Thursday, March 24, 2005

Secularism through reponsibility

I do not want to end up with an American-style of politics with us all going out there beating our chest about our faith.*

Tony Blair is cute, and like facing a good bettor in poker, I can never figure out his political strategy. He always seems to be blundering through mishaps, but when you look at it, for all his failures, it’s clear there’s no effective way to attack him. Maybe he made this speech at the faith conference to shore up his left and distance himself from Bush. Maybe he made it so the focus would be on his decree about British politics, and not horse race like his opponent Michael Howard has a chance in hell. Who knows.

The funny thing is that as this is getting reported in the American press, it’s all “Blair, who is reluctant to talk about his religious convictions…” in the snide “that liberal foreigner is only saying this because he doesn’t like Christianity” way. Ha, I say, ha. Blair is often the loudest Christian in all of England, with terms like “Christian socialism” or “communitarianism” casually thrown around. For those religious liberals out there who think that the left needs to take back “moral issues” in terms of poverty and community, he’s the guy to emulate, you hear me?

But I think this is a wonderful contrast really for those of you who think the wall between Church and State is all important in America. Look at our Constitution, and where it has gotten us in terms of curbing the influence of religion. Now look at England, a country where in legalisms the Church is still attached to the state, but has a much more gradualist and purely democratic approach to law making and social policy. They have moved to the point where the politicians keep out coercive religious influence all on their own, and don’t need any from a bill of rights.


* Blair apparently got a sneak preview of last night’s West Wing, where the agnostic, pro-choice, minimum wage raising, Californian, intellectual, winner of the Republican primaries suddenly worries how he’s going to convince the Republicans to vote for him in November. There was a stirring speech at the end where he said “if you ask politicians to make religious promises, they’re only going to lie to you”, and then half of his delegates at the convention abandoned him. And then the Democrats accused him of being too far to the left.


At 12:36 AM, Anonymous Noam said...

It always was the argument of many religious proponents of the separation of church and state that it would be the best way to protect religion and allow it to thrive. D'Tocqueville is the first foreigner that springs to mind as far as observing this.
Shouldn't really be that surprising. As long as we still have a judicial system capable of holding the line, I won't mind.
Starting to wonder about that judicial system though..

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

Hrm. I agree with Noam that incorporating religion into the state seems to have well and truly killed it in Britain (at least the state church -- Eddie Izzard does a wonderful piece on this, including the C of E's inquisitor going around asking people "Cake or death?" "Uh, cake please!"). I was going to post almost exactly Noam's comments about separation being good for the church, in fact.

Then I thought a little more deeply: if we didn't have a Constitution, we could create a Church of the US and wait for the official religion to wither away, which would presumably take most of the crazies with it. A perfect, judo-like solution. The only problem is that it takes too long, and I would like the country not to be run by IDists during my lifetime, which that old first amendment is the best shot at stopping.

Who'da thunk it? A pro-Constitution argument based on the idea that the Constitution does things faster than the alternatives.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Rousseau said...

The argument noam refers to is for religion in general. I don't think it's ever been argued, as Dennis suggests, that the specific religion tied to the state withers from such establishmentarianism. I tend to think religion across Europe has declined because people have just gotten over it, and not some reverse-psychology over its institutionalization.

And I am not at all hoping that the US makes a state religion. Just noting that the US has a strong legalistic wall between the two, the UK has no formal wall, and yes we're the bogeymen of the Western world when it comes to "too much religion in politics". The popular will, triumphant (in both cases).


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