Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Lunatics, asylum etc....

Last night on Newsnight there was a discussion on religion. In the course of the debate, Baroness Warnock said that a theocratic government was her greatest nightmare (it's at nine minutes in on the broadcast). Jeremy Paxmen was dismissive: surely we are far beyond that possibility now, he insisted, in this modern, reasonable and logically bound society. And it has to be said that the idea of priests and religious ideas controlling our lives in the 21st century does seem a little far-fetched.

But how far fetched? In the USA it seems that it is impossible to get elected to any political office if you are not a church-going Christian. There is a constant battle between the religious right and defenders of the constitutional requirement to separate religion and the state. These arguments are currently taking place over the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools. The Christians insist that the Bible has the force of fact, that it is in effect a science primer. As the Bible is literally true, in their opinion, and it says that all creation happened in a few days 6000 years ago, then the scientific fact of evolution just cannot be true, and must not be taught to American children.

The pro-religion lobby is primarily reflected in an anti-science mindset, a deeply held belief that fundamental Christian beliefs are not based on evidence or logic, and that a scientific insistence on evidence is anathema to a life of faith.

All of which impinges on politics. President Obama is not popular and the Democrats are looking at losses in the upcoming Senate elections in the USA. Which makes it all the more alarming that the Guardian is reporting that 48% of Republican candidates do not believe that man-made climate change is happening. That's almost half of senior Republican politicians who deny the science (or who calculate that denying the science is a necessity if they want to get elected).

Now, it's a long way from right-wing American politicians embracing (however honestly) Christian fundamentalist positions, and the establishment of a theocratic state. And we must remember that the USA has a constitutional separation of church and state. But recent history does not indicate that religious influence on US politics is weakening. If anything, religious issues are impinginmg more on public consciousness and politics than at any time in the last 40 years.

You may say that's just America. But we know that the USA has influence on what happens in the UK and elsewhere: there was a US Tea-Party rally in London this week in an effort to transpose these ideas to UK politics and with a right-wing coalition in power, the conditions are more favourable than for many years for these ideas to take root. And of course the rise of fundamentalist Islam is also a UK and global phenomenon driven (in part at least) by a religious motivation and the desire to impose backward looking religious norms in all areas that Islam can have an influence.

So, is a theocratic government a nightmare we need to worry about? On balance, probably not, but it's not a question we would even have thought to ask, even 5 years ago....

No comments:

Post a Comment