The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) has issued a leaflet entitled “Some issues and questions for Parliamentary Candidates.” It bears the instruction “Please refer to this guidance when canvassers or candidates call,” and says
“Here are some issues and questions which may help inform your decision on who to vote for. They are open questions with no single ‘right’ answer. But from the responses given you may form a better idea of how far any particular candidate will be addressing the needs of the common good. You may well, of course, have other questions of your own to ask. This list is not exhaustive.”It covers five areas, and in each it makes statements, and then follows them up with questions for candidates.
1) Firstly in valuing life. That means opposing abortion and euthanasia, and life-cramping poverty, and the neglect of the elderly.
What does respect for life mean to you? Do all lives have the same value? Older people and the infirm … the severely disabled … the unborn?
I know what it means to oppose abortion and euthanasia. It means to ban them - though obviously there are questions about exactly how such legislation would be framed. However, I do not know what it means to oppose “life-cramping poverty” and “the neglect of the elderly”? Clearly, it doesn’t mean banning poverty. It also begs the question “What exactly is the role of the state here?”
I find it interesting, by the way, that there is nothing about valuing people’s property. I guess that the CBCEW doesn’t think that it is a political issue at the moment - though nor, to the best of my knowledge is neglect of the elderly.
2) Families are the basic building block of any stable society. Marriage provides the best context for bringing up children and must have the clear support and encouragement of Government.
What will you do for marriage and the family? What practical measures will you take to encourage and support stable family life and the institution of marriage?
I agree with the first two statements, but not the third. I cannot see why marriage must have the clear support and encouragement of Government. Christians often make this assumption, but when I think of people I know whose marriages have broken up, I don’t honestly think that anything the government could reasonably have done would have helped at all. Why should the state be involved in marriage?
3) Migration is not about numbers, it is about human beings. Wherever the Government sets the boundary on who can or cannot live here, it must apply its rules with fairness, decency and respect for the individual.
What beliefs and values underpin your approach to migration? And how will you show them in practice?
I completely agree with the statements, and I think that all libertarians would. As stated in my previous post, libertarians believe in the free movement of people - but take the view that this is just not realistic at the moment while Britain a large welfare state which provides generous automatic tax-payer funded benefits to those who are granted asylum. (LPUK policy is as here.)
I think it is interesting that migration is perceived by the CBCEW as one of the 5 major issues in the election. The focus is broader than just the question of the treatment of asylum seekers.
4) Our care for each other is also shown in how we support the development of the world’s poorest people, and how we use – or abuse – the environment we share. We must be good stewards of God’s creation, not selfish exploiters of it.
What do you think is our responsibility to the poor, in this country and overseas? What is our responsibility to safeguard and protect the environment?"
I completely agree with the statements. With regard to the first question, my answer is “Individuals have a moral responsibility to help the poor, both in this country, as does the church. The state has a duty to ensure that its policies do not directly discriminate against the poor. The state likewise has a duty to ensure that those who pollute the land, air and water of others should make appropriate recompense."
5) Our faith is at the heart of our lives. Religious belief is not just something private: it helps create a society that wants to see everyone flourish. It has a contribution to make and must be allowed to do so in accordance with its teachings.
What do you think is the place of religion in society?
This is an interesting one. The phrasing (“and must be allowed to do so in accordance with its teachings”) indicates that the CBCEW believes that religious freedom is under threat - something which I think is true, but which Church of Scotland leaders like the Rt Rev William Hewitt and the Rev. Ian Galloway do not seem to be concerned about. (That apparent lack of concern is interesting, and worth noting.)
I agree that faith is at the heart of people’s lives, and that religious belief is not something private. However, defining religion is somewhat difficult. (So for that matter, is defining the word ‘faith’.) I do not agree with the statement that religion, per se, helps create a society that wants to see everyone flourish. I take the view that Jesus Christ is the eternal, incarnate Son of God and that his teachings are objectively true, and that where people try to put them into practice, it is a good thing. I also take the view that religious beliefs which go against the teaching of Jesus Christ are not helpful to society.
Libertarians believe that people should be allowed freedom to express any opinions, whether those opinions are right or wrong. Libertarians believe that people should be free to bring up their children according to their own belief, as long as that does not involve physically harming their children. Libertarians believe that people should be allowed to practise their religion as long as such practice does not involve the initiation of violence against other people. Human sacrifice would be banned.
Summary: All in all, I think that the bishops’ questions are reasonably well balanced. They reflect, of course, the emphases that one would expect the Catholic Church to have: the place of religion in society (which, I suspect, is basically about the freedom of Catholic schools to operate as the Catholic Church wishes), marriage and the family, and abortion - which, while not a major issue as far as the mainstream media are concerned, is very important for the Catholic Church, and for others who regard Britain's abortion laws as seriously flawed. The environment, poverty, and immigration all get a mention as well. There is nothing about the economy, but that does not surprise me much.
The statements and questions are kept fairly vague - keeping to general principles, rather than specific policies, which is probably very wise of the bishops. The words are carefully chosen so as to avoid controversy. And I note that the words “freedom” and “liberty’ are absent!