Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Whose country is it anyway?

Lot's of chatter around at the moment about who we are and what kind of country we live in. I'm not particularly keen on labels or broad categorisations when it comes to people because what you normally find is that sets of things made from DNA bigger than one never contain members with identical properties; however many people cannot seemingly function without labels and some have labels thrust upon them by the labellers. Nowhere is this labelling imperative more visible than in the fields of politics and religion, both fields of discourse dominated by "words" over substance and whose worldly power is directly linked to the cardinality (size) of their sets. Generally I couldn't care less how people labels themselves, I try to deal with people based on what they do and what they say rather than on what they say they are. Unfortunately this isn't always possible, at the intersection of religion and politics we have a critical pinch point. In America they figured this out over 200 years ago and the founding fathers of that republic came up with the "separation clause" in their constitution that enshrines the following eminently rational rule,

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

Contrary to what many believe this clause is not there to protect the rights of the majority, it was made to protect the rights of minority religions (and those with no religion) so that they cannot be bullied by the state into doing things or paying tithes outside of their conscience; regardless of which particular group has a majority of followers at any one time.

Here in the UK we unfortunately missed this common sense boat and we still have a state religion that wields power in this world (as well as the next) This has always been justified on the basis that it's supported by a majority of Christian people who live here; even though the quantification of this has traditionally been based on "labels" rather than actual votes. Even as recently as April this year our Prime Minister made the claim in public that Britain is a "Christian country" and in the process upset a lot of British non-Christians who dispute the truth of such a claim and who fear that a desired wall of separation between church and state in the UK will now suffer further delays in planning permission rather than getting on with laying the foundation stones as they'd all hoped for in the 21st century.

Labels are unreliable and imprecise but at the intersection of religion and politics they are seemingly the only quantification we have with which to debate such questions. The latest Government census on the subject (results in the picture at the top) would suggest that on purely numerical terms the "no religion" label is now the majority (by 9%), even if this is not exactly the case (allowing for the imprecision of labels) then the official state religion (Church of England) at 16% is definitely not. On this basis alone it would seem to me to be worth revisiting this question, but with all of the recent controversies around religious bullying in state schools, teaching religious ideas (like Creation) in science classes and discrimination cases in courts I would argue that the mandate for a properly secular constitution now is stronger than ever.

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