Politics, Religion & Extremism – The conversation we’re not having, and should be.

Two articles I’ve read in the news this week have disturbed me (well probably quite a few more have but let’s focus on these two for now)

On the one hand we read of Tim Farron’s rise to the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party. The media have had a field day quizzing him over his Christian beliefs, with some questioning his suitability to lead as a Bible-Believing Christian. Many tout the age old dogma that ‘religion and politics don’t mix’. This is not a new argument, and gained a lot of popularity during the Enlightenment Period when faith was largely relegated to the private sphere of life. It has now become a largely unquestioned dogma of liberal orthodoxy, with even many religious people nodding their heads in agreement.

The problem for me, is that saying “politics and religion don’t mix” is kind of like saying “biology and science don’t mix”

The problem for me, is that saying “politics and religion don’t mix” is kind of like saying “biology and science don’t mix”. One is merely a more specific outworking of the other. And before you rend your garments in outrage, may I refer to the etymology of the world ‘religion’.  A quick google search will reveal that the word has its root in the latin religare meaning to bind, and thus one of the dictionary definitions of ‘religion’ is ‘a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion’. At its root the word ‘religion’ bears no reference to a concept of deity/deities or the supernatural, but merely describes the set of values or worldview to which one is bound, and therefore gives foundation to one’s thought and action. In this sense Secular Humanism is a religion. As is Statism (a primary belief in the supremacy of the state) and Scientism (a dogmatic belief in theoretical science). The question is then not so much “should religion and politics mix?” as “which religion(s) are permissible in the political sphere?”

Image credit: Google
Image credit: Google
I have rarely seen Muslim politicians come under such scrutiny. I have never seen Secular Humanist (yes these are a card-carrying organised group of people) politicians come under such scrutiny. I have never seen politicians or public figures who are proponents of the evangelistic and intolerant religion of ‘New Atheism’ come under such scrutiny. So why Christians? Well who knows, but this is nothing new to Christianity – Islamic State are doing it, the communists did it, the French Revolution did it, and the Romans especially did it. The Roman example is of particular interest, as the Romans were generally tolerant of religions and cults. But Christians who refused to burn incense to Caesar, and cried, “Christ, not Caesar, is King!” proved hard to assimilate into their cohesive state religion of Caesar worship.

“Christ, not Caesar, is King!”

The second disturbing article came after David Cameron’s speech “declaring war on extreme Islam”. I am sure that many are happy to hear this news, not least members of ‘Britain First’ who recently marched in our town. But I fear that something insidious lurks beneath Cameron’s rousing words. The headlines only seem to make mention of how these plans relate to Islam, but the subtext is a little more comprehensive.

After drawing similarities with the ideologies of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, the PM went on to describe how the government are planning to go after ‘Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values’. He frequently referenced the fact that what we are dealing with is a wrong ideology, which must be confronted with a counter-ideology, based on the ‘basic liberal values’ which he continues to reference. This all sounds good, but it does leave me with a few questions. Who gets to decide what the ‘liberal values’ are? If he’s referring to the Christian values of equality, freedom etc which still linger in our culture, then how come Christians get so much bad press (as above)? He mentions that his audience rightly ‘hate the extremists’. Hate doesn’t sound very liberal?

Hate doesn’t sound very liberal?

Hating someone for an ideology sounds a bit like discrimination and intolerance to me. So again we’re left with the idea that certain religious ideologies are acceptable and that others are to be hated and fought with a counter ‘cohesive’ and ‘liberal’ ideology. I hope that fellow students of history are beginning to get as nervous as I am at this point. These kind of arguments have been used by supposedly ‘secular’ governments to perpetrate some of the worst atrocities in history. One study contends that more people have been killed by secular states in the last 100 years than in every ‘religious war’ in history combined.

more people have been killed by secular states in the last 100 years than in every ‘religious war’ in history combined

Do I think we’re headed that way in the near future? Probably not, enough of the influence of Christian values remains in mainstream society. My concern is that the promotion of this counter narrative will make life very difficult for those whose religious beliefs contradict some of it. Like Bible-believing Christians for example. As noted by Kurt Wimmer, the director of 2002 film Equilibrium, in an age where ‘hate crimes’ are more severely punished, we effectively have a government who are comfortable in controlling what we think `and even how we feel. To me, that is not ‘liberal’.

image credit: funologist.org
image credit: funologist.org
Christians, let us come together, pray for our government, and peacefully stand for the religious freedoms we still have. Otherwise we may not have them for much longer.


9 thoughts on “Politics, Religion & Extremism – The conversation we’re not having, and should be.”

  1. Really great blog Luke. I especially liked your reference to New Atheism as an “evangelistic and intolerant religion”. I’d never really thought about it as that, but I guess it makes sense – atheists are able to cloak their agenda behind what is perceived as the (secular) norm?!

    1. Thanks Dave. What we are dealing with is a new secular orthodoxy under which those who don’t ‘tow the line’ are branded heretics and excommunicated. This is a conflict of religious world views not a sacred/secular divide.

  2. The logical fallacies are strong in this one. Using the saying “people say religion and politics don’t mix” and then using a very different etymological definition of religion which bears no resemblance to the intention of the first phrase (an intention which you know clearly the distinction of and why it makes such a difference to the argument).

    This fallacy of equivocation then voids the entire first half of the article, because instead of the stated intention of “religion and politics don’t mix” (meaning dogmatic adherence to unfalsifiable claims about God and politics don’t mix) you try to say that science (the least dogmatic field of human knowledge in history) is a religion. Sorry, but you’ve really jumped the holy shark there…

    You then go on to mention the “Christian values” of equality, freedom, etc. Is this the same Christianity that has slowed and often halted social equality issues around treatment of women, homosexuals, etc? Yes the majority of modern christians are in favour of these things, but to claim them as “Christian values” and not just “modern values” is disingenuous to the extreme. These fights for equality have been led by secularists and christians alike, and even a summary knowledge of the bible, particularly the old testament, shows us clearly how much christianity values “equality” and “freedom”.

    That said, I’m all in favour of your religious freedom to believe whatever nonsense you wish to. Have a nice day.

    1. Hi Anoonymouse,

      Thanks for stopping by. I don’t think you’ve fully grasped where I’m coming from on this one. My point is that the stock definition of the word “religion” is misleading, especially when used in the ‘politics and religion don’t mix’ argument. My point is that every political ideology is based on certain unquestioned and unfalsifiable axiomatic (and therefore religious) presuppositions, irrespective of whether the adherent believes in any deity. Therefore the “politics and religion don’t mix” argument is a moot point and hypocrisy. Also I respectfully disagree that science is “the least dogmatic field of human knowledge”. That would probably be mathematics (hence the philosopher Descartes’ attempt to combine maths and philosophy). Without going to far into something I’m no expert on, modern science and especially theoretical science is built upon many accepted and often not-fully-proven/provable hypotheses, which contribute to interpreting the ‘facts’ or results of experimentation etc. Starting with a hypothesis is not far from dogmatism, as you are starting with the theory first and then trying to interpret the data to prove one’s theory.

      In regards to equality, Christianity’s treatment of women and other ‘lesser’ members of society (as viewed by cultural norms of the time) were absolutely revolutionary. The doctrine of ‘Imago Dei’ led to the concept of the ‘Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of all humankind’, which has driven many of the world’s social reforms and led to a far greater degree of equality. One only has to look at the religious history of most countries which value equality, and one will see a strong Christian heritage which led to this. Has the Church been a barrier to this at times? Yes. Does this mean that the christian worldview is to blame? No. I can voice racial slurs while wearing a McDonalds t-shirt but that does’t make Ronald McDonald a racist.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by my blog, and yes I will continue to believe in the ‘nonsense’ which has turned the world upside down, ended oppressive regimes, caused people to fight to end slavery and is responsible for a huge proportion of the social justice work done in the world today.

      Peace to you and your clan.

      1. And you’ve completely missed my point. Using two different definitions for one word in the same argument is a logical fallacy which voids your argument. If I say “Bows were the decisive weapon in the Anglo-French wars of medieval times” and you say “nonsense, people just tied knots in other ways, they didn’t use bows” then your argument is invalid because you’re using a different definition of “bow” than I am. The common usage of religion in modern society is something like “an adherence to a set of scriptural values and beliefs” and it is this definition people are using when they say “religion and politics don’t mix”. To change the definition of religion as you did and then try to make points based on that changed definition makes everything you base on that change invalid and frankly dishonest.

        As for your second point, yes modern western values about equality did arise mostly from majority Christian countries, but that does not mean that Christianity causes modern western values. Pop Idol sprang up from majority Christian countries, does that mean that Pop Idol was a Christian thing? Correlation does not equate to causation. If it was true that Christianity caused modern western values then (without using yet another fallacy of “no true scotsman”) why is it in many deeply religious Christian African countries homosexuality is still a death penalty crime? Why is it in Christian Russia where Putin flanks himself with orthodox arch-bishops homosexuality is so discriminated against? Why is it the modern opposition for homosexual rights and freedoms comes from the pulpit or openly devoutly christian people in 99% of instances? Why was it such a controversy in the Anglican church to have an openly gay bishop just a few short years ago?

        I could make the same case for women’s rights, while there were indeed christians who fought with the suffragettes, there were equally christians who fought hard against them based on biblical scriptures. I could make the same point about racial equality, there were plenty of bible believing christians who saw the mixing of tribes as something against God and fought against racial intermingling. If these values were truly Christian values then we should see a universal correlation between christianity being dominant in a culture and equality and freedom for all being dominant in a culture, and we do not.

        You espousing racist views while wearing a McDonalds t-shirt does not make McDonalds racist, this is true, however you espousing racist views based on logically sound statements derived from the published official missioin statement and corporate values of McDonalds does make McDonalds racist, and when a large section of the people in the world wearing McDonalds t-shirts are all espousing these racist views, then maybe, just maybe, there is an inherent problem with McDonalds mission statement and corporate values. Even if that problem is just mis-interpretation, you would think an incredibly smart and wise CEO would have the foresight to write those documents in such a way that bad interpretations are not so ridiculously easy to come to right?

        Finally, science. You do realise you have science completely backwards? A scientist comes up with a hypothesis about how the world works and he tests it and tests it and tests in in every way he can think of so that when he publishes it he is less likely to look like an idiot when someone else disproves it. Scientists spend 90+% of their time trying to prove each other wrong. It’s the most common way to win the biggest prizes in science, to overturn an established theory about how the world works and replace it with a better one. It’s why Einstein is thought of as a genius, he disproved Newtonian mechanics. That is the opposite of dogmatism.

  3. In all fairness you are making some reasonable counter arguments, largely due to my poor attempts to make my point, rather than the fallacy of what I am trying to say. You have given a very specific definition of the word ‘religion’, claimed it is the given usage in modern culture (which is what your entire argument hangs on) and yet have no evidence to support it (because it is an etymologically incorrect definition). We can argue and counter argue about specifics all day, but you have failed to address my central point – that there is no such thing as neutrality (religious or otherwise) and that the concept of a-religious politics is a lie. Every world-view is based on some kind of meta-narrative or a set of unquestioned presuppositions. This is not an idea uniquely held by myself, or Christians, or religious (by your definition) people, but has been championed even by post-moderns such as Michel Foucault.

    The point of the article is that highly dogmatic politicians are waging war on religion without being honest about their own axiomatic presuppositions and agenda. Would you care to address this central point rather than arguing about side issues?

    Thanks again for stopping by.

  4. My evidence is simple. Google “religion and politics don’t mix” and look at the usage of the word “religion” in the first X pages of results. I went as far as page 4 and didn’t find a single page that wasn’t talking about religion as christianity / islam / judaism / etc. It’s well accepted common usage of religion to mean the scriptural definition and only apologists ever seem to try and make it mean something different. If you need to change the commonly understood and currently used meaning of a word to make a good argument then you haven’t got a good argument, whatever the etymological historical roots of the word are.

    The only example you have given for politicians waging war on religion without being honest about their own axiomatic presuppositions is David Cameron. Cameron himself has openly stated that he is “evangelical” about his Christian faith (google “David Cameron christian” for the evidence). The bill he proposed was not about censoring mainstream religious freedom, it was about not tolerating the kind of violent extremism that is too often motivated by religious belief. Islam is guilty of this (and we are all aware of these stories), but so are christianity (abortion clinic bombings) and other faiths. There are non-religious causes too (racism is an easy one to name) but generally the ideology behind this sort of action can be traced back either to an ideology that is generally rejected by society as evil (racism / totalitarianism / nazism) or by religion (PETA / animal rights being the only exception to these categories I can think of). You talk of evidence for my claims, I’d be interested in hearing if you think there is any recent SPECIFIC incident of callous violence (bombings, shootings, etc) being done by atheists in the name of atheism? I fail to see how a lack of belief in anything could motivate someone in this way, but I’m open to the evidence…

    That said, I don’t think Cameron got the bill right. The terms were not clearly defined and the language, as it has been ever since the start of the “war on terror”, was typically loose and open to too-wide interpretations by enforcement agencies. But this is a political problem rather than a religious one. Your freedom to practice your faith peacefully as the vast majority of religious people do would in no way be reduced.

    I think the problem stems from the fact that everyone else also has the religious freedom to believe or not in whatever they choose and the free speech rights to say why they disagree with others. If christianity cannot stand this cross-examination then that is not a “war on religion”, that is simply holding those who make knowledge claims about the divine / supernatural to the same standards as those who make knowledge claims about anything else. The fact that religion is consistently failing to meet the same standards as every other area of human knowledge is a problem for you guys to sort out internally. If christians can come back with good arguments, backed up by real evidence that stands up to examination then I’ll believe, I’d be a fool not to. But etymological tricks won’t cut it, and such a discussion would be outside the realms of this particular topic. Maybe it’s something you could consider for another full article? Specifically, I’d love to hear your opinions on how we could ever test and confirm any kind of supernatural knowledge claim.

    1. Too much in this to reply on all of it, and like you say some of this is probably something for another article. A few points to consider and maybe we should then part ways until next time-:

      Google may not be the most reliable source of information. That said if you look closely you’ll see that my etymological evidence comes from Google’s own definition (click the link).

      The etymology of the world ‘Religion’ is not the central point i’m making here, and not being an etymologist I will cease to argue about it as it’s not central to the point I’m making. My point is the myth of epistemological neutrality, and that ‘liberal democracy’ is not in fact about freedom, but control and the homogenisation of subjects (have a look at what Michel Foucault has written on this, despite coming from a vastly different world-view I largely agree with his observations)

      The target of this article is not so much Atheism, but Statism. So if you want to see evidence of the murder perpetrated by this religion, click the link in the original post to the study I mention.

      While it is not my place to judge David Cameron’s personal faith, we live in a time where persons such as Cameron and Obama will lose a large number of voters if they don’t identify as Christians, despite the fact that their policies seem largely influenced by sources outside Christianity.

      In terms of your question of knowledge, I would respectfully disagree. How can we really know anything? This is the philosophical in me out-weighing the rationalist. This is a problem which has troubled the greatest minds in history, and I would not be arrogant enough to attempt an answer. I have little by way of an answer other than the one of the man born blind who was healed by Jesus, “This or that I do not know, but what I do know is that I used to be blind, and now I can see.”

      Thanks for your time, I probably won’t continue to answer your comments on this thread as we are going round in circles due to our conflicting worldviews and epistomological starting points. It is highly unlikely that I will convince you of my position with short comments on a blog post, and equally highly unlikely that you will convince me of yours.

      Go in peace, you are always welcome here so long as the tone remains respectful.

      1. Fair enough then, I’ll just make 3 short closing points (which I don’t expect a response to)

        The google pages was evidence only of common usage / understanding of the meaning of a word. Words are fluid things, gay meant happy in former times now it means homosexual. In today’s world, religion means scriptural stuff. Ask google to “define religion” and the vast majority of answers you get back either involve God or scripture.

        Liberalism does not mean homogenaity. The only truly homogenous thing in liberalism is “don’t be shitty to others” hence the disapproval of racism etc. Other than that it’s about freedom to pursue your own happiness how you wish to. What you seem to be talking about is neoliberalism which despite the similar words is a very different thing. See how etymology might not be a good way to argue anything yet?

        On the topic of knowledge, it’s true that hard solipsism has never and may never be solved. In light of this I believe that the world-view with the fewest necessary assumptions is the best starting place. All common world views (including religious ones) rest on the fact that our senses give us a mostly accurate reflection of the world around us within their own limits, and we can build from there. I find religion adds extra assumptions that cannot be achieved simply by this basic pragmatic solution, and this is why I find it not to be valid. Also worth noting is that scientists are even working to defeat this basic pragmatism and show that, for example, the universe is a hologram or time is an illusory product of our brains.

        Have a nice day, and I look forward to future articles (I do not write these arguments to try and denigrate you or your faith, I simply dislike bad logic and if I was using it I would hope someone would do the same for me) The very fact that we may never agree is what makes the conversation more interesting…

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