Church and State

OUTGOING Archbishop Rowan Williams last Sunday delivered his parting message to the country with a call to revive the status of Religious Education in schools and then complained of a campaign of “militant secularism”. The term is an oxymoron. There is no policy more liberal, peaceful or tolerant than secularism. It gives equal status to all beliefs and philosophies and calls for their followers to live peacefully alongside each other in mutual respect, with none lording it over the others.

But that is not enough for the Church of England — it wants to remind us that it is part of the state. It has official recognition as the nation’s religion; its head, the Queen, is the head of state and her bishops sit in the House of Lords. Members of the armed forces, the police, Members of Parliament, the judiciary and Government officials all swear oaths to serve “God and the Queen”.

The C of E does not want equality with other beliefs but superiority; it will tolerate other views but not respect them. It wants to remind us that it is in charge of belief in this country — unlike the United States where the church and state are legally separated. This is thanks to progressive thinkers like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin who helped to draft their constitution over 200 years ago.

We are still stuck with a state that retains some feudal aspects.

This comes as a jolt to many of us who work in various campaigns — against fascism, to defend the NHS, defend education, against war — alongside progressive individuals from many faiths: Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs Buddhists, Hindus and so on. And we must not confuse those genuine individual Christians with the leadership of the C of E. That would be to allow religious bigotry to sow the seeds of division within those broad campaigns to the benefit of our super greedy ruling class.

The C of E still wants guaranteed access to the minds of our growing children; to indoctrinate them against rational questioning of all or anything they are taught.

This is what the compulsory lessons in Religious Education amount to.

Why did Williams bring this up at this time? He did not attack other religions that may be challenging the monopoly status of the C of E but he attacked secularism and atheism — even though there has never been a secular or atheist government that persecuted people for following a particular religion so long as it caused no harm to others — unless you count being questioned, doubted and debated with as persecution. Meanwhile many religious regimes throughout history have been very intolerant of free-thinking.

It is because the greed and selfishness of the ruling class and the bankruptcy of capitalism is so obvious to so many now that the ruling class would prefer it if the working class could be discouraged from thinking rationally. In the early part of the 19th century Methodism played a similar role in heading off working class revolutionism and channelled the working class into chapels and trying to improve the lives of workers through hard work, teetotalism, charity and “good works”.

Today we have psychiatrists and self-improvement gurus spouting “positive thinking” to brainwash us into accepting the shocking loss of living standards the ruling class is inflicting on us. And we are told to blame ourselves for failing to control our own minds if we find ourselves miserable at losing our homes, jobs, benefits, health service and so on. And the C of E helps this process by telling us to reject rationalism, reject the evidence of our own senses and experience and delude ourselves that faith can make us happy.

Strangely enough a lot of people do fall for this. We even have socialists and communists who send their children to religious schools “because it teaches them morals and good behaviour”. There are compelling logical reasons for human beings, living together in a mutually dependent society to behave in a moral way. We do not need mumbo-jumbo to tell our children it makes sense to be considerate, helpful and well mannered.

What we really need to teach our children is to question all teachings before making their minds up and to mistrust anyone who tries to stop them thinking for themselves.