Article in the Oxford Mail 2014 06 11
Are religions any earthly use?

“Don’t mix politics and religion” say many people. And in a way, they’re right. None of our religions should be allowed advantages: political or cultural power, possessions or wealth, or the ability to impose their beliefs on other people. That’s why a truly secular democratic society is so important.

But if “don’t mix religion and politics” means that a religion should have nothing to do with the welfare of people, nothing to do with health care, proper education, or the way our country is run, or how our nation relates to other nations, then I think it’s nonsense. If a religion isn’t about fair wages, proper distribution of resources, just laws, communities living together in peace, and opportunities for everyone to enjoy life to the full– then that religion is no earthly use. Whatever our religion may be – or if we have none – our ideals must help us to challenge the inequalities, the lies, the self-centredness of our world.

There’s been a lot about politics in the papers and on TV lately – politics is high on the agenda. Lots of different opinions, some very gloomy forecasts, a lot of anger (and fear too, I think). And certainly a lot of apathy – the despairing sort – “it’s no good trying to do anything about it, nothing’s going to make any difference” – or, more specifically “I didn’t vote, because you can’t trust any of them.” But what I’ve noticed is that nearly all the discussions are about “what’s in it for me”, and “what’s best for Britain”. Never mind about other people, never mind about the poor getting poorer while others get very rich; never mind about Europe if it’s not in Britain’s interests; never mind about the rest of the world, people dying from disease and starvation or from violent struggles and the power of armaments. I don’t think immigration is the problem, but a lot of people do. As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we must expect that, and welcome the strangers who want to live with us. We can learn a lot from strangers. It’s inequality that’s the problem, so that the most vulnerable in our society pay the price that enables others to be rich.                                       

It has to be admitted that the religions of the world do not have a good track record in history. Too often they have been players in power struggles between their own members, and have shown deep-rooted prejudice against other religions; power struggles similar to the ones which are going on at the moment (some of which do, indeed, have religious causes or undertones). But at the heart of each Faith there is a great hunger for peace and love, forgiveness, justice and hope. And that, I think, is what matters. Lots of people who claim no religious affiliation at all have had this deep longing for the good of everyone, sometimes in protest against the uncaring, warring religions of their time. These people – the ones who seek the common good – are the saviours of the world, regardless of whether they are religious or not. No religion can bring salvation except by working together with all those who care deeply for the future of the human race, and indeed for all living beings.

The religions can contribute their own insights to this task, and can be very important players (perhaps essential), but only by respecting one another and learning from one another. What our present political and economic problems need are people who together, from a variety of religious and non-religious viewpoints, really understand that we can never solve our problems, or even attempt to tackle them, by seeking and serving our own interests. We must learn to care about each other. Any religion or ideology which can inspire people to do this can help save the world.

David Paterson