Mary Honeyball’s post on religion is demeaning to religion – and to politics

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I’m afraid I take issue with Mary Honeyball’s tone and conclusions in her post, Tony Blair’s Aggressive Christianity.

This isn’t just because I am a Christian, and she is not. It’s for two reasons: first, because she ignores the heritage of Christian Socialism that runs through our party’s veins; and secondly, her proposed solution hinges on repressing opposing views, rather than facing them head on.

The Labour Party always has been a coalition between different forces with broadly similar aims. Many of our founders – from both the working and middle class strands of the party in its infancy – were Christian Socialists: Keir Hardie, Philip Snowden, R. H. Tawney and George Lansbury, to name but a few. More recently, Tony Blair (as Mary points out) is a Christian, as is Australian Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The view that – as well as all of the economic and social imperatives Mary, I and other comrades share – there is an additional, religious calling to treat people equally, and to promote justice and solidarity, is one which Mary ought to tolerate, and even celebrate.

Mary instead chooses to judge Christians entirely on their Churches’ stances on certain niche issues. For example, she talks about the attempts of the Roman Catholic Church “and other extreme Christian organisations” to defeat the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill.

Fair enough – she disagrees (as, incidentally, do I, as a practicing Catholic) with the Church’s stance. But she goes to far when she says:

“Activities such as these are not the mark of an aggressively secular society. There has, in fact, been a marked increase in political lobbying by Christian organisations over the last ten years. We are getting more of it in the public square not less.”

She forgets that, for all of the lobbying by religious organizations, our side won that fight. It was a fair fight, where both sides – and there were Christians on both sides of that debate – argued the case, and the case for scientific progress beat the case against.

Mary’s article seems to imply that the presence of Christian lobby groups is a malign influence on our politics. How can this be, when she is still able to beat them, fair and square, whenever she comes into conflict with them?

Whilst Christianity may be more of a minority persuit than before, the fact remains that millions of British people are religious adherents. I’m not suggesting that we need, or want, any special privileges over the non-religious. But like all other sectional lobby groups – like charitable organizations, or Trade Unions – there ought to be a place for religious views in our public debate. Mary Honeyball’s sneering caricature of religion, and her obvious desire to expel Christians even from debate about politics does not enhance the quality of our politics – it demeans it.

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7 Responses to “Mary Honeyball’s post on religion is demeaning to religion – and to politics”

  1. Harvey Says:

    “Mary’s article seems to imply that the presence of Christian lobby groups is a malign influence on our politics. How can this be, when she is still able to beat them, fair and square, whenever she comes into conflict with them?”

    This argument simply does not work. The obvious conclusion is that, to be ‘a malign influence on our politics’, a group must win victories (never mind your premise that Mary Honeyball is able to defeat all Christian lobbyists on any issue). If the BNP don’t win any council seats, do they become a neutral or benign influence on our politics?

  2. captainjako Says:

    You’re attracting some odd comments at LabourList! For example

    “So, you’re a Christian in New Labour? It must be very lonely for you.”

    I now reserve the right to instantly dismiss any other comment the above chap makes on LabourList as he is clearly a class A moron.

  3. captainjako Says:

    Also, look at the ‘Possibly related post’ wordpress is bringing to our attention:

    “I think that I will initiate this discussion by situating the place that Mary has in the religious or spiritual life of modern society.”

    I don’t know which Mary he’s talking about, but it’s not Mary Honeyball MEP that’s for sure!

  4. voteredgogreen Says:

    Harvey,

    Good point, I think I may have expressed myself poorly there.

    What I was trying to get at was that, despite the apparent size and “influence” of the Christian lobby, secular values are nevertheless able to “win” on important topics.

    This said, you’re right to point out that the ability to win isn’t the sole criterion on which potentially malignant influences are judged. However, I would draw a distinction between groups like the BNP, which pose an active threat to democracy and public safety (and which are an undoubtedly malign influence no matter how successful they are, although their malignancy would grow with their success); and groups like the “Christian lobby”, which I would say is only malign if it is able to win privileges or victories which are not comensurate with the size or importance of their followings.

    Since I think the engagement between those heralding “Christian” values and those with secular priorities in the recent HFE Bill debate (where I was on the secular side, according to this crude formulation) was largely fair, and that the balance of public opinion was largely played out representatively by the organized lobbies concerned, I fail to see what Mary Honeyball’s problem is.

  5. alunephraim Says:

    You can look at other issues as well; if the Churches really that much power, it’s unlikely (to say the least!) that gambling laws would have been liberalised.

  6. LabourList - what would Jesus do? « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] LabourList – what would Jesus do? By captainjako This week’s happenings on LabourList have been the source of some huffing and puffing amongst Labour bloggers – including our very own VoteRedGoGreen! […]

  7. Wire! « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] Since you’ve probably heard about as much as you can stand from me – about Gordon Brown, Christianity in the Labour movement, and Labour politics in Flintshire, especially – I’m going to be leaving major blogging to […]

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