What are our obligations towards the poor, the sick and the suffering? How, in a diverse, opinionated society do we create a consensus for social action?
Religion must be allowed to play a part in shaping the moral conversation.
This is not to say there is no secular morality; I would much rather display my atheistic conception of the world than project an inauthentic faith. What I am suggesting, however, is that when religious people are asked to leave their faith at the door of the public square, we create a void in which personal morality in politics is now characterised by sheer vagueness. It is absurd to believe that the morality of our politicians doesn’t intrude on policy making.
Consider the discredited proposition ‘we’re all in this together’. The harnessing of a heavily moralistic narrative is a major asset to the Coalition because it gave our society a shared sense of sacrifice and purpose. However the warped priorities of the political class in Westminster are better demonstrated by the current sloganeering: “For Hardworking people” – “David Cameron’s Living Standards Crisis”. An interest based view of politics is dominant. Voters elect those who will make them better off rather than who will guide society towards upholding the moral covenant to do right by one another.
Some atheists reject the use of religion in politics, arguing that if these policy ideas can’t be expressed in secular terms, why should they be in the public sphere at all? There are many ways to answer this but I’ll focus on just two. When discussing values, many people in this country inevitably engage in an examination of their faith and how they should act. To dismiss this as
inappropriate is to dampen the clarion call for a more compassionate type of politics. Secondly, to paraphrase from the musical “The Book of Mormon”, religion might just be a bunch of made-up stuff but at least it points to something bigger.
We need a stronger call for morality in politics and a more compassionate policy agenda. If more religious people were allowed to make their arguments in the public sphere, both rhetorically and substantively, then we could achieve that. Whilst the religious must, in the end, find recourse to universal values – in keeping harmony with a modern pluralistic society – these values would still emanate from the belief that we have a basic obligation towards one another: to be my brother’s keeper – to be my sister’s keeper. We need an elevated politics that asks us to think of someone besides ourselves, as our better history demonstrates.
When division beset the country it demonstrated Thatcher’s betrayal of her Assisi promise: “where there is despair, may we bring hope”. It was in this
country’s greatest moment of danger that a leader summoned a nation to fight on the hills and when the guns fell silent, a new Prime Minister ushered in a New Jerusalem. So when we are summoned to brings the walls of Jericho tumbling down, let us answer that call.