Rowson is a Marx-sympathising cartoonist and a leading member of two organisations, the National Secular Society and Humanists UK, which campaign to eradicate the influence of religion. He is at liberty to hold such views. But the publishers, by asking him to write a piece which he then uses to sneer at “creepy, paedo” priests and defend militant secularism, display an extraordinary indifference to the gravity of the book’s subject.
Godless Utopia is not primarily, and cannot be, an “art” book, a study of one genre or the technical competence of its illustrators. It is a collection of the visual propaganda of a terrible, if lesser-known, twentieth-century crime against humanity, the Soviet persecution of religious believers.
In acts of extreme savagery during the 1917 revolution and the subsequent civil war, thousands of bishops, clergy, monks and nuns were tortured and slaughtered — mutilated, raped, disembowelled, buried alive, crucified, forced to take communion with boiling lead, castrated or, in mid-winter, drenched with water and frozen to death. Under Stalin, the terror continued. The Soviets closed 10,000 of Russia’s 12,000 mosques, their imams imprisoned or shot. Of 60,000 churches open in 1917, barely 100 were functioning by 1939.
By the time of Stalin’s death, at least 50,000 religious leaders had perished and four times that number of believers sent to the gulag.
British left-wing secularist campaigners, Rowson’s philosophical forebears, looked on with approval, denying or downplaying the bloodshed. “It is ridiculous to describe the present state of affairs in Russia as ‘almost the worst record of religious persecution that the world has seen’,” declared the eminent scientist and Communist Party member J.B.S. Haldane. Graham Wallas, co-founder of the London School of Economics, wrote that there was no reason “why any Rationalists in this country should weep over … the million wasted candles once burning before wooden images”. Rowson now draws cartoons for New Humanist, which is published by the organisation Wallas once led, the Rationalist Association. When, in aside, he downplays the Spanish left’s murder of 7,000 Catholic clergy and nuns as “anarchists (who) put religious statues in front of firing squads”, it is hard not to see the parallels.
Rowson may have less time for Soviet communists than he has for Marx, but he is clearly sympathetic to their aim to eradicate religion, which he insists is only “a brutal tool of public control”. It would be unthinkable to invite a leading antisemite to write the foreword to a book on Nazi anti-Jewish cartoons and posters. This is little different. The bones of those who perished for their faith in Russia are still being uncovered. Let them rest in peace, without tainting their memory with the same contempt that took them to their graves.
Reading Toby Young’s account of his personal experiences of left-wing campuses (February), I was reminded of a friend who, having recently attended and completed an English Language course as a mature, part-time student, recounted to me her own first-hand observations of such unwarranted left-wing indoctrination, clearly not just the preserve of universities.
My friend attended an ordinary technical college (Highbury, in Portsmouth) once a week, for just two hours in the evening. The lecturer (white, male) made sure this relatively brief time for learning was filled with as much anti-Tory, anti-Trump, anti-racist, anti-Empire, pro-feminist, pro-LGBTQ propaganda as possible.
Several mature students (including my friend) complained to the college that they were not receiving an adequate amount of teaching of the English language, with the lessons instead dominated by the lecturer’s personal, and in this case irrelevant, politics. No action was taken, with the college pointing out that the majority of the (younger) students made no such complaint, and the lessons continued much as before.
Nine students quit, no doubt baffled, bored rigid or just impotently enraged by the amount of politics involved in what should have been a course in the English language.
Christians and Jews
Marcus Walker (Sounding Board, January) ascribes the phenomenon of practising Christians voting for Jeremy Corbyn to an ancient antisemitism embedded within Christianity. No, it’s not. It’s due to a combination of stupidity, virtue signalling and BBC propaganda — not unlike the modern phenomenon of condemning Christianity as antisemitic. It has now become routine to blame even the Holocaust on Christianity. Instead of encouraging this dangerous agenda, Marcus Walker should re-examine his sources of information.
Any lunatic idea can be justified from a verse or two in the Bible taken out of context, but in contrast Christianity has always recognised that there is a special relationship between God and the Jews — because the Jews were the first to receive God’s message, as we hear in the traditional Christmas services time and time again. I suggest Marcus Walker pays attention this year.
Norman Lebrecht claims that “it is difficult to like Beethoven” because he had no extra-musical interests. Both his friends and his music are testimony that he had a warm heart and a fine sense of humour. He also went occasionally to a brothel, which despite Lebrecht’s innuendo Bruckner most definitely did not. He lived like a priest. And Brahms was no “boozer”, unless one considers coffee to be booze. Finally, Claudio Arrau was the most scrupulous of pianists and never “dazzled with wrong notes”.
Prémilhat, Auvergne, France
Joseph Connolly’s excellent article on modern dress (February) articulated feelings I’ve had for a while about our national apparel. I wonder if we are the fattest, drabbest people in Europe?
For myself, at 70, I look for reasonably-priced menswear in TK Maxx (brands such as Guide London, Steel & Jelly), market-town independent department stores and charity shops (e.g. as-new Balmain blazer for £8). I’ve never worn trainers nor replica football shirts and last wore denim in 1975 (as workwear). Here in Portsmouth, to eschew such items nowadays in favour of a more dressed-up style is dangerously radical.
Clive the Abstainer
I enjoyed many features in the January edition of The Critic, none more so than Daniel Johnson’s article on the poetry of Clive James. I was very surprised, however, that he should have described Clive as a heavy drinker and smoker when in fact he was a teetotaller and non-smoker. He used to say that he gave these up in his twenties because he couldn’t afford the time for hangovers.
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