R. H.Tawney was an expert on Tudor-Stuart history and he saw parallels with the crises of the age of totalitarianism, the twentieth century (Fascism and Soviet Communism especially). He said:
“The alternative to religion is rarely irreligion; it is a counter-religion…. The apostasies waiting to succeed are legion; but the most popular claimants to the political throne have commonly been two. They are the worship of riches, and the worship of power”.
Western capitalism epitomised the first, totalitarianism the second. Democracy was under threat from both.
[The Western Political Tradition]
Tawney was a prominent figure in English socialism in the early twentieth century. His Christian Socialism, and critique of capitalism, rested on a view of each person’s equality in the eyes of God. What humans shared in common was vastly more important than differences between them (such as genetic, intellectual or artistic differences or abilities).
In Tawney’s words, it is “the truth that it is absurd and degrading for humans to make much of their intellectual and moral superiority to each other, and still more of their superiority in the arts which bring wealth and power, because, judged by their place in any universal scheme, they are all infinitely great or infinitely small”.
A recent loss in my life prompts me to quote this from Howard Jacobson:
“I know what I want from a funeral. I want desolation. Howl, howl. If it truly doesn’t matter whom we burn or bury next – for we are but a mote in Creation’s eye – then that is all the more terrible for the dead and all the more desolating for those of us still standing. The end of a life, if we believe a life has meaning, is a dreadful event. The end of a life, if we believe a life has no meaning, is a more dreadful event still. Twist it how you like, death is neither decorous nor rational nor humane….
At last, if we have been allowed to feel the enormity of a single lost life, there may follow a conviction of the grandeur of all lives. But nothing follows if we don’t first find word for the magnitude of our despair.
And for this you need the psalms and liturgies of the great religions”.
[Whatever It Is, I don’t Like It, Bloomsbury, 2011m pp.206-7].