The benchmark of modern civilization, and the defining instrument which has pulled educated and responsible people away from bludgeoning one-another over the head with the discarded leg bones of their devoured foes, is the ability to discuss matters and reach conclusions, whether compromise or consensus, that make sense for everyone to carry on with their lives. Hopefully, with lives that’ll be a little better even. This ability to discuss and rationalize, to debate the wider picture and encapsulate the differing views of the many, not the few, and create a better place to be for the many, and also not the few, is what underpins the political systems of all developed countries. We believe that the viewpoints of all people are worth considering and that there are people who should be chosen to represent those views.
Now I know that we’re all supposed to say, by default, that all politicians are liars, crooks, non-representative upper class ‘haves’ who can’t, don’t and seemingly won’t relate to the ‘have nots’. This is the ‘right on’ approach to take and I often agree with it. But, for every George Osborne there’s a Robin Cook, for every David Cameron there’s a Mo Mowlam, for every Peter Mandelson there’s a Tony Benn, for every Tony Blair there’s a Dennis Skinner etc etc. You should get my point here, politics is there for the common good, is managed with good people at least involved, and is all about the people being heard and acted for.
Religion on the other hand is the opposite of this. There lots of good people involved but it is, at its core, the ancient, perpetuated dogma of a handful of pieces of parchment, from a country that no longer exists, in a language nobody speaks, about people who are either dead or, more likely, never existed. It is a series of doctrines without evidence, without proof, without reports, examples, testing or checks. It tells you, but doesn’t stand up to be counted. If it’s wrong, then it’s your fault, not its. Your, mine or anyone else’s opinion about it is irrelevant because what we think or do will make no difference. We are less important than it. It supersedes us in value.
Now I know that we’re supposed to recognize the ethical and moral good that religion does. How it guides and saves people, and how it steers people through life’s desperate and difficult choices. How it balances the worries and temptations of good honest folk and helps them take the right steps. This is laudable and there are plenty of good people in the church, mosques, synagogues etc. But, for every Community Outreach Project there’s a Pro-Life Demonstration, for every Soup Kitchen there’s a vote against same-sex unions, for every Church Fete there’s a Crusade, for every Blessing there’s a Condemnation etc etc. The point here is that there are good and bad people and religion basically makes no difference to the way someone chooses to treat other people.
So, why compare and contrast these seemingly diametrically opposed ways of life? These ways of living and existing?
Simply because they are unfathomably welded together. Even now, in an age of almost limitless scientific and philosophical awareness, where we know the shape of the Earth, where it is, how it works, why things do what they do, why we die, why the Sun comes up and why we aren’t surrounded by celestial beings, goblins, deities or anything else.
That we are led then, in every single national leadership, whether political, dictatorial, monarchical or otherwise, by religiously determined people is flabbergasting. What is even more bizarre however is that we don’t mind! Seriously, no-one minds do they? We completely expect and accept that our leaders, the people calculating the taxes, deciding on policies, starting wars, delivering grants and aid and whatever other mind-bogglingly massive and important tasks they carry out, are led by a belief in a person/spirit/goat/insert whatever here that they and no-one else can see, or ever has. But, not only this, they are happy to admit it!
When I hear a politician say that they are comforted, or guided by God (and it’s usually God, because it’s usually UK or US politicians I hear about) I cringe and sweat. There are a number of reasons for this, and they are all pretty justifiable in their own right, but here’s the crux of it: You’re working for me, not God.
There are loads of reasons why I don’t like people rabbiting on about religion, but that’s not the point here, the point is that these people, politicians I mean, are supposed to be carrying out a mandate from masses, not from a singular (or trinity) imagined being. God, as far as I’m aware, is pretty much capable of taking care of itself but you, mister Prime Minister/President, are suppose to be looking out for the 60-250m people that you’re responsible for.
Imagine for a second if, instead of God, your chosen politician references Father Christmas as his prime motivator and justification for the decisions he’s made and the actions that would follow, the deaths that would occur, the debt that would accumulate, the lives that would be wrecked, the environment that would be destroyed. ‘Father Christmas’? This isn’t that difficult a concept to grasp. He definitely ticks far more of the benevolent instead of wrathful boxes, and he’s equally conjoured up. But, that’s silly, isn’t it? Everyone would just say, what the fuck?, and have said polictian led away to a cosy armchair and start pushing through some little used legislation to get him away from the big red button.
Not for a good old fashioned, honest to goodness Yahweh worshipper though. Oops! I meant God. Christians don’t really know God’s real name. But then, they don’t really know very much by and large, which is largely the problem with religion. But then ignorance is bliss, which is why religion is so comforting to people. However, what is not comforting to me is why, in a free and democratic society, where religious worship and church attendance is in decline, do the British public not question why their elected leaders seem to happily admit that they take their guidance and decision making skills from a separate, singular authority, that has nothing to do with us?
Religion and politics are not one and the same. They may have crossed paths many times, and been pointing at or driven by the same things, but so have lots of things and they don’t encroach on the political process, apart from through the political process itself, which is what it’s there for. Why do BBC/ITV/SKY news ask the Archbishop of Canterbury his thoughts on anything world or country shiftingly important? My postman is as qualified. Maybe more so, as he deals with real people far more often. Is he less morally or ethically qualified to speak about race, poverty or crime? You should feel ashamed if you think so. I like Rowan Williams, I think he’s pissed off that he’s got himself stuck with the cassock, because whenever I hear him talk he sounds very sensible and measured, but then he brings up the fact that he thinks that there’s a ghost in clouds who decides everything and I sigh.
Politics is there for everyone and by sidelining it with religion you are stifling that. The argument that claiming religion is a vote-winner sickens me and, even if it’s true, is just pandering. No UK Prime Minister is going to say evolution is a lie, or that the Ark was real, or that it’s OK to attempt to repopulate a desert by sleeping with and impregnating your daughters, but they will say that they have a ‘belief’ or a ‘spirituality’ or a ‘faith’. This is cowardice and pandering to the diminishing minority but, perhaps unduly loud, opinion formers.
Religion may help people, but it’s a cop out, a dodge, a side-step from the difficult questions and problems of this world. That’s OK for a farmer, or a bus driver, but not for a world leader, and certainly not when they’ve said they’ll do the right thing by everyone. Being finally judged by God is not the get-out clause either. You are being judged now, so do that right thing. It’s hard, and it’s meant to be, otherwise everyone would be doing, but they’re not. We’re trusting you to.