A2: Significance of religion in contemporary world

Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed free speech in the autocratic kingdom. His blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, was shut down after his arrest in 2012.(The Guardian)

This is a brilliant example of the tensions between Western ideas of secularisation, the advance of technology and conservative religious societies such as Saudi Arabia. It is a perfect example for Marxism because clearly the Saudis will not tolerate a critical analysis of their ‘religious’ approach to governance and thus supports the idea that religion is utilised by the hegemon to oppress the powerless majority. The example can also be used within the social change debate – clearly religion is being used an excuse to maintain the status quo and restrict any challenges.

Here are some quotes from the blog:

“Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.”

“No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress. This is not a failing on the part of religion but rather that all religions represent a particular, precise spiritual relationship between the individual and the Creator. ..However, positive law is an unavoidable human and social need because traffic regulations, employment law and the codes governing the administration of State can hardly be derived from religion.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

 

The Guardian (15.01.15): Pope Francis: there are limits to freedom of expression

Pope Francis waves to Filipino well wishers at a street in Manila, PhilippinesPope Francis has said there are limits to freedom of expression and that following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris “one cannot make fun of faith”.

What might a Marxist or Functionalist think about the following information?

On a plane from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the largest Catholic majority country in Asia, the pope said freedom of speech was a fundamental human right but “every religion has its dignity”.

Asked about the attack that killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo – targeted because it had printed depictions of the prophet Muhammad – he said: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.

“There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits.”

He gestured to Alberto Gasparri, who organises papal trips and was standing by his side, and added: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Cautioning against provocation he said the right to liberty of expression came with the obligation to speak for “the common good”.

The pontiff also said he was convinced that global warming was “mostly” man-made and that man had “slapped nature in the face”. He expressed the hope that the upcoming Vatican encyclical – the most authoritative documents a pope can issue – on the environment, would encourage negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in November to make courageous decisions to protect God’s creation.

Francis is due to meet survivors of typhoon Haiyan, which the Philippine government has said was an example of the extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.

“I don’t know if [human activity] is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face,” he said. “We have in a sense taken over nature.”

Francis, who has been critical of a “culture of waste” since he became pope, said the mass cultivation of single crops and deforestation had been over-exploited.

“I think we have exploited nature too much,” he said. “Thanks be to God that today there are voices, so many people who are speaking out about it.”

Francis has thrown the Catholic church into the fight to combat climate change since becoming pope and has said that the Vatican’s encyclical on ecology would be released by June or July, in order to give people plenty of time to digest the material before the next round of climate change negotiations. The last round in Peru failed to reach an agreement.

“The meetings in Peru were nothing much, I was disappointed,” he said. “There was a lack of courage. They stopped at a certain point. We hope that in Paris the representatives have more courage to go forward.”

Francis said his four-day trip to the Philippines would focus on the poor, the exploited and victims of injustice. He was greeted by ecstatic crowds when he arrived in Manila on Thursday after being met with flowers at the airport by two children from a shelter: 10-year-old Mark Angelo Balberos and nine-year-old Lanie Ortillo. As the wind flew off with his papal skullcap, known as a zuchetta, he hugged and kissed the children.

“I told him bienvenido (welcome), and he said yes, bienvenido,” Lanie said. She added: “While I was hugging him I prayed that he could help more children, not only the two of us.”

Before the start of the first papal visit to Asia’s largest Catholic nation in 20 years, Francis said: “The central nut of the message will be the poor, the poor who want to go forward, the poor who suffered from typhoon Haiyan and are continuing to suffer the consequences.”

His message will resonate in a country where poverty afflicts nearly a quarter of the 100 million people and where many Filipinos leave their families in search of jobs abroad. Social activists in Manila have urged Francis to be a champion of downtrodden Filipinos.

Before a makeshift altar in front of a statue of working man and national hero Andres Bonifacio, a large banner read: “Welcome Pope Francis! Hear the cry of the poor and oppressed. Stand with us for justice and peace.”

Roman Catholic priest the Rev Ben Alforque said poor Filipinos include landless peasants, underpaid workers, homeless children, indigenous tribes and political prisoners. “The church of the poor is in the heart of Pope Francis,” he said.

Tax

Should the wealthy be taxed at a much higher level than others? New Labour’s proposal of taxing earnings over 150k at 50% is being cautiously implemented by the Conservative government. Of course, this is a devisive strategy – many on the right claim it will slow the economy and encourage the rich to leave the UK, whilst many on the left argue it is a justified measure…even Warren Buffett supports higher taxes in the U.S!

Yet, perhaps the biggest focus should be given to the amount of tax which dodged by the elite, this amounts to billions of pounds and would go along way in adding extra revenue. The use of offshore banks is being more closely monitored, and a recent deal with the Swiss banks to return billions from previously anonymous account. Yet, the loopholes of the deal are said to be huge – there is no requirement to end the secrecy of the accounts, so no real break on illegal tax evasion. Nicholas Shaxon, author of ‘Treasure Islands’ argues that it is a “disgraceful deal” which “rewards criminality”, he questions why people who acted criminally are not prosecuted and further still he points out they are even going to enjoy a lower rate of tax. Thus, it is an excellent example of one rule for criminalised elites and one set of rules for everyone else. Cleverly, he points out that at a time when lots of the media are soul searching following the recent riots, and that the general public are suffering from moral decay, yet, it seems that it is actually some of the elites are the real criminals. It really isn’t hard to apply a Marxist argument to these findings!

Moreover, Faiza Shaheem from the New Economics Foundation thinktank argues that the disparity between the rich and poor in the UK is large and this fostered a lack of understanding as highlighted by the reaction to the riots with many denouncing “feral youths” rather than having any understanding of the socio-economic context. She argues that there is so much evidence that more equality brings more happiness – after a certain point, money does not breed contentment.