Monday, March 03, 2003

two topics that should never come up in polite conversation: religion and politics. does that make religion in politics is doubly taboo?

too bad. i'm gonna talk about just that, right now. prompted by a comment my cousin and mom made earlier on email, i went and looked up 'religion in europe' online at my favourite sites, The Economist, and The Guardian. i remember talking about religion in politics back in RJC, in GP with Mr Evans, our lovely British literature tutor. so here're the results: religion in the good ol' US of A is growing, in the areas of 'non-traditional' christian religions -- the Southern Baptists, for example, are one of the fastest growing denominations in the US. look here for the article in the Economist that talks about it. in contrast, churches on the other side of The Pond [in England] are slowing growing more empty as the years pass. the Guardian has a special report - which only goes to demonstrate the importance of this issue - here that talks about religion in the UK. there's also this guy, A.N Wilson, who did a survey and wrote a book called God's Funeral discussing the death of organised religion in western civilisation. i gather his premise has to do with the growth of science and rationalism as a belief system in competition with religious faith. here's an interview done with the author by Christianity Today.

all this raises questions as to the nature of Christian, or less specifically, religious influence on political decisionmaking in today's world. for the first time in a long time we have two staunch Christian leaders on both sides of the Pond, arguably the two most influential political leaders in the world - Bush and Blair. Bush has demonstrated his stance with his decisions on faith in schools -like the teaching of evolution in high schools, the high school voucher system, that kind of thing- and in his speeches always ending with 'God Bless America' and praying in public. it's not surprising in a country that is fundamentally Protestant in its foundation -despite its claim of the separation of Church and State enshrined in the constitution- that its leader should be strongly Christian and its politics profoundly influenced by the language of the Judeo-Christian tradition: morality, rights, values being of paramount importance, the need for a moralistic justification for their actions. Tony Blair, on the other hand, is breaking with a tradition of non-religious leaders -- he is probably the first leader since Gladstone who has been publicly religious -whatever that means, perhaps just in the profession of faith- in the UK. this situation raises the question: so what IS the role of religion in today's world?

is it a profoundly personal issue, kept to the silence of prayer and the quiet participation in Mass or attendance in Church on sundays? is it something flashy, displayed to the world through 'telegenic men in suits' and loud singing and excesses of emotion? should it have a political impact -- should the religious beliefs of the head of state filter through to policy which would affect the nation, not just those of the same belief system? it's interesting that the survey found that the growing religions in the US are the ones that include 'fiery preaching...and telegenic men in suits'. now i have a personal preference for the stability of liturgical formality, so maybe the following comments are biased. but i find the 'fiery preaching', the pastors who sing pop-like christian music, and the 'telegenic men in suits' really disturbing, perhaps even a little fake. like ads for lexus and toyota, promising a better life if only i buy into their product. i guess there are two ways of looking at this: whatever way wins more people's hearts for God [IE whatever works], but also -- how do we know this 'faith' is genuine? it just constantly, to me at least, reeks of insincerity, and the impulse of passion versus the reality of the acceptance of religion as the cornerstone of life.

for me, the separation of church and state is really important. it may seem odd to say this, but i think that if you can't keep your policy decisions free of religious influence, you need to make a choice between religion and politics. i hate seeing things like the war in Iraq being sold on moralistic grounds, and find it highly ironic that the nation that most prides itself on the separation of church and state is also the nation that is has the most blurred lines of demarcation between the two. the counterbalance of the church on state policy is non-transparent -- it doesn't come through observable, policeable channels -- but at the same time is clearly existent and unavoidable. how can that be resolved? i think my answer would be: if you can't keep your religion out of your policy and your rhetoric, you need to get out of the political arena. that's what i believe, and i'm just going to leave this blog at that.

on a completely different note: for a limited time only, here's an article from the Business Times back home about one Lee Hsien Yang, CEO of Singtel. i think after all these years, i've kind of come to sort of like this man. how scary.


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