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Saturday Sound-off: Religion and Politics

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I had planned to write a piece about austerity. Out of deference to the people affected by the terrible event in Kensington this week I have decided to hold that over to a future date.

There was another event that caught my eye however. Barely noticed among the hours of TV coverage and reams of newspaper reporting and comment about Grenfell Tower, came Tim Farron’s announcement that he was resigning the leadership of the British Liberal Democratic Party.

Mr Farron is a devout Christian who has made it known that he regards homosexuality as sinful. Despite that, on every occasion when laws about sexual behaviour and orientation have been under discussion in the House of Commons he has supported the right of individuals to make their own choices.

And yet, during the recent General Election campaign he was pursued relentlessly by certain elements in the media over his religious beliefs. At times in the past he has been guilty of evading such questions. He has explained this by stating that his Christian beliefs are irrelevant to his role as a legislator. His voting record confirms this.

His resignation statement makes plain his sometimes conflicting belief that, in a nation whose people observe many different religions and none, it is inappropriate for law makers to impose restrictions based on a single interpretation of the holy book of just one of those religions. It also demonstrates the anguish he feels as a consequence of that internal conflict.

I have written before about the suffering caused by religious fervour in the past. And we see it still, almost on a daily basis, in parts of the Middle East.

Across most of the UK in the 21st century we have removed the majority of those laws which were motivated by religious belief. The same is true of most modern democracies, although in some there are people with power and influence who still seek to have ancient explanations granted the same weight as scientific reasoning in schools.

I say “most of the UK” because there is a small part of the Kingdom where a fervently religious political party still insists on imposing restrictions on the rights of its citizens in matters of sexual orientation. Where, I wonder, is the media harassment of the leader of that party? Especially now that she is in a position to influence the governance of the whole Kingdom over the next five years.

You could say that, as an atheist I am seeking to impose my personal beliefs when I insist that religion has no place in politics. But, like Tim Farron, I have no desire to deny anyone the right to live by whatever doctrine he or she chooses to adhere to, so long as their behaviour does not harm others. And that is why I have such great admiration for this decent man who has presided over the re-birth of his party after the disastrous collapse in support following their performance as coalition partners from 2010 to 2015. I may not share his religious beliefs but I have nothing but praise for his honesty and integrity.

Do you agree that religion has no place in politics in a modern democracy or should our laws be determined by ancient beliefs? And, if so, which ancient belief system would you impose?

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5 Comments

  1. lgould171784 says:

    Separation of church and state is firmly established in the first amendment to the constitution of the United States, but there are many people who would like to do away with that protection. I wasn’t aware that this was also a major problem in the UK. Thanks for an interesting piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • franklparker says:

      I wouldn’t say it’s a major problem, but it is certainly the case that some protestants in Northern Ireland are opposed to same sex marriage and support creationism. And they have been a part of the government of that province for some years. Although same sex marriage is now permitted in the rest of the UK it is still not allowed in Northern Ireland. Until the recent election they had no influence in the rest of the UK. They have also stated that, as partners in government, they will not seek to impose those minority views in the rest of the Kingdom. Church and state are nominally separate in the UK also, however the Church of England is the ‘established’ church with the Queen at its head, which puts it at the heart of ‘The Establishment’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lgould171784 says:

        I wish that certain “partners in government” in the USA were equally reasonable. Unfortunately, many of them are determined to foist their views on the rest of us. It has taken only a small minority of extreme right-wingers in Congress to create havoc.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sha'Tara says:

    Religion has no place in the making of laws that all members of a nation are expected to obey, or live by. That should be obvious. Further, churches, or other religious organizations or groups should not qualify for government subsidies, however these are done, and if such groups involve themselves in charitable works, only individuals in such groups should qualify for charitable donation tax breaks. One more thing I’d add is, no religion should have the right to proselytize, except within their own meetings/churches where presumably those present are there of their own free will. A bit off-topic but it ties in with religion unduly influencing the “polis” through government-granted freedoms. Religion is a business, pure and simple, too often a dangerous business, and as history proves, is never something reliable for expressing a “humane” lifestyle. My opinion entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. franklparker says:

    I absolutely agree, Sha’Tara. Unfortunately religion has and, in too many jurisdictions, still does influence law making and education.

    Like

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