Friday, 23 November 2012

The atheist's lot

A significant political effect of atheism and a general decline in religious belief has been to facilitate a major power shift within most democratic, nominally Christian countries.

Because Christian churches have been important social and political power structures, their decline has led to a power vacuum which national and international bureaucracies continue to fill, nook by nook, cranny by cranny.

Taking the UK as our example, we once had significant dependencies on ourselves, family and friends within a largely Christian milieu. Today, the Christian influence has been extensively replaced by law and state-sanctioned social norms, often with the connivance of fake charities set up for that purpose.

This has created powerful, unidirectional political pressures. Unless a political party is committed to the politics of the dependent voter and state-sponsored social norms, it will not have the means to extend or even consolidate its body of voters. This is the reality faced by the Conservative party.

For example, unmarried mothers are semi-dependent voters. It doesn’t mean they always vote in a particular way, but they will have a tendency to vote in their own interests, as we all do. This does not imply anything about the behaviour of specific unmarried mothers, it is merely the logic of a political reality.

So for mainstream political parties in a modern welfare state, it is politically beneficial to undermine the institution of marriage and create as many unmarried mothers as possible. Again, this is merely the logic of a situation facilitated by the decline in Christian social and moral constraints.

Politicians don’t necessarily “believe” in undermining marriage, they are merely responding to political exigencies, step by step, nudge by nudge. It is the logic of a situation.

We see the same logic operating in teaching, policing, drugs policy, anti-smoking policies, the promotion of social norms and even concepts such as motherhood and fatherhood. As religious influence declines in these areas, there are political and bureaucratic opportunities for the extension of official power and influence.

Golden careers have been built on fostering state-sponsored social trends, so for many politicians and senior bureaucrats, atheism has genuine political value. It reduces the power of potential opponents, particularly during the manipulation of social trends.

This is not to say that atheists should go knocking on the doors of the nearest church. We atheists are what we are, but we tend to be naive about malign political trends facilitated by the decline of Christian traditions.

Neither is it a suggestion that we should go back to where we were, say fifty years ago or more - too many straw men lurk there. Yet in losing one set of admittedly imperfect Christian values, we have gained a set of malign political and social trends which promise to be considerably worse, and where opting out is not an option.

As an atheist, it seems to me that traditional Christian values here in the UK cannot be further eroded without a continued leakage of personal freedom, sucked away by an ever more authoritarian state bureaucracy. Of course many authoritarian atheists on the left welcome the consequences. Others seem to live in hope that something will turn up.

Maybe something will turn up. Maybe an existing social power structure will seize the opportunity of opposing the bureaucratic state. Because it is an opportunity – the bungling, dishonesty and moral relativism make it so. Who could make something of it though?

A revitalised Church of England? The Catholic Church? Islam? If it does happen, it certainly won’t be libertarian atheists setting the social agenda will it?


Demetrius said...

We assume that in the past nearly all were necessarily religious. My feeling is that this is fairly wide of the mark. For complicated reasons we had religious "revivals" from the late 18th through the 19th Centuries, allied to a strong Temperance Movement. During the Middle Ages there were bouts of religious mania. Are we due for one?

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - yes, it's difficult to assess religious influence. I think we can say it was far more pervasive than it is now though.

A revival seems quite likely to me because we seem to have a kind of moral power vacuum which may invite occupation. How that will pan out I've no idea.

James Higham said...

Politicians don’t necessarily “believe” in undermining marriage

Them do, as a stated part of the narrative.

Electro-Kevin said...

May I say ? What a sublime post.

Christianity will be usurped by something more strident - Islam. It is powerful not by virtue of truth but by untruth. The untruth of the host society's cowardice in being unable to state that we have moved on from medieval superstition.

How the Left reconciles the mysoginy, the homophobia, the oppression of individuality ...

The failure of Christianity in Britain is not a lack of belief in God (there are still plenty who believe in that - or who will give space for the possibility of that.)

The failure of Christianity is through the disbelief in the Devil and the need for salvation.

Without those two components Christianity loses its raison detre'.

Catholicism (despite appearances) is a matriarchal belief. It is not the priests or the cardinals who power it but the mothers and grandmothers - their fear of the Devil (and the saving of their children) is sincere and heartfelt.

A K Haart said...

James - now I think of it, I'm sure Neil Kinnock once said something to that effect. Can't remember his exact phrasing.

Kev - thanks! I have to say that even as an atheist I'm not repelled in any way by Christian belief, unlike the Dawkins crowd.

I know too many good people who are Christians. I'm sure your point about salvation is sound too.

I don't have any real experience of Catholicism, but what you say is consistent with what I have seen.

Sam Vega said...

I agree with Electro-Kevin: a very fine post indeed.

I suppose I am an atheist, but I make sure that I don't define myself as such. That would mean allowing someone's agenda to run part of my life. My wife is a Christian (she will shortly be training for the ministry, in fact!)and we have perfectly amicable conversations about the meanings of religious terms and belief. Most of the Christians I meet (I sometimes attend the Cathedral with her, to help with the children and because where else can you hear live Tallis motets for free?) are very good people.

None of them has ever tried to tell me what to do, which is more than I can say for the Guardianistas and Equality & Diversity harridans that I am forced to work with...

A K Haart said...

Sam - thanks!

"I make sure that I don't define myself as such. That would mean allowing someone's agenda to run part of my life."

Yes, that's me too. I virtually never mention my atheism outside the blogging world.

I sympathise about the Guardianistas you work with. There is something very worrying about modern mores.

Roger said...

Good post. Yes, atheists end up acquiescing to malign political and social trends. The collapse of Christianity will mean less freedom for atheists. I don't have any good answers.

A K Haart said...

Roger - thanks. I don't have any good answers either and I'm not enthused by likely future trends.