Where Does Religion Fit In Politics?

I’m a self-described Euro-Libertarian. I believe in the supremacy of the individual, of civil rights and of the supremacy of free market. The ‘Euro’ bit comes in because from my experience living in Europe, it’s clear that a welfare-state works to some extent. Read that again, US readers: The welfare-state, to a reasonable extent, works.

Quick breakdown:

Economically, I believe in anti-trust laws to moderation and in consumer rights. I believe that a market will work best if the government interferes as little as possible, if at all. Sounds like a contradiction perhaps, but a very good balance can be struck by imposing anti-trust measures, protecting consumer rights and then letting go.

Socially, I believe in the welfare-state, to some extent. In most cases, the welfare system in Europe is bloated and openly abused. In Germany, new Turkish immigrants marry (illegaly) multiple wives, have dozens of children and live off taxpayer contribution without working themselves. I do not believe in multiculturalism the way it’s being played out in England or Germany, because the abuses taking place in these countries are in most cases done by or in the name of the Islamic religion – marrying into making a huge family in order to avoid work and mooch off the State, driving children into Islamic education centres, etc. A tangential anecdote: A while back, I was applying to British universities through the UCAS system. I clicked on the letter ‘I’ to bring up Imperial College and to my horror, next to Imperial College was ‘Islamic Further Education Centre’. This is, I remind you, not Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia or Saudi Arabia. This was for England, where one of the most violent Abrahamic religions comfortably set up an indoctrination centre within the framework of secular further education. To my chagrin, I did not check whether there were any Christian colleges in UCAS – seeing the presence of the Islamic indoctrination centre in UCAS was shock enough.

To return to the case in point, socially, I believe in the supremacy of the individual and of civil rights. I dislike the hysteria about security which leads only to the forfeit of privacy and of civil rights.

“Those who are willing to trade a little of their individual rights for a little security are going to lose both and deserve neither”

As a result, I also oppose the interference of the State in matters such as smoking, drinking, eating, thinking or habits of any kind. Restricting smoking in public places is to me, as a non-smoker, ridiculous and moralistic – and has no other ‘benefit’ other than regulating people’s habits. Certainly it is the duty of the State to inform the citizen as much as possible about the dangers of the habits they might engage in, but to regulate them is incredibly arrogant and dangerous (not to mention unsubstantiated scientifically).

The question remains: Where does religion fit in your framework of adapted Euro-Libertarianism?

Religion is a set of beliefs. You would be hard pressed to deny this. That it is a set of beliefs that many people hold or a set of beliefs that have survived for long makes no difference – a religion is an assembly of people who have similar beliefs.

A political persuasion is a set of beliefs. In a similar fashion to religion, a political persuasion could have been around for long and may be held by many people.

The difference between the two (aside from the domain the beliefs nominally deal in – religion with the supernatural and big questions, political beliefs with the functioning of society) is that religion is sheltered and protected, whereas political beliefs aren’t. Let’s take a hypothetical radio talk show:

KRSVP: Welcome to KRSVP, Europe’s newest American modelled Radio Talk show station! Today we have two very special guests, French Presidential hopefuls Monsieur Sarkozy and Madame Ségolène Royale!

Mr. S: Hello there

Mad. R: Hi

KRSVP: Monsieur Sarkozy, what is your opinion on Madame Royale’s proposal to escort female police officers on their way back home at the end of their shift, in order to protect them from gender abuse crimes?

Mr. S: Well, Monsieur, I think it is a non-issue. Madame Royale’s proposal is nothing short of ludicrous – she attempts to inflate the already bulging budget and to convolute the already over-populated bureaucracy even more! I will not even deal with the childish idea she deals with anyway. It’s a ludicrous waste, a product of a twisted political manifesto that deserves no space in French society – typical, if you will, of other hair-brained schemes Madame Royale has put forward too.

(silence in the studio)

(Madame R. walks out, indignated)

Mad. R: Sir, you have insulted my beliefs! You’re being rude to what I believe in and I will not accept this any longer.

This is clearly not the case in real life, thankfully. A politician can slam and shred to pieces an opposing politician’s policy. A politically apathetic person can do the same with complete impunity. Because they’re beliefs. Now, if Monsieur S. had slammed Madame R. for being a woman, then we would have a problem. But not if he slams her beliefs – a belief is a personal decision and it’s very much open to discussion and criticism.

Let’s suppose the following:

Mr. B: The Islamic faith is violent, oppresive, racist, misogynistic and dangerous.

For someone who is accustomed to treating religion with a cushion of respect, this is a barbaric statement, a bigoted, outrageous outcry against someone’s faith.

I beg of you who think that way to reconsider for one second with me. I am not dealing with, say, Arab or Iranian or any kind of peoples. Had Mr. B said “Arab people are violent, smelly and dangerous”, I would have been the first to shank Mr. B with a sharpened toothbrush. Notice Mr. B makes a criticism of a set of beliefs. Compare:

Mr. B: Communism is violent, oppresive and dangerous.

with

Mr. B: The Islamic faith is violent, oppresive and dangerous.

The first is a succinct summary of Richard Pipes’ account on Communism. The second is (unfortunately) an example of racial hatred and bigotry.

I hate to be one to state the obvious, but criticism of a religion, be it Islam or Judaism or Christianity is as valid as the criticism of a sports club, political manifesto or ice cream flavour.

For that reason, and to finally get back on track of where this post was originally headed, in my version of Euro-Libertarianism (Secular Euro-Libertarianism?) religion has no particular prominence. It is not oppressed. The right to believe in whatever you might wish is protected and enshrined by my deification of civil rights (heh).

Voltaire put it well, “I disagree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

This, of course, means that religion loses tax-exemption status. Religious education is not recognised by the Ministry of Education, just as a Communist Education wouldn’t be either. If the parents of a child were to want to send their child to a, say, Christian upbringing, they would have every right to – as long as it does not replace the main education and the State Curriculum.

See, in my version of Euro-Libertarianism, everybody has the right to assembly and to believe in whatever they wished, be it fandom of a particular sports club, affiliation to a particular political party or adherence to a certain religion.

Those accustomed to talking about religion in hushed, respectful terms will find this vitrolific and oppressive. Why belief in God is any more prominent than belief in social conservatism or in Real Madrid is beyond me.

Euro-Libertarianism:

  • Prominence of individuality and civil rights
  • Consumer rights protection and anti-trust legislation
  • Small, non-interfering government
  • Welfare state to those who actually need it
  • Protection of right to assembly and belief
  • No prominence given to religion (or any other set of beliefs)

I understand most of my readership (all 3 of you) are probably in the States, and I would appreciate your take on this post, all of which is entirely my opinion.

Advertisements

20 Responses

  1. “If the parents of a child were to want to send their child to a, say, Christian upbringing, they would have every right to – as long as it does not replace the main education and the State Curriculum.”

    Here in the States, we have many Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, etc. private schools that teach a State-approved curriculum along with supplemental religious courses. Many parents prefer to send their children to these institutions because, since the schools are privately funded, they tend to attract better teachers and (they believe) the children will be surrounded by a ‘better’ peer group. What are your thoughts on this?

  2. With no intent to seem holier than thou, I went to a secular British International School which gave me a fantastic secondary school preparation with no need for religion.

    This school was surrounded (literally) by huge Catholic Spanish schools, private as well but receiving subsidies from the State (inexplicably). I can assure you that the ‘secular’, international crowd is far, far less wild than the Catholic crowd. It’s a gross generalisation, but the Catholic schoolgirls were… wow, something else – let’s just say they were more open to new ideas than the girls from my international school. And (I will clarify I would not know about this from personal experience) the finest weed came from the dudes in the Catholic Boys’ School up the street.

    If the religious courses are voluntary then it’s up to the legal guardian or parent of the child to choose. If it’s an obligatory course, I don’t see why the certification from that school should be valid in the eyes of the State.

  3. I’ll put my hand up to being English so you know where my indoctination comes from. I agree with you on some of these points. A government does have a right to protect its citizens from harm so legislating on smoking to protect workers from the inconsiderate actions of drug addicts is certainly something that they should do.

    I’d also say that while I agree that no prominence should be given to one religion over another I really can’t see what place it has in formal eduction except perhaps in history and literature as an explaination as to why certain events or passages occur. We don’t allow pupils to maintain a belief that the world is flat so why allow them to maintain a belief that 2000 years ago a virgin gave birth to a god.

    Political systems are not religions although they do have many similarities. In our schools we may teach what democracy, marxism, nazism or communism are but we don’t suggest that a pupil follow one above the other. Religious education does and it is wrong to do so.

    The favour that government give to religiously funded schools is ridiculous. They generally offer better education but I’d argue that this is simply because they are better funded. People attend churches simply to allow their child to be able to secure a place at one of these schools. Hardly what I’d refer to as honest worship.

  4. “A government does have a right to protect its citizens from harm so legislating on smoking to protect workers from the inconsiderate actions of drug addicts is certainly something that they should do.”

    Again, as a non-smoker this is scientifically untenable and it’s kind of out of line to call smokers ‘drug addicts’. I don’t call meat consumers ‘murderers’.

    I wanted to write about how religion is not so different from politics, but that would have taken up the space of a whole new post, so I allowed myself the luxury of simply writing “nominally religion and politics deal with two completely differeny domains”

  5. Smokers take a drug just as drinkers take a drug, nicotine and alcohol are both addictive. The same can’t be said for meat.

    Anyway, political movement and organised religion have far more in common than differences so were at least in partial agreement there. It is the teaching of politics and religion that differ. No educator would dream of promoting communism but they would be quite happy to promote Catholicism. I can’t see why this is the case other than indoctrination.

  6. Calling smokers drug addicts is a way of trying to control the way things are described in order to lend more credence to your own opinion. It is in fact like calling meat eaters murderers. In fact, anyone who takes any drug could then be called a drug addict, regardless of the actual uses the drug may have. It’s a way of trying to tilt the ensuing ideas in order to give yourself power. It is wrong because it approaches the situation from a point of having already made up one’s mind which does not allow us to approach the situation or discussion honestly. Call them addicts and you can take away their rights more easily. It doesn’t take away the power of the addiction for the person in question, but it isn’t quite honest.

  7. Thank you, sam, that’s exactly what I meant – I hate to use the term, but it’s a glaring example of Unspeak.

    You’re right, hoverfrog, in your analysis of religious education. Whereas one may say the children have a choice to stay in the religious institution by the time they graduate High School – at that stage they’re so fully indoctrinated it’s hard to say they have a choice at all (more so Catholicism where you undergo rites of passage at various stages of puberty and emotional development).

  8. “Drug addict” is a perfectly valid description of an addicted smoker. It is, of course, his right to be addicted if he wants to.
    However, are you seriously trying to claim second-hand smoke is harmless? Quit getting your science from the Cato Institute, plz.

    Re: the post itself, I almost entirely agree with you (though I don’t quite share your confidence in the free market). Well said.

  9. If you’re going to use ‘drug addict’ to describe a smoker, which is incredibly fallacious, you really have to engage in other fallacies such as calling meat eaters ‘murderers’ and car drivers ‘polluters’. Most of the smokers I personally know (and I’m in Spain, so I know a lot of smokers) don’t chainsmoke, which would be addiction. They have a vice which they enjoy, just like someone else might enjoy a glass of bourbon in the evening or whatever. I’m just hesitant to accept the unfounded science of second-hand smoking blindly, especially considering countless other studies which show it’s not particularly harmful at all.

    With anti-trust laws and consumer protection, the free market can work pretty well with few other regulations. In the EU, for example, consumer electronics have by law an extended warranty of two years from moment of purchase, and there are millions of consumer advocate organisations which will take up your cause if it gets to that (it rarely does).

  10. It’s not a matter of whether second hand smoke is dangerous or not. To say that people should be forcibly prevented from providing smokers with a place to socialize and congregate in comfort is an affront to common decency.

    Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that second hand is dangerous. People have a right to do dangerous things in order to make money. I used to be a taxi driver. That is a dangerous thing to do. I made money doing it. I enjoyed doing it. That does not change the fact that I could have been killed, either by a robber or a traffic accident, doing it. Should I have been prevented by law from doing that job, despite the fact that I found the rewards of doing the job to outweigh the risks involved in doing it? I think not. For the same reasons, people should not be prevented by law from providing smokers with friendly places to socialize.

    Do not forget, also, that smoking is very common (at least in America, where I live) among workers in the food service industry. Those smokers will generally be more comfortable working in an establishment where they are able to smoke without donning a coat and going outside to work in the winter. They will also be safer, as from time to time people outside smoking are robbed and killed. This is true especially in big city restaurants that suggest their workers smoke in the alley in the back rather than on the street, to preserve the image of the restaurant.

    A law forbidding smokers a place to congregate is neither more nor less unjust than a law forcing all establishments to welcome smokers. Individuals make the choice to buy an establishment. It is then their property. They should be free to pursue the policies which they believe will be profitable to them. Individuals choose their jobs on many factors, including the amount of money they are likely to make and the risks inherent in the work they are asked to do. They should be free to pursue the balance of risk and reward that they believe fits best with their balance. Individuals choose the establishments they will patronize, based in part on their comfort in the environment that the establishment provides, the services they offer, and the cost of those services. They should be free to offer their custom to those establishments whose policies provide for them the best experience for what they are willing to pay.

    The free market will cater to all people’s preferences. A government, however, forces the same solutions on all, regardless of their personal preferences. The free market should be permitted, wherever it is possible, to provide for people those things which are important to them.

    Those of you who so fear smoke must have a similar terror of fire. Therefore, I leave you with the words of the man who kicked the English out of America:

    “Government is not eloquence; it is not persuasion; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a terrible master.”
    George Washington.

  11. Wow…started as a religious/political topic and ended up a smoking topic. LOL Since that was not the point of the post, I will not get into it.

    However…

    Politics and religion are the same thing. It is all about convincing someone you are right and everyone else is wrong. That is why religion plays a big part in politics…sometimes the politician is a horrible horrible person, but they can get votes just by being a “devout” Christian and make lots of promises that would appeal to Christian voters.

    In America, religion has no place in politics because there are so many here that have different beliefs. There are many Christians, but there are also Muslims, Athiests, Pagans of any number of traditions…and I personally feel it is an affront to people like me and my husband who are not Christian. It has gotten to the point where politicians are only catering to the religious about things we feel are a non issue instead of actually doing something we feel should be done.

  12. “A law forbidding smokers a place to congregate is neither more nor less unjust than a law forcing all establishments to welcome smokers. Individuals make the choice to buy an establishment. It is then their property. They should be free to pursue the policies which they believe will be profitable to them. Individuals choose their jobs on many factors, including the amount of money they are likely to make and the risks inherent in the work they are asked to do. They should be free to pursue the balance of risk and reward that they believe fits best with their balance. Individuals choose the establishments they will patronize, based in part on their comfort in the environment that the establishment provides, the services they offer, and the cost of those services. They should be free to offer their custom to those establishments whose policies provide for them the best experience for what they are willing to pay.

    The free market will cater to all people’s preferences. A government, however, forces the same solutions on all, regardless of their personal preferences. The free market should be permitted, wherever it is possible, to provide for people those things which are important to them.”

    Your eloquence is awe-inspiring. My thoughts exactly.

    Politics and religion are almost indistinguishable, but that’s for another post 🙂

  13. If you’re going to use ‘drug addict’ to describe a smoker, which is incredibly fallacious (…)

    That word doesn’t mean what you think it means.

    (…) you really have to engage in other fallacies such as calling meat eaters ‘murderers’ and car drivers ‘polluters’.

    Car drivers are polluters. Meat eaters aren’t murderers for two reasons: you can’t murder animals, only kill them; and meat eaters don’t usually kill their own food.

    Most of the smokers I personally know (and I’m in Spain, so I know a lot of smokers) don’t chainsmoke, which would be addiction. They have a vice which they enjoy, just like someone else might enjoy a glass of bourbon in the evening or whatever.

    Is that why nicotine patches are so popular? Most smokers are addicted, whether they want to admit it or not, as evidenced by the enormous trouble most of them have when they try to quit.

    I’m just hesitant to accept the unfounded science of second-hand smoking blindly, especially considering countless other studies which show it’s not particularly harmful at all.

    Those “countless” other studies aren’t as numerous as you think, and when you look more closely, you’ll find almost all of them are bunk, in the exact same way all those studies “disproving” global warming are.
    If you’re getting your information on this from Penn & Teller’s Bullshit (like most smart people who happen to be extremely wrong about one or two surprising things, such as second-hand smoke or global warming or recycling or environmentalism), keep in mind that they got their “science” for that episode from the Cato Institute, which got it from the tobacco lobby. Those studies have been disproven.

    As for whether or not the government has the right to ban smoking in private restaurants and the like, that is something you can have a reasonable debate about (mostly involving preventing unfair competition and whatnot). Whether or not second-hand smoke is dangerous or not is not.

  14. Wow, I only used the phrase “drug addict” to stress my point but I do stand by it. Think what would happen today if tobacco were introduced as a new herb that could be smoked for enjoyment. Can you imagine being legal? Getting past the FDA or whatever the nation calls it. I certainly can’t.

    As to calling meat eaters “murderers”, I don’t think I’d go that far even as a vegetarian for the past 15 years. Our bodies are evolved machines able to digest and convert meat to fuel. A human eating meat is no more murder than a cat eating meat. I think that we have an obligation to ensure the safety a comfort of livestock but that’s an entirely different post for another time.

    Sorry if I derailed this blog a little.

    On the original point of eltower’s post “Where Does Religion Fit In Politics?” I’d like to say that it doesn’t but that would be naive. Politicians are in the business of attracting votes. People tend to vote for politicians with a similar belief structure to their own. It pays for a politician to be a white, middle class, married man with 2.4 kids who attends church regularly. Where it goes wrong is when religious views of politicians conflict with logical or moral decisions that they must make on the part of their constituents.

    Voting on stem cell research? Easy to avoid the issue and claim religious exception. Voting on capital punishment? The bible says an eye for an eye so why bother exploring the ramification of supporting a constitution that allows the state to kill.

  15. Be aware that the term ‘libertarian’ has been ‘adopted’ by extreme right-wing anarchists who would return us to the state of nature. Also, it is significant that often talk of “Islam” is just a way of hiding the actual racist, anti-arab agenda, which makes it harder to provide a serious criticism of the religion – witness the whole hulaballo regarding the Muhammed cartoons.

  16. A further point. There is a hard question which you do not really deal with in your post. What would you say to the following argument? Religious education is harmful. Parents’ rights do not mean they have the right to harm their children. Therefore, parents do not have the right to give their child a religious education.
    For what it’s worth, I think a big problem with the argument is that it is not at all clear whether and in what sense the first premiss is true. While I certainly do tend to see religious education as harmful, the scientific evidence is not there and I do have problems explicating what the actual harm is when pressed on the issue.

  17. Religious education outside the history and literature classrooms is a form of disengaging a student’s critical faculties. It would be interesting to investigate the psychotraumatic effects suffered by a child who honestly believed his best friend went to Hell after a tragic death, for instance.

    I insist that my talk of Islam is purely on the basis of the ideology of the religion. Like I’m prepared to make the distinction between “Communists” and “Russians” when talking about the Cold War, I am prepared to make the same distinction here. I am aware that many, however, are not. It doesn’t forfeit our opportunity of criticism in any case.

  18. I am sure that you are not using Islam as a term to hide racism behind and I’m sorry if it seemed like I suggested that you did. The point was a general one that such terms are often used in that way. For example imagine someone in the US talking about the jobless, criminal, drug-addicted inner-city dwellers and ask yourself what is the skin colour of the people they are talking about. And, again, such linkage of racism to real social problems (abstracting from their actual causes) makes it more difficult to deal with such problems. As for religious education, I like Dennett’s (if I recall correctly) suggestion that religious education should be universal and compulsory and concern the various religious systems different people have around the world as well as the reasons for these beliefs that science is revealing. After that children ought to be largely innoculated against religious dogmas, being able to take a far more critical stance.

  19. I agree with you that education about religion can be positive. You must be careful however, with what you call it. I learned about Islam and Hinduism in History class. You could call that education about religion. Religion has had a major hand in forging history and waging war, it would be ludicrous to reject this.

    Certainly science should be a primary concern if only for the intellectual benefit it provides. And education of all religions should be a staple, too.

  20. Sorry to bring up smoking again, but “The free market will cater to all people’s preferences.”

    It didn’t when it came to smoking. The smoking ban in England IIRC split public opinion pretty much in half, but far fewer than half of the pubs were non-smoking previously. (As a gigging musician around Manchester, I’m not sure that I ever actually played in a pub that was non-smoking before the smoking ban. As a result, I’m very happy with the ban, for a whole bunch of reasons.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: