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?”
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’.
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.