As a person who’s engagement in studying religion as well as being of faith has developed alongside a growing interest in studying and observing politics, this is a topic which pops up quite consistently for me and for the trends which I’m interested in observing. What seems quite clear is that there is not a shared consensus among faith streams or denominational groups over political leaning, how political members ‘should’ vote/not vote or of the role of politics in relation to the religious community.
Obviously as a christian I can only speak in a personal way about the particular religious community that I’m a part of, however, I have tried to look outside of my own ‘denominational box’ to see what the ideas of others are.
Whether or not the faithful ‘should be’ or are political is answered in varying ways, but there does seem to be obvious political movements within these religious sections.
In the U.S, and perhaps something developing in the UK, is the Religious Right, a section of the more conservative parties (in the US – Republicans, in the UK this might be UKIP or the Right of the Tories) which tend to have a more conservative outlook both fiscally and socially. In the UK, with the recent Equal marriage bill we saw a revolt by almost half of backbench Tory MPs and they were joined by a number of socially conservative MP’s from Labour; the majority of whom were religious.
In the U.S there is the obvious religious politicism which makes it an unlikely prospect for a non-Christian president to hold office any time soon, and the well-debated issues of potential legalisation of abortion and advancing gay rights which separates moderate conservatives from their socially conservative fellows.
In Muslim communities in the U.K, it seems that there is a division between the majority of issue-voting members who are more personal regarding their religious values so that voting direction doesn’t necessarily depend on the moral issues involved in a parties’ manifesto, but on trends of voting behaviour; in urban areas Labour have long had the support of ethnic minorities.
Possibly, the economic ideology of the left is more appealling to Muslims and Christians who understand both the Q’uran and the Old and New Testaments to have an emphasise on the poor and God’s concern and attention for them. In Islam, the charging of interest which is, in most cases understood to be excessive, is forbidden – so the ideals of fully capitalistic banking principles might be at odds with these ideas.
Similarly, in the Old Testament, God calls for a seven year debt ‘jubilee’ for those who owe, and we see this idea of ‘forgetting’ what should be repaid continued in the New Testament, with the parable told by Jesus in Matthew 18:21 – 35 called ‘The Parable of the unmerciful servant” (NIV). God’s heart seems to be one of mercy towards those who the world says should be shown none.
The ancient texts of these religions have much more to say on every area covered by politicians. Christians will look to the Bible for guidance from God’s inspired word for how to care for the environment – seeing their duty as Stewards and, hopefully, taking this onboard when choosing which constituency representative from one of the parties to vote for and how they propose to implement any environmental policy. Muslims can look to the sayings of the Prophet in the Hadith to find what he was caused to say on different social issues, such as the care for those who are vulnerable in communities which could influence attitudes to modern day Welfare, or to the Q’uran for guidence on justice and law-making.
Yet also, fiscal policy might come into serious consideration for a religious person. I know a number of Christians who are planning to vote conservative on the next election because they believe their economic plan is allowing for the proponent of individuality and freedom to succeed in the craft that God has given them. To a smaller extent in the UK, yet still observably, moral issues might also play their part, with the conservatives being traditionally associated with the Church of England, many believe that it has more sympathy with the ideals of the established Church. From this angle, it would seem that religiosity could shape political outlook because politics and religion concerned with social justice, morality and lifestyle share many of the same concerns.
However, the choosing of an individual party to allign oneself to is rather more difficult. In the UK atleast, the major political parties are (thankfully, in my opinion) not religious groups. There is facillity made inside them for factions of religious people, but the parties themselves run under a secular, non/multi-faith banner.
For some religious people, to join with a party that opperates in this way is equvilent to dropping one’s faith! I have heard it preached from a pulpit that Christians (in particular) should have nothing to do with the ‘world’ of politics and its ‘secular’ ethos. On the other hand, various groups make their own specifically religious party so that they can bring their theology to the political table of a multi-faith Britain.
There is no mention of socialism, conservativism, liberalism or so on in the holy books which we religious folks follow, but it would be condescending, in my opinion, to therefore call them unpolitical and seperated.
Personally, I find the Q’uran and the Bible, especially the gospels, to ring in a deeply political way. I don’t think that religious people should seperate themselves in a cult-like manner from the running of their country, but neither should they seek to forcefully implement their own theology on the government of a wonderfully diverse nation. For me, we should vote in the way that sees the issues we are interested in and passionate about being addressed – whatever political ‘wing’ that takes you on is something that you need to discern from your honest heartfeelings for today.
What I don’t think any of us should do, religious or not, greatly interested in politics or not, is to not vote. I want to write more about this later, so will leave it there….
P.S. I realise I have failed to veil my true politics in this post, I did come to write it with the intention of being a ‘neutral’ observer, however, I will just admit that, as you have probably guessed, I am a religious ‘lefty’. However, I totally see how other religious people interpret scripture differently, and come to equally as sincere conclusions. I applaud any participation in moderate political conversations 🙂
P.P.S (!!) I also realise I have only briefly generalised in everything I have said in this post – its badly written but I was feeling guilty for not posting anything Hope it doesn’t offend too sorely!! I also was unable to spell check it ….
Do let me know what you think!! Do you agree, or do you think politics and religion should not intertwine in the UK???