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.