But the truth is that religious leaders who endorse left-wing politics, whether they come from the "Evangelical Left" or the older Liberal Protestant or Roman Catholic Left, just make themselves look ridiculous.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is the latest example. He has a piece in the Financial Times of London echoing the left-wing rhetoric of the protesters in front of St. Paul's. Here is a take-down of his intervention by Toby Young of the Daily Telegraph:
The Archbishop of Canterbury has an article in the Financial Times this morning in which he urges us to "take seriously the moral agenda of the protesters at St Paul’s":It is important to remember that the communists have been talking about the perfidy of the bankers for over a hundred years non-stop. The bankers, especially those "Jewish bankers" are the stock whipping boys for the International Socialists and National Socialists alike. The current economic crisis just makes ordinary people, who wouldn't normally give the Marxists a glance sideways, sit up and pay attention. This rhetoric gets a hearing when the mob is stirred up and looking for somebody to blame. In this sense, left-wing politics is a parasite and a disease on the body politic. It may lie dormant in healthy times, but can goad the mob into a witch hunt when the crops fail.
The protest at St Paul’s was seen by an unexpectedly large number of people as the expression of a widespread and deep exasperation with the financial establishment that shows no sign of diminishing. There is still a powerful sense around – fair or not – of a whole society paying for the errors and irresponsibility of bankers; of impatience with a return to ‘business as usual’ – represented by still-soaring bonuses and little visible change in banking practices.
So what is the "agenda" of the St Paul's protestors? If you look at the "initial statement" issued by #occupylsx, it's pretty clear. The statement brands "the current system" "undemocratic and unjust", rejects "the cuts", attacks "the banks", calls for "an end to global tax injustice", supports the "student action" planned for 9th November, supports "the strike" planned for 30th November, supports "actions" intended "to protect our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing", demands "authentic global equality", expresses "solidarity" with the "global oppressed" and calls for "an end to the actions of our government and others in causing this oppression". It ends by saying, "This is what democracy looks like. Come join us."
Not an unfamiliar agenda, then. It's the agenda of the Trotskyist left – almost all of these points are made with tedious regularity by the Socialist Workers Party, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Socialist Party (formerly the Militant tendency). The problem with this agenda, as any student of politics knows, is that it's impossible to realise without a massive escalation in state power. Indeed, it's hard to see how you could end "global tax injustice" or bring about "authentic global equality" without some sort of global super-state with far-reaching powers – and, presumably, a corresponding loss of British sovereignty. This is what democracy looks like, apparently.
Like most revolutionary socialists, I don't suppose the St Paul's protestors have thought very deeply about this problem. They fondly imagine that, untainted by capitalism, mankind is essentially good. A modicum of state control may be necessary in the early years of the revolution, when men are still in the grip of greed and selfishness, but this is just a “transitional phase”. Once a fully-fledged socialist society has sprung into being, people will cast off their wicked habits and the state – or global super-state – can wither away.
In reality, of course, the “transitional phase” never ends. Mankind is incapable of shedding those bad habits for the simple reason that they’re hard-wired into our DNA. Self-interest will always trump altruism. Family ties will always have a stronger claim on our loyalties than some abstract ideal. We will always struggle to gain a competitive advantage over our neighbours – which is why the Tobin Tax is such a bad idea. Far from withering away, the socialist state becomes ever more powerful in a vain attempt to suppress these instincts and preserve "authentic global equality".Any political movement that legitimizes an escalation in state power, however well-intentioned, must be resisted. Whatever abuses men inflict on each other under free market capitalism will always pale into insignificance next to the abuses of the state. From Moscow to Havana, a utopian vision always ends with a boot stamping on a human face.
Religious leaders who play up this emotion-driven, fear-ridden, angry need to blame someone for the problems we face are playing a very dangerous game. Civilization is always fragile and dark passions lurk just beneath the surface in all human beings. Right now, the Archbishop of Canterbury looks merely ridiculous. If things were to degenerate, as they have many times in the past, he would go from looking ridiculous to looking irresponsible to looking malicious and evil in quite short order. Those with a platform and an office should be careful what potions they brew and what spirits they call up in the name of "democracy" and "social justice."