During the current Labour leadership election, Rebecca Long-Bailey (RLB) admitted to holding religious objections to abortion rights based on her Catholicism. Whilst this has not seemed to affect her voting record on this issue, it is concerning that many on the left were so quick to jump to the defence of RLB and Catholicism in general, with some even painting those that voiced concern about the influence of Catholic belief in politics as anti-Irish.
Anti-Catholic sentiment in the UK remains a live issue in the North of Ireland as well as in parts of Scotland, and this is certainly rooted, in part, in anti-Irish sentiment. It does not however mean that we should take a soft approach to the Catholic Church as an institution. Anti-Catholic sentiment in this context is not in fact a product of people’s well-intentioned critiques of the Catholic Church, but rather an entrypoint into a ethno-cultural identity. It is very possible to be a Catholic Atheist in the Irish context. As the old joke goes:
“Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?”
“I’m an Atheist”
“Aye, but are you a Catholic or a Protestant Atheist?”
The Catholic Church is, after all, an incredibly reactionary institution: responsible for the effective enslavement of women in Ireland through the Magdalene laundries, selling the children of these women to America. It an institution which has long opposed women’s and LGBT+ rights, with our current Pope, widely hailed as a progressive, denouncing “transgender theory” as evil. And it is an institution which has supported practically every occurrence of historical fascism at its height.
There is a relatively common argument found in parts of the left that the feminist position to take is that even if we disagree with particular religious beliefs, we should not challenge them, because people are persecuted around the world for their religious beliefs. This is nonsensical. The left stands to gain nothing from being soft on backwards views motivated by religion.
As with all other forms of political ideas that people hold for whatever reason, we should have enough respect for them to tell them where they are wrong. In this case, RLB is very, very wrong.