Contrary to what is popularly supposed, the UK is still religious society. There has been a decline in the religion of hope, the Christian religion, but this has been offset by the rise of a new secular religion. Mistakenly religious belief is confused with a belief in a message of salvation, what Hick calls the universal salvic, ignoring the fact that for most of human history religious belief has encompassed the most inhuman of beliefs. The Gods of classical Greece and Rome had little concern for the welfare of mankind. They even provoked wars, one example being the Trojan war, which was a war by human proxies for the Gods. Central American religions prior to the Conquistadors were barbaric, involving mass human sacrifice. Even the religion of compassion, Christianity has its dark side. Thousands were killed in the wars to suppress heresy. There is persisting in our society a much darker religion, a religion of state. Varro an observer of classical Rome describes this religion most eloquently. He described how the aristocratic Senate manipulated the people’s belief in the Gods to protect their interests. Rome was riven by social conflict driven by the rise of the slave economy which impoverished the plebeian classes. Whenever discontent threatened to take on a threatening aspect the Senators would manufacture threatening supernatural happenings, stories of storms damaging temples, pigs being born with two heads etc. This cowed a superstitious populace and made it easier to manage and suppress this discontent.
What has changed in Britain is not state religion, but it’s it form. It has lost its supernatural guise and has been reborn as a secular religion, Neo-Liberalism. In its essential nature it remains unchanged, whereas once the church sanctified the social hierarchy, no it is a belief in the free market with its philosophy of winners and losers. Ayn Rand prophet of Neo-Liberalism describes the billionaires as the saviours of mankind and writes lovingly of the famine that kills thousands of the useless poor. Unfortunately the governing classes has always used this brutal religion of state to maintain their position. All too often in the past this dark religion of state surfaced within the Christian religion of compassion and distorted its meaning and used the church as an accessory in its brutal hold on power.
Neo-Liberalism I believe but the latest in the long line of state religions, which I intend to demonstrate by showing the similarities between our new state religion and those of the past. One characteristic of our inherited Abrahamic religions, is that they centre on an all powerful supreme deity. It is from this supreme deity that all existence stems. Similarly Neo-Liberalism centres on a powerful deity, that is the ‘market’ which determines the nature of the existence of all that live in society by shaping their social world. Perhaps a minor deity in comparison to the all powerful God; but our secular God has some God like characteristics. Power over the the lives of humankind for example, not the power of life and death, but the power to determine life style and life chances. To deny the existence and power of the market is futile, as is the denial of God’s existence is too any Christian. Those societies that denied the power of the market are doomed to failure, as the market will inevitably triumph over any alternative social forms. This is demonstrated by the collapse of the communist societies of Eastern Europe. Neo-Liberalism even has an eschatology, but it is not an end of days eschatology that turns earth into a heavenly paradise, but one in which market forces ultimately create the materialistic earthly paradise. A paradise that maximises people’s welfare by maximising wealth creation through the process of the free market. People in this new earthly paradise will have wealth undreamt of by their predecessors, it will be the land of plenty.
To the true believer the market is the fount of all truth and the truths are those of the market. For the Christian their life’s goal is to live a life in imitation of Jesus for the free marketer, it is to remake society in the image of the free market. Over the past thirty year’s governments have tried to remake the public sector in the image of the free market. There is not one sector of government that has been unaffected by out sourcing to the private sector. Even the most technologically advanced and critical sectors of government have been hived off to the private sector. Weapon’s development to Quintec, nuclear power to French and Chinese contractors and increasingly health care to Spire and other private sector suppliers. What ever may have been the consequences outsourcing of government services, the true believers in free enterprise (our political leaders and their followers) are blind to its failings. Quintec produced an infantry rifle that constantly jammed when used in action, threatening the lives of our soldiers. Chinese construction companies have a very mixed reputation, threatening a disastrous leak of radio activity; yet the government is content to see such a dangerous technology in the hands of companies with poor safety records. Again the American health providers have a mixed record, one of the largest is fighting fraud accusations in its homeland. Perhaps the best comparison is with the American religious fundamentalists who have created a theme part in which mankind is showing peaceably interacting with the dinosaurs, despite all the scientific evidence that shows that mankind lived millions of years after the dinosaurs. Free market fundamentalists believe in the virtues of the free market despite mounting evidence that demonstrates the contrary.
When the Christian Roman Empire and Church centred on Constantinople were establishing themselves it was recognised that there would be resistance to its rule. Persecution was the only way to establish unity of practice and belief. Not only pagans but Christian’s with non conformist views were persecuted. One of the great Saints of the Orthodox Church had his tongue pulled out of his mouth by the church authorities, as it was the best way to silence his critical voice. Free marketers in the contemporary society recognised that dissenting voices had to be silenced. The weapon’s of choice have been unemployment and impoverishment. In the universities alternatives to free market have been removed from the curriculum, economists had a choice either lose their job or cease to teach the alternatives to free market market economics and keep their job.
Some of the darkest days of the church have been mirrored in the changes that have taken place in the public sector. In 16th century Italy the Inquisition was unleashed on Italy by the Pope to ensure compliance with the official truths. Even great churchmen such as Cardinal Pole were not safe from the Inquisition. He had to constantly keep on the move to keep one step ahead of the church’s inquisitors. The story of Galileo Galilee being forced to recant his views on to be nature of the universe is all too well known. Today the government employs a variety of inspection services to ensure compliance with the official doctrines. Rather than the stake, non compliance can now result in unemployment and impoverishment. Whistle blowers in the public sector inevitably lose their jobs and their income. Government has learnt that fear is the best means of ensuring compliance with its doctrines.
Turning around the ship of state was surprisingly easy as preferment in the public sector went to true believers only. From the Heads of the Civil Service to the senior managers in the Health and Education Services all have been exponents of the true religion. How much of the publicised failures in the health service have been due to over eager exponents of the free market forcing changes inimical to patient care under the guise of market efficiencies.
Usually Neo-Liberalism is described as an ideology of capitalism, but that is to misunderstand the nature of the beast. The fervour and unshakeable belief of the true believers makes it a religion. It’s a faith not subject to rational argument, no matter how many times the intended free market reforms fail. Neo-Liberal philosophers and prophets have converted the governing classes of the West to this philosophy. The conversion has been so complete that it is now ingrained as the accepted truth within Britain’s political, economic and social elites. There is no brutality that Neo-Liberalism cannot justify, whether it’s the mass unemployment and impoverishment of Europe’s youth or the cruel tortures of Pinochet’s death camps. Tinkering with the social and economic structures imposed by Neo-Liberalism to ameliorate the abuses of the system, will have little effect. What is needed the expunging of this ‘bad faith’ from the public soul, anything less is pointless.