Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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A Marxist Mothering Sunday

Grave of Karl Marx

Monument at the grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London.

Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday (the third Sunday before Easter). Being 14 March, it was also the 127th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx.

After a very busy Sunday morning with a packed out church, we went on a Northern Line pilgrimage to Highgate Cemetery, getting to Marx’s tombstone just after the moment of his death — 14:45 — made famous by Friedrich Engels graveside remembrance

“On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep — but forever.”

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The CSM discusses family values

The CSM badgeYesterday evening, I was down at Westminster Central Hall for the Christian Socialist Movement AGM and the following Tawney Dialogue. Unlike other sections of the Labour Party, the CSM still uses the word ‘socialist’, and is actually proud to do so. It makes a refreshing change to hear people talking openly about praying for socialism, or interceding for the renationalisation of the railways. Although the CSM does not represent the left wing of the party, it does bring a radical commitment to social justice that often seems to be absent from the discourse of the party’s right.

This year’s Tawney Dialogue was titled ‘Will the general election make any difference to the family?’ with Ann Holt, Director of Programme at the Bible Society, Elaine Storkey, philosopher, sociologist and theologian, and Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

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Building the resistance: reflections on the LRC conference

Labour Representation Committee banner

Labour Representation Committee banner

Yesterday, I attended my very first conference as a member of the Labour Representation Committee. I was a little apprehensive that, after deciding on the LRC for my political home, I would come face to face with the mass membership and realise that I wasn’t in the right place. I am glad to report that my comrades have proved my fears unfounded. In other sections of the Left, the address ‘comrade’ can be so loaded, even to becoming a weapon, but here I felt genuine warmth whenever that word was used.

Tony Benn, veteran inspiration of the Labour Left, opened the conference with a short, well-received speech. He spoke of the historical LRC, set up to give voice to the Labour Movement in politics, firstly through the Liberal Party, and then going on to found the Labour Party. He pointed out that after New Labour’s divorce from the grassroots Labour Movement, the present LRC is just as needed to bring our voice into politics. Finally, he restated one of his key political themes that, if there can be full employment and no shortage of bombs and tanks in the Second World War, why can’t we put that energy and indefatigability into winning the peace. It was good to see Tony Benn after his recent operation, although looking a little weak of body, still strong in spirit.

From the outset, the fault lines within the LRC were clearly visible — between the membership who were in the Labour Party, keeping the faith though battered and bruised by New Labour bullying, and the membership outside of Labour in the disaffiliated unions and the various small Communist and Trotskyist tendencies that affiliate to the LRC. However, the fault lines are publicly cherished, and the open, democratic nature of the LRC is designed to act as a bridge between these groups, working together for democratic socialism. As with any radical political meeting, there were two people who demonstrate that they feel radicalism is an excuse for nuttiness: a ranting ex-Trot and an absurd Posadist. They were met with a polite but firm response from conference: sit down and shut up if you have nothing sensible to say.

A good representation from the CWU were at conference, and received resounding support for their defensive strike action at Royal Mail. Industrial issues for journalists and civil servants were also brought up as resolutions. The RMT brought a resolution in support of the People’s Charter, which was supported. Please do visit their website, read the charter and sign it; it could be a useful symbol for unity in the Left and opposition to the neoliberal policies of the mainstream parties. Continue reading


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Ad fontes of Christian humanism

I’ve recently updated my What page, so I thought I would also copy it here as a post for comment.

GarshuniAd fontes is a Latin phrase meaning ‘to the sources’, a favourite motto of Renaissance humanism. I am particularly thinking of Erasmus of Rotterdam with this phrase, recalling his invaluable biblical scholarship. Renaissance humanism both laid the groundwork for the Reformation and re-engaged with the writers of the early church.

The term ‘humanism’ is only applied retrospectively to this movement. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest meaningful occurrence in the French humanisme of 1765, with the meaning of ‘love of humanity’, with a German reference to Humanismus from 1808 being used to describe the classical syllabus of the gelehrten Schulen (‘learned schools’, grammar schools). Our universities’ humanities divisions and faculties are named after this understanding of humanism. It didn’t take long for the term to acquire two more widely applied senses: the intellectual movement of the Renaissance and a philosophy oriented toward the human. There are a few sparse uses of the term ‘humanism’ to refer to a doctrine that Jesus Christ has a merely human nature (adoptionism, ebionitism and perhaps unitarianism), and Schiller used the term as a name for pragmatism; these are not my doctrines, nor my intended meaning. Continue reading


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The New Labour project is indefensible

I remember the feeling when Tony Blair became prime minister, Labour came to power and the long, ugly Tory rule that had existed for most of my life was ended. It was May 1997; the weather was good, the cricket was good, the politicians were good. I wasn’t a member of the Labour Party then, but I voted Labour, and was desperate to see the change that Tony Blair promised. Of course, I was naive, but back then we were willing to give Tony a lot of rope as long as he got us in.

There have been many brave and positive achievements by Labour in government since then. Scotland has its Parliament, Wales its Assembly and Northern Ireland has an almost functioning political system that looks unable to return to the violence of the past. Devolution was a bold move that has revived civil society in the smaller members countries of our Union and reconnected them with politics. Continue reading


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Church disestablishment and freedom

Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham in my former diocese, has written a blog post (supposedly based on Andrew Brown’s post about slavery/freedom, atheism/religion, which reads like a lesson on how to perform keyhole surgery with a monster truck) about how Denmark is a wonderfully free country with an incredibly established state church, and this makes church establishment good for the rest of us. He even includes a picture of Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, holding up his God hates fags placard, to show us what religion looks like when it’s privatised!

The perfect societies of Scandinavia is a popular meme in British discussion on social and political issues. The fire behind this smokescreen is that Scandinavian countries have managed their natural resources fairly well, remained relatively homogeneous and retained moderately successful social democratic systems. The two latter reasons mean that the real wealth from natural resources is fairly well distributed. This is a Good Thing, but one cannot take the close church-state relationship in Denmark, transplant it elsewhere and make elsewhere look like Denmark.

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We all prefer socialism when camping

We have been sold a lie. We have become convinced that capitalism and free markets are the necessary trappings of post-modern liberty and democracy. Even with the serious failings on show in this recession, we are told that it is the naughty bankers and poor US people who should not have been allowed the homes for which they defaulted their loans. Communism is described as failed ideology, while capitalism is depicted as realised truth, and its evils, if mentioned at all, are all necessary. These things are lies.

In this last week, I have seen yet more pictures of US right-wingers comparing their new president to Hitler for his perceived ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ — Obamunism! I have watched Michael Winterbottom’s flawed documentary representation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which has compelled me to read the book. Then I read an excerpt from Jerry Cohen’s Why Not Socialism? in the New Statesman.

The extreme reaction of the US right to a mildly progressive president (who happens to be black, which is clearly an issue for many)  is a demonstration to me that Klein is on the right track: we have been brainwashed into believing that neoliberalism is the default position for right-thinking nations, and all alternatives are crazy ideologies that would never work in the real world. Jerry Cohen died just over a month ago, but his rambling, discursive style refreshes the mind and takes us back to first principles.

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