Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lawson wrong on religion

Today's comment section in the Guardian carries a piece by the Compass chair, Neal Lawson. I'm not sure where I stand on Lawson or Compass. I have read Lawson's periodic appearances in the Guardian with interest but have always been prevented from agreeing with him wholeheartedly by the odd, persuasive and pervasive niggle. But his piece today seems to me to be all over the shop.

Lawson fears that many politicians do not speak out on questions of poverty and social injustice, as they are muzzled by the drive to appease big business. In such a climate, he reasons, it is the religious leaders to whom we must turn.

The head of the Catholic church in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said in his Christmas mass: "Our nation is in great need because it is deprived of some of the greatest values of life." He spoke of the emergence of a culture that espoused "individual freedom as the fundamental value to which all others must be subject". This culture, he said, is the cause of a break with the moral traditions of humanity that meant we were no longer able to "respond to the fundamental questions on the sense and direction of our lives".

If turning to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor is where our salvation lies, then I for one am nervous. Assuming for one moment that this, indeed, is the correct course of action and forgetting Murphy-O'Connor's somewhat dubious attitude towards child abuse, all the good Cardinal has done is identify- vaguely- where he believes the problems in society may lie.

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.

The same communities where people are expected to drop a portion of their meagre earnings into a begging bowl on a Sunday so people like Rowan Williams can threaten businesses with disinvestment of church funds. As an atheist Lawson ought to have a fundamental problem with the premise on which those citizens are coaxed into such communities. Furthermore, figures such as Mother Teresa preached that those in poverty should accept their situation since, after all, true wealth is to be found in the next world.

There's a great deal more in this article with which to do battle but I'm afraid the hour is late. I may return to it tomorrow.


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