Given my absence (a combination of personal hurtles, final exams, and studies abroad), I just wanted to, quite literally, do a “roundup” of recent religion-infused news worldwide for this piece.
Firstly, in another in a series of global victories (although certainly alongside losses, as in North Carolina last month) for the queer rights movement, the coalition government in the United Kingdom has spoken in favor of granting equal marriage rights to homosexual and heterosexual couples after years of only allowing the former to obtain civil partnerships. Heresy! Outrage! The Church of England retorts: “[Our] unique place in the current marriage law of England means that the proposals will have a very significant impact on our ability to serve the people of the nation as we have always done.” Read: introducing equality would threaten their privileged (and indeed unpopular among British citizenry) position in the UK government. Their fear, unfortunately, seems unfounded. British Humanist Association leader Andrew Copson wrote a brilliant and succinct response to the notion that the new law would rift the church and state, although I think there’s another element of the debate he doesn’t quite mention: the role of the monarchy. Indeed, even if most of her power is encapsulated in symbolism, if the recent overcoverage has Diamond Jubilee has shed light upon anything of substance, it’s how much people in Britian, and even moreso it seems elsewhere (cough, America), are infatuated with the Queen. Still the supreme leader of the CoE, and still the recipient of undying reverence from much of Parliament, Elizabeth II, despite however much Kennedyesque irresponsibility plagues the Family, remains a figurehead of both religious and cultural-political life in the UK. And again, as Andrew makes good note of, it would be an entirely popular move to segregate the CoE from the English government—yet if this is going to happen, the first step would be to separate the Queen from this oddly prevalent appreciation of the fairy-tale conception of the monarchy, not to modernize the institution of marriage.
Looking southward in Europe, France—where I’m June-ing (does that work? I think it works), in an Alpine village near Lyon—is in the midst of a parliamentary election process in the wake of its presidential shift from the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy to the socialist François Hollande. The primary question asked of this week’s election is whether or note President-elect Hollande will garner the parliamentary sway to move forward with Socialist fiscal policies—essentially, will the left earn a majority vote in the legislature. French Catholics are already outraged with Hollande’s intentions with regard to social policy—as he seeks to follow David Cameron on same-sex marriage policy as well as “cut government funding to religious schools”. All together now: Heresy! Outrage! Cue “Justify My Love”.
Thousands of Catholics took to the Parisian streets in protest (incidentally, Hollande hasn’t even been inaugurated yet, let alone won enough traction in parliament to implement any of these promises). France is pretty demographically interesting, though: while around 51% of French identify as Catholic, only about 5% admit to regularly attending Mass. Non-practicing doesn’t necessitate a liberal view on social issues, but it certainly implies that the Catholic population is incredibly politically diverse in France (indeed, Hollande was elected by popular vote), so the protest of some doesn’t mean the support of the many. Even in institutionalized traditions, opinions are not uniform—so liberal social policy change is still, indeed a likely, possibility for France.
One more story, this one still within Catholicism but down in the hub-”nation” of the Vatican: a group of nuns from US shores are to be brought before the head of the Doctrine Office to answer for the crime of…feminism! They, evidently, sought a more progressive view on social issues. Speaking with fantastic reason, and with exactly the same criticism I would lift, the nuns of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious have countered the claim that their efforts are too “radical” by noting how damn important it is for the US Church to regain footing amid the still not-infrequent sexual abuse cases among the “celibate” clergy. Calling into question the progressive actions of a few nuns has “caused scandal and pain…and greater polarization” within the community, they hold, and although the Vatican is allegedly hoping for a “constructive conversation” on the issue, the femi-nuns seem steadfast in their efforts to progressivize Church and steer it in a direction of acting as a force for good in the world, which indeed involves acting in the face of much of Holy See policy. Once again—it may be institutionalized, it may have a Head (with a big hat) and an administration and a doctrine, but even Catholicism accounts for a wide range of opinions and values. Change, away from some of the most narrow-minded and wicked policies of the last few decades, may be in the Church’s nearsights.
Walker Bristol is an undergraduate studying religion and linguistics at Tufts University, and is the president of the Tufts Freethought Society. Originally from North Carolina, Walker was raised in a largely Quaker community before exploring several Christian traditions throughout high school and ultimately becoming a secular humanist at age 15. Walker is currently studying abroad in Talloires, France, and working as the Communications and Marketing Intern for the Foundation Beyond Belief. Alongside fellow NPS panelist Chelsea Link, he is a contributing editor to The Unelectables, covering religious minorities and atheists in the 2012 election. And along with fellow Tufts Freethought member Lauren Rose, Walker hosts the internet radio show FreethoughtCast. In addition to being involved in secular student activism, Walker is a hobbyist musician, ballroom dancer, and self-proclaimed sci-fi geek. He tweets nonsense @GodlessWalker.