Class politics and ‘the Church’

Where does a class analysis reside in a system of belief that relies on faith? In an interview with Terry Eagleton over at Immanent Frame, the question of radical politics and a Christian ethic raises its head once too often. Is there a necessary disjunction? Why are they such awkward companions?

I was also at a seminar last Friday afternoon where responses to a paper on violence and its effects on Irish society were presented. Speaker after speaker – too many of them really to do the paper justice – noted the ways in which class affects people’s chance of imprisonment, indictment or visibility to our Victorian system of punishment. Some speakers talked openly about working class communities, others merely alluded to it like some relation that embarrasses the family at Christmas. It was in the room but no one was prepared to welcome it.

Terry Eagleton believes that as a means of dispelling Dawkins and Hitchens (or Dawkchins, if you will) and the belief that religion is merely another theory to be proven wrong, believers in all faiths and none should focus on what’s common:

There are other potentials in the gospel and in the Christian tradition which are, or should be, of great interest to radicals, and radicals haven’t sufficiently recognized that.

The lack of recognition by radical people of the central messages of the gospel are holding back new ways of thinking about what is politically possible. The gospels are documents open to time specific interpretations and anyone who tells you otherwise tends to a stubborn theology or a fundamentalism or one sort or another. Echoing this sentiment, Michael Sandel (who may be the inspiration for Monty Burns) says that:

Left-wing squeamishness over moral and religious judgments has handed conservatives a political gift.

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Photo owned by Klearchos Kapoutsis (cc)

Running back to Eagleton, the money-grabbing culture that has taken over most parts of the developed world at this stage tends to run for cover under a fundamentalism about the interpretation of ‘the Word’ – in, you know, that book:

Yahweh is presented in the Jewish Bible as stateless and nationless. He can’t be used as a totem or fetish in that way. He slips out of your grasp if you try to do so. His concern is with universal humanity, not with one particular section of it. Such ideologies make it very hard to get a traditional version of Christianity across.

Right-wing US citizens wrap their class interests in God (never Jesus you note, too specific perhaps?) and country, conservatives this side of the Atlantic coat their ideas in ‘family values’ and a single way of reading the Christian message – only for select issues of course. Taking a lead from all of this but aware that much political discourse in Ireland never gets near this level of analysis, how then can we approach a political arrangement where meaning is hollowed out of how we decide what is good and bad? It is as if the attainment of the conditions for the best choice possible is the ultimate goal of contemporary politics, not pointing to a choice and validating it as the ‘right’ or ‘just’ one.