Does Religion Still Have a Part To Play in Politics?

The laws regarding the purchase of alcohol at Easter grasped Northern Ireland for five days. Five days in which the personal choice was made on behalf of the population as to what times they could and couldn’t purchase alcohol during a subjectively holy time of year. For those who are not religious these laws made little sense especially during the Spring break, when many like to unwind before summer exam time kicks off. With seemingly more people railing against these laws than embracing them, it’s clear that this isn’t just about alcohol consumption being inhibited; it begs the bigger question of whether religion really has a place within politics.
Northern Ireland, and by extension the rest of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, are connected to the Church through tradition which has been handed down to us from one generation to the next, from a time when the Church had more power than the State. The steady divorce of Church and State throughout the generations is simply a signalling of modernity and of a steady move toward a more liberal, open minded society. Living in a society whose history is so immersed with the influence of religion and with Christianity of some denomination instilled into the consciousness of the majority, it is very easy to feel guilty about being a non-believer. This particularly rings true recently given David Cameron’s recent announcement of being “evangelical”. Describing how “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality”, it becomes insinuated that those who do not have an investment in religion seem to have something to be guilty about and portrayed almost as being dangerous, as opposed to having their own personal views respected.
Why is there this double standard and why does Christianity still maintain a level of authority in a nation which is not only increasingly non-religious but also increasingly diverse in terms of religion with many people of other faiths living in the UK and Ireland? As it stands, just over a third of people in Britain believe religion has a positive role to play society and according to the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey, forty-eight per cent of respondents stated they did not belong to a religion. Aside from this one in twenty British people are Muslim and there are almost a million British hindus. Why would anyone want their country governed by a leader whose policies are influenced by his faith? Religious faith is something completely personal and it’s fruitless to impose that on others.
Having Church and State separate does not undermine Christianity, it simply recognises that society is more diverse than having one religion dictate over other religions and beliefs. Having Church and State separate promotes equality as opposed to an esteemed religion and way of life over-ruling others. Yes, faith may give people a ‘moral code’ as Cameron has said but that doesn’t immediately cast off everyone else lacking morals. Simply because a person does not subscribe to a religion does not make them completely bereft of a sense of right and wrong. UK and Irish laws may be built upon the foundations of Christianity but you do not need to have read the Bible to have a sense of what is right and what is wrong. ​

Knowledge is Power

The more I read news articles these days the more horribly paranoid and conscious I become of the Orwellian, dystopian nightmare world of his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Call me melodramatic, but recent moves for censorship of the internet is the beginning of such a culture however elaborate this link may seem. If I think back to the censorship programmes installed on computers in secondary school, they were an absolute hinderance to research and learning. Websites were filed into categories namely ‘nudity’ (but some were slightly more dubious such as the ‘occult’) They were often blocked for the most minute of connections (mostly keywords or swear words). These programmes ensured limited access to websites and therefore, information.

The central motivation of the government filter (which will come into effect this month), is to protect the eyes of children from seeing pornographic content. This seems on the surface, a reasonable motivation for censorship. The problem is that the god-like power of selecting what we do and do not see in our day to day lives is being placed in the hands of a select few, the definition of what is pornographic and negative to the eyes of children, becomes skewed by the authoritative opinion of this select few.

In an article for the Guardian, Laurie Penny has outlined how ” Sites that were found to be inaccessible when the new filtering system was launched last year included in some cases helplines like Childline and the NSPCC, domestic violence and suicide prevention services” This is just an example of the kind of extension of definitions that can and WILL occur from government filtering. Does the noble cause of protecting against pornography and obscene images seem like such a good idea now? The fresh and more dangerous potentialities of allowing power into the hands of a select few is something vastly more worrying than children seeing pornographic images. No one seemingly worries about the (let’s face it, FAR more easily accessible) page 3 of The Sun newspaper (among other publications) that boasts of a different topless lady each day. All it takes is a child to pick up that newspaper be it in a shop or at home, to see such images. If the worry of the effects of pornography on impressionable children was such an ardent issue in the hearts of the government, page 3 would have been done away with a long time ago.

The central issue here is not protecting children, it is the government’s need for monopolisation of the information available to us. Do not be lulled into the comforting thought that children are at the heart of the cause here. This bid for government filtering is the need of a select few to feed information deemed acceptable to us. The extension of definitions of what is bad and what is acceptable is not something to be chosen by anyone other than ourselves. It is also not the duty of the government to protect impressionable children (last I heard that’s what parents and guardians were for? Just putting that out there.)

May I also remind anyone who so chooses to read this, of how ten year’s worth of speeches and press releases promising a better, fairer country from a Conservative government were deleted from archives. This kind of filtering, the cutting and pasting of what information the population can and cannot see, is simply a taste of what is to come if government internet filtering is allowed to be implemented without any objection. It is an insult to the intelligence of individuals in society, as is the idea that without government intervention, children will watch pornography as if parents are non existent. It is ludicrous when you consider the issue in this sense.

It is appropriate that the much slammed Thought of The Day on Radio 4 yesterday, from Julian Assange happened to be this:

“Knowledge is power. To keep a person ignorant is to place them in a cage. So it follows that the powerful, if they want to keep their power, will try to know as much about us as they can, and they will try to make sure that we know as little about them as is possible.”

Keep this in mind as the bid for internet filtering gains momentum. The monopolisation of information is unnatural and it is something to be rallied against. The internet is an equaliser, anyone can contribute to it and anyone can access it. We are at a time when the acquirement of information through the internet is at its most efficient, useful and relied upon. Do not sit back and let that be mutated.