They say you should never talk politics or religion in polite company. As blogs are the antithesis of polite company, I can share a passage that struck me from Alan Johnson’s memoir In My Life:
‘Mine is a privileged generation. Not only have we prospered from the postwar rise in living standards, the creation of the NHS, significant advances in science and technology, the virtual eradication of diseases such as polio and diphtheria and the absence of world wars, we have also witnessed a transformation in public attitudes away from the casual barbarity of previous decades towards ethnic minorities, the disabled, the mentally ill, homosexuals and single mothers. Ironically, as the country has become less Christian in its adherence to religion, it has become more Christian in its way of life.’
This sound observation is one that we can see in other countries in recent decades, where the inverse has happened and more religious governments have stripped away peoples’ freedoms and equalities. I’m thinking about countries like Iran, which I remember being more liberal and women having more rights before the revolution and the religious state that followed.
Yet, the correlation between the dwindling numbers engaged in formal religions and the increase in liberalism isn’t as straightforward as this or as Alan Johnson would like us to believe. The advances in science and technology, which Johnson mentions, and the accessibility of education, which he doesn’t, are more likely contributors to marginalising religion while at the same time replacing intolerance and discrimination with acceptance and equality. When Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,’ he was talking about making the world fairer and less impoverished.
Where Johnson writes of a ‘more Christian in its way of life,’ he is referring more generally to society and the laws that protect ethnic minorities, the disabled etc. I accept this generalisation, but at the same time I despair at all of the present-day laws that work to the detriment of women. (Dear Reader, please read Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, if you haven’t already.)
To be fair to Alan Johnson, what I have quoted was probably not intended to be dissected like this. A passage of deep thought in an otherwise light romp through the former politician’s childhood, these lines give the book more weight and texture. Perhaps too, I don’t want to be too hard on any writer who names each volume of his memoir after a Beatles song.