For many years it seems us secularists have been too timid in our defence of our liberties. Despite people of no religious views now forming the second largest religious classification in the UK (after the largely nominal followers of the state religion), we’ve tolerated religious bigots telling us how to live our lives; pushing their moral code on us while dismissing the idea of non-religious moral codes – despite our moral codes being the product of our own empathy and reasoning rather than a badly translated book or, worse still, merely followed out of fear rather than a true moral standpoint. We have accepted it in government, monarchy, schools, the law courts and anywhere else it can stick it’s bloody claws in. Maybe we figured the regressive Dark Ages morality propagated by the wilfully blind or transparently self-interested would wither and die under the steely gaze of logic – but the government, from the prurient hypocrisy of Thatcher’s Victorian Values to the messianic zeal of Blair and Brown, pushed religious faith when the direction of travel for the population was towards no faith. Now that Cameron and the right are pushing the old imported state religion of Christianity as a nationalist protection from the perceived threat of the paltry 8% of the population who follow Islam. All claim the same right; not just to let their faith govern their own lives but to impose their morality on others – and when we challenge that they bleat about religion being under threat or even accuse us of racism. No. We are not singling you out for disadvantage because of your faith. We are saying that you have no right to impose your faith on us – but as the attack on Charlie Hebdo today shows, the free interplay of idea is an anathema to these “Men Of God” – no matter which God they seek as a vehicle for their tired, ill-conceived bigotry.
I don’t deny spirituality – indeed it should be explored as a valid counter weight to the materialist capitalism and dehumanising rationalism that only allows individualism if it comes cloaked in greed, or community if cloaked in nationalism. But that does mean explored as a path of enlightenment and growth; not accepted as an article of faith. Faith in what? One of the religions that have inevitably been riven with schisms, inquisitions, genocides and wars; re-written and edited countless times; that have been shaped not by the men who bowed down to god but by men who bowed down to vested interests of kings and governments, magnates and despots in mutually supporting cabals, hiding in plain sight, pretending to be separate institutions while writhing intertwined like a pit of serpents.
All religions have allowed themselves to be played by governments and dictators. Most governments have availed themselves of the off-the-peg legitimacy offered by religious tradition. Those that haven’t have used the brutality of rationalism to oppress their people as dogmatically as any religious order. In all of this; in the supposed clash of cultures, there is one brutal constant. The death of innocents. As collateral damage. As non-believers and heretics. As dangerous minds and terrorists. While the real terrorists are covertly (and not so covertly) used by the governments of left and right as proxies in their global power-plays. All dressed up in language of rationalism. ISIS and Al Qaeda were supported by the West; violent men of little influence allowed the opportunity to gain power through fear in the devastation wrought by wars supposedly based on rational “civilising” pretexts.
The church and the state, science and capital, the monarchy and the media all work symbiotically to maintain their power. The disputes between them are family tiffs – quickly forgotten in the face of any external challenge. They all in their own ways censor what we are allowed to see and hear, what we are allowed to learn about, what we are allowed to talk about. They all use their power to stifle free thought. These institutions are not corrupted by power but inherently create power as part of their very existence.
As Durrutti once said, “The only church that illuminates is a burning church.” It is true – but the burning of symbols is a pointless and polarising activity that only leads to more division – and all too often the burning of people. Better that the churches, the palaces, the banks, the seats of power and even the universities crumble due to their irrelevance to the lives of an evolving humankind. One in which rather than restricting power, knowledge and moral guidance to an elite, we are all seekers of enlightenment, all seekers of truth, all responsible for our actions and stewards of the world in which we live. Not egotists forcing our truth on others.
Power, wealth, religious, political and scientific dogma are all symbols of a primitive civilisation that uses knowledge to preserve power, knowledge to gain wealth and enforces ignorance on the poor. Our society prides itself on being a knowledge economy when what it really offers is the commodification of knowledge – and it increasingly being seen as the province of the elite. How can we then be surprised when the poor seek solace in the violent mechinations of religious frauds? Our salvation lies not in guns or hatred but in the reclaimation of the enlightenment project from the hands of power, wealth and vested interests. Let us all be seekers after truth and knowledge, let us all be both critics and criticised. Let us all share our ideas, our inventions and our love. Maybe that all sounds a bit pie in the sky but its the only realistic chance our society has of survival and I’d rather look to pie in the sky than a tyrant in heaven – or on earth.