The role of religion in modern politics

Britain -  Pope Airport

Several political parties in the UK are currently campaigning against the ongoing secularisation of British politics. But with a British Social Attitudes Survey recently finding that up to 67% of Britons believe that religious leaders should stay out of government decision making, what place do these parties have in our modern society?

Despite having a rich Christian heritage, famously magnificent structures of worship and a Head of State who is also the Head of the Church of England, Britain is becoming a more and more secular society. In fact, a YouGov poll from March 2011 found that when asked ‘Are you religious’, 65% of Britons responded ‘No’. It’s a tough social landscape in which to form a non-secular voice but some feel that they must speak up for an ever-more marginalised group.

Gary Streeter, a non-denominational MP and chair of the cross-party group ‘Christians in Parliament’ thinks that there is still a place for religion in politics.

He said: “I think quite a few people are motivated by their faith to engage in the political process – I certainly am. It’s about bringing in to the public sphere, values that we find in the bible. I’m a committed Christian and my website makes it clear that’s why I’m involved in politics.”

However, there have been concerns about how some religious parties who claim to represent an entire faith use this demographic to promote ideologies not inclusive of all the political views of that group. Take Christianity and The Christian Party; they claim to be ‘proclaiming Christ’s lordship’ but among the numerous other right-wing policies outlined in their manifesto, they are also calling for a single 20 per-cent tax rate, the selling of state-owned hospitals and ‘radical’ cuts to the public sector.

Those are hardly inherently Christian views and would clearly struggle to find much resonance with proponents of Christian socialism such as the Christian Socialist Movement. In fact, some Christians believe the principles of capitalism to be a form of idolatry and would view such policies as disagreeing with the fundamental tenets of Christianity.

Conversely of course, the views of the CSM would also not apply to all Christians and this is something that they actively recognise and promote.

“I’m not convinced that religious political parties have a place in modern politics” said Rob Carr, the CSM communications manager. “Just like the general population, the Christian population of the UK has a broad spectrum from left to right. I think that Christians should get involved in politics, for sure, but I believe the best way to do that is through the general parties.”

Speaking of general parties, at last month’s Labour Party conference, Ed Miliband did something that would have been unthinkable decades before; he spoke openly about his lack of religious faith. Rather, he spoke about a different sort of faith; a faith in the people of Britain and of the duty to challenge injustices.

Perhaps this was the best insight in to how the significance of faith is evolving in politics and how it can best mix with a modern non-secular democracy. Religion, like many other factors, will always form the basis for people’s moral compass. Alongside Ed Miliband’s example of faith in society, religious faith can still form a vital part of how we define ourselves as a nation.

On the left, ideas like equality, working conditions and the doctrine of human rights are now regarded with quasi-religious fervour. On the right, the notions of liberty and the opportunity to better oneself are regarded as almost sacred.

Britain may well be among some of the most secular nations in the developed world but it’s still a country of principles and beliefs, largely of compassion and of tolerance. Perhaps religious parties are an antiquated idea in a modern political landscape but their values are as much a part of our society’s make up as that of socialism, capitalism or any other idea about how we should best live our lives.

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