I have been struck by the different reactions of people, particularly some good ecosocialists that I know, to two stories in the media recently, one about religion and the other about language. If they have a common denominator at all, it is to do with the importance of these things to our so-called ‘social fabric’.
Taking religion first, here is today’s Independent headline:
Britain is no longer just a Christian country, says major report
Here is the article.
Here is the report .
Its conclusions are based squarely on evidence from the 2011 National Census and British Social Attitudes surveys since the 1980s.
Most of my leftie friends and I are happy with the evidence and even happier with the findings of the report. My thoughts on religion are well-known to most of you. In essence, the sooner we consign religion to the dustbin of history, the better for humanity as whole.
The comments after the article overwhelming support the premise in the headline. But obviously, the representatives of the church are not going to take this lying down. Christian Today’s response, however, is below the belt, even by Catholic priest standards. Having set the context by referring to the evils of Daesh and islamist extremism, it quotes the C of E group Christian Concern, who Christian Today reports:
In one of the most damning statements it has ever issued, Christian Concern said: “It destroys a solid foundation for strong values and defence against evil and replaces it with a foundation of sand that could swept away in a moment.”
I hope Cameron is checking they are only sending our best christian soldiers into conflict with those evil bastards sleeping in their beds in Raqqa.
I think I can rest my case.
Turning to language, I tread forward with trepidation, as we look at the role of the Welsh language in the fabric of society. I have gotten into hot water with this one, through a combination of careless words and misreporting, so let me emphasise that I have no axe to grind with the Welsh language and its proponents. However, I was struck by similarity of attitudes, yet the differing people holding them, in a story about the significance of the Welsh language in Wales today.
Here is the headline from yesterday’s WalesOnline:
First it was the leader of Cardiff Council, now two more local authorities claim the Welsh language is not a part of their ‘social fabric’
Here is the article.
It hinges on a quote from Cardiff Council’s leader (reported a few days earlier):
Writing on behalf of the council Mr Bale stated: “[On] the basis of the evidence presented, this response comes to the conclusion that the use of the Welsh language is not part of the social fabric [of the city], in accordance with national guidelines.
And of course the Welsh language lobbyists were not impressed:
In a letter to Planning Minister Carl Sargeant, Tamsin Davies, Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s sustainable communities spokeswoman, stated: “It’s an insult to the Welsh language that three councils have come to the conclusion that the language is not part of the social fabric of their areas.
But now we have some interesting contrasts. Many of the self-same leftie friends, that were happy to see religion as some sort of anachronism that we should be happy to discard, are this time close to incandescent with rage at this perceived cultural vandalism. And yet the evidence (referred to by Mr Bale above) is almost certainly from the same sources, the 2011 Census. Take this selection of data for example (from wikipedia):
It is, furthermore, a matter of fact, in my experience, if not clear from the data, that a lot people claiming ‘some knowledge of Welsh’ have knowledge that does not extend beyond yes/no, hello/good-bye, 1-10 and few colours. I could claim to be multi-lingual on this basis. Even more anecdotally, my 21 year-old son has just informed me that after 5 years of compulsory Welsh at school, he has not used it at all in the last 5 years, could only identify the odd word in any text, could not hold any sort of conversation in Welsh, yet would kind of feel obliged to say he had a ‘little knowledge of Welsh’.
Sticking to the factual data above, it appears that only in Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire, Anglesey and Gwynedd are there a majority (over 50%) of people that are at least as proficient at Welsh as my son! Am I safe in assuming that even in these counties there will be nowhere near a majority of people that actually anywhere near proficient in the language, let alone regular users of it?
Of course, the social fabric does not consist of things only valued my the majority , but if we lower the bar to 20% having just some knowledge of Welsh, that still eliminates 12 out 22 areas. So for anyone to be insulted/offended by the claim that Welsh is not part of the social fabric in Blaenau Gwent, Newport and Cardiff, well how shall I put it? They just need to wake up and smell the coffee!
Accepting the facts of the matter, is one thing. Accepting the implications of the facts is quite another.
When it comes to religion, most rational, left-leaning humanitarians are happy to celebrate its demise. When it comes to language, however, things do not seem so clear cut to many. Personally, I can see the arguments about cultural diversity and tradition. But that applies to religion too. I can see the arguments about identity and sense of self. But that applies to religion too. I can see that there are many ways in which it can be argued to enrich peoples lives and that 99% of the time it does absolutely no harm. But that applies to religion too. I can also see how it gets tied in with fascist forms of nationalism, division and discrimination, prejudice and bigotry. And yes, all these things apply to religion too.
I guess the essence of it boils down to a very similar thing. I firmly believe that the world, and humanity in particular, would be a better place without any religion at all. It would be ridiculous to propose a world with no languages, but what about a world with just the one common language? I am not for a second that this language should be English, but it is a proposition that I have long seen a lot of merit in. It is also a proposition that has growing support, as evidenced here:
A few thousand votes out of the global population rapidly approaching 7.5 billion is hardly a mandate, but at 56% of the vote, at least I am far from being alone in holding this view. I would urge you to read the comments under the graphics for a taste of the wide-ranging arguments on both sides. You may not agree, but I find those on the yes side a lot more coherent and compelling.
I’ll leave you with the John Lennon’s Imagine manifesto (click image):