Monday, April 24, 2017

How is it possible to be a Christian and a Socialist? The answer may surprise you.

I have been thinking about writing this article for some time, as I get asked this question a lot. I get it asked both ways round, with scepticism on the part of Christians and Socialists in equal number. For that reason I am going to answer the question twice.

You are a Christian. How can you possibly be a Socialist?

This question gets asked by my evangelical Christian friends because evangelical Christianity in Britain is generally to the right of centre politically. There has been a gradual move over the past thirty years towards making right wing political thinking synonymous with evangelical Christianity. The change in the gospel to a more individualist, self help, one sits easier with the extrinsic values of political Conservatism.

We used to keep moral and political agendas separate, but the influence of American thinking has led us to believe that we can alter the nations morals by political action. You see this with both evangelical and liberal Christian groups trying to influence government policy. There is a general belief that faith on its own is insufficient. It needs the power and influence of the state to bring it into the physical realm.

But it has not always been this way.  There was a time when evangelical Christians thought of faith as a personal matter, not something to be delivered by state education or enforced by theocracy. Christianity was about loving and helping our neighbour and building a society based on intrinsic values of community, peace and justice for all. This is why the early trade union and cooperative movements were full of Christians, especially Methodists. 

It is those basic values that we find in Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) not in Margaret Thatcher's Sermon on the Mound. We also find it in the Baptist tradition of the complete separation of Church and State; the approach to God being as an individual, but being re-born into a family (the church fellowship) as symbolised by baptism.

Where I differ from Liberal Christian Socialists is that I don't think Jesus was a socialist. I do not see anything of what we understand as modern socialism in the life or teachings of Jesus Christ. His earthly ministry was in a world far removed from ours in time and complexity. When he talks about sharing goods or doing things in common he is reflecting how life already was in that pre industrial society, but which was under threat from Roman and other influence. What I see in the teachings of Jesus are principals about love, peace, justice and community that are best reflected in socialist thought and are compatible with left wing politics. Christians who are more individualistic may disagree. They are entitled to, but this is why I am a Socialist.

You are a Socialist. How can you possibly be a Christian?

This is the other side of that question and usually centres on two issues.

Firstly, Marxism sets itself up as a scientifically reasoned explanation of economics and how society can develop. Religion of any kind has no scientific basis and is superstition which will prevent development towards socialism.

Secondly, Lenin argued that Christianity was an agent of imperialism designed, and used, to keep the proletariat from taking power over their own means of production.

The first of these views the world as being entirely material. A purely physical world that we can see and that we can investigate with science. Marxism, and consequently most modern Socialism relies on some version of dialectical materialism. I don't have time here to go into this complex area of philosophy, but I will make one point. For some Christians there is little difference between this materialistic world view and their dualistic view of a  physical world that we can see and investigate and a spiritual world which we can not. This type of Christian are practical materialists. I would argue that the division between spiritual and physical is unnatural and that there is only one world which we live in, are stewards of and are responsible for each other in. For this reason I do not find any personal contradiction between dialectical materialism and the Christian faith, except that it is  normally restricted to a narrow range of subjects where Christianity is all encompassing.

The second of these issues is more easily addressed. Lenin was arguing against the church, not against Christianity. The church of his day, in Russia, was strongly linked to the imperial state and was part of the oppression. This reflects badly on the church, but not on Christianity. I think that Christianity must be separate from the state, be about the individual approaching God in repentance and following the teachings of Jesus as much as is possible. I find this to be quite compatible with Socialism.


Conclusion

I am not sure that this answers my original question as well as I had hoped, but it might help others to understand my puzzling dual philosophies. I don't see any incompatibility, but I am sure American readers will!



Friday, March 17, 2017

The bible is getting more loving as time goes on.

Here is the number of times the word "love" appears in different English translations of the bible along with their publication dates:

1611 Authorised Version (KJV) 310
1963 New American Standard Bible 348
1978 New International Version 551
1989 New Revised Standard Version 538
2002 The Message 585

It seems we are getting more loving as time goes on!






Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reply to Louis.... @louiskinsey

In reply to this tweet.

I can't speak for anyone else, but my personal reasons for not going to church are quite complex. I was brought up in the Church of Scotland but joined a Baptist church when I was a Divinity undergraduate at Edinburgh. I was a very active lay preacher and heavily involved in church life, but have not been for some years.

Here are the main reasons:

1. I have suffered from mental health issues in the past and these had been partly driven by what I was hearing in church. There is nothing better at lowering your self esteem than a good dose of "total depravity".

2. I don't get very much out of sitting in rows in a room. Might sound harsh, but I can do that on a bus. It doesn't have any biblical basis either.

3. I don't feel able to contribute. Its a combination of feeling that as a relatively young (49 - still the young end of most churches)  and able person I might get landed with doing things that I don't have the mental capacity to do. Even if I told the church leaders and they understood, others would think I was being lazy or aloof.

4. I may have had just enough church at work to immunise me. I do visit churches, of all denominations, in my work. What I see is universally depressing. At 49 I am, more often than not, the youngest there, and one of the few men. This is the same in small baptist, large Church of Scotland, or the average Catholic Parish.

5. In addition to #1 I was diagnosed with a neurological condition which explains why I have get stressed in social situations and don't really get relationships - including the idea of a relationship with God /worship.

6. I am divorced and remarried. Not a situation that is easily tolerated in Baptist circles. My current wife is a Roman Catholic and not comfortable with Protestant worship.

7. When my kids were still kids and I was a divorced Dad I only got to see them on Sundays which made church attendance difficult. I was picking them up at noon, so you can see the problem.

I told you it was complicated! Too complicated for 140 characters.

I am most comfortable in liturgical churches where there are no surprises, and least comfortable in charismatic churches. But my theology is more towards the happy clappy end of things. That is another problem. I never really feel like I fit in.

I see the "everyone welcome" sign outside most churches and wonder if they really, really mean that. Can they really accept people as they are? I don't know the answer to that.





Friday, January 27, 2017

Why Scotland will not vote for independence in a second referendum


The independence cause is now synonymous with the SNP. To a great degree it always was, but during the last referendum campaign they were joined by the Greens, the Scottish Socialist Party and lots of other organisations representing different sections of Scottish society. But these were always minor players and the aftermath of the 2014 referendum saw most of this rainbow coalition for independence collapse into the SNP. Membership grew to over 100,000. With this sort of movement you would expect support for independence to have increased, but according to the latest opinion polls the Yes vote is currently on about 40%. Even during all the upheaval over Brexit it only got to over 50% in one poll. 

By the time that any second independence referendum takes place the SNP Scottish Government will be deeply unpopular. This is the standard unpopularity of incumbent governments after a time, but that dissatisfaction with the SNP will spill over into the referendum campaign. Add to this continuing depressed oil revenue and the, still unresolved, currency issue and you have a toxic mix. It will be exceedingly difficult to get a majority for Yes second time around. Even now there are a significant group of Yes voters who have switched to No. As many as have switched the other way according to some polling organisations. It is possible that Yes would only achieve around 40% in a referendum rerun. Current polls seem to suggest this.

The problem with discussing this is that everyone seems to have their fingers in their ears while going "la-la-la I am not listening".  When I suggested this scenario on social media I got jumped on by people for whom the independence cause is a religion which cannot be questioned. They are the fundamentalists of the Scottish cause. Strong supporters of the SNP for whom independence is more important than workers rights; more important than environmental protection and, yes, more important than beating the Conservatives. Because their enemy is the Labour Party, particularly "municipal" Labour, with whom they fought many hard local election campaigns. There is no love lost between them and many in the SNP relish killing off labour as much as they do independence itself. Yet as Labour has moved to the left, the SNP has been left as the last guardians of Blairite economics, with a strong focus on private industry and profit as the key to Scotland's future, and content to be better managers of the existing system rather than trying to change it. This is something the independence fundamentalists are unable to recognise. And while the say they want to win a second referendum they are quite happy to cannibalise their own vote by refusing to engage with anyone who is sceptical because they are obviously not "true believers". Exactly the people they need to persuade in order to win a Yes vote.

Of course, this all supposes that the UK government agrees to hold a second referendum on independence. How likely is this? Well, the most likely way I can see this happening would be if the SNP gained enough seats at the next Westminster election to make a coalition with Labour the only way to keep out the Conservatives. Even if that happened would Labour be willing to make a deal? Locked in a fight to the death with the SNP in Scotland, Labour might be willing to sacrifice restricted power in Westminster in order to kill off the independence cause. In other words: don't hold your breath.

Another scenario would be if falling oil revenues stoked demands from back-bench Conservatives for the government to scrap the Barnett formula. If that was combined with greater autonomy for English regions then there may be a section of the conservative party who want to get rid of the Scottish "problem". This would be uncharted territory and might lead to a referendum with a successful Yes vote.

Alternatively, the May Conservative Government might just decide to call a referendum to call the SNP's bluff: dangerous though, given how the Brexit vote went. I can't see them really taking that risk.

The upshot of all this is that with Scottish independence looking very unlikely we need to find other ways to protect worker's rights, the environment, food standards and all the other things that are under threat from the shift to the right in British politics. This is where our energies should be rather than wishing for another referendum.


Postscript

No - I don't think Scotland is "too wee", "too poor", or "too stupid" to survive on it's own. I just don't think our future should be reliant on a referendum that is unlikely to take place and which is even less likely to be won, even though I voted Yes last time.

As always, this is an opinion piece. Please leave a comment below as I have trouble keeping track of social media.