Perhaps you don’t know who Richard Dawkins is. I do, because I am a devout atheist and I wrote my high school senior thesis on militant atheism – “atheism which is actively hostile to religion.” The modern leaders of the movement, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, ascended to the ideological forefront in a flurry of anti-religious publication in 2006-7.
But after achieving a decent amount of exposure and headline coverage by virtue of the shockingly heretical position they espoused, the public acclimatized to the anti-religious accusation and hostility and went back to ignoring militant atheism. The problem is that it isn’t a particularly rational debate, faith being, at its core, the relinquishment of the rational. So once Dawkins and the others had made all of their best points, and caused a bit of a stir among people who follow this sort of thing, most of the world just laughed and said, “Yes, but you’re forgetting about faith. Have fun in Hell.”
But Dawkins is mobilizing again, in what is unquestionably (as I alluded to in the title) the most radical atheist move ever. The Pope is scheduled to make a visit to Britain in September to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, and Dawkins is going to try to get him arrested for “crimes against humanity.” This comes in the midst of a renewed suspicion of institutional leniency regarding child molestation within the church:
“The Pope was embroiled in new controversy this weekend over a letter he signed arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be considered against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys. It was dated 1985, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases” (Times Online). Dawkins and Hitchens have now enlisted the help of barrister Geoffrey Robertson and solicitor Mark Stephens in persuading the Crown Prosecution Service to “initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope.”
Never afraid of criticizing the religious establishment or its leaders, Dawkins last week called the Pope, “A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.”
Hitchens, in a more pragmatic, less rhetorical statement, said: “This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalized concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.” The team is hoping to show that because the Vatican is not a state recognized by the United Nations, the Pope does not qualify as a diplomatic head of state, and as such, is not immune to legal prosecution.
“There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring,” said Stephens. “Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature.”
This move is clearly more about publicity and public criticism than about actually arresting the Pope. Even if they somehow manage to get a warrant for his arrest, the Vatican will simply cancel the trip to Britain. This would, of course, be a huge step for atheism and an enormous blow to the religious hegemony and infallibility that has reigned for centuries, but I rather doubt it will actually come to pass. There would simply be too much public outcry the world over if the British government took legal action against the church’s direct line to God. But still, it’s an interesting, provocative, and I believe necessary gesture. There are many things that faith can justify, but institutionalized rape is not one of them.