Sunday, 26 September 2010

The pope and the proletariat

Two interesting articles in the wake of the Pope's visit (and the protests tied in with it), exploring the political issues it raised: Laurie Penny's Lessons from the Pope protest and James Meadway's The Pope, religion and the Left

The latter piece, published at Counterfire, has prompted this excellent comment from student activist Sean Rillo Raczka, which I think deserves re-posting:

'I am astonished by the tone and content of some of those anti Pope speeches you reference. 'Hitler was a Roman Catholic' got some big cheers; what are we to take from that?! I am a socialist and atheist now, but was brought up a Catholic by my grandparents, who were working class socialists to boot. I thought the tenor of some of the debate and coverage of the Pope's visit was anti-Catholic, and that deeply concerned me.

As a gay man, I hold no love in my heart for the teachings of the Roman Church, but culturally I still have links to it. My grandparents, and many Catholics I know now, were and are not bigots. We cannot tar them all with the same brush.

It goes for Muslims too, the press like to put all Muslims into the same box ('different' and alien from society), but they lie and twist reality. I know gay Muslims, (misguidedly) patriotic Muslims, devout Muslims and very much non devout Muslims. The same is true of the Catholic Church, and to make out that every priest has some complicity in child abuse is frankly offensive (I saw placards saying as much).

I have met priests who are great men who give over their lives to truly helping people.  I may not agree with their dogma, and not all priests are like this, but I don’t spurn or disparage good people for the sake of it (I certainly would find it hard to work in a homeless centre all day every day, like one priest I knew).

As you point out, the most important battle is not religion, but class and conditions of people’s lives. My socialist grandparents went to a working class Irish/Caribbean Catholic Church in West London, men and women who were trades unionists and (soft) socialists made up much of the congregation, there may have been some social conservatism, but when it came to solidarity, redistribution and fairness, I know what side these people were on. And I’m sure in some high church in a post part of London there were the wealth Catholics with a rather different political outlook.

I think of organised religion as a force in modern society in a generally negative way, and some of the most destructive things that have happened in the world are done in the name of religion (as a proxy for class/capitalism sometimes? Who could say that the NI ‘Troubles’ are not intrinsically linked to a history of class difference, imperialism and domination, just as much as religious difference), but it is not the universally bad force that some would suggest (vis the dedicated priest, the soup kitchen provided by the local Mosque, the redistributive element of some faith etc), nor is it worth expending energy on universally opposing it when that can alienate allies and divert our attention from bigger issues.'


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