December 16, 2005

Political question

Apologies for the return of the recurring subject, but I rediscovered something I wrote down several weeks ago which is too interesting to ignore.

In a Radio 2 interview:

"The greatest political power in the world is religion"


- 29 comments by 3 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. Two seperate entities. Neither should you raise such questions because its dangerous.

    16 Dec 2005, 10:18

  2. Huh??? Since when was discussion in a country with free speech dangerous?

    Two important issues/powers like that innately influence each other: there's no way of separating them completely.

    16 Dec 2005, 10:26

  3. Peter, are you trying to say that State and Religion are separate? If you are, then I think you are confusing the ideal world with this real one that we all live in. Every nation's politics are affected by religion. One of George W. Bush's key points in his re-election was that God wanted him to be president, and a statement like that is going to influence a lot of religious people.

    This kind of debate is not dangerous, but it may upset people as they are two topics that many people feel very strongly about.

    16 Dec 2005, 10:31

  4. a statement like that is going to influence a lot of religious people.

    Gullible religious people surely?
    If I ran around saying that I was the son of God I'm not sure that many [specific] religious people would instantly believe me.

    Agree with Peter & Richard (although Peter doesn't really make his point clearly): Dangerous in so far as it will spark a debate in which people might use clipped tones.
    There are a lot of churchy blogs springing up…

    16 Dec 2005, 11:38

  5. I think the only danger in raising debates about things such as religion and politics is that people may get offended. Well, such is life and talking about things is human nature; surely a few clipped tones are ok, Gavin?

    With regard to Sarah's initial entry, religion does indeed hold great political power. Ask people of a practicing religious belief whether their faith or political standing comes first and I'm sure that for the majority religion comes in at number one. In fact, there are those whose religious beliefs will drive their political affiliations.

    16 Dec 2005, 12:22

  6. If we banned discussion for risk of offending people nothing would ever get done.

    I'd rather my blog wasn't decribed at 'churchy', thanks very much: I am not religious, I just find religious discussion interesting.

    Yeay for Vib for actually answering the original question!

    16 Dec 2005, 12:24

  7. Mathew Mannion

    People who follow a religion (as about half the world's population do) are going to be influenced by what is said by the leaders of these religions. It's a simple fact of life, and belittling these people as gullible is downright wrong and very offensive. If the Catholic church were to make a statement against communism, a lot of Catholics would be affected by that – multiculturally, not just in a single nation.

    Whether politics has such an effect on the politics of an individual country is debatable, more it could be that they have an effect on the individuals who govern such politics.

    16 Dec 2005, 12:26

  8. Thank you mathew, I was just about to make a post pointing out the fact that I had left out any other identifiers such as gullible or fanatic on purpose as it would be higly insulting to their beliefs.

    While less religous people may see it as silly when people are affected by these comments, to those who are more devout these are serious issues and should not be dismissed by others.

    16 Dec 2005, 12:33

  9. Religions clearly have a lot of political power, as they influence a lot of people. On the other hand, religion isn't a single power; there are lots of religions, and they tend to disagree very loudly on a number of issues. Religion may influence politics very strongly, but it doesn't do so in any one specific way.

    Religion in its various forms gets dragged into politics, with religious leaders trying to influence politics to get what they want, and political leaders trying to use religion to get elected. In my opinion this is bad for a democratic process because it leads people away from the issues of running the country; I think a someone should be elected or not based on how good a leader they are, not how good a Christian they are.

    Note that the problem isn't people using their religion to help dictate their political beliefs and voting based on that, but with people voting based solely on their religious beliefs without even considering the politics. Which I think is bad. And, I suspect, rather common.

    Oh, and I don't think Gavin was referring to your blog with his "churchy" comment.

    16 Dec 2005, 13:59

  10. You pseudo intellectual idiots fall for same lame provocation and overstatement without having second thoughts ;)

    Once again you prove my point.

    16 Dec 2005, 15:56

  11. Mathew Mannion

    And so begs the statement: If you act like a twat, people will treat you like a twat.

    16 Dec 2005, 16:01

  12. Thank you, Mat: my sentiments exactly.

    And what exactly is your point, Peter? Other than to try to subvert interesting discussion. Why have you made such a judgement of me when you don't even know me? Would you not equally have criticised me for assuming that your comment was false and thus being blinkered about the issues raised? Believe me, people have made far more outrageous comments and have been genuine.

    Insults are not necessary: we are a civilised community here.

    16 Dec 2005, 16:18

  13. Matt im sure you could manage something more articulate. As reliably liberal as your views are i think a little humility would not go amiss.
    Sarah religion undoubtedly has an effect upon politics but is a separate area for some people. I like to seperate spirituality and the church from politics. Although christianity can affect your view of the world we live in, it is dangerous to suggest that Christianity for example is a political power because it is so much more than just that. Religion provides people with a basis for their existance which will always be there for them and takes presidence over every other aspect in life. You can have the politics of religion, just as there is politics in everything we do and every conversation we have. Religion is NOT politics.
    Take the 9–11 attacks which focused on religion rather than the politically motivated islamic fundametalism. Once it was established that the perpetrators were Muslims, enough had been said. Theirs is perceived as an extreme and militaristic religion, peculiarly given to this kind of atrocity. Westerners already associate Islam with suicide bombing and hostage taking, not to mention brutal kinds of corporal punishment.

    Yet the prophet Mohammed denounced unwarranted bloodshed.

    The Christian world present liberalism and the angry fanaticism of some Muslim peoples must be recognized for what they are, i.e. socio-economic and geo-political phenomena. They say nothing at all about the possibilities or persuasions of their respective faiths.

    People can use religion as a political tool to their own ends and can exploit people in this way. The underpinnings of such actions are always political but religion itself is NOT.

    This is a crucial distinction to be able to make just in the same way that people should be able to distinguish between criticism based on what someone said and criticism of the person. Unfortunately in our media driven age the lines are often crudely misdrawn, as a consequence religion misunderstood.

    16 Dec 2005, 18:22

  14. Sarah Nicholson - I can't sign in because my computer is confused!


    Peter, I agree that Mat could have phrased his criticism somewhat better, but the sentiment was correct. I really don't appreciate being insulted like that on my own blog.

    I think the original quote did not accurately represent the question I intended to ask, as I was restricted to the turn-of-phrase of the speaker. What I intended to ask was:

    'Is religion the greatest influencing factor on politics in the world?'

    No, religion is not politics, and I would never suggest that. I would also wholeheartedly condemn all racial and religious stereotyping for the reasons you mention. However, religion has to be a major influencing factor in political decisions purely because it forms such a fundamental part of the lives of so many people. But does it have a greater influence than, for example, economics? And does this influence change depending on which society/country you are considering?

    Thank you for finally explaining your view: you have highlighted our misunderstanding. If only you had begun your contribution in this way.

    16 Dec 2005, 19:50

  15. Ah the institution of blogging demands logic and perfection of course!

    Its natural that the question would now be changed to qualify previous misunderstandings and support a new line on which i do not feel the need to comment since i can't dispute your opinion.
    Your revised question is a completely different kettle of fish.

    You don't have to make the point that youv'e taken offense since that was already obvious. Sorry if you have felt offended but in the future other bloggers may similarly be interpreted as having placed offensive comments because of the nature of the subjects you bring up. It is as much your right to freely express yourself as it is other peoples to comment on an unlimited entry. If you feel bad about this then i send apologies but restricting who can comment might be a better aproach nxt time:)

    16 Dec 2005, 20:20

  16. Justin

    There are some who have argued that there is a much closer link between religion and politics. For instance it has been said that orginally around the time of Jesus, he and his following were just another sect of Judaism – of which there were many. He never claimed to be anything else. Then after he died around the time that the 2nd (?) Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. The Temple being destroyed and the Jews being persecuted under Roman domination put the whole of Judaism into a great power stuggle. Christianity formed as a breakaway group as they didn't agree with the Jewish leadership. Eventually Constantine (?) the Roman Emperor took up Christianity for purely political reasons, I'm not sure but I think he renounsed it on his death bed. Before this the church was being persecuted and the Roman religion was the main one in the Western world.

    As the Gospels were not written until at least 60–70 years after Jesus's death all the people alive at the time would have died so leaving no acurate account of what had gone before. And as we all know the victor writes the history.

    The problem with all religion is that it relies on faith therefore it can't be disproven or proven. But this also means that alternative versions of events, such as the one outlined above can also not be disproven or proven.

    So if this is true it not only shows that the origins of Christianity are purely political but it also begs the question would Christianity have survived until today? Or would it just have died out like Greek and Roman religions? After all you can't argue on lines of a true faith as Romans could have argued the same.

    Henry the VIII and the English church anyone??

    16 Dec 2005, 20:22

  17. Your second para comment 14 is interesting. You cannot prove that Religion is the single most important factor instead you have written that is 'has to be', but then you cannot prove vice-versa. Speculation on these issues does not improve the clarity of an argument, but then how can we not be speculative?. I think you are right in raising economics as a key factor but you cannot juxtapose this to religion and compare which one has more influence on politics because its impossible to prove. Again difficulties.
    You talk about variation and regional differences which go without saying but wasn't that taken for granted…that we all have subjective individual opinions and so do the other 6 billion.
    Really can there ever be conclusions on this issue, or is it just a case of raising opinions? Who knows?

    16 Dec 2005, 20:31

  18. Justin were these examples of politics affecting religion or religion affecting politics?
    Protestantism existed before Henry's divorce from Roman Catholicism. Liberal anglicanism as we know it developed a lot later. Henry made the decision politically and not with religion in mind. You could say that it was a practical disaccord with Rome than an anti-catholic motivation to begin with. So here he used religion politically. Religion was never his motivation – only in so far as it was a negative factor in practically obstructing divorce from his wife. Naturally its difficult not to be anachronistic with such issues. What i have said does fit with historical consensus. The creation of C of E was a political consequence of a political decision which had an affect on religion.

    16 Dec 2005, 20:39

  19. Sarah Nicholson

    Of course there will never be any conclusions to discussions such as this: I would never suggest that there would be! I merely find it interesting to debate the relative merits of each proposition. Many discussions in this world are hypothetical. This doesn't mean that they are without merit.

    Yes, I bring up potentially controversial subjects. I would defend to the last someone's right to express their opinion. Insulting some is, however, a completely different matter, and is something I would never stoop to.

    I guess you have every right to disbelieve me, but I genuinely meant the question as stated in 14.

    16 Dec 2005, 20:48

  20. Justin

    no 17 first para Are you seriously trying to suggest that we shouldn't speculate just because we cannot guarantee to come to a conclusion??!! You are right to raise the point, as I did, that in anything to do with religion you can never reach a conclusion because of lack of proof, but to suggest anything else is just a non-point.

    16 Dec 2005, 20:49

  21. Justin

    RE 18

    My point was about how closely religion and politics can be linked. If the above acount is true Christianity only survived and hence only exists because a group of people used something for their own political means.

    I agree about Henry VIII but here again C of E would not exist were it not for a political difficulty.

    Interestingly enough Henry originally was not anti-catholic in the least – in fact before the split he alone in Christendom was made Defender of the Faith by the Pope and the name has stuck today.

    16 Dec 2005, 20:58

  22. Sarah Nicholson

    To directly address the opening of #17. I, in fact, said that religion 'has to be' an influencing factor, not that it was the most important factor. Granted, I can't prove that it has an influence on politics (and shouldn't have stated it in the absolute), but you yourself have said that you agree with this point. I was making a statement that I thought the majority of people would agree with. Why can't religion and economics be compared? Granted, there is no way of making quantitative measures of the effects of these issues, and the arguments are mainly speculative, but this doesn't preclude comparison.

    16 Dec 2005, 21:00

  23. Justin shock horror no i wasn't suggesting we can't speculate just because we can't prove anything. Think of it this way if we can't prove it then we have no choice but to speculate and that was more the point i was making. Speculation though does not increase the clarity of argument.
    RE 21 agreed.

    Re 22 – did you make a point that most people would agree with because it seem to me that 'discuss' promotes debate. ie – one side and the other:)

    So about comparing econ and religion – if there is no way of making quantitative measures of the effects of these issues, and the arguments are mainly speculative then how do we compare? Im not crossing the the word 'compare' out, so to speak but i mean how could you viable compare them in concrete?
    This is an interesting question you raise.

    16 Dec 2005, 21:50

  24. Sarah Nicholson

    I admitted in 22 that I shouldn't have made that statement in the absolute, but explained why, when writing quickly, I had done so. Thank you for reiterating and highlighting my mistake – you seem to take great delight in that!

    In an argument based largely on speculation, how can educated speculation fail to clarify the point? Agreed, it would fundamentally be better to be able to back up everything with concrete fact, but surely logical speculations based on a thorough knowledge of a subject can be the basis of a relatively reliable discussion. After all, our entire political system is based on the various interpretations of both factual and speculative arguments. It is also perfectly possible to interpret facts in such a way that will support a certain argument, whilst someone else will glean a different message from the same data: this happens continually in politics. Just because something is based on a certain 'fact' doesn't mean it's not open to speculation and interpretation. The context is important.

    When suggesting a comparison between religion and economics I am not suggesting that we need to find a 'concrete' comparison: this entire debate is hypothetical so trying to tie it down to fact all the time is foolish. I would say, as before, that making some educated qualitative judgements can be the basis of a healthy debate, provided that you always bear in mind that it is just speculation.

    16 Dec 2005, 22:18

  25. Christopher Rossdale

    Weber wrote a famous book showing how Protestantism was a strong factor in evolving capitalism. Basically the idea is that Protestantism gives slightly more emphasis on worldly success than Catholicism. Many sects, particularly those that believed that your judgement from god was predetermined at birth, saw earthly success as a sign from God that you would go to heaven. Therefore they did their best to excell in business and such. However accumulating wealth was seen to be unholy, and so they put what money they earned back into their businesses, building and building their empires. Coupled with various reasons for Catholics not following this line, Weber proports to show the reason for a Protestant establishment and gentry, rather than a Catholic one.

    If you are religious, as I am, then your religion leads much of your life. A religion and a perception of what lies beyond is bound to affect your morals, principles, and ultimately your politics. Obviously this is oversimplifying the matter, and history and the present show how this can be manipulated. George Bush telling the American people that God wanted him to go to war was a shrewd, if pathetic, political move. The same is true of dissatisfied Islamists in the middle east who look to religion as a justification to fight their way out of foreign occupation and oppression.

    When the Anarchists smashed the churches in the Spanish revolution, it wasn't because they don't believe in religion (although few would believe in the organised structures of the church). They smashed them because the churches were known to be strongholds of the capitalist rackets and the land owners against whom the peasants were revolting. Religion is political, but it is just as commonly used as a front for politics. The two sides are why there is often so much confusion about how religion affects the world.

    21 Dec 2005, 12:25

  26. Just a quick one question, if religion is in no way political then why does Catholicism have its own state (to which Britain has today appointed an ambassador)? Ok, so no other religion has such a claim, but it looks like a political gesture to me.

    23 Dec 2005, 21:44

  27. Christopher Rossdale

    Iraq would not be facing future civil war
    There would be no conflict between Israel and Palestine
    No Holocaust
    Fewer people voting for George W. Bush

    Sometimes i wonder if it's worth it

    25 Dec 2005, 10:31

  28. Hamid Sirhan

    Just to correct you slightly there Chris:

    "Basically the idea is that Protestantism gives slightly more emphasis on worldly success than Catholicism"

    That wasn't quite the idea… it was more worldly works, rather than success. Ie hard work. In fact the idea of success as inferred here would have been contrary to the Protestant Ethic… a fact which he explores when he delves into Franklin and Time is Money ;).

    Buuuut to main point: It depends on how you define politics I guess and what is politically important to you. So for example, as a Muslim or Christian, believing that something is morally wrong will, naturally affect one's political desires when it comes, to say, legislation regarding gay marriage. Religion as a morally-guiding force will always enter into an individual's political judgement. As will a lack of religion or one's own personal moral codes.

    26 Dec 2005, 20:07

  29. As a sidenote: Religion is another system of control over the masses, like democracy, communism, fascism etc.

    03 Jan 2006, 09:38

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