This Christmas – let’s talk about love

December 21, 2012 10:13 am

I want to talk about love. Not romantic love (though that’s great too) but communal love.

Before you drop your knitting, I’m not talking about orgies either. Or swinging or any of the other sexual activities your filthy mind can conjure up!

I was brought up to be religious. I grew up in the Church of England and I even went so far as to serve as an acolyte (the teenager in the cassock who follows the vicar around with a candle) for a few years. My enormous crush on the vicar’s son notwithstanding (I guess there is a bit of romantic love after all), I did it because of the way church made me feel.

My favourite times in church were either singing hymns or the offering of the Peace. This is when the congregation would circulate, shaking hands and exchanging the words “Peace be with you”. Young and old, black and white, men and women we all came together and offered each other our peace. It’s quite a moving experience.

Now as an adult I am no longer a Christian. I have a slightly complex relationship with the concept of God that most comfortably falls under the term agnostic, but I no longer have any faith in the church.

But I do miss it sometimes. I miss that space where people came together to celebrate their love and to bring each other a message of peace and goodwill. Despite the terrible things done in the name of religion, that is most practising participants’ experience of their faith; that communal love.

This week I went to the excellent Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. Billed as a celebration of rationalism, it combines short talks from scientists with musical performances and comedy. It’s a wonderful, fun night out and it feels very communal. It felt a bit like Church.

That communal feeling can happen in all sorts of areas of secular life. While fewer of us than ever before attend church services or describe ourselves as religious, the Olympics and the Jubilee proved that the desire for communal experiences persists as strongly as ever. If Nine Lessons… felt like Church, Super Saturday felt like the Rapture (without the icky burning unbelievers of course).

The social need that Church fulfilled for me and for many others hasn’t gone away. But we don’t all find it in the same place. Some of us find it in politics, but frankly far too few of us. Politics isn’t celebratory anymore and is rarely communal. This has to change.

Now before anyone gets me wrong, the last thing I want to do is bring more religion in to politics. I don’t believe we should have as much as we do now. I am concerned at the Bishops sitting in the House of Lords and at the amount of state education is provided through church schools. And I’m not talking about faith. Good politics is about ideas not dogmas. It relies on evidence and reason.

It’s not the religious doctrines that I want to see brought into politics, but the religious experience – the sense that we are a community. I want that bond that church goers and mosque goer, synagogue attendees and people who worship at temples feel about their fellow humans. I just don’t want to have to subscribe to a faith I no longer feel to achieve it.

I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Labour could be a place for this kind of communion. The best politicians are preachers – look at Obama. But the best feelings in politics are about being with like minded people who wish you peace. We need to find ways of opening ourselves up to that spirit – to become again a place where people come together, not just a place where people come to fight.

I spend a lot of my time disagreeing vehemently with other Labour Party members about policy, campaigning and strategy. I do so because I want the Labour Party to be successful and to be the vehicle to improve the country. I will – I’m sure – continue to do so in 2013.

But for now, for this season and to end period in which our faith in humanity has been sorely tested, I want to remember the communal love we share for our fellow women and men: the reason we do it all.

Peace be with you.

Latest

  • Featured LabourList readers back Miliband’s pledges

    LabourList readers back Miliband’s pledges

    Last Thursday, Ed Miliband made Labour’s first election pledge, Conor Pope gave us the low-down of what this meant.  Effectively, Miliband said Labour would reduce the deficit but noted that a next Labour government would do so while securing the future of the NHS. Labour is long portrayed as the fiscally irresponsible party, and this speech saw Miliband try to rectify this mischaracterisation. So we wanted to know what LabourList readers thought about this pledge. The news looks good for the Labour […]

    Read more →
  • Comment There’s more to Higher Education than the REF

    There’s more to Higher Education than the REF

    Yesterday, British universities were in a spin. The result of six years of stress and anxiety, management pressure and absurdly bureaucratic language is out. We know the REF scores. We know, in other words, the numbers that every university department in Britain have been given for the quality and impact of their research over the last six years. The REF dominates university life. It decides appointments and shapes the way university managers treat staff – many hire research ‘stars’ at […]

    Read more →
  • Comment We want to build relationships with Labour – but they need to take some bold steps

    We want to build relationships with Labour – but they need to take some bold steps

    First my credentials. I have supported Labour at every election since I was old enough to vote. I am a party member of some 30 years standing. Why then, as the General Secretary of the trade union for staff in further and higher education am I in such utter despair at the timidity of the policy offer made by Labour to the members I represent and their students? Let’s be clear, I believe the coalition’s policies have been a disaster […]

    Read more →
  • News I was “never ever complicit” in illegal rendition or torture, says Jack Straw

    I was “never ever complicit” in illegal rendition or torture, says Jack Straw

    Jack Straw has condemned the use of torture and denied being complicit in the torture of suspected terrorists, following the publication of a report in America concerning the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs). Straw was Labour’s Foreign Secretary from 2001 to 2006, during the foremost years of the “War on Terror” and the UK’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Questions have been raised concerning what members of the British government knew about the use of EITs, but […]

    Read more →
  • Comment How not to change the constitution

    How not to change the constitution

    In this Parliament AV was rejected, Lords reform stumbled and even the Tories attempt to ‘equalise’ constituencies fell. ‘The Implications of Devolution for England’ already looks unhealthily like these other failed constitutional reforms. Nonetheless, the issue holds real dangers for Labour. Hague’s partisan and divisive Commons statement showed the Tories’ more concerned to maximise difference than to bring people together for the good of England. Yet even this couldn’t disguise Conservative divisions. In three months his Cabinet Committee failed to […]

    Read more →