Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Christian right’

We Don’t Need a Religious Right in Britain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th August, 2011

One topic I get my students at SOAS to discuss each year is the familiar proposition that Religion and Politics should never mix. Of course, historically in Britain they often did. Until the emergence of the SDP in the early 1980s, the Church of England was often referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer. And both Methodists and Quakers had a big influence on the old Liberal Party. But secularism has swept Britain over the past 50 years and the fall in church attendance has been mirrored by a distancing of most politicans from overtly religious standpoints. As Alastair Campbell famously said when he was the master of dark arts at 10 Downing Street, “We don’t do God.” — though in the case of Tony Blair himself, that proved to be completely untrue. One cheeky journalist is said to have asked Blair if he prayed with George W Bush. And of course, in the United States, religion and politics most certainly do mix, whether it is in the form of the liberal Christianity of Barack Obama or the disturbing beliefs of the Christian Right and the Christian Zionists, with their hatred of homosexuals, Muslims and many others who aren’t like themselves. Liberals in Britain have comforted themselves with the assumption that we don’t have that sort of Religious Right here in the UK, but recent trends have suggested that may not be the case. Maybe the Religious Right didn’t dare show its head above the parapet before, or simply didn’t get organised. That doesn’t mean it won’t. And if it does, both the secularists and those believers of moderate or even radical political views need to be prepared to rebut any suggestion that the Religious Right has God and morality firmly on their side.

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What Is God’s Place in Politics?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th August, 2008

For the past two days, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) has been hosting a seminar in the European Parliament in Brussels on the theme ‘Secularism and Religions’. Not the most inspiring of titles, I admit, but discussions about religion’s place in society and in politics are particularly pertinent, given the rise of so-called Muslim fundamentalism and the activities of the Christian right in the United States and Latin America. In Europe, of course, secularism has been on the rise for a long time now, and in various forms has been legally instituted in France and Turkey. And as the leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, pointed out in his brief opening remarks, secularism is almost part-and-parcel of European liberalism, in the sense of maintaining a strict separation of Church and State.

However, that does not mean that there cannot be a constructive interaction between religious and political bodies. Indeed, in an increasingly multicultural society, this is probably essential. Interestingly, what has happened at the European level is that religious faiths and institutions have built up an impressive lobbying presence in Brussels (as well as in the national capitals of the 27 EU member states). The Vatican, not surprisingly, is the most vociferous.

The ALDE seminar has had an eclectic range of speakers, from Frans Goetghebeur, President of the Buddhist Union of Belgium, to Rabbi David Meyer (formerly of Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue) and Chéref-Khan Chemsi of the European Muslim Humanist Institute. The most well-known political speaker was the inimitable Italian Radical, Marco Pannella, who at 78 has lost none of his flamboyance or origniality. He still seems to be in a state of semi-delirium following a meeting he had a while back with the Dalai Lama, the memory of which literally drove him to tears in the plenary sesion. The Italian women present applauded this, while the few Brits in the room, including me, squirmed in our seats. Europeans are nothing if not diverse, thank God.

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