No, the pope is not welcome here!

Submitted by AWL on 13 August, 2010 - 12:47 Author: Vicky Thompson

The website Socialist Unity is not exactly a bastion of socialist thought.

Andy Newman, the man behind it, supports everything from Iran’s mature democracy to foxhunting, and defends articles attacking Peter Tatchell’s ‘gay imperialism’ (translation: not supporting religious homophobia).

His recent article, Pope Welcome Here (see here), really takes the biscuit. Not only does Newman defend the government’s decision to spend £12 million hosting the Pope, he also claims that religious leaders deserve not merely our tolerance but our respect, writing ‘Christianity is still a major cultural and social force, and its representatives are worthy of respect’.

You might be forgiven for thinking that respect is something to be earned through one’s actions, rather than garnered by virtue of being white, male and socially conservative enough to head a religion.

Newman goes further, arguing that it’s not merely the religious leaders who deserve our respect, but ‘those of all faiths’. But how far should respect and tolerance really extend?

To the IDF soldiers who commit atrocities against the Palestinians or the Christians who perform acts of violence against abortion practitioners? To Hizb ut-tahir? To those who perform genital mutilation or try to cure innocent children of witchcraft? To Fred Phelps? To the Christians who jeer at Pride Parades? To Scientologists? What about the supporters of states like Saudi Arabia or Iran, where capital punishment is not merely sanctioned but actively encouraged by the religious elite?

The idea that one’s affiliation with a friend in the sky is grounds for respect is patently absurd. Religion doesn’t belong on the pedestal with race, gender, sexuality and disability, because religion is a choice, and in some cases it’s a choice that directly infringes upon other people’s right to live without fear.

Andy Newman might pay lip service to the occasional left-wing idea, but he doesn’t have a clue when it comes to religion and the social function it serves. Religion renders pain bearable, poverty tolerable, and the only way to end its influence is to throw off the conditions which necessitate its existence. It acts as a smokescreen, disguising the futility of the real world and worse, teaching subservience to one’s material conditions.

As Lenin said: ‘those who toil and live in want their whole lives are taught by religion to be submissive and patient while here on earth, and to take comfort in the hope of a heavenly reward’.(1) Religion preaches that the poor can expect something better in the next life if they only remain “meek”, while the premise of charity offers the wealthy a ‘cheap way of justifying their entire existence as exploiters’ and a moderately-priced ticket to heaven.(2)

Atheism is not a dirty word. Secularism is not a dirty word. But every single day, a vast catalogue of crimes, many barbaric, are perpetrated in the name of religion. Religion and reason do not make happy bedfellows, and religion relies on ignorance to keep its followers.

Why else do faith schools exist, except to ensure that children aren’t exposed to enough scientific ideas to make their questioning of the thousand year old lies inevitable? In post-revolution Russia, Orthodox Priests led campaigns against adult literacy centres, where the illiterate peasant population were learning to read. The Catholic Church only abolished its list of banned books in 1966, by which time it had accumulated over 4,000 titles that Catholics weren’t supposed to read, many of them containing atheist ideas.

Christians in America campaign to ban books from public libraries and Muslims issue fatwas against the authors of texts considered to denigrate Muhammad.

Levels of religiosity and belief in creationism decline as incomes rise. This is why Europe is more secular than Africa; why America’s north is far less religious than the “Bible belt” Deep South. There is also direct correlation between level of education and religion.

Religion wants you to be poor and uneducated. Heck, religion needs you to be poor and uneducated.

Marx believed that Christianity was by its nature the religion most compatible with capitalism: ‘for such a [capitalist] society Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism etc., is the most fitting form of religion’.(3)

As a result, Christian Socialism such as it exists is the most schizophrenic of politics, with one ideology part of the problem and the other the only shot at a solution. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels write that ‘Christian socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat’. (4)

How can one be a socialist without acknowledging that Christianity will never side with socialism; without realising that the religion perpetuates vast chasms of inequality within society; without knowing that Christianity fulfills a dangerous social function, far more than it honours a nice man called Jesus.

Religion – and Christianity in particular – is the historic enemy of the Left. In Russia, the Orthodox Church formed the Black Hundreds, virulent anti-Semites who led pogroms against the Jews and murdered revolutionaries. In the Spanish Civil War, the Catholic Church sided with Franco, supporting the fascists and legitimising the massacre of leftists. In Italy, Pope Pius XI was allied with Mussolini.

The Catholic Church is institutionally sexist and homophobic. Child sex abuse is endemic within it and yet the Church – seemingly lacking even a basic appreciation of irony – recently likened the ordination of women priests to abusing children. Through its campaigns against condoms, the Catholic Church is complicit in the deaths of millions of people from AIDS. Because it opposes all contraception, it consigns millions of married couples to bearing endless children and thus keeps them in poverty.

Oh, and then there’s the nine year old Brazilian girl who, raped by her stepfather and not physically developed enough to carry the pregnancy to term, had an abortion. Guess who got excommunicated? Was it the child-raping stepfather? Nope, guess again. It was the nine year old rape victim. “Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult,” declared the local bishop.

Deserving of respect? Hardly.

A 2004 BBC survey found 39% of the British to be atheists. Over half of this country’s teenagers don’t believe in god. We are facing brutal Thatcherite spending cuts. 1.3 million jobs will be lost. Among the things set to suffer are elderly care, Sure Start, back to work schemes and moves to protect the homeless. The elderly, the young, the unemployed and the homeless are fair targets, but the twelve million pounds spent on a four-day visit from a man whose beliefs most of the UK consider abhorrent... We’re told that’s money well spent.

1. Lenin, Socialism and Religion
2. Ibid
3. Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Vol 1 Part 1
4. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

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