Image via WikipediaI know I shouldn't but I take great delight in watching the rise in blood pressure that invariably develops amongst certain on the left whenever faith comes into the conversation. I'm reminded of the numerous occurrences from the Hammer films popular in my youth where Christopher Lee's Dracula recoils from the crucufix or clove of garlic held aloft by Peter Cushing's Van Helsing. There is somethng about 'faith' that many have difficulty grasping, of seeing beyond their typecasting or negative preconceptions or even dare I say, bigotry.
There is a long and sweet history of faith working in the realms of the 'left in the UK. We can look back to the radical christian and faith movements that flourished around the time of the English Civil War, to the reformers calling for the abolition of slavery, to emancipation, to relief for the poor, to housing and employment and trade unions. We can look to the almost remembered past where icons of the labour movement were driven, at least partly or initially by their faith in their desire to obtain justice for the workers and for the poor. Think Hardie, Lansbury, Mann and many others. In times not so long ago we have seen some influence of Liberation Theology and the Catholic Workers Association within the Catholic community. In today's times we see the activities within the peace movement of many people who define themselves by their faith. And also in foreign climes people of faith have contributed to the struggle against oppression. Dorothy Day, Father Thomas Hagerty, Merino, Metz and Chavez spring to my mind.
This isn't to say that we can make a statement along the lines of 'faith = left' as there are also many, many situations where the churches and those of faith have sided with the oppressors for their own ends or where their interpretation of theology leads to marginalisation and inequality. But as the church itself is not one politically homogeneous structure, neither is the left. Just as the church can act and appear in a variety of conflicting ways and thoughts so does the left. Just as the church and faith groups can cherry-pick their understanding of the activities of the left, so do those on the left allow their own prejudices to colour their view of the church and people of faith.
One thing which does concern me is the current opinion whereby faith is something that needs to be actively expunged from public view and life. Less of a case of freedom of religion and more along the lines of freedom from religion. The left itself in a worldwide view has been at the sharp end of oppressive governments and states where being seen as left-wing is a portent of the breaking down of a door and the sound of boots in the hallway before becoming one of the 'disappeared'. Or where being seen on the left causes employment issues. We've seen this in the structure of the European Union where people who were previosuly part of the 'Communist' state establishment in former Warsaw Pact countries have been denied positions within the EU governmental framework. So I do get worried when I see the left in power denying people a public platform because of some perceived worldview that someone may have. We are all subject to our worldview being shaped both by what we believe, what personal philosopy or politic we hold to and what we are fed by the media. Not one of us has ever had a single thought that hasn't been influenced somewhere along the line by our history, culture or personal experience.
But there are parties in existence where the 'marxist' left have become bed fellows with faith groups. Respect is one where the SWP have worked with muslim and other groups to form a political party of broad support that has had council success and put one MP into Parliament. We have seen in the recent Euro elections that the various factions and parties of the left have been unable to make a political breakthrough under their own steam. Low turnout and split votes have retained the dominance of the incumbent political parties. The best outcome for those of a progressive view in this political climate is through coalition and compromise. I think we have seen the first fruits of that, and my hope is that the left is a broad enough 'church' to encompass all groups that make up society without discrimiation along faith or religious lines.