Perhaps the Pope does have a point; maybe secularists should be more tolerant. Like the Vatican, perhaps we should tolerate child molestation, Holocaust denial, homophobia, prevention of condom use and the spread of STDs, misogyny, cover-ups, holy wars, forced conversions, slavery and torture.
If this is tolerance, then I am proud to be a bigot. The sheer hypocrisy of the Pope is breathtaking, but of course it is not surprising. The Pontiff, who claims infallibility and to be the Vicar of Christ on earth, has also blamed the horrors of Nazism on secularism (despite the connection between the Vatican and Nazi Germany) and has himself been involved in the cover-up of the sexual enslavement of children, all while claiming the moral high ground. And to be promoting morality whilst gorging millions of Euros from a country on the verge of economic collapse is just a slap in the collective face of Spain.
Everywhere he goes, the Pope seems to single out secularism for special attention. He blames it for the totalitarianisms of the 20th century, and warns of its modern "aggression" leading to a repeat of the past. But why pick on the secularists so much? What has the Pope got to fear?
Secularism has no overarching ideology (in fact, it is not an ideology at all), but it does have one core principle: the separation of Church and State. This does not mean restriction on the private practice of religion, or banning politicians from letting their faith guide them in public office. It is about removing the levers of government from religious institutions. This principle is captured beautifully in The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which the United States is lucky enough to have. Archbishop Charles Chaput chooses to see this as "a kind of unofficial state atheism", even though it is simply about keeping religion out of politics.
As Sam Harris has pointed out, secular countries tend to be the most successful. Countries like Norway, Iceland and Australia are among the least religious nations, and are shown by the United Nations' Health Report (2005) to lead the world in life expectancy, adult literacy, education and gender equality. They also allow their citizens to practice their religion freely.
Going by this information, some may wonder why the Pope continues to pick on secularism. Well, it is certainly not because of its benefits, but rather, the core principle of secularism - the separation of Church and State - is directly at odds with the bureaucratic make up of the Vatican.
The Vatican has established itself as a sovereign State (recognised by the United Nations), has an estimated wealth to be between $US10 billion and $US15 billion, and has established diplomatic relations with 179 countries (a figure higher than the United States). Its head of State is the Pope, who exercises political power along with his subordinates. It is, by any definition, a theocracy, and is completely at odds with the notion of secular democracy.
The Pope knows all too well that secularism is no threat to the well-being of society. Rather, it is a threat to the influence of Catholicism and the political organs of the Vatican. Secularism is not aggressive, but it is certainly not tolerant of theocratic bullying from a bronze age institution that acts as a factory for paedophiles. If anything is aggressive, it is exploiting an obscene amount of money and power to force countries to adopt the damaging and barbaric doctrines of the Catholic Church. Perhaps secularists should exercise a bit of aggression against the world's most destructive bureaucracy.