Monday, 15 March 2010

Will there be Wiccans?

The Guardian reports that the government is considering plans for reform of the House of Lords. While the remaining 92 hereditaries are to go, the report comments:

'It is understood the main sticking points still to be overcome are over what to do about the 25 bishops in the Lords, whose removal would trigger a row with the church, and how to manage the transition to the new system.'

Polly Toynbee makes the case for the bishops' removal. Toynbee tells us that:

'Jack Straw is currently consulting on whether a guaranteed number of women and faith representatives should be included in the new senate.'

As I read the situation, it looks as if the government is considering one of those confused and unprincipled 'Third Wayish' fudges, diluting the Anglican bishops with wider representation of 'the faiths'. Will this be referred to as the 'modernisation' of faith-based representation?

Toynbee argues against a quota for faith reps on the grounds that Britain is not a society of believers, so there is something 'anomalous' about guaranteed faith representation in our legislative chamber.

That is absolutely right, but it only points to one of the problems with the idea. Who, amongst the many faith groups in our society, is to be represented? Any answer to that question will exclude some and thereby denigrate the beliefs and civic status of those citizens in the excluded groups.

So, for example, will my religious community - the Quakers - get representation? If not, then what does this say about the state's relationship to me? By including representatives of, say, Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, but excluding Quakers from guaranteed faith representation, the state in effect says: 'We the state, have more respect for Anglicanism, Catholicism etc. than we do for Quakerism. Sorry, but you Quakers must accept you are second-class citizens.'

Perhaps some will argue that Quakers will be somehow included in any 'Christian' quota. But that would be an immensely presumptuous judgment, ignoring the way that many Quakers (such as myself) do not identify as 'Christian', and that even those who do have significant theological differences with official Anglicanism and other Christian denominations.

The point, of course, is not specific to Quakers. What about Wiccans and other pagans? What about members of the British Humanist Association?

If you find youself sniggering when I mention, say, Wiccans, then shame on you - that's the problem right there, the idea that there are 'serious' religions which ought to command 'respect' and then a bunch of silly cranks with daft ideas that 'we' and/or the state can ignore. Frankly, when it comes to religion, who is 'respectable' and who is a 'crank' is very much in the eye of the beholder, and it is not something the state - as an agent of the whole people - ought to take any stand on whatsoever.

Yet any attempt to broaden faith representation out will inevitably involve someone like Jack Straw making judgments about who the 'serious', 'respectable' or 'important' faith communities are. Any such judgments will be arbitrary and send a message of contempt towards those who don't make the cut.

The government has just spent a good deal of energy imposing a duty to promote 'equality' on public bodies. Isn't it obvious that such a duty must also apply in the composition of the legislature itself? And that this must rule out any idea of guaranteed faith representation?

The egalitarian policy is clear: remove the bishops from the reformed Lords and in this way put an end to the invidious institution of guaranteed faith representation in the nation's legislature.

6 comments:

Robert said...

We should vote for an MP and then vote for a second tier, they should be picked by the people like MP's and they should stand for a term like the MP's I'm sick to death of watching the house of Lords looking like a nursery for the old folks half them stagger and then sleep the rest are either looking to write books or perhaps dream of the days they spent in the Boer war

Michael said...

'If you find youself sniggering when I mention, say, Wiccans, then shame on you - that's the problem right there, the idea that there are 'serious' religions which ought to command 'respect' and then a bunch of silly cranks with draft ideas that 'we'/the state can ignore. Frankly, who is 'respectable' and who is a 'crank' is very much in the eye of the beholder, and it is not something the state - as an agent of the whole people - ought to take any stand on whatsoever.'

Agreed, that is the problem right there - though at least the sniggerers can see the obvious absurdities of relativistic liberalism, and the blind alleys one will have to walk up if one were to try and mould a political system upon such lines. I'm with the sniggerers on this one - your way seems to run on the presumption that, to recycle an old metaphor, lunatics should have the right to run the asylum - or at least sit on its board of governors.

Roger Thornhill said...

To allow "religious 'leaders'" to sit in the Upper House is to compound whatever exists of their implied block vote, just as it is wrong to have Unions in the same position.

Union members and those of a particular religion have no greater or lesser weight than any other individual. A Union, religious or "community"/ethnic "leader" should not be permitted to "double dip".

"Democracy" is a kludge as it is, without that sort of distortion.

Ideally we need to free people from the "decision making" of elected representatives and return their freedom and personal sovereignty as much as possible.

Rational Thinker said...

Political corporatism is always in danger of paving the way for fascism. A democratic republic recognizes individuals by their citizenship, not by their faith, ethnicity or gender.

Robert said...

Or the tax they pay....

Peter said...

Also remember that the Lords Bishop do not represtent 'faith' or even Christianity, just the established Church of England which has no releveance to the rest of the UK (all the other state churches were disestablished). I'd certainly have no problem appointing/electing senators reagardless of religion and leaving it up to their own convictions. There are plenty of openly religious politicians in the UK and from what I can see they represent their faiths well enough.