Tuesday 16 September 2014

The State of Religion

I was listening to Radio 5 this morning, as I tend to do if I want to hear the news but don't think I can stand the endless lefty nagging of the Today programme. I mean, honestly. It's like someone has given my old geography teacher a platform from which to berate the nation.

Anyway, Nicky Campbell was in the Outer Shetlands, or the Mull of Oban or somewhere, talking Scottish independence. And they interviewed a Presbyterian minister who was opposed to it. Not Presbyterianism, you understand. Independence. And his reason for voting "no" was this. That the United Kingdom is, by law, a Protestant country, and the Queen is bound to uphold the Protestant religion.

And I have to say, that gave me pause for thought. You know, I take Church of England schools for granted on the grounds that, on average; they're better. Which would obviously be true. If you want to learn, and to progress in life, of course you'll do better if the principles on which the school is based depend on a consistent Creator who has a good plan for you.

And I know that the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England. But it has never occurred to me that actually meant anything. I mean, in practice I'd always assumed that the Royal Family was there to give soap-opera-style entertainment to people who were fed up with the moaning on Eastenders. The thought that one of their duties might be to uphold the Protestant religion against the Catholic or Beaker..... well, I mean, what?

Thing is, now I think about it, there are very few cases I can think of, of State religions being a good idea. The memory of Cardinal Fang and his comfy chair hovers in my mind, the remembrance that the Catholic martyrs of England were condemned for treason, not heresy, and the fact that even Muslims would rather seek asylum in Western Europe than in Saudi Arabia or Iran. Even Buddhism has a bad track record when, as has happened in Sri Lanka, it has lined up with the powerful.  On the whole, they strike me as a bad idea, State religions. Even the Presbyterian minister would object, I reckon, if the Queen and Government,  to uphold the Protestant religion, introduced compulsory snake-handling in RE. Or even PE - very vigorous, some of them snakes.

And yes. On the whole the capacity of the Church of England to cause trouble,  as the State religion of England is limited these days by its ability to accept difference or - to put it another way - not believe in much. But I can't help feeling that's a lucky bug, rather than a feature of the system.

And that's because, regardless of the effects on the State, a tie-up will always have a bad effect on the religion. Jesus never gave instructions on an Erastian accommodation; Muhammed lived in a tribal environment, not a modern state. Anyone using the State's concepts of rule and power will always corrupt a religion.

So my suggestion is this. Whatever comes out of the shambles that is the Scottish independence referendum, let's not bind anyone's hands to uphold any religion. Let's make it a requirement instead for the State to be challenged by religion. Let politicians be forced to  hear Anglicans demand that they're rational and reasonable; Muslims expect them to recognise that they're only human; Jews demand they care for the oppressed and the foreigner; Catholics expect them to respect life; Quakers tell them to care for peace and equality; Methodists require that they care for the poor;  Hindus expect them to respect diversity; pagans tell them to plant more trees and care for the Earth; atheists insist that the people they rule (and are supposed to serve), and the ones they send to fight wars, only have one life: so the Government better not screw those lives up.

I'd just like it if the Prime Minister - in person, not some stooge like Nick Clegg - got it in the neck from the above group, every week. We can still have Faith schools - they work, after all - but every week the PM can be reminded that politicians are only servants, not masters. Only human beings, not Powers beyond question. And the Royal Family can get on with entertaining us, like they're supposed to.


  1. I've always been of the opinion that "Established Church" is a contradiction in terms, because a church by definition is subversive and challenges the establishment.

  2. I actually believe that Prince Charles when he said that he'd be the 'Defender of all Faiths' has a good angle on it. But pity the Atheists who will really be out on a limb when he gets in the seat. I can see the Tower being used for it's proper purpose after a gap of a good few years.

    And the London Marathon would have a built in audience of cheerless public (atheists) for a change.


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