I have been reading Justus Weijagye’s article in the July Socialist Standard. I am sorry to find him perpetuating the view that Christianity is only concerned with an afterlife, and is socially reactionary. Undoubtedly great evils have been done in the name of Christ, not only by cults such as those in Uganda, but also by larger institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Inquisition. This no more discredits Christ, though, than the state capitalism of the former USSR discredited real Socialism.
Genuine Christianity has been socially progressive. For example, Robert Beckford, the Black Church historian, has argued that the Baptist missionaries in Jamaica helped make possible the slave revolt (the so-called “Baptist Revolt”) of 1831. This was actually a General Strike; the violence came from the authorities who suppressed it. The missionaries did not encourage the strike, but by informing the slaves of the movement for abolition back in Britain, telling them of their dignity and equality before God, and encouraging them to organise themselves into self-governing churches, they helped give the motivation for it and the means for bringing it about. They also tried to restrain the authorities in their reaction, and suffered for it, as they did in the later uprising (by now supposedly “free” slaves) in 1865. By contrast, the so-called “Christian Socialist” Charles Kingsley supported the suppression of the latter revolt. We can understand why Marx was so dismissive of “Christian Socialists” like that.
For my own part, I agree with the Object of your party, not in spite of, but because of, my faith in Christ.
BOB ALLAWAY (by email)
Reply: Actually, we never said that Christians were only concerned with an afterlife. How could they be, since to survive all humans have to be practical materialists whatever their professed philosophical or religious views? But we would say that they must attach more importance to their imagined afterlife than to this, our actual—and only—life. Socialism can’t be that important or urgent compared to an eternal life “close to God”—or rotting in Hell. Because it’s the only life we’re going to get is why we should strive to improve our present life through the establishment of socialism, not because of faith in some supernatural being. But, as we said, all religious people, not just Christians, substitute faith for reason. Which is dangerous precisely because it can—and does—lead to events such as those in Uganda.
Whilst it is arguable that the so-called essence of Christianity is separate and different from what has actually been done in its name, it is the very essence with which we have a problem. A slave mentality is a prerequisite for worshipping a make-believe “benevolent creator” under pain of being tortured in hell forever if we disagree. This can only mean that God not only has a fragile ego but if he was human he would be denounced as an evil meglomaniac!
As revolutionary socialists we are for the abolition of modern slavery (wage slavery) and thus hostile to nay notion of submissive slave behaviour in whatever form it comes – Editors.
I’m glad to hear Robin’s local LETS scheme is hale and hearty (Letters, August), but my local scheme collapsed in disarray and has not revived after three years. Like Robin, I was quite enthusiastic at first. Disregarding the more outrageous claims, one could still see a social value in it. I worked hard at it, not minding in the least, and feeling that I was making a social contribution. I collected dozens of credits, but never used them. There was nothing to use them on anyway, since I didn’t want my dog walking and I didn’t need somebody to write me a poem, instruct me in Feng-shui or bake my bread. When the roof leaked, I still had to pay. When the plumbing broke, I had to do it myself. When I had a van, and offered its use, I was deluged with requests, but when I had no van, I had to hire one.
Finally I got tired of the middle-class bias of it all, the stripped-pine Guardian reading oh-so-nice pretend-liberalism that claimed to include everyone but clearly excluded most people. LETS never left the narrow and precious cultural womb it was born from, and it became for me increasingly twee and garden-party. What killed it was an exclusion issue, and the members’ inability to discuss anything and come to a conclusion. In a certain cultural milieu, it is bad form to have an open disagreement with anybody. Liberals hate “unpleasantness”. The LETS group were faced with an obnoxious man whom women wished to exclude, and the group toyed with “consensus” politics and “three-way votes” which caused chaos and prevented decisive action. The man left town fortunately. But so did most of the LETS goodwill.
I have heard that there are large LETS schemes in certain areas, and I wish them well. But for me LETS failed because it did not examine its own cultural assumptions, and confined itself to “nice” people who, unfortunately, were largely useless philosophy graduates who didn’t know one end of a screwdriver from the other. If socialists operated with similar class biases, we could write our entire membership on a jotter pad and install our Head Office, as our LETS scheme did, in somebody’s basement.