Saturday, 22 December 2007

Religion In Politics

A RATHER interesting, and I’m sure totally strange (at least to most Filipinos) phenomenon, happened in British politics last week.

The newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats – the third largest party in Parliament after Labour and the Conservatives – openly declared on national radio that he did not believe in God.

I could almost hear the gasps among you who are reading this part of the article. What an outrage, you say. A man who does not have any religious faith? That’s just plainly unacceptable, isn’t it? And especially coming from someone who aspires to lead one of the most powerful nations on earth?

How would he govern then, if he were elected? Would he have a firm moral foundation on which his values would be based? What will guide his actions, and make him distinguish right and wrong?

Needless to say, to the Filipino electorate, a local version of Nick Clegg would never be acceptable. Any politician who aspires to be elected to public office must profess to be a man of faith.

Any mainstream religious faith would normally suffice, but usually it is the faith of the majority, in order to ensure the majority’s vote. Openly atheist aspirants to public office just would not stand a chance at all.

And yet in the West, just the opposite is true.

Tony Blair, as it is now known, is a firmly committed Christian – a secret Catholic in the land of the Anglican communion. While it is now accepted that he will eventually embrace the Catholic faith, none of his religious convictions were publicly expressed during his long reign as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. To have done so would have spelled disaster for him and his party.

For in the land of St. George, the land where the Protestant reformation first sprung, and the land that now professes to embrace people of all faiths within an open and secular society – any talk of the religious is considered out of bounds in politics.

Many people in post-modern Britain do not have any religious conviction. Thus, they regard anyone who holds any religious conviction – especially those who do so with great fervor and devotion – with a great deal of suspicion and mistrust.

While I personally do not agree with the strident, almost militant view against all religion that a lot of people here hold, it is difficult to argue vehemently against them either. Without their politicians openly professing their faith in God, and sprinkling their rhetoric with “Praise the Lord” with every turn of phrase, their society has not disintegrated, as we would assume in our local context.

Contrast this to the scene back home.

Almost to a man (and woman), all of our public servants profess to be adherents of a religious faith. More than that, many of them openly declare, and in fact advertise, their adherence to such faith. And yet, what do we get as a consequence?

It would not be fair to draw direct comparisons. After all, our society is totally different to the UK’s, and religious faith is just one of the many facets that make up our individual societies. But it would also be unfair not to make any attempt at a connection.

The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, when asked what he thought of Nick Clegg’s declared atheism, replied that he considers it less of an issue, than he would Mr. Clegg’s stand on secular matters such as law and order, social justice and foreign policy.

In a society where openly religious politicians are routinely discovered to be engaging in acts of corruption, isn’t it perhaps time that we took a more secular approach to our choice of public officials?


Published in The Sun Star Daily, Saturday, December 22, 2007

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