Religion and politics

  1. Leading Conceptions of the Elementary Religion
  2. Other religions, churches and religious movements
  3. Religion in Britain
  5. 㳿: : . ., 2009 //

Freedom of religious belief and worship (and also the freedom to be a non-believer) is taken for granted in modern Britain, With the notable exception of Northern Ireland, a person's religion has almost no political significance, There are no important 'Christian' or anti-clerical political parties. Except perhaps for Muslims, there is no recognizable political pressure group in the country which is based on a particular religious ideology. To describe oneself as 'catholic' or 'church of England' or 'Methodist' or any other recognized label is to indicate one's personal beliefs but not the way one votes.

The religious conflicts of the past and their close relationship with politics have left only a few traces in modern times, and the most important of these are institutional rather than political: the fact that the monarch can not, by law, be a Catholic; the fact that the twenty-six senior bishop in one particular church (the Church of England) are member of the House of Lords (where they are known as the 'Lords Spiritual'); the fact that the government has the right of veto on the choice of these bishops; the fact that the ultimate authority for this same church is the British Parliament. These facts point to a curious anomaly. Despite the atmosphere of tolerance and the separation of religion and politics, it is in Britain that we find the last two cases in Europe of 'established' churches, that is churches which are, by law, the official religion of a country. These cases are the Church of Scotland (see 'other Christian denominations' below) and the Church of England. The monarch is the official head of both, and the religious leader of the latter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the government.

However, the privileged position of the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) is not, in modern times, a political issue. Nobody feels that they are discriminated against if they do not belong to it. In any case, the Anglican Church, rather like the BBC, has shown itself to be effectively independent of government and there is general approval of this independence. In fact, there is a modern politics-and-religion debate, but now it is the other way around. That is, while it is accepted that politics should stay out of religion, it is point of debate as to whether religion should stay out of politics.

The Anglican Church used to be half-jokingly described as 'the Conservative party at prayer'. This reputation was partly the result of history and partly the result of the fact that most of its clergy and regular followers were from the higher ranks of society. However, during the 1980s and early 1990s it was common for the Church to publicly condemn the widening gap between rich and poor in British society. Its leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, repeatedly spoke out against this trend, implying that the Conservative government was largely to blame for it - despite comments from government ministers that politics should be left to the politicians. The Archbishop also angered some Conservative Anglicans when, at the end of the Falklands / Malvinas War in 1982, he did not give thanks to God for a British victory. Instead, he prayed for the victims of the war on both sides.

In 1994 the Catholic Church in Britain published a report which criticized the Conservative government. Since the general outlook of Britain's other conventional Christian denominations has always been anti-Conservative, it appears that all the country's major Christian churches are now politically broadly left of centre.

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