‘We don’t do God’ was the famous response of Alistair Campbell when asked by a journalist about Tony Blair’s faith. It was a curious reply given that Blair was quite an open Christian, and his communitarian ideology combined with his support for the idea of ‘faith communities’ significantly influenced public policy, particularly in the realm of public services but also ‘community cohesion’.
Those who agree with Richard Dawkins on the falseness and undesirability of religion (as I do), find the labelling of children as ‘Protestant’, ‘Catholic’, ‘Jewish’ or ‘Muslim’ baffling and objectionable, and can’t understand why Government policy favours the establishment and continuing of denominational schools, also branded ‘faith schools’.
All faith schools manage to do is divide children on the basis of the religion of their parents (real or feigned). The consequences of division are inevitably ignorance, disunity and the potential to ignite or inflame further sectarian conflicts. The clearest example of this is Northern Ireland, though the seperation that seems to have occurred in many northern towns and cities in England such as Bradford is also striking.
It is often said that faith schools achieve better results, and while this is true in a very crude sense, taking into account the social intake they perform no better than comparable schools. This subtle social filtering is mainly because the middle classes ability for deception allows many children of well-connected non-believers to get in.
For some reason, the professed faith of parents is seen as a valid reason for admitting or denying entry to a child. This leads only to deception, and deception and working the system is what the middle classes do best, without any thought about the effects on any children other than their own.
Although a ‘compulsory act of worship’ is demanded of all State schools daily, most schools seem to ignore this completely, or claim that the quiet during morning registration qualifies. I have little problem with this breach of rules, and have little problem with the study of religion as a cultural phenomenon or a set of ideas to be taken apart and criticised.
The problem is that in faith schools the children are likely to have their time wasted by engaging in more religious activities. I don’t know the extent to which this succeeds in brainwashing the children, I suspect it doesn’t in any meaningful way, except to perhaps reinforce the idea they will have at home that being religious is the normal, default position. As well as all this there is an issue of creationists in the classroom, which Blair disgracefully defended on the grounds of ‘diversity’.
Now diversity is all fine when there are a wide range of possible views on a subject – in a university it would be valuable for academics to hold a wide range of philosophical groundings for example – but where the science or history is uncontested by all reasonable people it makes no sense. Would Blair defend a holocaust-denying history teacher on the same grounds?
It’s my view that we on the Left shouldn’t do God. By this I mean we should leave pandering to religion to the liberals. Despite what many on the Left seem to want to think, possibly out of an opportunistic desire to recruit members of religions, Marxism is atheistic and materialist. There is no room for God or supernatural silliness. Yes, we accept why people still adhere to religious belief. It is “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world”.
But the material realities underlying religious belief does not mean religion is a thing to be defended or celebrated. While there are undoubtedly some excellent Leftists who are also religious, in general religion acts as a break on action in this world. It plays a backward, reactionary role.
I like Splintered Sunrise, a blogger who never fails to illuminate and amuse, and Tendance Coatesy, who campaigns vigorously against the disgusting ‘welfare reforms’ of New Labour. But they represent extreme, non-Marxist positions on religion – Splintered Sunride a defence of religion, and Coatesy a sometimes unhealthy obsession with denoucing Islam.
The Marxist position is a basic secularist one. Religion should plays no role in public life, except in the sense that it informs individuals moral and ethical decisions. Even then, it should play no role in the political decisions of elected representatives for socialist organisations – moral and ethical questions such as abortion, assisted suicide and embryo research are intensely political issues first and foremost, and the idea of a free ‘conscience’ vote fails to recognise this, and decouples morality and ethics from their material and political basis.
People are, and should always be allowed to continue to, hold private beliefs on all sorts of matters. But it is a straw man of awesome proportions to suggest that the so-called ‘militant atheists’ want to stop people believing. They would rather people embraced a secular, rational view of the world, as would I. Unlike them, I don’t believe that will be possible until we have eliminated all the horrors that still understandably drive people to religion.