Why We Shouldn’t ‘Do God’

‘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.

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5 Responses to Why We Shouldn’t ‘Do God’

  1. Chris H says:

    The ‘Left’ is a broad church and I think extends beyond the concept of it being an exclusively marxist area. It would be unfair to exclude the positive and progressive work that many people of faith and no faith have done, and are doing and contributing. Faith is more complex than simply a reading of what the established churches, madrassas and temples put out.

    As to faith schools I don’t really care one way or the other, but if a community group or faith group feel that they want their children to grow up aware of their culture and background or in a culture that allows them to then I see no reason why they shouldn’t.

    People’s faith is important to them. It defines communities and gives people an identity.

    I also have difficulty reconciling with the concept of outworked faith being a purely private matter, to be practiced only behind closed doors. It’s never going to happen and would perhaps be going along too much of an authoritarian road to try and enforce such a thing. Imagine a state where the application of marxist thought and principles to one’s particular worldview was made illegal? Or indeed any type of worldview that doesn’t fit with what the establishment views as acceptable? Have we been there before in this world?

    I don’t consider myself a marxist but find myself in agreement with many marxist concepts and principles, but I do consider myself on the ‘left’.

    • vengeanceandfashion says:

      You are right of course that the Left is not exclusively Marxist, and I don’t seek to diminish the achievements of those on the non-Marxist Left.

      I would disagree about faith schools – they are not simply about children growing up aware of their culture or background, they restrict choice to those whose parents have the religion, giving religious organisations (and the religious themselves) a privilege. I see no reason why every school can’t be a secular State school under the democratic control of the local authority with significant input from staff, pupils, parents and other members of the community.

      I don’t propose a banning of the expression of religious views, but I am thoroughly opposed to the privileging of these views – the automatic reflex of the media and authorities to seek out the opinions of unelected priests/rabbis, and also involve them in public bodies. If the CofE want chaplains, they should fund them, the bishops should be kicked out of the House of Lords, the CofE disestablished and there should be no compulsion for public bodies to put themselves out for religious observers in ways they wouldn’t for nonbelievers. It’s not about compelling people not to believe certain things, just levelling the playing field so their views and institutions are not privileged. This wouldn’t require any authoritarianism, just an opening up of public life to those other than the disproportionately influential and powerful religious lobby.

  2. Mary Jane says:

    Tony Blair lied to the country, started a war, silenced the resulting enquiries, charged extortionate amounts for his speeches, now wants to be president of the EU – And he calls himself a Christian?

    • Chris H says:

      He’s called himself a socialist as well. Should everyone define socialism based upon that?

      Look beyond the label, especially those who label themselves. Don’t fall into the trap of stereotyping everyone based on the behaviour of individuals, however famous.

  3. Mary Jane says:

    First of all, my apologies to Chris H. Yes, I have made the point elsewhere about Tony the Tory’s non-socialist brand of socialism, but putting it very lightly, I have reservations about a war criminal telling the world he’s guided by Jesus. And Cardinal Murphy O’Connor was unusually lax on the requirements to become a Roman Catholic, unless of course Blair has been told to flagellate himself and wear a spiky thing as a penance for his sins… Mmmmmm. We can all dream.

    I think Marx pointed out that religion was another tool of the ruling class. This is evident when you consider the Church, which the Queen is currently the head of, pledges allegiance to the Crown, and also has its own form of aristocracy/beuraucracy in which the only opinions that are valid are those of a few priests. By proxy, the Church is an extension of the ruling class, who, since a certain relative of mine was killed in Bosworth, have been a succession of inbreds.

    Anyway, here are some very good reasons why we shouldn’t do religion:
    – Bishops are still busy squabbling over whether to allow gay ordinations, gay marriages, etc. while the rest of us have more pressing matters to sort out.
    – In all this time, the pope has only managed to produce a half-assed, watered down critique of capitalism, which doesn’t propose any practical solution.
    – We cannot allow the right-wing to divide and weaken the working class, which is why we campaign so strongly against the British Nationalist Pansies.
    – Faith schools are a form of segregation. Simple as.
    – The Church is an undemocratic organisation representing the views of a small clique of priests. When was the last time the opinion of a ‘lay-person’ considered valid by the Church?
    – Middle-class parents tend to be more prepared to relocate anywhere they want and suddenly profess whatever faith. It’s what you could call a ‘postcode lottery’, except it is being worked by the middle class, as you very rightly say, regardless of the effects on other children. It’s been something of an issue for the past 4-5 years which the goverment doesn’t seem to have addressed.
    – I have absolutely no problem with creationism or Darwinism, as both are still theories that children should be taught to examine closely and question, thereby developing their reasoning abilities.
    – The Church was prepared to allow and cover up the (sometimes appalling) crimes of some of its priests. We see enough of that in politics as it is.

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