Sunday, March 11, 2007

Religion and Politics........a mix made in heaven?

I have found myself wrestling with this particular nettle (sorry I do love mixing my metaphors!) following the news that the Catholic Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine has made his decision to vote against Labour public.

On Friday I snapped a Scottish Episcopalians say "No Trident Replacement" banner in Edinburgh - as you may imagine I shouted a silent YES in support. I was reminded of a quote I used to have on my office wall from one of my political/religious heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu - " I am puzzled which Bible people are reading when they suggest religion and politics don't mix".

Whether or not we agree with Bishop Devine (what a cool name for a bishop!), Archbishop Tutu or the Episcopalian Church, or whether they agree with each other, the idea that you can keep religion and politics completely separate is a nonsense. Whilst I support the disestablishment of the Church of England I can't support the notion that if you have a religious belief, particularly if you express that through taking on a leadership role, you are automatically disqualified from expressing a political opinion. Yes, we may not agree with everything that every bishop, imam or rabbi utters, we may worry about the influence they have on their "complient" flocks, however, I would argue that the influence of Rupert Murdoch is far stronger and far more disturbing.

What I find worrying is when religion or quasi religion disestablishes itself from normal and/or political life, think of Waco and Jonestown and Iraq, even Northern Ireland. If faith means anything it must surely mean engagement with the society in which it operates and the structures by which that society operates.

Yesterday I joined friends from our local CND, campaigning against Trident, beside a bust of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, another churchman, without whose "political" action the world in general and South Africa in particular, would have been the poorer. One of my friends commented on how great it was that even in death he could continue to be involved in campaigning!

So, now off to pack for another trip to glorious Glasgow tomorrow. This time staying at a hotel which not only has free internet access (be warned) but also a free bar! What a good job I resisted that temptation to give up wine for lent...........


Joe Otten said...


I don't think anybody is suggesting that religious people shouldn't be entitled to express political opinions. Certainly not the NSS or the BHA or The God Delusion. This is a straw man.

Linda Jack said...

Oh, but it is a view I encounter quite a lot, especially since we selected an anglican vicar as one of our candidates in Bedford. Although of course, I would not expect to encounter such a view in liberal circles! I think my main concern is that people could be forgiven for equating involvement of religious leaders as being obsessively about sexual issues and forget the huge contribution people like Desmond Tutu, Trevor Huddleston et al have made, motivated by their faith. But I stand to be corrected!!!!

Joe Otten said...

Linda, seriously, who is saying that religious people shouldn't be entitled to express political opinions?

There are certainly religous figures who I think should butt out more often - the involvement of the Catholic Church in the last US presidential election was pretty despicable. But saying that they are doing wrong is not the same as saying they shouldn't be entitled to speak.

There is aboslutely no movement for the removal of normal political rights from religious people, and I would of course oppose it if there were. There is a big movement to remove some special privileges from the churches - and this - unless I am missing something here - is what seems to be motivating some not entirely honest backlash.

See also my blog post here:

Linda Jack said...

Hi Joe

Thanks for the link and I have read your piece, excellent and I couldn't agree more. Although, whilst agreeing with your analysis about Ruth Kelly, the same criticisms could be mounted against those whose values spring from beliefs other than religion. But, it has to be said, that I do know of many people who do not share that view, in fact I was told of someone recently who objected to a Muslim being appointed as one of our LEA governors, but apparently he would have objected had it been a Christian too.

Disgruntled Radical said...

Linda, amazing ! After Harrogate and Leeds, I went to Edinburgh to visit Jim Wallace and walking around the city I photographed the same episcopalian banner !

Alec Salmon made a good speech in the Commons debate on Trident and the SNP will be cheering all the way to the polls about the positions takern by Labour and Lib Dems.

All the Edinburgh MPs opposed Trident and our own John Barrett (who spoke for our amendment in Harrogate) also spoke well in the Commons.