Monday, 9 May 2016

Some thoughts on Faith and Politics

Last week I had some thoughts about religion and sex.  Now for some thoughts about religion and politics.

This is a political year.  General elections will take place in Australia in July and the US in November.  There were elections in Ireland a few weeks ago, and in the Philippines yesterday.   And next month will see the E.U. referendum in Britain.  I'm following these elections with interest, with a personal interest found in my attempts to Trump-proof and Brexit-proof my modest retirement savings.

I'm not a politician, but I'm interested in politics.  My own political views are somewhere around centre-leaning-left to left-leaning-centre. 

As a clergy type, I'm interested in the relationship between faith and politics.  Personally, I'm amazed that so many people now associate being "religious" with being right-of-centre politically.  I really don't get the connection that exists in many people's minds between a religious faith and a right-of-centre political viewpoint.

When I was growing up in New Jersey in the northeastern US (as a member of the "baby-boomer" generation), most of the people I knew who were on the political "left" were active in churches or synagogues.  As well, most of the people I knew who were on the political "right" were people who frequently made fun of religion, and for whom religious names were among their favourite swearwords.   This was well before the "religious right" developed any political prominence at all in the 1980s, and when conservative Christians (whether the more "evangelical" sort of "Protestant" or RC traditionalists) tended to be highly apolitical and "voted their income" the way most people did.

And really, if you're part of any major faith (Christian or otherwise), and if you really "get" the ethics of your faith, one result will be an altruistic attitude toward others that generally would be seen as a left-of-centre (or at least moderately left-of-centre) position in the economics-based politics found in most western countries.

It's possible to be an authentic person of faith and a person of a broadly right-of-centre political temperament.  However, such a person will often find that their faith will necessarily moderate their politics, "sanding off" the rough edges of their conservatism.  Such an individual may embrace the classic conservatism of an Edmund Burke, a William Pitt, or a Benjamin Disraeli, emphasising tradition, continuity, and social cohesion, but will firmly reject any call to a "greed is good" attitude, to a crudely "tough guy" approach to either national security or law enforcement, or to the prejudices promoted by many professional bigots on the far right of the political spectrum.

Once, around thirty-five years ago, I was at a seminar where the main speaker asked to imagine what the main impact would be on our lives if we completely lost our faith.  After thinking about this question for a few weeks, I concluded that one of the most obvious results of such a loss of faith would be that my political views would probably drift significantly rightwards.  I still believe this would be the case.

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