Written for Sussex University newspaper The Badger in my second year of my BA.
Diversity seems to have been the topic of much writing in The Badger of late. To be sure, diversity of thought, identity, and belief are treasures of what it means to live in a society such as ours. Though we should not dwell too long on kitsch sentimentality; more important is the protection of such diversity.
Relaxed censorship laws do much to sustain freedom of speech and thought, and equality laws are a crucial component of protecting identities, but with regards to belief, our state is pitifully lacking in egality.
This is a Christian country. Not a country full of Christians, mind. We’re Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews etc. not to mention that a majority of British citizens now identify with no religion at all. The official religion of our country, however, is of the mythical Palestinian Jew known as the Christ. It has been this way since King Henry VIII, meaning we have all sorts of drab dark-age relics left over in our political system.
First of all, we have the monarchy, the affliction of being (inescapably) a royal subject. I actually happen to like the Queen somewhat – she’s grandmother-esque, she’s never publicly said anything very stupid or vicious and she performs her royal rubber-stamp duties well. However, when she eventually shuffles off this mortal coil and her son Charles – a moron of the highest calibre – takes the throne, I suspect his mother’s popularity will not serve him in the slightest. This is not to touch at all upon the absurdity of monarchy in the first place.
The idea that to become the head of state of a nation one must have entered the world via the womb of one particular woman is nothing less than deranged. It’s the so-called Divine Right of Kings that is the justification of this circus of inanities; God himself picks the ruler of the nation. And which God? The Christian one, of course.
The influence of the Christian Church in our political system is by no means irrelevant. In the House of Lords, 26 unelected, self-appointed holy-men pass judgment over legislation, granting them not only spiritual, but very real political power.
In 2007, the Bishops in the second chamber turned out en masse to block equality legislation that would grant gay and lesbian couples the right to adopt children – an endeavour that they succeeded in doing until late 2008. Their reason for opposing LGBT- lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, adoption was the standard dull divine bigotry that can be found and justified with recourse to an upsetting proportion of religious dogmas, but this time, the Bible.
The influence of official religious voices in a democracy will always be self-serving, for why wouldn’t they? If you know God’s wishes, it only makes sense to make them law. My problem is not with the belief, per se, but that our government is so structured as to allow only the Christian church the possibility of acting upon their beliefs directly.
The cure is Secularism, by which I mean the constitutional separation of church and state. The church minds its own business – says which of its practitioners may have sex with who else and in what ways – and so on, and the state ensures that no religion has any legal advantages over any other.
This sort of equality is worth pursuing, whether you are religious or not. The currently privileged position of the Church of England is unjustifiable, especially considering that it receives £170 million of state funds every year. Contrast this to the fact that Middlesex University has had to close its Philosophy department due to lack of funding, and I can’t help but feel that the government is ignoring chemistry to fund alchemy, so to speak.
The French notion of laïcité has much it could teach us about the place of religion in society. The idea is that we should have a neutral, equal public domain undistorted by claims of religious belief that demand privileged treatment. The public domain is supposed to be for the public good, and it shouldn’t surprise us that self-selected in-groups that constitute religions might request legislation that is for rather more private conceptions of the good.
From an egalitarian position, no-one should be treated differently on account of their faith. Even the most cursory glance at countries that do discriminate on grounds of faith should tell you why.
Published originally on February 1 2011 at thebadgeronline.co.uk