Protest the Pope?

Papa Ratzi is on his way to the UK, a large proportion of whose citizenry is up in arms about the whole thing. Protest the Pope, a coalition of various organisations all equally committed, for one reason or another, to stopping the State Visit of the Pope next week, have organised all sorts of anti-pontiff shenanigans while he’s here.

Thee Faction cautiously support this too, but remain concerned about some stuff on the periphery of the protest. The stated aims of Protest the Pope sit well with us (go to the website and scroll down). In fact, within the context of those aims, we’d go one step further: the UK, or any other ‘respectable’ state, has no business recognising the Vatican as a State. It isn’t one really, and, though it gets all sorts of outrageous priviliges at the UN, isn’t recognised as one there. That the UK wastes money on doubling up its consular and diplomatic presence in Rome is absurd, and only happens because of a bunch of popular misconceptions about the Lateran Treaty. So we’d be all for withdrawing State-status from the Vatican, and, in the meantime, for the international community to put pressure on them to start operating like a civilized country by recognising global human rights treaties.

So we’re all for protesting this State visit, because we don’t see The Vatican as a State. We’re also very keen on people pointing out the Vatican’s woeful record on stamping out child abuse, and its often contradictory and hypocritical, and always dangerous, policies on contraception, divorce, abortion and so on. That is, we think, a given for any progressive-thinking group of people. This Pope in particular has all manner of blood on his hands and damaged children on his conscience, and we’re against the British state treating him as a distinguished visitor.

We’re less keen on this protest being co-opted by the anti-religion lobby, who are becoming increasingly boring. People keep saying to me: you of all people should be anti-religion – after all, what was it Marx said about the opium of the masses? Well, we’ll tell you what he said, cos not enough people seem to know. In fact, not enough people read Marx. So, in context, here’s what he said (in his Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right):

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Does that sound like the words of someone who was anti-religion? That ‘heart of a heartless world’ brought us liberation theology, for example. Would the struggle in Latin America have been better off spending its time arguing that god didn’t exist, or pointing out the logical provenance of evolutionary or Big Bang theory than feeding, organising and politicising the people suffering under fascist regimes?

Challenging religious belief is by no means a pre-requisite for the socialist revolution. Marxism is a materialist philosophy, of course. No Marxist believes that the order of things is ordained by a spiritual source, nor that spiritual or idealist notions are what engenders change in society. But is belief in a religion any worse than believing in a ‘great men’ version of history, or in the liberal absurdity of a priori rights? Religion helps a lot of people get through the day. And that’s a hell of an achievement for a lot of oppressed and exploited people in this world.

Will there be religion under socialism? Of course there won’t. There’ll be no need for it. Religion’s a human construct, and it serves a very particular purpose. Is it any worse a human construct designed to sustain the prevailing order than, say, parliamentary elections, or ‘mass’ shareholding? Not really, no. Religion offends liberals because they sneer at the idea that people might need a crutch to get them through a pretty miserable existence. Actually, they don’t sneer at the idea. They sneer at the people themselves. We won’t do that.

So yes, protest the Pope. Stand against this ‘State Visit’, disastrous Vatican policies and prejudices, and this Pope in particular. But don’t ask us to join the anti-religion movement, or to attack Catholics. When liberals work as hard for oppressed and exploited people as those committed to liberation theology have, and when liberals’ stated aim is a socialist society for those people, then we might join in. But in a world where capitalism pulls the wool over our eyes on a minute by minute basis, whether through marketing or advertising or ‘stakeholding’ or any other slight of hand trickery and ideological smoke and mirrors, we’re really not going to lose sleep over people believing in god.

Protest the Pope, but let’s recognise that the theists are just trying to get through this shit the best they can. They’re our comrades too. We’re no liberation theologists, but if it’s a choice between liberation theology or liberal individualism as the emancipatory strategy we’d be most keen to embrace, our answer is pretty clear.

Anyway, all those going to the Protest the Pope rally on Saturday 18th, enjoy it, and make your point strongly. We can’t join you, cos we’ll be getting our kit together for the gig that night. When you’re done protesting, jump on the Northern Line to Kentish Town and come to the Bull & Gate to wind down with a little Socialist R&B. The perfect political end to a day of protest. Details are here.


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