatively even, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey in 2007.
Many of the arguments made by the British Humanist Association centre on the fact that religion holds a too-important role in present society. The BHA claim that religion, and religious issues are, for want of a better word, 'deified'. So far so noble. However, the protests over the visit of Pope Benedict expose a tragic hypocrisy within the atheist movement. Aside from the issue of endemic Church abuse, which emerged as a scandal after the protests to his visit began, there seems to be little justification for the atheist opposition to the Pope's visit. Increasingly, the BHA is playing into the stereotype of 'dogmatic atheists'.
If, as I suspect, the BHA wishes to show that the Pope is an outdated concept, based on superstition and overseeing what is increasingly emerging to be a network of pederasty, then fine. However, by protesting his arrival, it is they who are serving to 'deify' him. A true humanist would not protest the visit of a peaceful old man to any country. In doing so, they succeed only in emphasising his importance. By banning 'Mein Kampf', the German government tacitly implied that the book was so persuasive, that to allow Germans to read it would ensure the return of the Nazis. By protesting against the Pope's visit, the BHA is tacitly indicating that the Pope is so important he should not be allowed to come to the UK. Atheists and agnostics gain much of their strength in argument from refusing to be drawn into theological or scriptural mudslinging. By surrendering this high ground, they greatly inhibit their case.
In 1989, in the midst of the furore over the publication of 'The Satanic Verses', Salman Rushdie stated "It is very, very easy not to be offended by a book. You just have to shut it". Similarly, if you don't want to recognise the importance of someone, it's very, very easy. You just have to ignore them.
As an agnostic, I don't recognise the Pope's authority as either relevant or interesting. I'm sure many in the BHA would agree. But lots of non-relevant and uninteresting people come to Britain each year. It's not very humanist to prevent them. Let the old man come, I say.