Back to Basics Part II
David Cameron has potentially opened up a super-sized can of worms with his call for a return to ‘Christian values’ [sic]. Obviously, one should now hope and expect that our valiant seekers of truth in the free and democratic press will leave no stone unturned in seeing how his government holds up to these high standards. It should also ask wider questions about whether this government can lay claim to practising such values in its stated policy with its obvious preference for the money lenders in the temple as opposed to the people they were exploiting.
Ultimately, however, it has to be said quite fundamentally that religion has no place in the policy of a democratic government. Religion and indeed to a large extent morality is the province of the individual and the individuals conscience – once the state tries to shape or impinge on that it has lost sight of its purpose which is to serve the people in their entirety and infinite diversity – not just one faith grouping amoung them. Once a government states a religious preference it ceases to be able to legitimately claim to represent all of the people.
The same holds true for Members of Parliament who are servants of the people. Once they start making decisions based on their personal choice of religion then they are failing in their duty to represent the entire body of their constituents and only represent those who share the same beliefs as them. A soapbox is not a pulpit and it is incumbent upon each MP and each government to remember that they have no place imposing their choices on others but if they vote based on their personal conviction this is de facto what they do.
Religion can be a force for good. It can give people purpose, inspire brilliant achievements and selfless sacrifice – it can bring out the best in people – but it can also be a force for great evil and the infliction of great suffering upon people. This is especially true when it is mixed with politics and this is because once a polity infuses itself with divine, spiritual authority (and the implication of infallibility) it will inevitably become a tyranny waged against the people. Minorites who do not share the same beliefs are alienated and potentially persecuted by what is allegedly their own government. So often the great suffering caused by religion has been down to the desire to blend temporal, political power, with intangible but equally as potent spiritual power; insistence of supremacy and absolute divine truth becomes a campaign of terror against any who dare to dissent by people who are simply corrupted by the lust for power.
Historically, the battle for freedom, for democracy has been fought not just against the despotic monarch or dictator but also against the church whose vested interest and desire for domination of all others makes it complicit in the regime. Of course, it is true also that actively atheist states and forces have been equally as guilty of terror and tyranny – this is why consistent democrats do not demand an actively atheist state but a secular one in which religion (or lack of) is a matter purely for the individual to decide upon.
Nobody is saying David Cameron is quite there yet. However, how should be aware that secularism and the secular state is a cornerstone of liberal, representative democracy. He should be held to account for the moral inconsistencies in his words and his governments polices. Above all, he and other politicians should be reminded to keep the state and their noses out of matters which simply do not concern them and individuals and all faith groups (and those of no faith) should be allowed the freedom to believe without fear or favour.