The Left and the politics of atheism – ABC Religion & Ethics – Opinion
This prompts the question: can atheism sometimes be not just incidental to a political program, but lie at its very source – as Pope Bendict recently suggested on his visit to Britain?
I think that this can indeed be true of both ostensibly Right-wing and ostensibly Left-wing programs. The Nazis tried to disenchant the world by enthroning pure material force as the only reality: in conversations Hitler admitted that even his racist rantings were but a populist gloss upon this goal.
Stalin and Mao tried to disenchant the world by removing all traces of tradition and most traces of beauty from the world. For the problem with beauty is that it is too enigmatic and unsettling in its intimations of transcendence. Was the Cultural Revolution in China driven by socialism? Surely it was driven by a ferociously virulent and scientistic secularism.
Much more subtly, but also insidiously, Margaret Thatcher undid the last Anglican State-settlement in Britain by advocating the view that basic economic and social behaviour is egocentric and amoral…
Marxism was the first current within socialism to think of economics in entirely materialist terms and so to regard capitalism as a necessary phase of development. The Chinese Communist Party is witness to how easy it is for this to mutate into the idea of the final necessity of Capitalism after all.
But pre-Marxist socialism was mostly religious, and the Labour Party up until recently continued this legacy. Sometimes we think of religious and moral socialism as the “soft option.”
But to the contrary, it was this legacy – inspired by Methodism, Anglicanism and Catholicism, and not by hyper-Augustinianism – which seriously hoped to render all economic practice moral. It sought a just distribution in the first place, and, prior to Anthony Crosland’s revisionism in the late 1950’s, not just an ameliorative “redistribution” that was entirely predicated upon the promoting of capitalist growth.
The truth is that the differences between social democracy and neo-liberalism are in the end trivial, and that both sides have covertly to borrow from each other. This is because the worst ravages of an amoral market have to be plastered over by the State, but in the end the main game for either ideology is producing ‘wealth’ that is defined indifferently to questions of true human flourishing…
Advocacy of the sovereign power of the individual soon gives way in practice to the absolute power of the amoral market and of the sovereign State whose only purpose is itself…
In the face of this drift of the Left towards secularism and away from radicalism, there is today a remarkable counter-tendency that is a real source of hope. This is a new tendency of religious bodies, and especially of the Catholic Church, in despair at the nihilistic drift of secular politics, more directly to articulate and enact its own political views, often outside current conventions of what counts as Right or Left.