Friday, 9 July 2010

No-One Expects the Humanist Inquisition

Following on from my last post on identity politics, the humanist association are concerned at people praying at council meetings:

'There are many — maybe even the majority — of local councils in this country that start their meetings with Christian prayers. Non-believers and people of other religions are put in the embarrassing position of wondering whether to participate or pointedly not participate. We believe that it is unacceptable for elected representatives to be put through this in carrying out their duty. A typical reaction to their protests is that they are told they can leave the chamber during prayers. We also know of potential candidates who will not put their names forward for election, appalled that they are expected to participate in prayers. This deprives local democracy of much-needed new blood and people who would better represent the full spectrum of the local community...

...We have been working on this campaign for some months and after complaints from councillors, top lawyers working on behalf of the NSS have sent a letter to one council advising them that prayers during council meetings are in conflict with human rights provisions. The council is currently considering our lawyers’ letter and we will publish details of the outcome shortly...

We now need to know which councils are including prayers in their meetings and which aren’t'.

What would my mate Pericles make of this? When democracy was under attack did he call some top lawyers to care for some cry babies and pretend their human rights were under threat? Some people have died for democracy, but in modern Britain people are so 'appalled' at taking part in a part of our heritage that they won't consider getting involved in our political system. Well, good, in my opinion: if they're such over-sensitive, whinging, miseries, then what would happen if they need to show a bit of backbone?

Backbone? But don't you understand, cough, cough. When people ask us to put our hands together and close our eyes, cough, cough, it means that our human rights, cough, cough, are actually being compromised. It makes us cry, cough, cough, and feel very, very sorry for ourselves, cough, cough. And mumsy calls for a top lawyer to take part, cough, cough. And the nice lawyer gets the bill involved, cough, cough. And he takes away bundles of cash, cough, cough. Which makes poor little me feel a bit less poorly, cough, cough.

Flip sake. Don't the atheists like to claim they have Nietzsche on their side? He'd probably be writing a sequel to Pilgrim's Progress if he could see this shower.

But don't expect any of this namby pambyism from top lawyers. They'll have smelt blood and can't wait to empty bank accounts and destroy reputations to get a few more Armani suits in their wardrobes.

Now, whilst I am myself a Christian, I do have sympathy for people being annoyed at these prayer meetings. Praying at a mixed denomination event like that sounds quite unpleasant to me. But really, you can bloody well leave for a few minutes: there's no cause to whinge about human rights and top lawyers and involve nosey parkers who think they need to know what people they never met are doing.

Incidentally, before anyone gets leftier than thou about this, I came across the NSS website via the very modestly and originally monickered Winston Smith. And what a lovely bloke he is to, hailing as he does from 'Scallysville' in 'chavshire'.

Maybe it's time to admit that all the identity politics and anti-Christian propaganda that the left focuses on now helps to feed a particularly sociopathic form of conservatism.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Gregor wrote:

    "Maybe it's time to admit that all the identity politics and anti-Christian propaganda that the left focuses on now helps to feed a particularly sociopathic form of conservatism."

    I agree. Conservatives are often as guilty as progressives are for their indulgence in identity politics, but I can understand some of their reactions to some humanists and others who think religion is per se dangerous and that any public display of religiosity is evidence of creeping theocracy.

    I don't know about Great Britain, but for many religious Americans, there is a kind of siege mentality setting in, where society is increasingly seen as evil beyond redemption. I think this partly explains the growing popularity of homeschooling and consciously right-wing private religious schools. While I sometimes sympathize with these folks, the siege mentality is just dragging people farther and farther towards the outer reaches of the Right.

    I sometimes visit blogs thick with Traditionalist Catholics, and there is a strong trend towards conspiracy theory(Commies STILL under the bed!) mixed with right-libertarian economics (usually of the Austrian School variety). What is interesting is that many of these folks probably had Latin Mass-going parents or grandparents who voted for that evil socialist FDR and were members of those thuggish labor unions! What happened in the last 30 or so years?

  3. @John
    The thing is that I do have sympathy both for Apostolic Christians who think that humanism has become a quasi-religious bigoted movement and for humanists who think that there is a dangerous theocratic movement in the USA (Tim laHaye, Pat Robertson etc; give me Dawkins any day. Give me Christopher Hitchens any day, come to that).

    But I feel in both cases they have gone about defending their views in a very counterproductive way by defining themselves negatively. As you say there is a seige mentality.

    I've also noticed that with the collapse of support for the WOT and with the 'bailout' that the conspiracy theory, Hayekian right seems to have taken power (curiously enough, conspiracy theories were also big during the Clinton years) where a genuine left would make far better arguments.

    I do find this sad. But on the other hand I can understand why many Americans (including my East coast Irish Catholic relatives for instance) would hesitate to see themselves as 'liberals' when this is associated with identity politics and late term abortion rather than any genuinely progressive values.

    And taking a rather more negative view, I can understand why conspiracy theories are popular in the modern atomised world; it gives people a chance to see themselves as partaking in a heroic struggle. It feeds narcissism whilst actually encouraging people to do very little. If you want to understand the mindset you could do worse than watch On Deadly Ground, starring Steven Seagal where after massacring the guards of an oil refinery, Seagal gives a slideshow presentation where he mumbles that some undefined 'people' have to be guardians against polluters. Presumably this means that others should follow his example of rampaging around chemical plants inflicting generous doses of GBH; perhaps saying that we need more bureaucracy or 'big government' to reduce pollution isn't quite as cool ;-)

  4. @Gregor,

    Yes, it seems that when the Democrats capture the White House, the Right reacts with all kinds of conspiracy theories and other forms of "fringe" activity. For example, the militia movement and other groups that were popular under Clinton have made a comeback with Obama in office.

    It is also interesting to see how the politics of the GOP itself changes when it is in power as opposed to out of power.

    For example, Republicans were against nation-building when Clinton was president, but under Bush, they developed an extremely ambitious nation-building program for Iraq and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Another example of GOP oscillation is on the issue of the budget deficit. When Bush was piling up a huge budget deficit due to his tax cuts for the rich and a war of choice in Iraq, folks like Vice-President Dick Cheney were saying "deficits don't matter." Now that people are calling for continued deficit spending to help keep public services going and prevent another deflationary tailspin in the economy, the Republicans are deficit hawks! I guess the deficit is only bad when it helps the out the proles.

    You are correct, though, about most liberals and progressives. They aren't much better on economics than their right-wing counterparts. I think New Labour and the New Democrats have a lot in common in that they seem to have largely abandoned their former economic populism in favor of a kind of weak-kneed managerialism coupled with identity politics and extreme pro-abortion stances.

    It is interesting that the Democrats used to be more left-wing on economics when they were also more conservative on social issues, and that the switch to social liberalism seemed to coincide with the switch to neoliberalism in economics.

    I don't know as much about the history of the Labour Party, so I would be interested to know if the change from Old Labour to New Labour followed similar trends.

    On the topic of conspiracy theories, I must admit that I find them interesting and entertaining. I also believe that some conspiracy theories may be true, depending on how you define “conspiracy”. However, in most cases, I think conspiracy theory is a poor substitute for systemic analysis.

    That being said, I don't rule out the existence of conspiracies, and I sometimes feel bad for making fun of conspiracy theorists, because I feel too many people in the mainstream use "conspiracy theorist" as an insult to cut off debate or criticism that might upset the people who benefit most from the status quo.

    So, I oscillate between dismissing some conspiracy theories and being genuinely intrigued by others. I try to do this based on facts, but I am sure my own ideology colors which ones I find ridiculous and which ones I feel might be “on to something.”

    I will have to check out that Steven Seagal movie. There is another interesting guy. I believe he was declared the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama, although I don't think he has actually become an official, sitting lama.

  5. re. Old Labour to New Labour: it was a gradual process. Labour in the immediate post-war years was undoubtedly a deeply socially conservative party; indeed when Roy Jenkins wrote a book in 1959 calling for major social liberal reforms he was not yet in the mainstream of the party. During the party's period in office in the mid-late 60s, it managed to combine a reasonably economically socialist stance with a much more socially liberal stance than before, passing legislation allowing easier divorce, abortion, legalising homosexual acts &c (although most of these were private members' bills not mentioned in manifestos, possibly in an attempt to keep the socially conservative Old Labour voters onside).

    There were many battles over both economic and social policy - coming to a head with the SDP breakaway in 1981, in which many of the less economically socialist and more socially liberal members of the party (led at first by the same Roy Jenkins) formed a separate party, which was unable under FPTP to make the electoral breakthrough it would have had under PR - which I haven't got time to go into here. It is perfectly true though that, even in the Thatcher era, there were still enough socially conservative Old Labour MPs to form a de facto alliance with Old Tories to vote down Sunday trading reform (for a while), and that the rise of New Labour coincided with the retirements of many MPs who were quite often (though by no means always, by then) socially conservative as well as economically socialist. The social conservatism had been played down by much of the left during the 70s & 80s in favour of a belief in the warlike destruction of high culture &c - and it was this that New Labour adopted but got rid of the economically left parts - but it didn't completely die until the 90s.

  6. @Mr. Carmody,

    Thank you for the information. It was very helpful.

  7. I think Robin explained it better than I could. The only thing I'd add is that the modern 'left' bought into the rightwing argument that Atlee's reforms were a bungled and ill-thought-out response to WWII and the advice of Maynard-Keynes. Without irony the New Labour broadcasts will demonstrate pride in the actions the party carried out sixty odd years ago without really seeing any contradiction, perhaps because they are almost 'post-intellectual' as it were.