Thursday, 24 June 2010

Christians and political issues - a Baptist perspective

Before the General Election, I blogged a bit on the way that various church leaders saw the election, and in particular, what they saw as the main issues. (People from the Scottish ecclesiastical establishment here, here and here, and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales here.)

Well, the election is over, but the matter of how Christians in Britain see the political landscape at the moment remains an interesting and important one. So I trust that no-one will mind me returning to this subject, and going back a couple of months.

The Rev. Guy Davies, a Baptist Pastor and blogger, came up with a list of questions about political issues, and sent them to the candidates of the three main parties in the constituency of Westbury. Interestingly enough, he only sent his quiz to the candidates of the three main parties.

Anyway, here are
1) the questions
2) the answers that I would have given if a) I been the Libertarian Party candidate in Westbury and b) I was trying to be brief, and
3) my comments on the questions.

1. Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?

Answer: Absolutely.
Comments: "Values" is a slightly odd word. Furthermore, people might not agree about what constitute Christian values. If we mean things like honesty and integrity and compassion, I don’t think anyone is going to disagree. In fact I find it difficult to imagine anyone saying no. Even Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchins would probably have answered “yes” to this one - had they been candidates in the election.

2. Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?

Answer: Yes to the first question, No to the second.
Comments: Two fairly straightforward questions. The first, it seems to me, is about personal opinions, the answer to which doesn’t actually tell us about the policies favoured by the candidate - the second is, however, definitely about policies.

3. Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or loosing their jobs?

Answer: Yes to the first question. To the second, I would say that I think that an employer in the private sector should have the freedom to fire someone for expressing such a view. That is the necessary corollary to my answer to the next question.
Comments: Again, straightforward questions - and ones that would not have been on anyone’s list of questions for candidates 20 years ago. Who would have thought that our freedoms would have gone so quickly?

4. Do you believe that churches should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with Christian teaching?

Answer: Absolutely.
Comments: An important question. It’s about a very important freedom.

5. Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?

Answer: Absolutely.
Comments: The education of children is the business of parents, not the state.

6. Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?

Answer: Too lax.
Comments: That’s my personal answer. In this matter, libertarians have a huge variety of views, generally passionately held.

7. Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?

Answer: Not really. There’s undoubtedly room for improvement, but I think it’s about right.
Comments: Again, not all libertarians agree with me. However, I’m not completely alone. Tom Paine wrote a piece on his blog that I liked so much that I cross-posted it.

8. Given the closure of the Westbury Hospital and the mooted closure of the Westbury Swimming Pool, what more can be done to promote the health and wellbeing of the people of this town?

Answer: Quite a bit, I’m sure, but not much of it is the business of the state. If you, as a citizen, have ideas on promoting health and wellbeing, then I’d encourage you to put them into practice.
Comments: Health policy is big issue. And in the end, it isn’t realistic to expect there to expect there to be a big hospital (or swimming pool) in every town in the country. I don’t doubt that swimming pools do contribute to the health and wellbeing of people, but many people manage to get exercise and stay healthy without going near one. It must be 30 years since I was last in one.

9. How does your Party propose to protect the environment both at the local and international level?

Answer: Actually, my party’s manifesto doesn’t say anything about that.
Comments: That’s a dreadful answer, isn’t it? But it’s true, and Mr Davies did ask what my party proposed. Hopefully that will be remedied in the near future. In the meantime, I’d have to give my opinion, which is: “With respect to the local level, our policy is that we will maintain waste disposal services, and if it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that someone polluted someone else’s property, we will prosecute them and fine them for the damage that they have caused. With respect to international level, it is effectively impossible to do anything - though I believe that if it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that an individual or a business operating in Britain polluted the territory of another nations, the British state should penalise the guilty individual.
Edit: I've had further thoughts on this, and hope to post them in the near future.

10. Is British society broken, and if so how does your Party hope fix it?

Answer: British society is deeply flawed because of the fall of man and human sin, and I suppose that as such, one could describe it as ‘broken’. However, it is not within the power of a political party or the state to fix it. As you sir, should know.
Comments: Odd question!

11. Why should the people of Westbury give you their votes at this General Election?

Answer: Because they are concerned about the erosion of freedoms that has been taking place in our country.
Comments: It's useful to include a general question like that. A candidate might give an interesting or revealing answer.

By the way, if you want to know how the candidates replied to Mr. Davies's questions, see here for Labour, here for the Conservative, and here for the LibDem.)

p.s. I hope to follow this up with another post on the subject.

13 comments:

Albert said...

YMB,

I would say that I think that an employer in the private sector should have the freedom to fire someone for expressing such a view...

Do you believe that churches should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with Christian teaching?


Are you making a straight-forward libertarian point here: employers can do what they like - it's their money. Or are you infering the first answer from the second? It seems to me that there is an importance difference between the two cases.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Yes, it's the "straight- forward libertarian employers can do what they want with their money" argument.

As you say, there is a difference between the two cases. However, my opinion is that the difference is not as clear cut as might first appear. At what point does an employers refusal to hire an employee because of the employee's opinions / lifestyle go from being unreasonable to reasonable?

Does that make sense?

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Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, Rummy.

I'm not quite sure I can see any good reason to do so.

Albert said...

YMB,

Yes it does make sense. But I think we need to add that the person's opinions must in some way conflict with the proper functioning and ethos of the business. The Catholic Church is free to discriminate against a practising homosexual (for example) so that he cannot be ordained. But if he is needed to do a short plumbing job then I do not think the Church should be so free.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Albert,

It would, of course be wiser, and more moral for employers only to discriminate on the basis of what was helpful for the ethos and functioning of the business.

This, however, is not about what is wise or good for employers to do. It is about what the law of the land should permit them to do.


Your position would be the generally accepted position of contemporary British society, i.e. there is probably a consensus in modern British society that your position should be the law of the land. However, this consensus has been shifting toward a position that discrimination in employment should be banned even if failure to discriminate would undermine the proper functioning and ethos of the business.

Conversely, if you go back 100 or 200 years, there was no consensus at all in favour of banning discrimination.

Why should we believe that the prevailing consensus in late 20th century Britain about the role of the state in this matter is the correct one when the early 21st century view differs in one direction, and the 18th and 19th century view differs in the other?

Albert said...

YMB,

Why should we believe that the prevailing consensus in late 20th century Britain about the role of the state in this matter is the correct one when the early 21st century view differs in one direction, and the 18th and 19th century view differs in the other?

Just because my view accords with (some) contemporary culture, does not mean I have drawn the idea from contemporary culture. I don't think I am open to the accusation that my opinions are determined by that culture! But even if they were, that would not demonstrate their falsity.

After all, you belong to a Christian community that currently believes the use of artificial contraception is not evil. That position accords with contemporary society but is contrary to what all Christians believed throughout history, until very recently. Of course, I believe artificial contraception is wrong, but not because it accords with contemporary culture.

However, this consensus has been shifting toward a position that discrimination in employment should be banned even if failure to discriminate would undermine the proper functioning and ethos of the business.

That's the kind of position you get over on Heresy Corner. I had an argument there some time back over whether the Catholic Church had the right to discriminate against women in the priesthood, or whether the Church should be forced to do whatever enlightened evidentialist secularists decreed. Bunch of secularists really believed they were in a position to determine what the Church did. But the fact that this view is wrong, does not mean that my view is.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Albert,

"I don't think I am open to the accusation that my opinions are determined by that culture!"

Not all of them, certainly. Though, to be perfectly honest, I think most of us would reluctantly have to admit that a lot more of our prejudices and opinions come from our cultural background than we are aware of. That's certainly true in my case.

Anyway, your views on the subject under discussion may not be simply absorbed from and determined by the culture around you - but I reckon that at least 98.62% of those in Britain today who take a similar view have simply accepted the arguments put forward by those who advocate this position, and never seriously questioned them.

My own thinking, at its simplest, is to say "Is this piece of legislation absolutely necessary?"

And the answer is "Clearly not, since we have only had this sort of legislation for the past couple of generations, and hardly any significant political thinkers in the past 500 years saw any need for such legislation until the 20th century."

Albert said...

YMB,

I'm a bit worried that I may be about to fight a war on two fronts.

I think most of us would reluctantly have to admit that a lot more of our prejudices and opinions come from our cultural background than we are aware of.

True certainly, and that's not in itself a bad thing. However, in this case I think what I said can be defended by appeal to natural law.

I reckon that at least 98.62% of those in Britain today who take a similar view have simply accepted the arguments put forward by those who advocate this position

Your figure is too high (!) because I expect most people don't even think about the arguments. In fairness, it is hard to think about everything!

"Is this piece of legislation absolutely necessary?"

Why not "does this legislation uphold and defend justice"?

Young Mr. Brown said...

Albert,

Why not "does this legislation uphold and defend justice"?

Because it is impossible to get agreement on what constitutes justice. I'll let you and Harriet Harman discuss whether New Labour's legislation on adoption agencies does or does not uphold and defend justice.

Meanwhile, I'll open up a second front, and say "But does it uphold and defend justice for the state to tell me what criteria I shall use for choosing a plumber when I am paying for that plumber myself?"

:-)

Albert said...

YMB,

it is impossible to get agreement on what constitutes justice.

Absolutely, I am in favour of a small state, not because I share libertarian opinions, but because I doubt the state's judgment. But part of the problem at least, is that the liberal-left-secular mindset abolishes natural law but then behaves as if there are things such as rights etc. Since these rights are not grounded in anything they are inevitably unjust and unreasonable. So I don't think there is a disagreement over justice, there is a government without justice imposing a view. The way to fight that is not to say "I would prefer smaller government" but to show why the Government is unjust.

"But does it uphold and defend justice for the state to tell me what criteria I shall use for choosing a plumber when I am paying for that plumber myself?"

Depends on whether the criteria are just or not. :-)

Young Mr. Brown said...

Albert,

"The way to fight that is not to say "I would prefer smaller government" but to show why the Government is unjust."

Well, I think it might be a case of "Not either/or but both/and".

Albert said...

YMB,

I think it might be a case of "Not either/or but both/and"

With my epic debate with Indigomyth drawing to a close, I am relieved to say that I agree with you - so there's no need to clock up 81 comments on this one!

especially while governments lack adequate philosophical grounding.