An interfaith take on the Pope’s visit

Will the Pope address the impact that the Enlightenment has had on his Church?

I am particularly interested in relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. With a papal visit to Britain imminent, I wish to reflect on what Pope Benedict XVI has to say -- and, sometimes, on what he doesn't say -- about the relationship between Christianity and other faiths.

Even though he hasn't yet arrived, there has been a great deal of publicity about the Pope's response to the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church; discussions about the state of relations between Rome and Canterbury; coverage of the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church; as well as concerns expressed by people of other faiths about the extent to which the Bishop of Rome acknowledges (if indeed he does at all) the validity of their faith.

I doubt if the Pope will say much about any of these explicitly -- however much journalists would like him to -- but we can try to read the tea leaves when he makes his addresses and delivers his sermons. One thing we can be sure of is that Benedict XVI will warn us of the dangers of secularism, which, he will argue, undermines religion as well as the authority of the Church. He will emphasise Catholic Truth over and against what he will describe as the dangers of atheistic society and moral anarchy.

This is one way of seeing what has happened in western civilisation over the past 400 years, since the Enlightenment. The Pope is not a fan of the Enlightenment. At best, he suggests it is a mixed blessing and hostile to religious belief. In this, he is joined by other religious leaders.

But where would we be without the Enlightenment? As a Jew, I know where I would be: back in the ghetto.

Of course, it is not only Jews who owe a great deal to the Enlightenment. My Muslim friends and colleagues would still be known as Moors or Saracens, an epithet that the chroniclers of the Crusades applied to Muslims. In other words, without the Enlightenment, minority religious groups -- let alone those of no faith -- would have remained in the Middle Ages.

Without the Enlightenment, there would be no human rights nor democracy, but there would be continued Christian anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, persecution of gays and so on.

I don't expect that the Pope will acknowledge that many of the great advances in our society that have been made in the past 400 years have come secularism and the forces of the Enlightenment, not from religion. But I do expect him to address how Catholics should live with the consequences of the Enlightenment.

Some traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church -- such as members of the Society of St Pius X, home of the Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson, among others -- reject all the values of the Enlightenment. They condemn the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which was a defining event for Catholicism in the 20th century and a turning point in the history of Jewish-Catholic relations as well as Catholic relations with other faiths.

Vatican II was convened for the purpose of aggiornamento or "updating", and it was in the spirit of Enlightenment that that the council initiated Church reform in a number of areas, including interfaith relations. According to the latest surveys, most Catholics in the UK would like to see more application of the values of the Enlightenment, such as an increased role for women.

So, one thing I expect to learn in the next few days is where the Pope stands on this, the tension between religion and the Enlightenment. In the UK, he will be walking a tightrope between traditionalists who reject the consequences of the Enlightenment and the majority of Catholics, who would like to see Enlightenment values more deeply embedded in the Church.

This will have implications for the role of women in the Church, relations with fellow Christians, fellow believers and fellow humans. Yes, all of us.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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