Belief in Politics   1 comment

Last week, the biggest news story in Australian politics was the dramatic coup which saw their Prime Minister ousted in favour of the Deputy Prime Minister; this week, there is widespread media reporting of the new Prime Minister’s comments about her lack of faith in God.  Why is this so news-worthy?  Today I am considering the question: “Is it important whether a top politician is openly religious (or not religious)?”

Firstly, the background to this story is an article I discovered whilst researching my Thoughts in the News section of this website.  The article* quoted Julia Gillard, the new Australian Prime Minister, as saying that, despite having a “great respect for religion”, she does not believe in God.  It went on to say that she had been brought up as a Baptist, but had moved away from the family religion as an adult.  It wasn’t until the last line of the article that it was casually mentioned that she was the country’s first female Prime Minister – surely a more worthy piece of information than whether or not she was the country’s first non-religious Prime Minister?

If we relate this back to the UK, we can see parallels: the best example being that of Alistair Campbell’s infamous quote, “we don’t do religion” (referring to the Blair government).  In fact, Tony Blair of course was relatively guarded about his religious ‘status’ and avoided declaring himself to be a Catholic until after he had left No. 10 – although there were rumours circulating beforehand.  Was Blair worried that in a country which is inextricably linked to the Anglican Church of England, a ‘Catholic and proud’ Prime Minister would be somehow incompatible?  Gordon Brown certainly wasn’t worried; on numerous occasions we heard about how he had inherited a “strong moral compass” from his Presbyterian father.

In Britain, it is the monarchy’s job to look after religion: the Head of State is also the Head of the Church of England, so of course it is relevant whether the monarch is religious or not.  It is the monarch who is ‘in charge’ of the national religion, so no politician should need to conceal their faith from the public.  As a multi-faith society, isn’t it important to have a government which is representative of this?  In which case, non-religious as well as religious people should be represented in the same way as other groups are.

On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t be categorising our politicians at all.  This argument runs along the lines that MPs are actually delegates not representatives, meaning that they are in parliament to put forward the concerns and opinions of those they are there on behalf of, but not to be a perfect amalgamation of all the beliefs, opinions and lifestyles that exist in their constituencies.  After all, if that were so, then we would need to elect all politicians as a whole across the country rather than just having one MP per constituency.  Maybe, just maybe, a new radical outlook on the subject would be to elect politicians who are actually good at their jobs – who cares if they are a man or woman, black or white, gay or straight, 25 or 75, or indeed an atheist/Christian/Hindu/Jew/Muslim/Sikh?  It shouldn’t matter what their religious beliefs (or lack of them) are, unless it affects their work… and so we find ourselves hitting another issue.

A politician’s work is obviously affected by what they agree or disagree with, which comes from beliefs they have formulated due to their life experiences and this often includes a religious upbringing which they have chosen to either pursue or move way from in their adult life.  Controversial moral and ethical issues (e.g. abortion) are often topics which a person’s religion dictates what their beliefs on that issue are.  However, people within the same faith can have differing beliefs on these issues and the non-religious can be just as divided too; so maybe it all gets evened out in the end.

Returning to the Australian news story, one thing that got to me about it was a reference to Julia Gillard’s rivals (Kevin Rudd within her own political party who she took over from and Tony Abbott from an opposing party) which focused on the fact that they were religious whilst she was not.  Why on earth should that matter?  Was the journalist in question (Bonnie Malkin) trying to say that Australia shouldn’t put up with a non-religious Prime Minister when they had God-fearing alternatives?  I’m not sure if that’s the point that was being made, but it sounded worryingly like it: perhaps that’s what Australian society is like though – I do hope that’s not the case.

In this current time when we in the UK feel we have been continually lied to by our politicians, I’m inclined to feel genuinely ecstatic to hear that a Prime Minister elsewhere in the world has declared that: “I’m not going to pretend a faith I don’t feel.”

* read the article in full here


Posted 02/07/2010 by thinkmindy in Politics, Religion

One response to “Belief in Politics

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  1. Nice work mind. my dads side are catholic. I’m just learning how bad the disceimination is. Here we see unless u follow the majority your in for some stick!! Surely reigious people should embrace their god given ability to think freely and to choose tolerance rather than look down on others pretty sure the big man in the sky would prefer that

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