Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rachel Sylvester, God and politics

Rachel Sylvester complains in The Times about the "creeping secularisation of politics", and concludes that "politicians in this country have abandoned belief - at the very moment that the people need hope." She echoes Ruth Kelly's comment that "Religion is seen as something a bit strange, in the margins. Politics is much the poorer for that because you want people who believe in things to go into politics."

We certainly do want people who believe in things, but the problem is that we really don't want people who believe in things which don't exist. Rachel and Ruth both use the familiar religious ploy of attempting to conflate religious beliefs with moral and ethical beliefs, so one moment they appear to be speaking about religious 'faith', and its absence in modern politics, the next they're speaking about moral beliefs as if the two are equivalent.

The secularisation of politics, like the secularisation of society in general, is extremely healthy because it amounts to a process in which moral and political beliefs are formed by thinking rationally about justice and opportunity and human suffering, rather than the derivation of dogmatic beliefs from religious scripture or the 'divinely-inspired' pronouncements of the priesthood.

Rachel agrees with a claim from the Archbishop of Canterbury that politicians are becoming ever more interested in subjects that have traditionally been the domain of religion, such as euthanasia, abortion, embryonic research and science education, but the truth is that these subjects have always been of general rather than exclusively religious concern. The point is that those people who hold dogmatic, bigoted opinions on these issues, often hold them because they derive their opinions from their religious beliefs.

Rachel complains that "politicians, of all parties, have never been more fearful of faith," but it is quite justifiable to be fearful of something which is so capable of engendering dogmatic and destructive moral beliefs. Rachel herself provides the perfect example of why we should be fearful of religion, when she points out that:

There has been a believer in Downing Street for the past 11 years. Tony Blair, the first prime minister since Gladstone who slept with a Bible beside his bed, once said that his Christianity and his politics "came together at the same time."

It's no coincidence that George Bush and Tony Blair both hold deep religious convictions; the delusional nature of these individuals was notoriously evident in their destructive decision to go to war in Iraq. One can only speculate on the combination of motives involved, but Blair's belief in the existence of an imaginary friend, with whom he presumably chatted prior to the invasion, was particularly manifest when he declared on Parkinson that God would judge his actions as Prime Minister.

When the religious claim that other humans don't have the right to judge them, then they reveal most clearly why we should be fearful indeed of them.


Bob said...


Jonathan said...

I certainly agree that you don't need God in order to be moral, since using morality and behavioural discrimination (and its oftentime nasty shadow-judgementalism) are normal human activities in this world. But then to me spirituality, or the divine (religion being merely particular historically situated, socio-political manifestations of humanity's collective relationship with this domain) isn't about morality anyway, but about having, or at least seeking, a different kind of quality and order of consciousness and being altogether; such that one can universally love and be at peace with both oneself and all others - and not find that boring, moreover.

In anycase, I'm not sure how you know that these things which religious people believe in don't exist. Maybe they dont, or maybe some do and some don't, or maybe all, or some, do in a different sense than they, or we, suppose they do. But how one can 'know' that they don't at all Im not so sure about.

Is the lack of a certain kind of of evidence for x prove that x is not there?

I wish I could share your enthusiasm for Formula One by the way. Don't they just go round and round in roughly equivalent circles? I presume I am missing something:(

Gordon McCabe said...

Occasionally, Jonathan, they actually race each other whilst circulating, but this is generally frowned upon, and often results in some form of punishment from the powers-that-be.