Religion in British Politics, Should it have a Place?

In an increasingly secular British society we always hear the rumblings and the cries to distance religion from our political process. Even with a unified establishment of church and state the opposition continues to grow in huge contrast to our western allies the United States of America where their state and church is separated yet leaders cannot seem to be elected without noting how much of a devoted follower of Jesus Christ they are. Now as much as some of us might disagree with religion we do recognise the right of freedom to believe and practice those beliefs, but at what point must we draw the line? Where do these values that are believed by so many to be the foundation for the moral basis of British attitudes begin to hurt us and hold back equality? This is an issue that quite frankly has been tiptoed around for the most part of the 21st century and needs to be properly addressed.

To be enlightened so-to-speak by the presumed celestial being one much unconditionally accept certain values into their lives, two of the most prominent being homophobia and patriarchal oppression. Holding these views at the beginning of human civilisation made a certain amount of sense as we were an undeveloped race and needed time to allow our reasoning and rationale to evolve. Fast forward three and a half centuries and the world as we know has been revamped following advances in technology, the industrial revolution and our understanding of science and logic. What made sense back then is now redundant and out of context with our own contemporary beliefs. As a race we continue to strive forward as is the nature of being a progressive society. That being said if we take our guidance for governing nations from the writings of men in an age that advocated social injustice then it is no wonder then we are met with hindrance along the way.

The United Kingdom legislative system is comprised of 26 bishops (‘Lord Spirituals’) in the House of Lords Chamber with an obvious interest to ensure the continuation legislation that promotes Christian core beliefs. This of course could spell disaster for British equality should the chamber seek to influence bills including (and not limited to) Cameron’s proposed same-sex marriage legislation for the desire to follow a religious guideline, so can this truly be justified? Equality is one of the finest attributes that the United Kingdom promotes and if sections of society are denied the same rights as others because a few select individuals perceive it as their divine right or mission to act on a belief that (at least in Britain) is seeing wavering support then that is a complete miscarriage of justice. If there was ever an argument for reforming the House of Lords it is this one.

Democracy is to be held in the highest of all esteems, it ensures fairness and a voice for all. If one religion is to be represented in the legislative process then surely it is only fair that all must be represented otherwise democracy as a whole is undermined. However this is simply not the case and it is extremely unlikely we would ever see the Islamic faith properly represented (Muslim MPs currently make up 1.23% of Parliament) in government –mostly due to the stigma behind the belief – or any other faith for that matter.

Democracy is the voice of the people and if certain voices find themselves drowned out then is this not a failing of a democratic state? In fact it is often seen as taboo to speak out against these faiths for the sake of political correctness which has left certain items off the social and political agenda such as stem cell research and euthanasia (although admittedly controversial subjects without religion’s influence). It just seems that on some level religion does have a tendency – whether through direct insider governmental influence or through outside social movements – to hold back a progressive society. It’s important to remember that developed countries such as the United Kingdom and United States often pride themselves on their freedom of speech and freedom of press and yet it somehow seems that religious institutions often find themselves exempt from proper political debate and discussion, across the world in the middle eastern region nations that are governed by the Sharia are prime examples of this – it is literally impossible to speak out against the law under fear of drastic repercussions. This is unfortunate as religious believers are not necessarily bad people, many or most of them act in a way which they see truly benefits the land they live in and its inhabitants, it is simply their beliefs (even the more modern, liberal thinkers) are beginning to become out of touch with British society.

Essentially what this boils down to is that Great Britain is still seen as a fundamentally Christian country, the Prime Minister said so himself in late 2011 yet he quickly distance himself from the theology by stating ‘I don’t feel I have a direct line [to God]’ when asked about his own religious beliefs. We can choose to interpret this in a number of ways but surely this is just a political ploy to maximise voting potential given religion makes up over 50% of the United Kingdom population according to statistics from the 2001 Census, a survey from the BBC and the British Humanist Association. It is this fear of numbers and the ongoing desire for power that is forcing our leaders to circumvent the issue at hand essentially allowing an ongoing cycle of religious doctrines being distributed throughout British culture and society.

The fact of the matter is that you need only look at parts of the world where religion is rife such as the Middle Eastern regions to see the struggle it causes. By acting on a divine will leaders can essentially remove any sense of conscience in the decisions they make, be it for their people or against them. Tony Blair was a religious man and many speculate it was due to this that he sent more troops into battle than any other Prime Minister since the Second World War, it was his crusade, and now since 2001 more than 400 British troops have sadly lost their lives in Afghanistan. Now this is not to debate whether or not the war was justified, but merely to make the point that Mr. Blair may have taken a different approach had he not been a man of faith, and I want to emphasise the ‘may have’.

The question remains: should religion have a place in politics? The answer is dependent upon where you want to see the future of British society end up. If you are happy to see sectors of society discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and the general recycling of inequality then religion integrated with politics may be for you. However if you cherish the values of equality that makes up the premises for the value system of the United Kingdom then the answer to this question must be a valiant no. Unfortunately until the secular movement increases the element of fear over politicians to please the religious sector will remain and hinder the progress. However Great Britain is evolving to fit into the contemporary needs of the 21st century, albeit slowly and this matter is a stepping stone to making our stand for equality.