April 5, 2012, 12:49am
It was Gandhi who said those who think religion has nothing to do with politics understand neither religion nor politics. Both are concerned with what a good life and a good society look like - they will always overlap. Political leaders, like every citizen, should be able to speak authentically about their religious or non-religious faith perspectives, while holding true to their commitment to govern for the good of all. The bogeyman of “theocracy”, held up by the National Secular Society et al whenever a democratically elected leader gestures towards faith is scaremongering. However, religious people and non-religious people hold in common the desire for leaders to be real and not use people of faith, or indeed any other group, to score political points. Cameron can applaud Christianity all he likes, but he's yet to prove that it's really about piety and not about polling.
Elizabeth Hunter is director of Theos.
Britain is a diverse country where, according to the last major British Social Attitudes Survey, 51 per cent of us describe ourselves as having no religion. 87 per cent of people don’t go to a place of worship in the average week and, although practising religious people of any religion are a minority, we have citizens of an enormous number of religions from Animists to Zoroastrians. In this context, governments should not “do God” (which God would they do?) any more than they should “do atheism.” The role of government in a society that is so diverse is not to privilege and highlight only one religion, but to create a space for people of all different beliefs to live together in tolerance. When a Prime Minister talks about “we Christians” he puts that inclusiveness in jeopardy and excludes and alienates many of us from the government of our country.
Andrew Copson is chief executive of the British Humanist Association.