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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Appreciation of the church from an atheist

I ran across Neal Lawson's op-ed column (entitled 'If they preach the cause of the poor, they're my people') in the Guardian today over lunch and thought I would share it, not least because it confirms and strengthens some of my own thoughts and observations, albeit from a rather different perspective.

Briefly, he is an atheist of left-wing political stripe, wondering why some of his brother and sister secularists rage so against the church (and Islam, Judaism, and others), when in fact the church, et al., are often the only ones asking the deep and uncomfortable questions about our treatment of the poor, the imprisoned, the persecuted, and wondering if there is more to life than consumption and profit.

I think, naturally, that there is more to us than that -- but not less, never less than that -- and that we even fall down on that more often than we ought to. But I genuinely appreciate Lawson's appreciation. And I wonder if, in the mid-term at least, there will not arise some surprising coalitions among those of different faiths and no faith in trying to counter the sort of human life that is so widely taken for granted and presented to us as the only option, even when it looks little enough like humanity?

I also appreciate that which is implicit in his essay, that (in whatever form) secular focus on and hostility towards religious faith end up being a massive distraction from other, more pressing issues.

There is more to be said about this but, alas, I actually ought to get some (other) work done. I will leave you with the following quotation from the essay, to whet your appetite to read it all:

The Pope [in his Christmas sermon] also berated "unbridled" consumerism ... while the Archbishop of Canterbury said: "The poor deserve the best. They do not deserve what's left over when the more prosperous have had their fill." And they don't just talk. They do. Religious communities are among the increasingly few places that bring people together as citizens rather than as consumers - fighting for a living wage and against poverty.

For me, as an atheist and a full-time politico, this is unsettling. It reveals the moral vacuum at the heart of our politics. Many politicians I know agree with the sentiments of these messages - but they feel trapped in a political system that only adapts itself to the demands of big business. Because it is the economy that now dominates our politics, it is the market that decides our morals - or lack of them. The fact that it is "the economy, stupid" requires a moral recession that then creates its social equivalent.

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