Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Tony Benn on Religion - Some Quotes

These come from a fuller interview (see link at end) which Tony Benn gave to ABC Television. One of the things I find most interesting is the second commandment - "thou shalt have no other gods but me", the one against idolatry. Time and again, in secular and idological as well as religious ways, when god - a god who stands against all human attempts to tame him - is displaced, in comes idolatry, in this case, as Benn sees well, a worship of money, of the economy.

My roots come from the dissenting tradition in religion, that's to say what my Mother used to call 'the priesthood of all
believers'; you do not need a Bishop to help you. Everybody has a hotline to the Almighty and that of course was a tremendously revolutionary idea because out of that sort of Methodist, Congregationalist tradition, came the idea that we had the right to build our own world, to meet our own needs and not just wait to be patted on the head by a Bishop and told by the Bishop, 'If you do what I tell you to do, you'll go to heaven; if you don't you'll go to hell'.

You know, it's a very, very different and very important and very radical idea. My Great-grandfather was a Congregational Minister and my Mother was a Bible scholar, and I was brought up on the Bible, that the story of the Bible was conflict between the kings who had power, and the prophets who preached righteousness. And I was taught to believe in the prophets, got me into a lot of trouble. And my Dad said to me when I was young, 'Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone, Dare to have a purpose firm, Dare to let it (be) known.' Now these are very, very powerful influences. It wasn't mixing with the Webbs and Wells, and Lloyd George and all that, they were very much of a different sort of intellectual tradition which is not really me at all.

Well you see if you go right back, and I'm not a proper historian, but if you go back to the old texts in 1381, there was a man called the Reverend John Ball, and he was preaching in support of the peasants and their revolt. And he said 'This will not go well in England till all property is held in common.' And he was hanged, drawn and quartered, which was the punishment they had in the old days for dissenters. And there's been a tremendously strong radical tradition linked to belief in God, but not exclusively linked.

I mean there were humanists who said that in the English Revolution in the 17th century there were people who said that we were created by reason, and we therefore had a capacity to think things out for ourselves. But these ideas go back a very, very long way, and intellectual socialists who did play some role in the early part of the last century, they were not necessarily a part of that tradition. They sort of thought it all out in a rather academic way and the passion of the dissenting tradition is something which escaped them and which fortunately keeps a fire alive in my belly.

The worship of religion you see, is the most powerful religion in the world. The worship of religion is more powerful than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and the Business News we hear on the hour on the television, I'm sure you hear it in Australia, is the worship of money. We're told what's happened to the FTSI and the Dow Jones and the dollar and the pound, as if it was a sort of guide to the success of our society, and the management consultants come in, and lay people off. And I find this new religion is the one that's gripped us.
We should either choose to worship God or Mammon. We quite obviously worship Mammon. And this for example on the News every hour, instead of telling you what's happened to the FTSI and the Dow Jones, they told you the up-to-date figures for unemployment, how many people have died of asbestosis, how many people unemployed, how many people homeless and so on, people would say, Oh Gosh, well now we know what we ought to be doing. But I do think we worship money, and if I had any musical talent I would compose a hymn in which the words of the Business News would be incorporated. 'And the Dow Jones has fallen 3 points tonight', you know what I mean, because this is a total Capitalist control of our mind, and yet it doesn't conform to what it is we want. After all, people don't want much, they want a decent home, education, good health care, dignity when they're old, and peace. I mean it's not an awful lot to ask in a world where the technology available is in such a scale, you could solve, not all, but many of the problems of poverty if you diverted it from Stealth bombers and Star Wars and bunker-busting nuclear weapons, and moved it into the issues raised by the Johannesburg Summit.

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