Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Religion and political parties - not entirely a comfortable fit...

It would be fair to describe me as a not particularly devout Catholic. I don't attend Mass, I don't support my local Catholic church. I feel vaguely guilty about that, but see guilt as being part of the basic underpinning of Catholicism and so don't feel so bad about it. And, in truth, I have problems with a faith that discriminates against a majority of its own membership, let alone the rest of the population.

It would also be fair to say that, as a political activist, wishing people a happy (insert religious festival as appropriate) makes me slightly uncomfortable. In the multicultural society we live in, the sheer range of religious festivals to be marked means, that if you want to be seen as properly inclusive, you risk issuing so many messages that they become a bit of a cliché. Are you marking a particular festival because you care, or because you simply feel that you ought to?

Now I do accept that religious observance is still important in our society, albeit less so than once it was. In my own community, the Anglican Church plays a central part in community cohesion that it didn't obviously do in the London suburbs - or perhaps I wasn't looking for it. But I tend to the view that how you live your life and, as importantly, how you are perceived to do so, is more important than overt displays of religious tolerance and inclusion.

I sense, without much of a theological education to rely upon, that most religions have, at their core, similar philosophical positions - that you should help those in need, that you should respect the world around you and the people in it and that you should attempt to uphold what are generally accepted virtues. Do those things, and most people will see that you are at least trying.

But politicians want to be liked which, in a profession which centres on the ability to win organised popularity contests, perhaps shouldn't come as a terrible surprise. That does engender some degree of suspicion as to motive given how little trust is placed in them and so I find myself wondering how much value there is for a non-religious politician to mark religious festivals. Those who practice the particular religion might think it good to be included, whilst others will question the sincerity of the author.

For those who are publicly devout in their faith, I see rather less of a problem. And yes, as Tim Farron has discovered, being devout can bring with it a whole different set of problems, but that goes with the territory of having opinions - you have to be able, and willing, to justify them if challenged. But referring to religion when you are an active adherent feels a bit more justified to me.

Ultimately, it is for individual politicians to judge whether or not to mark religious festivals within their communities and to deal with the consequences of the stance they take. And, as long as political parties don't use it as an opportunity to attack each other, it probably does little harm overall. But, from a personal perspective, I will keep my religious beliefs a predominantly personal matter and respect the rights of others to practice their faith as they see fit...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree. Old-fashioned, small-c conservative restraint. That's what is needed. If people have opinions for religious reasons, all fine, let's hear it and debate it and let no one pretend all people of that religion 'should' have the same opinion. But non-religious people observing festivals over-assiduously can feel like ... well, like Conservative MPs and the Union Flag. Gesture symbolism.