Thursday, February 4, 2016

SHOULD WE ATTACK RELIGION? (1926)

Editorial from the July 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are still many people who think we made a grave error in publishing our pamphlet, “Socialism and Religion." Some would explain their objection on the grounds of a sentimental regard for the feelings of the weak, or the elderly, who find some sort of consolation in religion. Others regret it on the score that it will lose us voters, and support. It was felt to be a gratuitous smack in the face to an institution comparatively harmless and inoffensive.

There are several answers to these points, most of which are contained in the pamphlet itself, but perhaps two recent happenings, considered entirely without prejudice, will make the position clearer than any amount of abstract reasoning.

To the New Statesman of June 12th, a correspondent sent a letter on “The Churches and the General Strike." In the course of it he quotes from the June number of the Dominican magazine Blackfriars, an article by Father J. B. Reeves, on the relations of Catholics to the State. The italics are the correspondent’s, and the quotation, he says, is merely an example. Here it is :—
We refuse to uphold or assist anything in so far as it repudiates the traditional claim of the Catholic Church in England to be the supreme judge in England of all moral questions that may arise here; and we hold that all economic, social, and political questions are moral questions.
It should be clear from that pronouncement, that we are attacking no harmless survival of the picturesque past; no merely cheerful social centre for the simple and the gentle, the humane and the kindly. No! We launch our offensive at what claims to be the supreme judge of all economic, social and political questions in England, or, for that matter, elsewhere.

But wait a minute. Are there any qualifications to the Catholic Church's modest claim? What would an apologist say ? Would he contend the point was a purely academic one, and could have no validity in practice? In that case, it was not worth making. Would it be urged that it was an arrogant assumption, confined to the Roman Church and its communicants? To that we should reply directing attention to Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords; the noble work of all kinds of Christians in the late Great War, work of a political character, "advocating adhesion and loyalty to King and Country, and conducting parties of fellow Christians into the shambles. Would it be pleaded that the claim of “supreme judge,” is merely a rhetorical flourish—the Catholic Church having no political power— and merely indicates that the "supreme judge” would limit itself to the giving of advice. We have something to say on that head, too. On what ground does the judge expect his advice to be followed? Obviously by the power he wields over those he is judging. And what power does the Catholic Church, or any church, wield over its adherents? In our opinion, that of fear, based on ignorance. The common dislike of death, the sadness of bereavement, the fear of the Unknown, the dread born of ignorance, these are combined and manufactured into a bogey by the Church. Death becomes an obsession, and the Church makes a fat living by trading on the fear of dying. This is the power of the Church over the people, a very real power of which governments have availed themselves, time and again.

But there is one further point. Is the question as stated in the quotation, entirely academic? Those who read Cardinal Bourne’s declaration during the General Strike will be able to answer it themselves. For those who did not, or who have forgotten it, we quote from it the following : —
There is no moral justification for a general strike of this character. It is a direct challenge to a lawfully constituted authority, and inflicts, without adequate reason (his italics), immense discomfort and injury on millions of our fellow countrymen. It is therefore, a sin against the obedience which we owe to God, who is the source of that authority, and against the charity I and brotherly love which are our due to our brethren.
All are bound to uphold and assist the Government, which is the lawfully constituted authority of the country, and represents, therefore, in its own appointed sphere (his italics) the authority of Cod himself (our italics).
So now, with the two quotations, you have a complete philosophy of the function the Church would like to perform in the State. Combine the two, and you get this :—
The Government represents God himself: the general strike is a sin against God: we, the supreme judge of social, political and economic questions charge you with disobedience to God. 
It needs but to add, that the Cardinal’s message appeared in the Government’s strike organ, The British Gazette, of May 12th, for the connection to be seen between religion and government. Anticipating i quibbles about the respective merits, or utterances of Anglican as against the Roman or the Free Churches against either, we submit that it was RELIGION that spoke, and the British Government that utilised it. It was religion that spoke, its voice a little husky with saying the same thing for thousands of years, but religion true and authentic. One can imagine the Cardinal turning a regretful eye on the stacks of thumbscrews, racks and stakes of a more accommodating period, but we wonder whether his philosophy will undergo a subtle change when "a lawfully-constituted Socialist “Government” (forgive the anachronism) succeeds that of the capitalists. May we live to see it; and the Cardinal too.


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