An interfaith take on the Pope’s visit

Will the Pope address the impact that the Enlightenment has had on his Church?

I am particularly interested in relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. With a papal visit to Britain imminent, I wish to reflect on what Pope Benedict XVI has to say -- and, sometimes, on what he doesn't say -- about the relationship between Christianity and other faiths.

Even though he hasn't yet arrived, there has been a great deal of publicity about the Pope's response to the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church; discussions about the state of relations between Rome and Canterbury; coverage of the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church; as well as concerns expressed by people of other faiths about the extent to which the Bishop of Rome acknowledges (if indeed he does at all) the validity of their faith.

I doubt if the Pope will say much about any of these explicitly -- however much journalists would like him to -- but we can try to read the tea leaves when he makes his addresses and delivers his sermons. One thing we can be sure of is that Benedict XVI will warn us of the dangers of secularism, which, he will argue, undermines religion as well as the authority of the Church. He will emphasise Catholic Truth over and against what he will describe as the dangers of atheistic society and moral anarchy.

This is one way of seeing what has happened in western civilisation over the past 400 years, since the Enlightenment. The Pope is not a fan of the Enlightenment. At best, he suggests it is a mixed blessing and hostile to religious belief. In this, he is joined by other religious leaders.

But where would we be without the Enlightenment? As a Jew, I know where I would be: back in the ghetto.

Of course, it is not only Jews who owe a great deal to the Enlightenment. My Muslim friends and colleagues would still be known as Moors or Saracens, an epithet that the chroniclers of the Crusades applied to Muslims. In other words, without the Enlightenment, minority religious groups -- let alone those of no faith -- would have remained in the Middle Ages.

Without the Enlightenment, there would be no human rights nor democracy, but there would be continued Christian anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, persecution of gays and so on.

I don't expect that the Pope will acknowledge that many of the great advances in our society that have been made in the past 400 years have come secularism and the forces of the Enlightenment, not from religion. But I do expect him to address how Catholics should live with the consequences of the Enlightenment.

Some traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church -- such as members of the Society of St Pius X, home of the Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson, among others -- reject all the values of the Enlightenment. They condemn the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which was a defining event for Catholicism in the 20th century and a turning point in the history of Jewish-Catholic relations as well as Catholic relations with other faiths.

Vatican II was convened for the purpose of aggiornamento or "updating", and it was in the spirit of Enlightenment that that the council initiated Church reform in a number of areas, including interfaith relations. According to the latest surveys, most Catholics in the UK would like to see more application of the values of the Enlightenment, such as an increased role for women.

So, one thing I expect to learn in the next few days is where the Pope stands on this, the tension between religion and the Enlightenment. In the UK, he will be walking a tightrope between traditionalists who reject the consequences of the Enlightenment and the majority of Catholics, who would like to see Enlightenment values more deeply embedded in the Church.

This will have implications for the role of women in the Church, relations with fellow Christians, fellow believers and fellow humans. Yes, all of us.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.