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.