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Faith Talks, Reason Walks

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Tony Baldry MP, member of parliament for Banbury, today summed up what everyone of any sane disposition was thinking, but he also highlighted a fabulous strength of modern British democracy. That it can deal with its lunatics in-house.

Baldry said that if the Church of England continues to make ridiculous, unpopular decisions like banning female bishops, then parliament is not going to listen to its representatives on other 'moral' issues, namely gay marriage. He also spouted some meaningless crap about the Church of England being a church for 'the nation' or something.

Baldry's argument isn't exactly great; the Church being wrong on one particular issue doesn't necessarily mean it is wrong on another. It happens to be wrong on both. That's why they should be ignored, because they're obviously wrong.

However, what can be taken away from this, is that elected representatives of the ruling party could publicly denounce a bigoted argument and tell a politically represented institution that it's not going to listen to it, and knock them off the discussion table like an adult check-mating a child. It could only do this because, they were there to begin with. This is key.

In Britain the Christian right is not angry, populist and stupid. It's old, tired and concerned with bake-sales. It doesn't feel disenfranchised from a made-up liberal elite or excluded from the political system, because it's an integral part of it. A small and scarcely significant part of it, but an integral one nonetheless.

It can't complain that no one listens to its sometimes absurd, sometimes concerned, sometimes strangely insightful opinions, because they do. As part of the official political process, no less, people are literally required to listen to them.

But this also means that in a public forum they can be decried, ridiculed and, as Baldry advocates, outright ignored. They can be punished, made to talk with the little children like some weird racist uncle, while the big boys play poker.

These religious or faith-based views being part of a democratic process is only fair. People do hold them. For some particular views that's depressing. But people do hold them. But most of the time the mechanics of electoral politics either serves either to totally marginalise religious views or give them too much prominence. Within the complex systems of electoral politics, religion has to take a backseat, there's already so many representation issues going on. So the House of Lords, in its glorious unelected majesty, can cater these views in a reasonable way. It gives them a platform in the political sphere, but to its potentially vast or potentially minute nature, both in terms of representatives presence, and it's actual importance, it can be diluted heavily or given prominence on an ad hoc basis.

It means Britain fosters a much more mature relationship between politics and religion. Unlike the 'fabulously' democratic Switzerland that has banned minarets, or France, that land of toleration that has banned burqas in a fit of populist xenophobia. Unlike the United States, where the country's right-wing has been almost totally hijacked by a simultaneously huge and ragtag alliance of buffoons who think that the world is legitimately 6000 years old and that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured.

The closest Britain gets is a Conservative MP occasionally accidentally mentioning God. In a Church. On Sunday.

I exaggerate, I once wrote a piece on my now abandoned blog (where I once made a tongue-in-cheek call for the firebombing of Buenos Aires) complaining about David Cameron being all churchy. I am not seriously arguing that this is solely due to the House of Lords, and it's accommodation of the Lord's Spiritual. I imagine the UK's satirical press having such a relatively prominent part in the country's political culture is a large part of it too. But the accommodation of such diverse viewpoints in a flexible and healthy manner, where they can be ignored if extreme and considered if sensible, but included nonetheless, is part of the British political system that should be maintained and expanded.
It would be fantastic to see Catholic bishops, Muslim clerics, Buddhist monks, and radical atheists, in addition to representatives from every other strand of faith or belief in Britain given places in the House of Lords for expressly that purpose.

If a debate on the science of climate change was tabled the fundamentalist Christian who believes it heralds punishment for debauchery can be promptly told to shut up whilst the Shinto cleric goes through the details of his sustainable garden. During a debate on alcohol pricing the radical Quaker's moralising ramblings on the evils of booze can be timetabled just before the Rastafarian representative's comparison of beer and marijuana. It'd be lovely, and inclusive.