Thursday, March 27, 2008

Religion: The Ally of the Left

"Religion cannot but now find itself in conflict with the unfettered rule of money - a capitalism that seeks to dominate exactly the social and personal arena which religion has always regarded as its own preserve. And as it becomes less useful as an ideological prop for power, religion's more radical and anti-establishment strains have become stronger. That is the context in which, for example, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela declares Jesus as the first socialist and Che Guevara-style images of the founder of Christianity are carried on demonstrations in Caracas."

You can read more of Seumas Milne (above)'s excellent, and extremely important essay on how religion is now an ally of radical social change, here. Regular readers will know that I have long called for the left to ditch its antipathy to religion- such a step is I believe, crucial in helping to build a left-right anti-neoliberal, anti-neocon alliance.

Of course it's true that for much of its history, organised religion has been on the side of the oppressors. But as Seumas argues, things have moved on: the big enemy of the progressive cause today is not religion but global capital. And in its battle with the 'unfettered rule of money', the left can find common ground with religion.

Such an alliance is already being forged in South America. And the results, from an electoral point of view have been impressive.
"For decades, the Left's atheistic, socially liberal approach - in a devoutly religious, conservative continent - proved a handicap when it came to building up the mass public support necessary to supplant pro-US, right-wing regimes. But now that it has found an ally as powerful as God in its opposition to Washington-backed neo-liberalism, there really could be no stopping it",
I wrote in late 2006.

And there could be no stopping the European Left too, if it follows suit.


Anonymous said...

I see Galloway attacked the opening of betting shops on Good Friday on religious grounds in Monday's "Daily Record". As did Peter Hitchens in the "Mail on Sunday" the previous day.

How long before any alliance you and Milne might approve of starts attacking or eliminating your "shibboleths"?

Ofcause, god exists and the Soviet system was wonderful, so any other leap of faith might seem credible to some people.

Anonymous said...

I hate to write this because I agree with almost everything you write, particularly about Serbia and NATO, but this is one area I think you are dead wrong.

Not only is there no evidence supporting God's existence, the entire weight of evidence disprove's His existence. There is as much evidence, ie, nothing at all, that God exists as there is of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Whether or not religion is socially valuable, which I don't think it is, has nothing to do with whether or not it is true. But in any event, no socially responsible policy can be based on dubious and conclusively contradictory evidence.

Even worse, just like GW bush, religion is antiscience. When Jenner developed the small pox vaccine, which might be the greatest achievement in human history, the church did its best to stop vaccinations because they claimed it violated God's law.

Ulitimately, science and religion can't coexist. And science has done more to benefit human than any other human activity. Lifespans have dramatically increased because of people like Darwin and Koch, not because of priests.

Instead of writing a post about how the left should ally itself with religion, I would have preferred a post about how the left should do its best to promote universal education, particularly in science. Universal education and universal health care are the great social equalizers, and the left should lean on those two pillars, not religion.

olching said...

I'm willing to accept that a lot of good radical movements go on within religious communities, and yes, South America is a good example (as are of course Muslim movements), and yes, they are evident here and in Europe. But the problem with this alliance is that it's an uneasy one.

Some of the morals and ethics are devoutly anti-capitalist (excuse the pun), and as such it's useful, but, Neil, I'm an atheist. I mean sod the hairsplitting between agnosticism and atheism: I'm a practicing atheist. I live my life as an atheist and ont as if, possibly, perhaps there may be a god. And that's a potential conflict surely. An difficult one at that.

In the end the question arises not just what we are against (I can see that alliance working) but what ought to replace it. That's where the conflict arises.

Religion has caused so much harm and continues to do so. Some of the anti-capitalist, radical stuff is attractive, but then show me a picture of Catholic priests in Africa preaching and I'm reminded again why I'm sceptical.

Anyway, I'm open-minded so convince me it's not merely an alliance of circumstance.

Nick said...

The trouble with organised religion is that it's exclusive, not inclusive. 'I (a person of religion) am saved and therefore superior to and more worthy than you (a person of no religion) who will rot in hell - therefore I matter and you don't'. That makes it, I think, a strange and uneasy bedfellow for socialism: not for me thanks.

Anonymous said...

The most shocking thing about this article, is the absolute torrent of ill informed abuse and pseudo -criticism it has received on Comment is free.
I ultimately believe that if there is a crisis in contemporary religion (which due to its inherant contradictions there must be) the left ought to highlight these inconsistancies, and encourage people to adopt more practical methods of criticism nd struggle, than prayer.
However as I said earlier the author of the article, makes an interesting point in an interesting way. And it is a shame that so many people use 'comment is free' to add an ill informed opinion, or manipulated criticism, onto the bottom of someone elses work.

Martin Meenagh said...

That was a good and thoughtful article Neil, and a good blog post, which made me think.

However, I wonder if those parts of the left that look back to 1789, and the detonation of the French Revolution, or those who come from the lifestyle and identity debates of 1968 will every have any real time for the logic of Catholicism, or for pentacostalist populism, or for protestant charities.

For that matter, how many have even contemplated the secular case against abortion, or unrestrained embryology, or for refusing to hang human identities and moral dignity upon a sexual practice?

I welcome Seumas Milne's article and the alliance he suggests, but it may be that parts of the Left's head explode unless someone points out (better than I've tried to do on my blog) how coherent a system many religious beliefs offer, and how subtle.

Still, thanks for making me think, again! This is really an excellent blog.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Neil.

It's rather sad to see the usual blah-blah-arguments of militant atheism wheeled out among the comments here. ("Ulitimately, science and religion can't coexist",etc, etc..)

Oh please!

Surely, anyone who can say this either doesn't understand science or doesn't understand religion. (Or, most probably, both!)

Anonymous said...

"Surely, anyone who can say this either doesn't understand science or doesn't understand religion. (Or, most probably, both!)"

93% of the National Academy of Scientists are atheists. It is the greatest collection of scientific minds the world has ever known. Linus Pauling was a raging atheist, and probably the greatest scientist in the past 100 years. But I guess according to "Anonymous", if that's your real name, these great scientists don't understand science.

As far as understanding religion, does Anonymous believe in Santa Claus or in Apollo? Maybe if you only "understood" them, you too would believe.

Anonymous said...

That 93% of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists is a fact of sociological interest.

It establishes nothing about the relationship between science and religion. For that arguments are required and I am afraid none are offered.

Meanwhile, I would challenge anyone to suggest that any broad category, like religion, used to capture a range of understandings, beliefs and practices that has not been the cause of both good and ill.

For example, the appliance of science has given us both antibiotics and the atom bomb, central heating and climate change.

The important point is to identify those forces within religion strive for equity and justice and build the appropriate alliances.

The pragmatic truth is that outside a narrow range of countries (mainly Western Europe) the religious are in the ascendancy...

Charlie Marks said...

Good article. As an agnostic socialist of Catholic upbringing I've had very few negative experiences with people of faith. What matters however is not one's beliefs but rather actions...

It was good to hear that the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke out against imperialist wars in his Easter message, and the Bishop of Rochester spoke out against the greed of high-earners, calling for them to give to charity.

Incidentally, the best film of Jesus' life is "The Gospel According to St Matthew" which was directed by Pier Pablo Pasolini who was a committed Marxist. I mention this because Mel Gibson's ultra-violent Passion was premiered on UK television this Easter. Watching it was a most unpleasant experience...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately you can also apply that logic to fascism.
Just because it occasionally does something right (buses running on time, full employment) doesn't make it worth supporting in the hope that such sentiments will prevail.
Recently the Catholic cChurch declared excessive wealth to be a mortal sin, despite the obvious hipocrisy, this also lays bare the weakness of theology. An attempt to explain both moral behaviour and the scientific world with works written in gnorance.
Any progressive tendencies in the Church will always be countered by the conservative elements. We ought to acknowledge the former (the way Lenin did with Father Gapon, when the rest of the Russian left shunned him) but there is a big difference between mutual acknowledgement, and endorsing ideas that we fundamentally find untenable.
but, that's why they call it faith..

Anonymous said...

Vladimir Gagic said: "93% of the National Academy of Scientists are atheists. It is the greatest collection of scientific minds the world has ever known."

So what? This does nothing to support your assertion that "science and religion can't coexist", does it?

(I might just as well say that 100%of ordained Christian ministers believe in God. In this particular context it would be exactly the same non-argument, wouldn't it?)

Interesting, though, that 7% of the National Academy of Science are NOT atheists. But perhaps you think that those "great scientific minds" who do believe (and yes, there are some!) exist in a kind of intellectual haze where one half of their being is "unable to coexist" with the other??

(BTW: I shouldn't really have to explain this, but "anonymous" is not (and makes no claim to be) my "real name". Rather it is a nice little word which indicates that a writer is choosing not to reveal his/her identity.)

RightDemocrat said...

The Left needs to do more to reach to those with more traditional moral and religious values. Unfortunatley, the U.S. left has been preoccupied with everything except economic justice for working families. The focus is far too much on a narrow libertine agenda on the social issues and identity politics.

Social democratic movements have much to offer but often package themselves in a manner that is offensive to your typical working class-lower middle class American. Many average Americans who may have bought into the free market-corporate propaganda are now beginning to question the trickle down economic policies of the past 27 years. I would like to see a mainstream social democratic movement that would focus on economic justice rather than the social issues which divide the American working class-middle class.

Douglas said...

Speaking of religion, I have some confessions to make. I don't know how to pronounce Seumas's name. I've never met him, but I've seen him mentioned here positively a number of times.

I also confess that I don't believe in permanent alliances between religious and political groups. In 20th Century America, Christian groups have been allied with the left some times, and with the right at other times. Like any other constituency, we go where we're invited, and stay where we're well treated.

olching said...

Douglas, it's Shay-mus.

Anonymous said...

Pope Benedict yesterday (2008-04-16) in the United States:

“I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society.”

Oh dear, another 'bright idea' would appear to have bitten the dust.