Faith and politics: “toxic mix” or a perfect combination?

Dalai Lama once said: “If you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new”.

As a practising Christian, I was delighted (and a bit worried!) when I was invited by the Focolare community in London to give a talk on how faith relates to politics. A lot of people would say today: “I don’t do both”! However for some, both faith and politics go hand in hand. Our political choices are guided by our religion or faith affiliation. Our beliefs often become our moral compass, which “dictates” in many cases the way we vote, or decide who to support at the polling station. Having said that, there is a growing number of people who think that although faith and politics have arguably a lot in common, they are too “closely aligned”.

I find both subjects incredibly interesting and in particular, the correlation between politics and faith. In my view, although the Church as an institution should remain non-political, I welcome the fact that many faiths nowadays are open to a wide range of political views. Having said that, I understand that embracing a more inclusive vision for politics and finding a compromise is quite hard. However, in spite of all of these challenges, we need to seek opportunities to build and not to divide.

Like in any walk of life, each one of us can find a wide range of examples, good and bad, which demonstrate that the relationship between faith and politics can be instrumental to bringing positive social change. There are many, who would argue that instead of becoming “instruments of dialogue”, governments and faith organisations magnify divisions and political polarization. The best setup? I have not found one yet!

Throughout the session, we’ve looked at reasons why people enter politics. We also talked about ways in which we make our political choices. It was fascinating to analyse the talk of Chiara Lubich, a founder of the Focolare Movement, which she gave in Innsbruck in 2001 to Mayors of many of the European cities, in which she compared politics to “love of all loves”.

As we are entering last week before the elections and as someone who is standing, I think that my meeting helped me to re-emphasise one of the two key messages; if elected, my role as a Cllr will be to ACTIVELY listen, that is to listen to understand and not listen to respond, to the needs of residents and always put myself at the SERVICE of others. At the end of the meeting, we all agreed with Martha Gellhorn, who said: “If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we all must be interested in politics”.

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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  • Brad Barrows 2nd May '22 - 6:45pm

    My political views are shaped by my Christian beliefs. Though I was once approached about the possibility of being a parliamentary candidate, I decided not to pursue that option as I would have felt unable to vote the way the party may have demanded on issues that I regard as matters of conscience. Therefore being a committed believer meant that I felt I could not pursue a political career unless I was willing to compromise on my beliefs.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd May '22 - 8:55pm

    Law is how my religion looks at life. I couldn’t agree, just because.
    Many of this governments decisions have been wanting, to say the least.
    I am very much saddened, like many of those who will be voting by the years of lack of compassion and me first. Until there is a real change in how our country is run, things will get worse.
    Alcohol and the workplace never has been how things should be. Cheap meals when others are going hungry.

  • John McHugo 2nd May '22 - 9:48pm

    I think one of the great problems is ego – it can so easily spoil actions that should have flowed from the best of intentions, and that applies particularly in politics. As a person of faith, I certainly do not want to claim that people of faith are better at dealing with their egos than those who do not have faith. I will name no names but can think of some politicians who were people of faith who were deeply compromised by their egos. I just hope that, because I believe in a personal God that is infinitely larger than myself – and to whom I acknowledge that I am going to be held to account – I will be forced to examine my conscience. I hope this sometimes helps me keep my ego in its place, or at least to spot retrospectively when I have been seduced by it. I pray for the humility to do this, and that I will then try to make amends.

  • John McHugo is right to say religions teach humility, but that is arguably solving a problem of their own making. For many, their beliefs are the only truth about God, and they have to learn that having a superior religion doesn’t make them a superior person. Unfortunately, that professed humility doesn’t always preclude thinking those of other faiths are inferior, and we see the results in many parts of the world; systems of domination and abuse arise, land is appropriated, and in extreme cases people are killed for their beliefs.
    In England’s green and pleasant land, religion plays the role Michel refers to, creating a moral framework on which to build a system of social justice, and providing a ready-made social network which parties like ours can use to promote our political ideas. However, when we look at religious influences in large parts of the rest of the world, there is no room for complacency.

  • Richard Church 3rd May '22 - 8:42am

    Could I just ask that in any discussion such as this, you refer to belief rather than faith. I have no religious faith, I am a humanist, and the values of my humanism influence my politics just as your religious faith does yours. The number of people who don’t subscribe to any religion is dropping sharply, but that doesn’t mean that the ethical values that guide their choices in life are any less powerful or valid than yours. We are a secular party that embraces people of all religious faiths and none.

  • Helen Dudden 3rd May '22 - 9:25am

    I don’t have the right to force other’s to think my way of thinking. It’s important to recognise freedoms.
    My children and grandchildren are Christian, you are correct to state we have to look at the rights of others.

  • John McHugo 3rd May '22 - 12:04pm

    @Richard Church,

    I agree with almost every word you say, but would be interested if you could elaborate on your distinction between “faith” and “belief”. I certainly hold that your beliefs as a humanist are as worthy of respect as mine as a Christian, and that both humanists and people of faith should be politically active.

    To me, “belief” and “faith” are synonyms. When I say that I “believe” something, I mean that I assent to the truth of something that I cannot prove but which, perhaps, I hope to be true. A matter of “belief” is therefore not a matter of fact. Belief in this sense is therefore also an act of trust. Surely the same applies to the meaning of “faith”? I see no difference. Can you?

    @Andy Daer,

    Again, I agree with most of what you say, most certainly with what Michal says about religion and politics in England’s Green and Pleasant Land. You are also right about how professed faiths often (in fact, one might almost say “generally”) treat others as inferior. Humility is certainly called for there.

    But I think it must also be acknowledged that when violence occurs in the name of religion, more often than not there is an underlying political cause (e.g. the current struggle for hegemony between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Twelver Shi’i Iran) or because religion has become entangled in identity politics (e.g. Ireland, Israel/Palestine, the partition of India). Nationalism often dresses itself up in religious clothes.

  • I agree with @Richard Church. Though I self-ID as an atheist not a humanist.

    My main problem with religion is when people cross the line from “believing” to “knowing” and insist that the world should be run a certain way.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd May '22 - 2:22pm

    “My main problem with religion is when people cross the line from “believing” to “knowing” and insist that the world should be run a certain way.”

    This atheist agrees with that.

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