Saturday 18 September 2010

The Pope and Atheist Identity Politics

Unlike many of my internet-travelling contemporaries who flit around the liberal left, I am not that exercised by the Pope's visit to Britain. Yes, the Catholic Church can hardly be placed on the side of reason and progress (let alone situated in the camp of the working class). Yes, the church has systematically covered up child abuse. Yes, the church has given succour to mass murdering dictatorships. Yes, its regressive stance on contraception, reproductive rights and sexuality supply ammunition to misogynists and homophobes the world over. Yes, the former Joseph Alois Ratzinger is famous for nudging Catholic theology in a more conservative direction. Yes, the Pope was daft to recently liken atheists to Nazis. And yes, the purported £10m cost of the state visit could have been spent on better things.

But there has been something deeply unsettling about the chorus of criticism that's met the Pope's trip. I have absolutely no problem with polemic and critique. For example, last week's
Peter Tatchell documentary was absolutely right to shine a light on the murky corners of the church and its "infallible" head. But what I am not comfortable with, and neither should any socialist, is the *glee* with which sections of the commentariat and their cheerleaders in blogland and Twitter have been attacking Catholicism. It might be a cliche, but if you can substitute Catholic for Muslim or Jew in these diatribes and have it come out sounding Islamophobic, anti-semitic and downright racist, chances are you have anti-papal bigotry decked out in fashionable modern dress. Just look at these examples from today's protest.

Much of the recent round of criticism directed toward the Pope and Catholicism generally is framed in terms of the so-called 'New Atheism' as propounded by Richard Dawkins and a cohort of sympathetic (minor) media personalities. As we have
seen before, Dawkins' The God Delusion suffers from the ideas delusion. In the name of philosophical materialism, Dawkins believes religion can be combatted and neutralised by reasoned argument. It's just a matter of everyone be converted to logical thinking and hey presto! All that's left is a (holy) ghost of religious belief.

This is plain dumb. The appeal of religion is deeply rooted in the alienation and atomisation consistently and systematically produced by capitalist relations of production. It is not a matter of being brainwashed or too thick to pierce the sacred aura of His Holiness. As I clumsily put it a few years ago, "when people are atomised, individuated and powerless, the belief we are only feathers buffeted by a divine wind
can make more sense than salvation lying in our own self-activity as beings capable of consciously making history." Polemicising against religion makes for jolly interesting and entertaining debates, but it does nothing to erode its place in capitalism's ideological pantheon.

Not that this matters to some. For many among the most vocal, atheism has become the new identity politics of the liberal intelligentsia. Their atheism is derived not from a desire to change the world but speaks to feeling smug, superior, enlightened and oh so clever. I wasn't surprised to see many of the media luvvies, bloggers and tweeters most vociferous in their opposition to the Pope are the same arbiters of political and moral rectitude who had a field day condemning people who thought Raoul Moat was "a legend", were quick to castigate BNP voters in the European elections, fell over themselves to brand the Lindsey Oil Refinery workers 'racist', and cheerfully put the boot into Jade Goody over the Shilpa Shetty incident. It doesn't really matter what the issue was, each provided an occasion for establishing clear distance between their educated and "progressive" selves and an ignorant, reactionary mass; an 'other' all too often identified with the (white) working class.

Call it what you like, but a great deal of this new atheism is being used as an excuse for good old-fashioned bigotry.

See also Harpymarx, Socialist Unity, Liam, and Luna17.


Lukeroelofs said...

"if reading these diatribes you can at any time substitute Catholic for Muslim or Jew and have it come out sounding Islamophobic, anti-semitic and downright racist then you have anti-papal bigotry decked out in fashionable modern dress. Just look at these examples from today's protest."

But none of those examples seem to even use the word 'Catholic', nor have I personally seen anyone attacking 'Catholicism' or 'Catholics'.

To me there seems to be a fairly big difference between attacking a group of people and attacking an institution and its leader. Being anti-Pope is more like being anti-Islamic Republic of Iran or anti-Israeli-government.

Though I agree on 'the ideas delusion' and the basic impotence of intellectual criticism to make a significant average change in people's beliefs.

All about me.... said...

An excellent, insightful and thoughful entry. Thoroughly enjoyed that and dare i say it....amen brother!

Eddie Truman said...

Hallelujah, praise the Lord, someone with a sensible position on the Pope's visit.

Jim Denham said...

Thius is possibly the stupidist comment you have ever published. Your linkage of the Raul Moat fans, Jade Goody-haters, critics of the Lindsaey oil refinery strike, makes no sense whatsoever. The first group were nutters, plain and simple: the other two at least had a rational case to make (and I say that as a supporter of the Linsey strikers). It strikes me that you're joining in with the fashionably soft-on-religion chorus of the Guardianistas and Respecft/SWP. If you accept that the Pope and the Church he heads up, represent a thoroughly reactionary, anti-women, anti-gay and anti-working class force in the world, then what's wrong with protesting? In fact, it's just a pity that much of the left is so soft on religion in general and Catholicism in particular.

Asp said...

As opposed to the Roman Catholic Church which has nothing to do with 'good old-fashioned bigotry'?

Not to mention the fact that there's a difference between being bigoted towards a marginalized and prosecuted group like the Muslims (in the West), and towards a group in power, who wields significant influence over politics and people's lives in Catholic countries and uses that influence to restrict human rights. (In my country the law on artificial insemination was drafted to be in accordance with Catholic teachings - forcing many couples to seek infertility treatment in neighbouring countries and completely denying the chance for parenthood to others, like single and widowed women - and 'sex education' in some state primary schools teaches children that homosexuality is an aberration and masturbation is a sin.)

In much of Europe RCC is a state-supported religion with wide-ranging influence and power. So, you know, it's not exactly like being bigoted towards Muslims or Jews.

uni-talian said...

Love you've posted something I actually feel qualified to opine upon and, despite having dissed the Pope's diatribe @ I broadly agree with your conclusions.

I disagree however in the totality of "the appeal of religion is deeply rooted in the alienation and atomisation consistently and systematically produced by capitalist relations of production", although I don't doubt this may often be the case - the USSR appears to demonstrate that atheism can be "learned".

Yet I suspect that even within the most perfect Socialist society, having dispensed with need and exploitation, people would still ask - is this it?

IMHO the human condition - the human dilemma - transcends human solutions. Nothing we build can save us from the existential abyss. People respond to this in different ways, largely according to their personality - philosophy will work for some, but only religion, with its transcendental quality, will make sufficient sense to others, regardless of the hegemony.

Anonymous said...

When the Pope was picked my father sat watching the TV, and then the history of the pope came up about his service in the German Military and a picture of the young pope, my old man nearly fell out of his chair, he shouted I know him we served in the same gunnery Unit, well I'll be dammed.

For me I do not particularly care about where he goes I do think the money should have come from the church not the hard working tax payers who have so much to do paying the welfare bill.

Andrew Coates said...


I agree with most of what your points.

Just to add a trinity.

Firstly, I really don't like the idea of interfering with religious ceremonies - which seemed at one point to be a possibility.

Secondly, for anyone, particularly secularists, to go on about child abuse is very risky and pretty distasteful - we all known what people think about paedophiles generally.

This issue was, btw, the main story mentioned on France-Inter this morning - not the secular protests other issues. Which illustrates the way it's seen in the wider world.

Thirdly, the more Benedict and the political supporters of religion go on about faith's merits the mroe I regret not being at the London Demo.

James Bloodworth said...

Why are you being more leniant to the Pope than to Nick Griffin? The Pope's view that homosexuality is an 'intrinsic moral evil' is different to Nick Griggin's view of blacks how exactly? Apart of course from one being 'devine' and the other not.

Dawkins does not in any way seek to prevent people from practicing their religion - he only seeks to stop religious believers imposing their nonsense on the rest of us. Unfortunately in our time that seems somehow to be going to far; and it is those on the left kicking up the biggest stink!! Amazing!

Believers on the other hand have a long history of pushing the rest of us around, and are continually trying to roll back secularism and tell us what we may eat, who we may sleep with, and what we may be permitted to say.

You can see 'bigotry' if you wish; but I think that's probably more reflective of the left's unendearing tendency nowadays to always believe only the lowest possible motive to be the actual motive.

I don't really view your 'I suspect some of it is bigotry' line as an argument, because you provide absolutely zero evidence to back up that claim other than pointing out that it is one possible motive. Yeh, and so is opposition to mass child-rape and state-funded lying to children.

Jen said...

It doesn't really matter what the issue is, each provided an occasion for establishing clear distance between their educated and "progressive" selves and an ignorant, reactionary mass; an 'other' all too often identified with the (white) working class.

Yes, yes, absolutely, and thank you for your sanity.

It's all the more uncomfortable in the UK because there is a whole bank of relatively recent anti-Irish Republican slogans, or at least sentiments, to choose from, and in any case, that is part of the history of anti-Catholicism in the UK.

Besides, Catholicism is way too diverse to be able to sum it up so easily - the Pope is one thing, but a lot of Catholic scholarship, liberation theology, not to mention funding of scientific research back in the day which was almost all from the Church... in a way, by being dismissive and belittling of catholics, it's not just the 'ignorant masses' these people are setting themselves apart from, it's history itself. Obviously, no socialist should have any part of this. I certainly have more sympathy with 'the soul of a soul-less world' than with putting an alienating distance between 'enlightened individuals' and 'the rest of the people'. Especially if it means being in the hallowed company of Dawkins and having to listen to him talk about religion without reaching for a blunt instrument - much as I appreciate the guy on various other topics.

Boffy said...


I feel somewhat uncomfortable being on the same side of any argument as Jim Denham, but I think the tone of your argument here is wrong. I agree with the basic point about avoiding bigotry against Catholics. Denham's own organisation a few years ago pointed out that anti-Catholicism was being used as a cover to attack "Catholic" Poles and other Eastern Europeans, in the same way that attacks on Islam were just a cover for attacking Muslims.

But, Denham is right that the Left is generally soft on religion of all kinds, and the tendency has been specifically with the SWP who hoped to make recuits out of an unprincipled position, to close off any discussion of religion by simply jumping in with the accusation of Racism etc. In fact, for that reason it is important to make the distinction clear between an attack on religion per se, and an attack on the followers of a religion.

You are, of course, correct to point out that Atheism and an appeal to Reason can never completely undermine religion so long as its material base in class society exists. That is, of course an argument for changing the material conditions. But, i'm not at all sure that the material conditions have to change to the extent of the abolition of class society for religion to be undermined. Religion is less powerful in societies where powerful Capitalist classes for example dominate, and is more powerful where backwardness predominates, including those backward parts of the US. Generally speaking the sections of Big Capital tend to be more "liberal", more rationalistic.

Paul Mason's Last two Blogs are a good account of that.

Ken said...

Lots of people have been rationally argued out of religion, including me and one of my brothers (who was argued out of it by reading The God Delusion, no less!)

But while making this point, I'm not sure I agree with Unitalian, who says:

I disagree however in the totality of "the appeal of religion is deeply rooted in the alienation and atomisation consistently and systematically produced by capitalist relations of production", although I don't doubt this may often be the case - the USSR appears to demonstrate that atheism can be "learned".

... because I think the USSR and at least some other socialist states provide a stronger case than that. To put it too strongly: there was no alienation in the USSR, even if (hypothetically) everyone felt 'alienated' from the system, because the system was clearly seen as the result of human action and not as the result of something separate from and above humanity, such as God or the market. There were no invisible hands.

Merseymike said...

I disagree. I think that catholicism is far more damaging than fascism. Think of the facts

1. their loathing and hatred of gay people results in increased homophobia
2. their advocacy of life at all costs forces people who wish to end their life to continue and die a painful death
3. their refusal to consider condoms has led to the spread of AIDS
4. their refusal to consider birth control has led to unsustainable populations - no wonder they support 3
5. their refusal to allow women to control their own fertility also leads to more abortion, which they also want to stop even when the woman has been raped

Sorry, but I couldn't care less if working class people are deluded enough to follow this evil man and his vile religion. It should be opposed just as we oppose the BNP.
More so because it is more powerful

Gary Elsby said...

So socialism is the champion of the gay scene and Catholicism is the opposite?
The Beatification proves otherwise.
I studied Darwin at a reasonably high evel and read him for over a decade.
A great and inspiring story at every level.
My verdict? No.
Evolution per chance and not by a guiding hand is an argument that doesn't stack up.
Pope Benedict won the Country over and may even have won over the Anglican faith. It will be interesting to see if this turns out true.
Wonderful how all we Catholics are in protest because a King told us to protest.
And how the Socialists bow down to such favour.

Phil said...

Luke, perhaps you ought to ask practicing Catholics if they feel offended and abused by some of the antics of the middle class atheism crowd. Of course, they're entitled to offend and blaspheme as much as they want, but the job of socialists is to win over religious. And I don't think you do that by gratuitously pooh poohing their beliefs.

Phil said...

Jim, that's probably the stupidest comment you've ever made on this blog. If you take the time to read the piece properly, you will see the thread uniting anti-popery, attacks on Lindsey workers, Jade Goody, Raoul Moat fans and BNP voters is the superior elitist air of those fielding the attacks. This position has nothing to do with being soft on religion and everything to do with it being used as a foil of liberal middle class "intellectual" identity politics. Perhaps this is difficult for you to identify because a similar method applies to how the AWL forms its political positions.

Phil said...

Asp, there are legitimate criticisms that can be made of the Catholic church. But it's pretty clear that a section of the militant atheist crowd are motivated by a supercilious desire to show off their "superiority". I don't know about you, but I think socialists should have no truck with that sort of thing.

James - you mean to tell me you have absolutely no problem with the sort of posters I linked to?

Ken - good point about alienation in the USSR. I wonder if any philosophical work has been done on alienation in "socialist" systems?

Mike, the problem is how do socialists relate to working class folk who entertain religious views? I contend insulting them isn't a good place to begin.

I take your points, Boffy. I knew I'd be accused of being soft on religion - hence why I felt it necessary to preface the piece with my views about Catholicism. It is a tricky balance for us socialists to strike. I do agree atheist arguments have a place in socialism, but it is part of a systematic critique of capitalism and class society. Dawkins and co's atheism can only ever be idealist because it is divorced entirely from any idea of practice.

Gary, what are you talking about?

Boffy said...

Who says there was no alienation in the USSR? Alienation arises when Labour is not under control of its work process, which cannot occur without direct control of the means of production - hence not even where the means of production are owned and controlled by a democratic Workers State, which issues instructions to those workers - and where the object of its Labour is intended for the consumption of some unknown "other".

See my blog: The Alienation of Labour.

It was certainly the case that workers in the USSR did not have control over the means of production, and the control they had over their work process was a negative control, a means of resistance against the Stalinist State, not a positive control. And, they certainly had no material, ideological or sociological connection with those for whom their production was ultimately intended, any more than workers producing under Capitalism. It was production for an unknown "other", rather than production for themselves, for themselves as a class, farction of a class or individuals. That is why they saw no reason to produce efficiently or with any concern for quality. In fact, it was a symptom of that atomisation, which leads to despair, and the feeling of lack of control over your life, which ultimately as Phil stated above provides fertile grounds for all kinds of psychological processes based on the idea that control of your life rests with other forces than yourself, be it the State, God, or the local Voodoo priest, or Russell Grant's depiction of what lies ahead for you today.

Gary Elsby said...

I responded to your comment that the church is 'homophobic' and with the nature of the blog, I understood this to be a comment upon the Catholic Church and to the Pope himself.
He Beatified Cardinal Newman.
You also mentioned that Dawkins and his 'reasoned arguments'can break down religion.To do that, you have to break down faith itself and I have suggested that Evolution may be nothing more than a reasoned argument that denies a guiding hand.
To deny a religious faith is bigotry and I generally agree with your blog.
Incidentallly, I met the Pope and he's a nice guy.
Phil I assume you're a protestant, curtesy of a King, when in fact you should be Catholic curtesy from above.
I may have done you a disservice and described you unfavourably on all accounts, but I will be more correct than you.

Chris said...

The only thing certain parts of the left seem to offer on religion is hysterical rants, there seems to be no actual position located in a materialist, philosophical outlook. There is certainly no attempt to offer a distinctive socialist position on religion. Instead our ultra atheist comrades just parrot the bourgeois critics like Dawkins. I would think agreeing with Jim Denman on this subject is one of the worst areas you could find yourself as being on his side!

For our ultra atheist comrades religion becomes a thing isolated from society, no attempt is made to tie religious belief to the condition of existence or even species being. So all the superficial wrath is directed at religions, no account is taken of things that may have supplanted religion as the new opiate of the people, as the soul of soulless conditions. Instead parts of the left scream, why are people so stupid, so backward, as if being irrational would stop tomorrow if religion disappeared. They don’t think what is religion, what is its role, how has that role changed and are the conditions that create religious belief disappearing or are people just finding new outlets to cope with those conditions.

modernity said...

"...a good deal of this new atheism is being used as an excuse for good old-fashioned bigotry."


Isn't that type of arguing call 'bad faith' in academia?

Wouldn't it be far better to accept that many religious **organisations** have had a profoundly negative impact on humanity and societies (from delaying social reforms to forming alliances with arch conservatives?).

Wouldn't it be far better to accept that you can disagree with religious **organisations** and the doctrines that they argue without being a bigot?

Or have we descended into the world of SWP politics, where in lieu of an argument people shout "racist!" at everyone who disagrees with them?

Well Phil?

Phil said...

Are you wagging your finger at me, Mod?

You know I'm arguing for a more nuanced position than the SWP's former Islamophilia, or did I imagine the first paragraph?

The key task remains how do socialist win over believers. You don't do it by hiding your critique of religion. But neither do you set out to deliberately insult.

That for many on the left it's either one or the other demonstrates how pretty poor it is.

Phil said...

I think Ken has a point, Boffy. We're talking about a very specific form of alienation in Stalinist societies. They can systematically disempower and atomise workers (though this differs in degree - I would suggest Cuba is a special case because of its high levels of social solidarity), but as Ken says social relations in Stalinist states are not subject to the same mystifying effects as commodity production. If you have to queue for basics at the supermarket, the party are to blame. If you're barred from certain places on the internet, the party are to blame. If the drains are blocked at the bottom of your flat, the party are to blame.

Boffy said...


I don't see what the Pope beautifying Newman has to do with the fact that it is homophobic, which it clearly is.

On your "guiding hand" comment, this sounds like Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" of the market. Joe Stiglitz said in relation to that, "The reason its invisible is because it isn't there." There may be a jolly green giant behind every car pushing it along, and bringing it to a halt. But I have no need of such a "guiding hand" to understand why cars move, an understanding of physics is enough. Science is enough to understand how the Universe works, and how life evolves. There is no need for a guiding hand.

The Church at one time claimed that everything in the Bible was literally true as the religious extremists still claim. It put people to death in the most horrible ways for denying it. Today, the catholic Church accepts the scientific explanation of how the Universe was created, and accepts the theory of Evolution - a Catholic priest and scientist even testified in the US against ID. It has only fallen back on the idea of such a "guiding hand" because all its previous arguments have been destroyed. What about infallibility? In some ways I prefer the fundamentlaists who at least are honest enough to stik to their belief.

On the Pope. He was a member of the Hitler Youth. He claims he was forced to join. Waht about the central principle of Catholic beleif - free will? Should we not expect from someone so Holy, and who claims infallibility and a direct line to God that they would have used that free will to refuse to be forced? Didn't thouands of atheist Germans die rather than allow themselves to be forced. Is the old excuse "I was only doing my job", adequate in these conditions? This was after all a Church, which did a deal with Mussolini in order that he would create the Vatican as a State, and which also did a deal with Hitler.

Boffy said...


The reason I said,

"kinds of psychological processes based on the idea that control of your life rests with other forces than yourself, be it the State, God, or the local Voodoo priest, or Russell Grant's depiction of what lies ahead for you today." was to cover that point.

The fact that you can point to all those things and blame the State does not change the fact that on a day to day basis you have no control over your life. Marx's analysis of religion, and in particular of Judaism, is that it is precisely this fact of lack of control, and the misery and psychological damage it does, which leads people to look for salvation outside themselves. His comment about the "Opium of the people" is widely misunderstood as simply an attack on religion, but if you read the full quote, what he is saying is that people resort to it, for the same reason they resort to opium - to alleviate their pain.

It is not surprising that when people feel individually powerless, and have difficulty in achieving solidarity because of their atomisation they look to some saviour against what they see as the cause of their problems. The Jews had no difficulty seeing the Roman State as the cause of their problems. But, unable to see how they could overcome it themselves they create ideas about a Messiah, and Christianity as a strand of Judaism, to liberate them. It is how the anonymous John comes to write his Revelation, which depicts a Second Coming in order to save them from the return of Nero as Roman Emperor, which the Jews of the time expected at any moment.

It is the alienation from control of your life - which is common to all societies where Man is aliented from Man - that leads to humans looking for some external solution to their problems.

Gary Elsby said...

I have great doubts Boffy, that life just happened by chance. The problem with Evolutionists is that they attempt to break down life into basic structures, like Einstein, and come out fighting.
A wonderful bit of back tracking that always seeks out to win the argument.It such a hard sell, that Scientists the world over have failed to transform anything Darwinian in a scientific Law and sadly, for them, it remains a theory.
I doubt anyone disagrees with the evolutionary party though.
Remember also, Brother Protestant, anyone defying Henry's desire for a new bride results in death and anyone not denouncing Catholicism also meets death. Some choice?

modernity said...


"Are you wagging your finger at me, Mod?"

Yes, Phil,

I am suggesting that if you wouldn't use such an argument in your academic work then it's hardly appropriate in political discourse as it is exceedingly off-putting.

For example, there is a whole plethora of such arguments to be found at Socialist Unity and other places on the Left, they basically argue that criticism of the Pope, religious organisations, and their actions, etc is motivated by some form of bigotry.

Your arguments are naturally slightly more sophisticated but not that much.

So I am rather disappointed that you fall into that line of thinking, by arguing that people are using it as "an excuse for good old-fashioned bigotry "

Unless you accept that there are legitimate reasons to argue *for* this, and *against* it then you preclude any meaningful debate.

Is that what you want?

I think you might want to reflect on how this debate has evolved and why socialists shouldn't be seen as trying to close down these discussions (as can be seen at SU blog and elsewhere, etc).

Hypocrisy Watch said...

It should be pointed out that Socialist unity have not attempted to close down debate but have welcomed debate. Their articles on the Pope's visit have sparked lengthy debates with all points of view being expressed.

So why is modernity lying? Seems like the sort of anti rationalism/deception you would get from the Church to me!

Boffy said...


Life did not arise by accident! It arose because of observable laws of Nature. But, even if we didn't know about those laws, would it be more unlikely that there is some unseen Jolly Green Giant out there who created everything???? For a long time kids think its more probable that the presents they get on Xmas day are delivered by some fat bloke in a red coat, but they quickly learn that is not true.

Moreover, if it was just an accident, how come God waited several billion years from when the earth was created before putting life on it?

Of course, scientists who base their arguments on well-documented and proven hypotheses come out fighting when they are confronted with bigotry in the form of people who reject all of the available evidence, but who have absolutely no evidence of their own to back up their beliefs!

I have absolutely no idea what you mean by the claim that scientists have failed to create a scientific law from Darwinism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why do you think we understand the principles by which the Flue Bacteria mutates and evolves? Question do yoiu rely on the scientifically derived Flue Vaccine to save you from the Flu, or your faith in God? How strong IS your faith?

Yes, evolution is a theory, because Science does not presume to be as arrogant as religion. Science believes that truth is relative, and a theory is only true until such time as it is disproved. But, of all scientific theories Evolution has more material evidecne to support it, including now the evidence provided by the ability trace back DNA than almost any other theory in science.

I am not a Protestant, I am a marxist and thereofre an Atheist. But, in any case anyone coming from the Church of the Borgias, and of the Inquisition has very little room to be throwing stones.

Unknown said...

Here is my take on the matter, which is broadly in line with what Phil is saying (I think!):

modernity said...

Let us have a different perspective.

I doubt many here will find it acceptable, but if they are prepared to argue that others have questionable motives on this topic then they shouldn't be surprised if the tables are reversed, and people question *their* attitudes.

Stroppyblog is particularly eloquent on this subject:

"I note with interest it seems to be male straight lefties that seem to be tut tutting at the attacks on the Pope. Apparently us poofs and girlies, well, we are all a tad middle class and are attacking the working class . Hmm, don't remember hearing that when the left attack the BNP, who sadly have quite a few working class members and supporters .

What is interesting is that it is women, LGBT people and those who have suffered abuse from Priests that are getting upset and angry . And damn right . We are the ones who are affected when the Catholic Church is able to push its reactionary views and Governments enact it in law.

Now of course the Church and its members have every right to argue their views. I support that wholeheartedly . I though have the right to protest as well. And lets be clear, we are not fighting a poor downtrodden group, but a rich institution .

**The personal is political, just for some men on the left they are not affected and can't grasp the anger and solidarity some of us feel .**"

[My emphasis]

Chris said...

I want to briefly sum up my feelings in regard to Dawkins, the high priest of ultra atheism. A man who is a hero to some sections of the left.

There is much to admire in Dawkins, he is an activist, a man who confronts people directly. A man who appears to believe that people can better themselves, can broaden their minds. But he is a man who stands firmly on bourgeois liberal ground.

Dawkins correctly takes to task those who say religion gives humanity a moral code of behaviour; he does this with empirical evidence (pointing out the countless examples of violence associated with religion) and evolutionary theory (pointing to why humans may behave in altruistic ways etc). He is on solid materialist ground up to this point. The scientific theory of evolution (one of the great scientific theories ever constructed), like Marxism, is a great tool to shine a on light on the human condition but like many tools it is often abused.

But the left would do well to deconstruct Dawkins, to see his bourgeois liberal standpoint, I would say critical praise is appropriate.

So where does Dawkins fall down? He tries to push the envelope too far in making the point that religion causes violence, he claims 9/11 was chiefly motivated by Islam, which conveniently puts to one side the question of imperialism, global capitalism and the bourgeois systems role in creating violence, not to mention sexual competition!. He defends ‘secularism’ too much; he fails to answer the point that the 20th century was one of the most violent in history. His response to these points is telling, because he sees no further than bourgeois liberal democracy he has to defend the indefensible, he has to sink to the analytical level of the priest. He never once mentions class, economic factors, injustice in his analysis. Dawkins is a man steeped in evolutionary biology and the eugenic mindset and the elitist debates within the field. This, I believe, not only colours his vision but provides the starting point of his method. If Dawkins could take the science of evolution and combine it with the science of Marxism he would then be on to something.

modernity said...

ops, forgot to post the link:

Jim Denham said...

AVPS says about my comments): "This position has nothing to do with being soft on religion and everything to do with it being used as a foil of liberal middle class "intellectual" identity politics. Perhaps this is difficult for you to identify because a similar method applies to how the AWL forms its political positions."

I may be thick, AVPS, but I don't follow any of that. It's not so much tghat I disagree (though I'm pretty sure that I do), as that it appears not to make any sense, even at the level of formal logic. Has religion got to you?

Phil said...

I'll come back to your points in a dedicated blog post at some point, Mod. As it happens a chunk of my PhD examination dealt with the problem of bad faith. And as for Stroppy's criticisms, in my experience there has *not* been a preponderance of white male lefties "whining" about criticisms of the Pope. But there have been plenty of "educated" het male blokes leading the charge against his visit, and these are the ones pushing stuff akin to anti-Catholic bigotry.