A standard response to anyone who is religious is to assume that they are misguided or deluded. In the same way many religious people see those who are not as being without beliefs or values. But it is important to remember that religious or spiritual people can express and protest: their spirit is in the spiritless situation and it is this experience that can make them act.
It is not my intention to make this article an apology for either religion or spirituality or to try to defend what might be seen as a justification of religious belief. I am also not here to explain the essential difference between religion and spirituality.
My intention here is to try to show that there is a link between the aims of religious and/or spiritual groups and those groups fighting for a more just, humane and fair world against the programme of austerity. Furthermore, it is religious groups who often offer help to those with nowhere else to turn to, they are embedded within our communities and effected by cuts as the majority of the population are. It is important therefore to acknowledge their role and use in the fight against austerity. We should be able to work together, both those groups who identify as religious and/or spiritual and those who are not, in opposition to the current neoliberal agenda.
The Affects of Austerity:
One thing which often confuses us all is the real level of austerity – affecting not just those on state support but also individuals, families and communities struggling to get by.
In the debate about austerity we need to be clear about how deeply the current cuts damage all of us with the most obvious effects felt by those reliant on some form of state insurance pay out. Cuts to services affect us all, not only in terms of state help but also in terms of public facilities. The attack is not just on our material well being but also on those things that effect the quality of our communal life.
Austerity is always applied as part of a three pronged attack on ‘social democracy’ – the idea of a ‘social’ anything is an anathema to the neoliberal corporate capitalist enterprise with the central idea of this enterprise being that there should be no social ownership of anything and so privatisation and deregulation go alongside attacks on the very existence of society.
We can attack austerity on economic grounds, it has been shown to be neither efficient or effective in delivering profits and creates huge wealth for only the very few, on political grounds, on the evidence that it reduces democratic processes of representation and accountability and on moral and ethical grounds in that it is inhumane and denies human rights of access to those things which are fundamental to human needs.
Opposition takes many shapes and forms from overt political action, demonstrations and petitions to the provision of food banks, support groups and agencies to support those who bear the brunt of attacks upon us all.
Spirituality In and Against Austerity:
In order to be healthy we need to be well physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually and we know that if one part of these four is not well then it affects the whole person.
The first three of these, body, mind and heart, are easier to define and to deal with than the last one. We have some understanding of the need to be physically, mentally and emotionally well. But, what about being ‘spiritually’ well?
The idea of spirituality includes elements linking to ambitions, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. When we are talking about poverty it is more than not having our material needs met it also attacks our psychological welfare, lowers our self-esteem and sense of place and worth. Similarly, having very little in a society of abundance or not being able to consume in a consumer society can create feelings of being left out, pulled out or pushed out.
Not being able to find a decent job or place to live is demeaning and robs people (particularly young people) of hope and dreams of a brighter future –we only need to look at the level of mental health problems and suicides across countries undergoing austerity measures to see it’s full impact. It is important therefore to see austerity as an attack on our spiritual health, perhaps something more noted by those who identify as spiritual, but important nonetheless.
Those of us who are opposed to austerity measures or the cuts are motivated by a sense of outrageous anger, incredulity and frustration at such gross injustice or unfairness, often combined with a feeling of care, compassion and empathy for people who suffer as a result of deliberate governments and multinational corporations policies and practices.
It is important, therefore, to acknowledge not only the spiritual impact austerity can have but equally those who channel their religion or spirituality into providing front-line services to help those in desperate need, those who have been the most acutely affected by government welfare cuts.
I’m not suggesting that we should not question or be wary of accepting help from anywhere –after all the Church of England opposes austerity but has many investments in companies and corporations that contribute to the capitalist enterprise, alongside a long list of other issues. Indeed, many religious institutions are very wealthy in their own right and have much to account for in their role in global capitalism and the continuation of the neoliberal agenda. But many individuals, churches and religious groups make significant efforts to help such as by providing food banks or junk cafe’s which are helping to alleviate the worst aspects of austerity in which people are literally starving. We should not be wary of reaching out to these groups. It is important to remember that in everything we are better, stronger and more powerful together.
Article written for The People's Assembly by John Richardson