You won’t be hearing it here first but Pope Benedict XVI is coming to town. Last night Conway Hall in Red Lion Square was packed with people debating whether or not his visit should be a State Visit (estimated cost to the tax payer - £12 million). The Central London Humanist Group in partnership with the British Humanist Association and the South Place London Ethical Society hosted the event that Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee chaired. Philosophy professor A.C. Grayling and gay activist Peter Tatchell were for the motion - “The Papal Visit should not be a State Visit” - and Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh and Friar Christopher Jamison argued against. Then it opened to the floor.
I noticed Austen Ivereigh start the evening a mild shade of pale that simmered to pink and boiled over red by the end of the night (this picture was taken at the start of the evening). When he said The Pope was right about condoms – that they don’t prevent the spread of HIV – the floor went wild.
But there was also a strong pro-Pope crowd. I’d say heckling was almost even on both sides.
A.C. Grayling said he was pretty sure The Queen would give him a short answer if he rang her up and asked whether he could have a £12 million four day holiday on account of the fairies living at the bottom of his back garden that he'd privatised and turned into a republic. Someone from the floor said that she might give a different answer if 178 states had officially recognised his “fairy garden”. He replied that if that were the case he would tell Her Majesty that she was using the argumentum ad populum - a fallacious argument that concludes X must be true because Y number of people believe it is: just because millions of people believe something, doesn’t make it true. Later on, when he brought up a similar point on the subject of belief, a heckler pointed out he was straying from the motion.
One girl from the floor said that she found Catholicism empowering; that it enabled her to live out her femininity in a real way. What on earth does that mean? I didn’t get to ask her. Austen Ivereigh said women have power in the Catholic Church – they run schools, abbeys… (The heckling drowned out the rest).
A great evening.
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