Opinion: I’m a liberal so why should I feel excluded?

I am a Liberal, not just a Liberal Democrat, but a deep rooted Liberal. I believe in freedom of choice, freedom of expression. I believe in an individual’s right to privacy, to making choices that don’t hurt others. I believe in the self determination of life and of the right of the individual to end that right. I believe that everyone should be allowed to choose to live the way they are born and the way they choose, and for that to change as they grow and understand themselves better.  I believe that an individual should have the right to defend themselves against accusations and the right to a fair trial that starts from the premise of innocent till proven guilty. I believe in the individual and providing an opportunity for everyone to succeed no matter their background and without having to be measured by my understanding of success.

With all of this and more I am without a doubt in my mind a Liberal and I believe that the Liberal Democrats are the right place for me to express those beliefs and to fight for those beliefs. Yet at times, recently, I have felt like an outsider and at times been made to feel like I don’t belong in this party. I’m not a new member either, I’m chair of my Local party, have been on a number of welsh party committees and spoken at a number of our conferences. So why do I feel like I’m not welcome? Because I’m a man of faith.

You see I’m a Christian, I was a full time Pastor for seven years and still preach every Sunday. I no longer employed as a Pastor because I decided to pursue a career in politics but I still have a deep rooted faith.  In fact it is my faith in Jesus and my interpretation of scripture that has led me to Liberalism. That shouldn’t be hard to understand, as at least half our MP’s are Christians, many of our Ex Party Leaders have been Christians and our parties foundations can be traced back to Christianity.

Current discussions within the party haven’t always been a pleasant experience for me as a Christian. Some in the party seem to have decided that people of faith have no logic, no reason, and shouldn’t hold party positions. I have been told that faith is irrational and that “True Liberals” don’t let faith influence them. I could go on about how every individual is driven by a faith but that would take a lot more space than I have in this article.

Nobody should be disqualified from holding high office in the party because of their faith. Many people seem to be lumping Christians together unable to distinguish an individual from all those of the same faith. When the media does this on certain occasions our party is the first to complain, and rightfully so, yet some seem to think it’s okay to do just that. If I’m not allowed to bring my faith into my politics then I’m not sure I can call myself a Liberal. It is the very thing people want to deny me that has led me to Liberalism and the two cannot be separated.

So if I’m not allowed to be influenced by my faith, then I can’t call myself a liberal, and I have to question if I have a place in this party.

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated

* Paul Halliday is a Lib Dem Christian Forum Exec Member Newport & Severnside Welsh Liberal Democrats Chair, was PPC for Newport East General Election and is Newport East Candidate for Welsh Assembly Elections

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  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jun '15 - 11:19am

    I’m only a commentator, but I have been put off in the past by what I view as hate speech directed at religious people who let their faith influence their politics. In fact some people receive it who don’t let their faith influence their politics on the grounds of “irrationality”, as you mention.

    I’m not perfect here and have arguably directed hate speech myself at people in the past. But it is something I try to avoid.

    I’m not religious, but I used to be and we shouldn’t judge anyone acting honestly according to their faith.

  • I’ve never understood why some people in the party have such an illiberal view about people of faith – regardless of what faith that is. For me, what matters is that you agree with the basic thrust of the party – not all the policies, necessarily, as I’m not sure that anyone genuinely does!

    Anti-faith people seem to justify this by quoting the first sentence of the Preamble. I’ll go further, and quote the whole first paragraph here. I’ve highlighted a sentence which people must bear in mind.

    “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”

  • Paul
    I can understand why you might feel as you do.

    Whilst I am not religious I recognise that for many folks it is central to their life and that if we excluded such people from a welcome to the Liberal Democrats we would be consigning ourselves to a miserable 8% or less in every future general election.

    We should be welcoming with open arms Christians, Muslims etc etc who are Liberal Democrats and share our views on egalitarianism, freedom and community.

    In my experience Liberal Democrats who have a religious perspective have a much clearer understanding of issues such as poverty, housing, education, the need to Iive in a sharing community, the need for peace. The people who worry me are the ones who think we can structure the party’s policies on the basis of a few weird economic theories.

    If it is a choice between religionists and economists I know who I chose.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 24th Jun '15 - 12:00pm

    I am a non-religious Lib Dem.

    Firstly, Paul, you are welcome as far as I am concerned as are others of faith. You are correct that we have deep roots as a party, particularly in non-conformist Christian communities (Methodism etc). Those groups saw themselves as having a social mission, including in education and health, and found common cause with the old Liberal Party. Whilst the world has moved on, I hope that remains in essence true.

    Secondly, some political activists – and this is true in all parties – are a bit eccentric and express themselves poorly. This is just in the nature of voluntary organisations – unless people have done something heinous, they are free to join even if they lack a bit of tact and good sense. Try not to take the odd comment too much to heart. The vast majority of us are very happy you’re part of the movement.

    Thirdly, however, there is a debate which is far wider than the party about whether and how one can reconcile rationalism with faith. There clearly is an aspect of faith which requires a departure from pure rationality and appeals to evidence. That’s fine, but there is nothing unreasonable with someone who sees themself as rational wanting to engage in debate with someone of faith such as yourself about where the boundaries lie. It’s an interesting discussion and as long as it’s conducted with respect (and, as I say, there’s nowt as queer as folk and sometimes it isn’t) it’s all good.

  • I think it is important that both the religious and the non-religious should try to understand things which are fundamentally difficult: how the other comes to the Liberal Democrats as a ‘natural home’ for them not just ‘in spite of’ but in some cases ‘because of’ their atheism or religion. Where there are profound differences of view on matters which are touched upon by religious doctrine then every attempt should be made to be tolerant and understanding. At the end of the day, however, there are issues where we will disagree, sometimes profoundly. Must we therefore ‘feel uncomfortable’ or run away from each other or the Party in these circumstances? I would hope we can be adult and liberal about this and not throw t’baby out with t’bathwater.

  • >Nobody should be disqualified from holding high office in the party because of their faith.

    Disagree, I doubt you’d be happy with a renowned Satanist for PM. There are lots of people we’d think it desirable to disqualify them from holding “high office” because of their faith; people like Abu Hamza aren’t fit to govern. I’m glad you’re upholding the religious rights of Nuwaubians to get elected, but it doesn’t sound like a good idea to me – there are plenty of people that might restrict your religious rights if you upheld theirs!

    I think it’s all a matter of this “influence” of which you speak. If it might make you restrict the civil liberties of others, because of their religious, sexual or racial preferences then that’s incompatible with our collective beliefs. However, if this influence is benign it shouldn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I believe we should disqualify anyone that wants to force their religious views on to the rest of us.

  • Samuel Cardwell 24th Jun '15 - 1:14pm

    We Christians do have to remember that Jesus promised that we would face opposition, persecution and suffering because of our faith, and sadly that might sometimes come from people quite close to us. Our party seems to be (as I believe Tim Farron has mentioned) strangely attractive to people on both sides (that is, both to born-again Christians and to atheists/secularists), and of course any party that wants to do well has to build a coalition between some seemingly contradictory communities. I think we ought to do more to reach out and reassure people of faith that we’re a party that cares about things that they (or rather we!) care about. I suspect (not that I want to make everything about the election…) that if Tim wins the leadership, he’ll do a good job on that front. I also tend to think that we generally ought to be slightly more accommodating to people with different views on ‘moral’ issues like abortion. For a lot of people abortion in particular isn’t really a ‘liberal’ issue, it’s a matter of conscience, and having a pro-life position doesn’t prevent you from being liberal to the core on issues like housing, climate change, migration, the economy, human rights etc. Don’t let’s try to enforce the rather oxymoronic idea of ‘dogmatic liberalism’!

  • Geoffrey Payne 24th Jun '15 - 1:38pm

    In theory embracing diversity is something we as Liberals can all easily sign up for, but in practice there is a small number of very vocal individuals for whom diversity stops when it comes to religion. Christians are sometimes on the receiving end of all this, whilst it is even worse for Muslims. Last time round I did not even know where Nick Clegg stood on the issue of assisted dying (despite being an athiest he was against it). Personally I am in favour, but even I would admit it is a complex issue, especially given the opposition from the BMA. It has come up in this leadership election almost like a dog whistle issue, (don’t laugh but Tim Farron is, you know, a Christian, snigger snigger). In fact it would make no difference at all who is elected leader of the party, this is a matter of conscience and MPs can vote how they like. It ought to be irrevelant to this leadership contest, like it was last time.

  • I’m an agnostic myself, but have found myself getting very angry indeed at other Lib Dem’sthat try to make out that having any sort of religious beliefs is somehow counter to liberalism. It’s not illiberal to have faith – but is illebral to expect others to denounce their faith because you don;t believe in it. How can we be a party of fairness and equality if a portion of the membership are so vocally insulting of those of faith? We, as a party, struggle to engage with communities outside of the white middle-class for reasons such as this. We are meant to be a party about building strong communities – but when some members are busy alienating those of faith, then a further portion alienating those who may have a more ‘right-wing’ or ‘left-wing’ perspective, a portion alienating ‘the rich’ – how can we claim to be liberal at all? We need to get back to basics and reiterate the values of the lib dems.

  • ChrisB wrote “I believe we should disqualify anyone that wants to force their religious views on to the rest of us.”

    Chris, I expected you worded it that way because of the context of the article. Would you believe in disqualifying anyone wanting to force their views, religious or otherwise? I would see the forcing as illiberal more than any particular view.

  • Either the content of a religion includes a political element or it doesn’t. Obviously many religions include purely spiritual and personal elements such as prayer, meditation, and ritual which are private and should be entirely outside the political sphere; and some religions go no further. But when a religion starts to make proclamations, good or bad, on matters of public discussion and debate, matters which will affect many people not of that religion, then the religion becomes, to that extent, tantamount to a political ideology, and can and should be discussed as such; not allowed to hide behind the cloak of religious freedom and the banner of respect, with the implicit claim that the source and nature of a religion’s political agenda are beyond criticism. This is to confuse the private with the public sphere.

    A religion is a matter of choice. One’s world view may be informed by religion; but, if we are speaking of someone of at least ordinary intelligence and does not blindly follow the word of some religious leader, we must admit that one’s choice of religion is ultimately guided by one’s world view; that is, if one found oneself in a religion strongly at odds with the way one thought, one would either abandon the religion or, at least, privately modify it.

    There is therefore every reason to ask people who bring their religion into the public sphere of politics to allow inquiry beyond the blank wall of “it’s a matter of conscience.” Let us hear more about this conscience, and about the decision to belong to a religion that mandates this or that political belief. Every person in politics who does not appeal to religion as a guide, must enunciate some sort of philosophy that explains or rationalises his or her politics, and take full responsibility for that philosophy; why should religious folk be excused from the same scrutiny and responsibility?

  • (Matt Bristol) 24th Jun '15 - 2:03pm

    I think there should be no issue with those interested in liberal and democratic reform of all creeds and none working together in this party. This will include those who have what could be termed a ‘conservative’ morality or wish to give some freedom of movement or respect to traditional norms in a number of contexts.

    FWIW, I feel that it is unfair to say that Christians ‘founded’ the party without giving respect to the rationalists, sceptics, agnostics, deists and Unitarians also involved. Liberal politics has always been a coalition of differing groups from differing backgrounds.

    However, IF you redefine liberalism to be mainly or solely about personal identity politics and individual rights and choice (and I am not denying this is a valuable strand within liberalism, just stating that it is not the sole strand), you are naturally going to come into conflict with those whose morality includes more concession to group values and norms than to indvidual choice, and many religious and Christian people (including some of the liberal, democratic ones) fall into this camp. It is then possible to go a step further (particularly if there are loud reactionary religious and Christian voices out there, which there are) and argue that religion or Christianity (ie the historically predominant religious grouping in this country) is the ‘enemy’ of liberalism because there is this tension when it comes to personal rights and because some of its adherents are violently against any consideration of extension in this direction.

    Personally, I feel this would be to leave a considerable part of the party’s historic legacy adrift and open to co-option by other parties, maybe to other types of liberalism and centrism. Not a great idea. We need to hold as broad consensus around a main set of goals, and not define the party’s purpose too narrowly.

  • Keith Redwood 24th Jun '15 - 2:08pm

    Paul, I think many of those with no religious beliefs look on those who do and make enormous assumptions. You’re a Christian therefore you must be against abortion, gay rights, freedom of speech and so on. Well, some people with sincerely held Christian beliefs might be against some, or all of these things but not all Christians are. Equally there are Christians in every party who feel that their party reflects their Christian beliefs, just as you, and I, feel that the LD’s reflect our, or at least most, of our beliefs.
    Modern Liberalism did indeed grow out of the non-conformist Christian churches and their focus on the individual’s relationship with God rather than the observance of particular forms of worship. We should not be ashamed to be Christian Liberals – if our path takes us to hold office in the party then we can be judged on our ability and behaviour which should reflect both parts of our personal belief systems.

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th Jun '15 - 2:16pm

    Simon Cardwell

    Thank you so much for writing this piece. It is good to know that there are people in the party who feel the same way as I have done at the negative tone and comments emanating from a vocal minority. It is also good to know that there are Liberal Democrats who are not religious who are openly disquieted by the intolerant comments of some. As fellow Liberals they are deeply tolerant, open-minded and understanding of others – they understand the party should be a welcoming ‘big tent’ rather than a purist sect.

    I also agree with you that the role of conscience is important on those few issues that arise . I have argued on these threads before about the importance of the role of conscience for Liberals – after all we are known to go against the grain and it wouldn’t be a liberal party if everyone thought the same way about every issue.

  • I think we need to consider what Christianity has done for Britain. The Gospels and the first five books of the Old Testament were influential on the drafting of Anglo -Saxon Laws from at least the time of Alfred , if not before. St Wulfstan preached against slavery in 1008AD. The re-intoduction of the Laws of Edward the Confessor from 1100Ad are influenced by Christianity . The idea that might is not right and equality before the law has Christian influences. If we want to remove Christianity from the UK , then we have to remove education,medical care, charity and return to trial by combat to settle disputes. The introduction of the concept of chivalry has Christian roots.

    Christianity has influenced Britain for the better since 597AD. If we did not have Christianity , we would have rule by Angles, Saxons , Gaels and Vikings who believed in Valhalla and an after life where only warriors honoured .

  • Peter Watson 24th Jun '15 - 2:59pm

    While I can understand why pre-moderation might be desirable for this thread, for example if there is the potential for some people with religious faith to be offended, it almost feels like this is exactly the sort of topic that should be uncensored in order to allow such views to be addressed.
    The tensions between liberalism and faith pop up frequently on this site, especially at the moment in the context of the leadership contest. This (excellent) article seems like a great opportunity to have a frank and open discussion about such an important topic without it being a diversion in a thread about something else.

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th Jun '15 - 3:46pm

    Correction to my initial comment which is actually a response to Paul Halliday (writer of the article ) and Samuel Cardwell (who made a comment on the thread).

  • Grace Goodlad 24th Jun '15 - 4:00pm

    As a wet, one or two steps up form agnostic Christian – the sort of person who classes themselves as a Christian when filling in forms, and in life’s major observances (weddings, funerals etc), I fully agree with the OP.

    As outlined above, I am a person of weak faith, but I have huge respect for all persons of faith. I have worked the the NHS, Education and Politics, and as such have worked in a range of environments where I have been the only non Muslim in one office and the the only non-Hindu in another.

    In my experience, people of faith are tolerant and welcoming to others – obviously there are occasional, random, exceptions, in the same way as most atheists are decent kind people – but there a few who are not.

    In recent weeks I have been really quite disappointed to hear people claim that Christian faith and Liberal principles are contradictory, and incompatible with a leader of our party. I fundamentally disagree, and wonder what the reception would be if someone was to claim “Muslim faith and Liberal principles are contradictory” or “Judaism and Liberal principles are….”. I am sure that we, as a party would reject that.

    I do worry that there seems to be a highly vocal group within our party that takes such an illiberal view to freedom of faith. Religious tolerance is every bit as important as equality and fairness for the LGBT community, and racial equality too. I hope that all of us within the party can start to see that soon.

  • Richard Church 24th Jun '15 - 4:44pm

    A few years ago it would be unthinkable for any party leader to admit to having no religion. In the USA it is still hard to imagine how an ‘out’ atheist could ever be president. Nick Clegg was our first leader to say he had no religious faith, and to my knowledge only the third of any leader of the three main parties (Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock being the first and second)

    When I was Mayor of my home town in the 1990’s I received abuse because I thought as an atheist it would be hypocritical of me to have a mayor’s chaplain saying prayers at the beginning of a council meeting. We have moved on as a country, and as society has become more accepting of humanism and non-belief, so has the number of people prepared to declare their non-belief risen sharply. The last census showed that most clearly.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right though, and centuries, of discrimination against people of no religious faith doesn’t justify any discrimination against people of faith.

    Faith and lack of it does impact on political views though. For me, my humanism informs my secularism, but many religious people are secularist too. It informs my opposition to religious selection and compulsory religious worship in state funded schools, and many people of faith share my views on that too.

    If some Christians or people of any faith though tell us that their religion teaches them that abortion is wrong, that discrimination against gay people is acceptable or that their faith entitles them to special privileges in education or in representation then they will be challenged by people like me, and it will influence our vote, in internal party elections or in any other elections. It’s not denying such people their right to their faith, or to their opinions, it is exercising our democratic right to vote against such views. That’s not intolerance or discrimination, it’s democratic politics.

  • What marked out Liberals was not whether they were Christian or not but whether they believed in a separation of church and state.

  • Thank you, Paul, for raising this issue. I was brought into the party in 1974 by members of my church and my Liberalism is a consequence of my Christianity. Like Paul, I have sometimes been taken aback by dismissive and contemptuous references to religion sometimes expressed on this site. We are the party of both Gladstone and Bradlaugh and if Liberal Democrats with different views about religion cannot respect one another, how can we preach (if I may use that verb) tolerance (respect is a better word) for diversity to wider society. I am not referring to robust disagreement which is to be welcomed but the lack of respect which is not.

    Incidentally, Larry Siedentop’s book ‘Inventing the Individual’ argues that the modern concept of the individual and individual rights derives from Christianity and was not suddenly ‘invented’ during the Enlightenment.

  • Jane Ann Liston 24th Jun '15 - 5:42pm

    If you want to see a really radical blueprint for increasing equality,, which should find favour with many LibDems, have a look at the text of the Magnificat. So radical, I’m surprised it wasn’t banned!

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Jun '15 - 5:57pm

    Paul Hunt
    “how can we preach (if I may use that verb) tolerance (respect is a better word)”

    Actually, no: I think “tolerance” is a better word. Your right to live as you wish, say what you wish and think what you wish are not and should not be dependent on my respecting your choices. I find some views (religiously inspired or not) odious, some ridiculous, and I bet you do too; and I extend that even to some ways of living. I respect your right to hold and even express such views; but I do not respect the views themselves, I only tolerate them. That seems to me the ethically best position.

  • @ChrisB – you completely miss the point. If someone like Abu Hamza were to apply to the party, we wouldn’t (shouldn’t, and probably legally couldn’t) refuse his membership because he was Muslim – we’d be refusing his membership because the views which he held and has publicly expressed were not compatible with those of the party. Similarly, I’m pretty sure that someone of the Satanist belief would come under the same banner, rather than because of his religion.

    And as for arguing that anyone is trying to “force their religious views on us”, then – by turn – aren’t you doing exactly that, by forcing them to accept your views on religion? If the party makes a decision on, for example, LGBT rights, then it’s for individual members to decide whether that policy contradicts their religious beliefs to the extent that they need to leave. I know some have; equally, I know many more who can reconcile these two aspects of their lives. It’s not for anyone to try to round up people of faith and force them out of the party – let them make their own decisions.

    And for the record, I’m agnostic, rather than atheist – atheists actively believe there is no God, whereas I’m unconvinced either way and, TBH, am not really that bothered. But I will defend strongly the rights of people who do follow a faith, even where they may disagree with me, so long as they remain within the tenets of the law.

  • Paul Halliday 24th Jun '15 - 6:14pm

    Thank you all for your comments. There are a number of points I should pick up on.

    I didn’t mean to imply that the party only simply exists because of people of Faith, it’s more that people of faith have played an instrumental role in the foundation of the party, and that if we took the root to say they didn’t have a role to play the party would look very different than it does today.

    As for matters of conscious its an interesting argument about what is a matter of conscious and what isn’t. You look at someone like Patrick Stewart who said the situation with the bakers in Ireland and said that should be a matter of conscious, I would argue against that view. Should the right of a church to make a decision of faith be a matter of conscious, I would argue yes, especially when that choice has been given to some churches but not all churches? To me there is a difference between someone who works for, or chooses to provide a service where for me there shouldn’t be a choice, to a people of faith who should be allowed to express that faith.

    Finally should we not allow someone to express their own belief even if it is at odds with the party if they at the same time are willing to fight for the right of the individual who goes against their belief?

  • Maria Pretzler 24th Jun '15 - 6:29pm

    I remember many, many times when the most outrageously hostile statements about religions and religious people were made by Liberal Democrats (mostly on online forums, it has to be said), and this has been going on for years. Are some people only becoming aware of it now, in context of this leader election, or did it not seem an issue?

    What gets me most is that those people proud of their rationality and adherence to evidence spout the most outrageous untruths about religions and religious people, often various ideas which could easily be checked against evidence. Statements such as ‘all Christians believe X, so you clearly believe X, and if you don’t, you are not a Christian’ (X being some idea many Christians do not support, such as rejecting evolution).

    The idea seems to be that anything to do with religion has the status of theology (i.e. something not based in any kind of fact), which completely ignores the fact that religion is a sociological phenomenon, which means that there are quite a lot of details which can be tested against evidence (e.g. whether you agree or not with certain ideas, you can ascertain whether people belonging to a certain group agree with these ideas or not, or you can observe behaviour, measure real world impact, etc).

    This really seems to be the one area where the worst kind of prejudice based on belief rather than evidence is still permissible within the LibDems, with people often being absolutely shocked when their assumed ‘rationality’ is challenged.

    I assume that Richard Dawkins and his ilk have made this kind of ignorant prejudice somehow permissible in certain circles. I think in the LibDems we must challenge it wherever we see it.

  • Helen Tedcastle 24th Jun '15 - 6:29pm

    Richard Church
    ‘ Nick Clegg was our first leader to say he had no religious faith’

    I don’t think the issue here is about whether a leader has a religious faith or not. The issue at hand raised recently is whether one can be a Christian or a Muslim or Hindu and be the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, for some, the issue seems to be whether one can be a member of the party at all and be a Christian.

    In previous leadership elections whether someone was a ‘Christian of catholic disposition’ such as the late Charles Kennedy or of no affiliation such as Nick Clegg, did not invite murmurings or mockery either way. It was not an issue necessarily determining one’s vote.

    The issues that those in some quarters claim as fundamental ‘touchstone policies’ invite more numerous and complex responses among members than they assert. What’s interesting for example, is that Nick Clegg has said on record that he – as an agnostic – is against assisted suicide on the grounds of conscience. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29513007. There are some Christians (it’s a broad and varied religion) who argue for assisted suicide.

    There is an argument to be had in Liberalism from a variety of perspectives – religious, non-religious, humanist etc… Whichever perspective we hold, even if we are in the minority in the party, minority views should be respected – they are normally the result of just as much thought as the majority view.

    Of course, what some people regard as a ‘special privilege’ (schools) is to others a right granted to their community after centuries of persecution and discrimination… so it’s as well to be mindful of this when speaking to diverse audiences…

    Paul Halliday

    The vocal minority who ridicule faith on these threads do not offend me personally, especially when they claim that people of faith are uniformly and universally irrational.

    It’s simply frustrating when some comments are made in a rather throw away fashion, based as it were on the superficial polemics (on religion) of a few popular science writers, rather than being based on informed knowledge and understanding of religious viewpoints and some rather complex and diverse teachings.

  • WildColonialBoy 24th Jun '15 - 6:50pm


    I’m afraid your account of Christianity being the basis for English law is mistaken. The most important development in English law in the age of Glanvill and Bracton is that it moved away from Roman and canon law to develop a substantially secular common law that was primarily based on the concept of rights arising from seison (possession) of property, not based on some biblical principle.

    Your claim of some reinstatement of the laws of “Edward the Confessor” sounds like the kind of religious anecdote that swims around in traditional circles, rather than historical fact. Read the dialogus de scaccario, read Bracton and Glanvill, Fitzherbert and Smith’s De Republica Anglorum, to see just how little religious considerations influenced the common law

  • WildColonialBoy 24th Jun '15 - 6:59pm


    You said, “The re-intoduction of the Laws of Edward the Confessor from 1100Ad are influenced by Christianity”

    The idea that Magna Carta (which occurred 100 years after 1100AD was the reintroduction of some ancient proto-libertarian Anglo-Saxon law was debunked 150 years ago. It is a particularly vacuous sort of Whig history.

    The common law which had its genesis under Henry II in the late 12th century was an Anglo-Norman innovation, remarkable in its departure from both the previous Anglo-Saxon law (which was still widely practiced in the time of Henry I; read p15 of A Concise History of the Common Law) and from Roman and canon law.

  • Paul L'Allier 24th Jun '15 - 7:26pm

    Thank you for posting this, Paul. While we have differing religious views (in my case, none), I believe the party is better for the range of beliefs within it and I’m dismayed that you or anyone else is being discriminated against on these grounds.

    ChrisB, though you seem to be confusing “high office” in the country and “high office” in the party – and lets hope one day they are one and the same – it seems we disagree with each other. I don’t believe that it’s desirable to disqualify the Satanist or Abu Hamza from the party or any other position because of the religious label they are presented under. I doubt that either of them would be suitably aligned with the party’s collective ideology to be suitable for one of those positions, but their association with a particular faith group, per se, shouldn’t be used as a barrier.

  • If his religious views did not hinder Tim Farron from doing a good job as Party President, why should they now do so for the job of Party Leader. He is hardly an unknown quantity.

  • Wild Colonial Boy
    I never said it was e re-introduction, I said it was an influence. The idea that there are written laws by which a king rules was not new to Magna Carta . The Charter of Liberties of 1100 AD, introduced by Henry1 states 13.) I restore the law of King Edward and the amendments which my father introduced upon the advice of his barons.
    By th time of Magna Carta, the idea that there should rules written down which defines certain peoples rights , was not knew.Consequently a country is not run entirely on the base of might is right , there is a limited right of redress.

  • Jonathan Brown 24th Jun '15 - 9:10pm

    A very good, and very timely article Paul. I don’t identify as Christian but your first paragraph is an excellent illustration of why I feel very much at home in a party so heavily influenced by Christianity – both historically and by Christian members today.

    I find some views expressed by (some) Christians within the party uncomfortable to hear, but no more so, and no more often than views expressed by (some) non-Christian members at other times. I tend to the view that if someone like Tim Farron can so passionately advocate for liberal principles for such a long time, and do so as a deeply committed Liberal Democrat, then that really tells me what I need to know. I don’t expect to agree with him or anyone else all the time, but his liberalism (and that of other Christian MPs and members) is beyond doubt. And I have found many of the insinuating attacks upon him lately very unpleasant.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Jun '15 - 9:36pm

    @Keith Redwood:

    ” I think many of those with no religious beliefs look on those who do and make enormous assumptions”

    and vice versa. Both sides can be enormously patronising to each other largely because of a lack of any real interest in understanding where the other ‘comes from’.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 24th Jun '15 - 9:40pm

    @Keith Legg: You are confusing the terms atheist and agnostic. I’m an agnostic atheist i.e. I don’t KNOW if there’s a god or not but I don’t BELIEVE there is. Gnostic refers to knowledge, so an agnostic doesn’t have the knowledge. Theism refers to belief so an atheist doesn’t have any belief.

    Dawkins came up with a simple scale, 1 to 7 where 1 is a person who knows there is a god and 7 is a person who knows there isn’t. These are both gnostic positions, all the others from strong belief in gods to strong disbelief in gods are agnostic positions.

    As for the OP, I don’t feel that anyone is unwelcome because of their faith or lack of it. Some may feel that questioning political positions based on a faith premise is somehow rude but that’s politics, any position must be open to question.

  • Kevin Manley 24th Jun '15 - 9:54pm

    Amd by the way, I am not a Christian – far from it – but I am strongly supporting Tim Farron for leader and so the idea that there is this big divide between the religious and the non-religious, thatthe latterwill just not suport the former, is just wrong.

  • Kevin Manley 24th Jun '15 - 10:37pm

    @Graham I am not sure Dawkins’ scale is very useful really; the religious believe there is a god, etc, and think they know there is; atheists believe there is no god. Agnostics are those who claim they / we don’t know whether there is or isn’t, and generally aren’t that bothered. Dawkins used the scale as a means of crticising agnostics in that we’re all agnostics as none of us truly “know”, and we should decide what we believe, but thats not generally what people mean by “atheist” and “agnostic”; the two are distinct positions.

  • If you support Liberal ideas and believe in Democracy then Tolerance should be automatic should it not?

    There are some decisions about life and death that come down to conscience whether you have faith or not. No one should be criticised for a genuine personal view of conscience.

  • Shirley Campbell 25th Jun '15 - 2:45am

    Did not “liberal thought” “liberalism” derive from non conformist religious thought? Currently, I am not in an intellectual mode but I must seek to remind those who seek to deride liberalism and Protestantism that without our protestant forefathers we would not be the advanced civilisation that we are. Do not mock those to whom we owe our very existence and, certainly, our advanced culture.

  • Great article Paul.

  • (Matt Bristol) 25th Jun '15 - 9:45am

    Paul Walter, I respect what you say but it is not as simple as there being ‘conservative Christians’ who oppose all exptensions of personal rights and ‘liberal Christians’ who are in favour of [inset policy here] and are LibDems’ natural political allies.

    It is entirely possible to be conservative or sceptical about reform in some way on one issue and radical on another.

    Take two people:
    Hypothetical Person A is in favour of single sex marriage, is militant about protecting the right to choose on abortion, yet also advocates the suspension of habeas corpus in many cases and a closure of UK borders based on racial lines.

    Hypothetical Person B is sceptical about single sex marriage (feels the legislation in England and Wales was a well meaning mistake) , in favour of changes to abortion law that restrict access to that procedure, but also advocates a federal UK constitutional settlement including proportional representation, a written constitution, regular referenda with regard to continuation of the monarchy, and new tiers of devolved government.

    Hypothetical Person C feels abortion and single sex marriage should both be left to regional referenda, that proportional representation is a pointless distraction from much-needed real social reform, that the Churrch of England should be forcibly disestablished with money expropriated from it to pay for the NHS, the Bishops removed from the House of Lords, and that religious schools of all kinds should be banned, and that housing policy and council tax should be devolved to local authorities who should have their own tax raising powers.

    Which one of those is a ‘natural Liberal Democrat’ whose vote we should be seeking?

  • Graham Martin-Royle 25th Jun '15 - 10:03am

    @Kevin Manley: That was the point I was trying to make. The terms agnostic and atheist mean two different distinct things. To say that agnostics generally aren’t that bothered is incorrect, some, while acknowledging they don’t know for certain are still strong believers while others, while still acknowledging they don’t know are strong disbelievers. There is a whole spectrum of agnosticism which has nothing to do with what anyone actually believes.

    Getting back to the original point (mustn’t divert too much 🙂 ), the party must be open to everyone who believes in liberal policies whatever their religious beliefs and no positions should be closed down to anyone because of those beliefs/disbeliefs. If we’re not open enough to that, then there’s something very wrong.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 25th Jun '15 - 10:17am

    If you don’t understand then you’ll never accept because it is based and dependent upon: judging, bigotry and ignorance. What changes this lack of being understood is: appreciation and the approach from recognizing the apparent underpinning social constructs as a guide to live as a point of reference.


  • I will admit to having a conditioned response round a majority of Christains; I am often deeply uncomfortable. I do my best to not allow this to show, and will try very hard to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    However, once they have demonstrated in word or deed that they do not believe that I am equal to them (on grounds of sexual orientation or religion), or try to remove or curtail my freedom of choice (including in matters of abortion – a pregnancy would be quality-of-life-threatening for me – and the moment of my own death), I consider it perfectly reasonable to think of them as illiberal.

  • I would just like to know a bit more about why the OP has “felt like an outsider” who does not belong.

    If the answer is that the Party contains a minority of people with militantly atheistic views – Well, I’m not sure much can or should be done about that.

    If for example the OP has had to debate with people who argue for the abolition of faith schools – Well, I think they are entitled to that opinion. We shouldn’t censor it out just because other members feel offended.

    If someone shares with Blair the belief that God tells them what is right and that nobody should be permitted to disagree – then I do not think they should be welcome.

    People with faith should be welcome. People with bigotry should not.

  • While I appreciate the short-term context of this article has been the attempt by some ‘Normtroopers’ to label Tim as a religiously-motivated anti-equal-marriage activist, and the longer-term context has been Dawkin’s post-9/11 attempt to reframe the debate, I really do think some Christians doth protest too much!

    Christians – particularly Anglicans – still have significant entrenched legal privileges in this country. I know that many Liberal Christians would happily give them up, but knowing that is really not the point for me, as sceptic and humanist, made subject to prayers in parliament and the council chamber, and discrimination in admissions at my local school.

    My own view (after Dawkins, incidentally, if only those complaining of his ‘prejudice’ would only listen to him!) is that the ethics of Christianity are often positive, and there is much to learn from these teachings, taken as a whole (though there are some notable weak points, probably resulting from the Iron Age culture and context in which – the evidence suggests – they were developed and written down).

    Personally, I find I cannot logically believe in what Adams – with good reason – called ‘six impossible things before breakfast’, and I for one am glad that Dawkins has punctured the excessive ‘respect’ for religious sensibilities which hitherto insulated such absurdities from challenge. This was not, for me, a positive respect, but merely a submission to the authority of religious leaderships, and thus has no place in a liberal society.

    There is another type of respect, however; a liberal one that is born of mutual tolerance, even in the face of fundamental disagreement. From what I have seen of his debates with religious people, Dawkins himself is almost unfailingly polite and tolerant towards his interlocutors. Would that more of my fellow atheists followed his example.

  • I don’t feel excluded by the religious/non-religious divide, but by the cadre of holier-than-thou* ‘true’ Liberals, who dismiss everyone else as ‘orange bookers’ and traitors to the one true faith*, to which they alone have the keys.

    *metaphorically speaking, of course …

  • I have absolutely no doubt that there are a minority of atheists within the party who have very little respect for fellow members who make their religious beliefs known. It’s also pretty clear that there are some Christians in the party who feel the same way about atheists. I’ve come across both.
    Like others who have commented, I really don’t think we need to get too excited about this. We should challenge such views when they arise, but we should try to do so in a mature and constructive way that changes minds.
    However, in the whole of this lengthy thread I haven’t see a single concrete example cited to suggest that there is a widespread or high-level problem.
    Without examples, it’s difficult to know whether Christian members of the party actually have some reason to feel persecuted, or whether there’s actually a persecution narrative at work here, similar to the “Christians under attack by secularists” narrative that is vigorously prosecuted by a few religious organisations and picked up gleefully by the right-wing press.
    Can we have some, please?

  • David Quayle 25th Jun '15 - 1:38pm

    I think the issue for me is not so much the liberal Christians that we have within the party but the perception created by the wider Christian community. The church is great on race and poverty, then you look at its record on gender and sexuality where its views are a complete anathema to liberals… We need staunchly liberal Christians inside the church putting liberal vision and values to have any way to promote change within an organisation (or organisations) which don’t respond to external pressure particularly quickly. Good on you Paul and take our message to them

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '15 - 1:55pm

    David Allen
    David Allen

    If someone shares with Blair the belief that God tells them what is right and that nobody should be permitted to disagree

    No, that was not what Blair said. The twisting of some comment he made by some anti-religious people to make out that was his position shows an outrageous illiberal attitude towards religion, an assumption of simplistic stereotypes which would be outrageous in other circumstances.

  • In response to an earlier comment: I’d be perfectly happy to see a satanist in high office in our party. Or a Discordian. Or any other religion, for that matter. The issue is not religious belief per se, it is that if religious belief comes into conflict with liberalism in the formulation of policy, the person in question really ought to choose liberalism over their personal religious faith. Too often when religion and liberalism collide, the religious liberal will choose their religion’s tenets over liberalism. Not always, by any means, but too often.

    That said, I am equally annoyed by people who, without evidence of the proclivities of a particular person, will make the assumption that because they are (say) a Jain, they want it to be compulsory for everyone to carry brushes to brush insects away so they don’t get stood on. Lots of Jains are perfectly accepting of other people’s right to stand on insects.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I take the traditional British attitude to religion: you can believe whatever the hell you like, so long as you don’t start imposing your religion’s morals via legislation or social mores on me. Legislation and policy should be decided in a rational manner, and that does not involve the intrusion of religion AFAIC. But this also means that nobody should give a monkey’s pube what anyone else’s religion is.

  • Kevin McNamara 25th Jun '15 - 3:04pm

    Paul Walter makes a very strong and forceful point about the relationship between Christians and various minority communities.

    I know there are Christians like Paul, and Desmond Tutu, but at an emotional level, that is not instinctively enough a lot of the time. I think people forget that there is a very fractious relationship between, for example, LGBT+ people and Christians. When Paul says: “I went up to the LGBT stand at conference once and casually slipped in that I had just been to church. I could have just said that I had just planted a bomb under the table, judging by the reaction”, I can imagine the exact reaction he talks of.

    Christians, of various denominations, have spent many years demonising certain minorities, and even as recent as the Church of England’s response to the SSM debate, there are fracture lines between Christians and these groups.

    It’s not to excuse intolerance of Christianity, but we all need to be mindful of where others are starting from, and lots feel really legitimate reasons to start from a position of suspicion when it comes to Christians.

  • Helen Tedcastle 25th Jun '15 - 5:02pm

    GP Purnell

    ‘ Dawkins has punctured the excessive ‘respect’ for religious sensibilities which hitherto insulated such absurdities from challenge. This was not, for me, a positive respect, but merely a submission to the authority of religious leaderships’

    This discussion is about the treatment of Christians and other religious believers in the party. Can you point me to which religious leaders who are members of the party (if any) were/are given excessive respect and whose authority was submitted to before Richard Dawkins wrote his books?

    ‘ I have seen of his debates with religious people, Dawkins himself is almost unfailingly polite and tolerant towards his interlocutors’

    Except when it comes to whether Muslims can remain as ‘serious journalists’ it seems:


  • David Allen 25th Jun '15 - 7:17pm

    Matthew Huntbach,

    No, Blair has never actually admitted that his oft-repeated line “because it was the right thing to do” has anything to do with his religious fanaticism and fundamentalism. But it clearly does.

    Most people, when they are describing their political beliefs, occasionally express doubts and uncertainties. You and I both do, at times. That’s because you and I both know that working out the best answer to difficult questions is not simple, and that sometimes one gets it wrong. Blair never admits that he might conceivably have got anything wrong. I think we can guess why that is.

    I don’t believe I have an “outrageously illiberal attitude to religion”. I agree with Jennie – faith (which I don’t personally have) should be respected. I have no problem at all with someone like Tim Farron, who thinks rationally about issues and doesn’t seek to impose his beliefs on others.

    I have a problem with religious fanaticism. We all do. Almost a million died in Iraq because of religious fanaticism, and on this occasion, it was the Christian fanaticism of Bush and Blair.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '15 - 7:22pm

    Some time before the Iraq war, I felt that intervention by the UK and USA was justified. I felt that Iraq was run by a horrendously cruel dictator who had tied things up so that it was impossible for those suffering under him to get rid of him. I felt the opponents to intervention were typical trendy lefty types, who would happily sing the praises of the cruelest of dictators, so long as that dictator adopted an anti-USA position. I felt it would be good to intervene and get rid of that monster. I was absolutely disgusted by those who were trying to whip the intervention up as some sort of “attack on Islam”. How ridiculous was that? Saddam Hussein may have been a cruel dictator, but he was at least a secularist who worked with Iraqis of all religions and enabled the religious diversity that was once a hallmark of Iraq to be maintained. How on earth could deposing that man be an “attack on Islam”? Saying that suggests a belief that this cruel dictator was the epitome of Islam, and surely that is pretty anti-Islamic. I felt the way some extremists were trying to whip up that sort of feeling just showed up what nasty people those extremists were, what decent sort would want to associate with that feeling? When the trendy lefties used the line “oh, but it’s the USA trying to impose a USA friendly government”, well I though that showed them up – were they so biased as to suppose a USA-friendly government must necessarily be a bad thing?

    OK, so even then I could also see the downside of intervention, but on balance I was for it. However, I changed my mind and by the time it happened I was against it. Not as strongly as others, sure. I didn’t join in the protests and I worried about how bad it would look if it did go as I hoped, the dictator deposed and a reasonably decent and democratic government put in his place. Still, I agreed – it was wrong to intervene.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Jun '15 - 7:23pm

    continuation of my comment on changing my position on the Iraq war

    So what happened to change my mind? Well, thinking through about various aspects, yes. Lack of confidence in the USA’s ability to mount a humanitarian intervention, yes. However, the deciding factor for me was the strong opposition to intervention expressed by the Pope. Without that, I think I may in balance have stuck to the other side.

    This is the one case where I have to admit my religion as a Catholic was the prime factor in influencing me politically. To what extent the humanitarian vision of my religion influences me as opposed to all the other things I read and think about, it’s hard to say. But why should, for example, Rerum Novarum or Laudato Si be ruled as out of order for influence, any more than John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” or Hayek’s “The Road to Freedom”, both of which I read as a teenager and influenced me very much in developing my liberalism?

    Well, ok, so now I’ve said it’s my religion that turned me against the Iraq war, does that render my view on that issue unacceptable? Should I be banned from expressing my opposition to it for that reason? Should I be condemned in the way David Allen condemned Tony Blair?

  • David Allen 25th Jun '15 - 8:13pm


    Absolutely not. You thought deeply about the issues – practical, political, moral and yes, spiritual. As you say, theological argument is in principle every bit as valid a source of moral or political inspiration as any other. For me to tell you otherwise would be as offensive as a religious person telling me I mustn’t read Richard Dawkins. What you haven’t done is closed your mind, imposed your beliefs on others, or worst of all, launched a war and called it a “crusade”.

  • Toby Keynes 25th Jun '15 - 8:45pm

    Matthew Huntbach:
    “Well, ok, so now I’ve said it’s my religion that turned me against the Iraq war, does that render my view on that issue unacceptable? Should I be banned from expressing my opposition to it for that reason? Should I be condemned in the way David Allen condemned Tony Blair?”

    Well, no to both questions, because:
    David Allen hasn’t said anything about banning anyone for expressing an opinion just because it derives from their beliefs, or from the teachings of their religious leaders;
    He has said that he “has a problem with religious fanaticism”, and surely we should all feel the same way, shouldn’t we? – but your view on the Iraq war hardly falls into that camp.

  • sally haynes-preece 25th Jun '15 - 10:11pm

    . For me what is important is not what faith someone professes but how that faith shows up in their day to day life. How that faith makes them act towards others. So I find fundamentalist christians as dangerous as fundamentalist muslims. I am christian by background but prefer to describe myself as ‘spiritual’ these days. I feel increasingly divorced from a church that is still at heart anti gay and anti woman…..because those views conflict with my liberal ideals. I personally feel the Liberal democrats can more easily accommodate both of us than the church can 🙂

  • Most of the way down these comments I honestly thought Paul Halliday was making the mistake of taking perhaps one or two experiences that were an attack on Christianity and letting it colour his perception of other experiences.

    I haven’t noticed anti-christian views on LDV in the past (that I remember) but as I got further down they started to show:
    David Allen’s
    “No, Blair has never actually admitted that his oft-repeated line “because it was the right thing to do” has anything to do with his religious fanaticism and fundamentalism. But it clearly does.”

    And Kevin McNamara’s
    “Christians, of various denominations, have spent many years demonising certain minorities, and even as recent as the Church of England’s response to the SSM debate, there are fracture lines between Christians and these groups.
    It’s not to excuse intolerance of Christianity, but we all need to be mindful of where others are starting from, and lots feel really legitimate reasons to start from a position of suspicion when it comes to Christians.”

    Were particularly noteable. I suppose you don’t see it until the topic gets given air time.

  • David Allen 26th Jun '15 - 1:16am

    I suppose you don’t see it until you quote selectively from posts by myself and by Kevin McNamara, throwing away all the context and balance, and thereby making tolerance sound intolerant.

  • Sally Hayes-Preece
    .” I feel increasingly divorced from a church that is still at heart anti gay and anti woman…..because those views conflict with my liberal ideals. ”
    Join the Unitarian Church.It’s had women ministers for more than a hundred years and conducts same sex wedding ceremonies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jun '15 - 8:23am

    David Allen

    What you haven’t done is closed your mind, imposed your beliefs on others, or worst of all, launched a war and called it a “crusade”.

    I am not quite sure where the word “crusade” was used, but it is a word that is, or at least was, often used in a fairly non-specific way. Clearly if it was used to describe the intervention by the USA and UK in Iraq it was a stunning piece of incompetence, given that word’s origin. Yet I can easily see how it could have been done unthinkingly, because of the general casual use of that word in English. What I am quite sure of is that the intervention was not meant to be any sort of attack on Islam or a defence of Christians or an attempt to impose Christianity on Iraq. Quite obviously that was not the case, so the blame for the damage caused by that use of the word must fall much more on those who picked it out, emphasised it and pretended – a great fat evil lie – that it was meant that way. Those who picked it out in that way are the people who wanted to stir up hatred and division and violence by making that pretence. I am disgusted that so many Muslims in this country chose to believe that lie, and I am disgusted that so many Liberal Democrats helped perpetuate it, as you yourself are doing.

    The troops sent to Iraq were not followed by teams of evangelical pastors, were they? Mosques were not demolished and churches put in their place were they? What aspects of that intervention can in any way be seen as an attempt to push Christianity over Islam? So why do you pick out the word “crusade” in an attempt to perpetuate that false idea? The reality is that the factional fighting that the people of Iraq chose to indulge in after the dictator was deposed instead of uniting to put in place a democratic government, as they could have done, has hurt the once strong Christian communities in Iraq more than any others. You, David Allen, in helping perpetuate the false idea that the intervention was some sort of Christian attack on Islam have contributed to the anti-Christian genocide that has happened in Iraq, with the majority of that country’s Christians being forced to flee.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jun '15 - 8:29am


    I haven’t noticed anti-christian views on LDV in the past

    Try looking, for example, at what was said here when Sarah Teather resigned. She resigned for humanitarian reasons, feeling what the coalition was doing was at odds with what she believed to be morally right. Yet the comments here following her resignation were full of attacks on her over the position she took on gay marriage, as if that was the only thing that mattered, as if that was the only thing her religious background influenced her over.

  • David Allen

    Well , let’s consider your point you make about Blair. You attribute his actions to religion . Why? Was it because he said that is what was driving him to war?


    I believe Blair had been planning on converting to Catholicism many years before he did but this country’s bizare anti-catholic laws made him wait.

    So what about his Catholic faith would have guided him? Perhaps the person he sees as God’s representative on earth? No, as Matthew points out the Pope was against.

    So the leader of his faith was against but you insist he was motivated by “his religious fanaticism and fundamentalism.”

    You seem to think that your acceptance of Matthew’s faith makes it ok , presumably because Matthew is of your ‘tribe’ and therefore he is ‘the right sort of Catholic’ rather like those who try and identify ‘the right sort of Muslim’ this is actually just an excuse for not judging people as individuals.

    Disagree with Blair all you like but don’t attach your feeling about him to his religion.

  • Matthew,

    “I am not quite sure where the word “crusade” was used, but it is a word that is, or at least was, often used in a fairly non-specific way. Clearly if it was used to describe the intervention by the USA and UK in Iraq it was a stunning piece of incompetence, given that word’s origin.”

    It was used by George W Bush to describe his intervention in Iraq.


    I am not “helping perpetuate the false idea that the intervention was some sort of Christian attack on Islam”. I am telling the truth about the motives of Bush and Blair. By denying this truth, you are contributing to the continuing and rational resentment which many Muslims feel about Western imperialist policies, which of course feeds into the irrational fanaticism of that small minority of Muslims who react in a grossly disproportionate way and join ISIS.

  • @Keith Legg,

    >we’d be refusing his membership because the views which he held

    So, you wouldn’t refuse him membership on his “beliefs”, you’d refuse it on his “views”. You say I’ve missed the point, then you make the exact same point using different words. 🙂

    Your argument hinges on your differentiation between views and beliefs – I think these objects analogous in the context of this debate.

  • David Allen
    You choose to fixate on the term “crusade” choosing to assume that by using the term ‘W’ was specifically choosing to launch some kind of religious campaign. Well most people would understand that the term in the last couple of centauries been used to refer to something other than a series of disastrous medieval wars.
    As you appear to believe there is only one meaning lets look at the definition from google (as that is most likely where a ‘W’ speech writer would look up these things):
    1. each of a series of medieval military expeditions made by Europeans to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.
    2. a vigorous campaign for political, social, or religious change.
    “a crusade against crime”
    1. lead or take part in a vigorous campaign for social, political, or religious change.
    “a crusading stance on poverty”

    Well google seems to have noticed there is more than one use.
    Using that term to refer to refer to any military action in the middle east is exceptionally stupid but I can’t think that would be out of line of many of the other actions taken as part of the Iraq war: like the de-Baathification; taking advice from people who had not been in the country for 20 years; kittling the future members of ISIS; or any of the areas that had zero post-military planning.
    Most people recognise that the whole exercise was incompetently planned, and executed. So why would you assume that one particular speech was cunningly crafted to push exactly the right buttons to inflame tensions.
    When the choice is cock-up or conspiracy it will be cock-up 99% of the time.
    This was not religious “crusade” it was a disastrous (well intentioned) campaign based upon ignorance and arrogance. History will judge those who started down this road very harshly but the narrative you pursue is ridiculous, these men made so many mistake on other areas, why would this be any different?

  • Psi,

    No, I do not think Matthew is “the right sort of Catholic”. You have painted a false picture of me and then condemned me on the basis of your own false picture.

    I think that all religious (and non-religious) belief should be respected, and nobody should be compelled to undertake actions to which they have a conscientious objection. So for example I support gay marriage, but I do not think individual registrars whose employment pre-dates the gay marriage legislation should be compelled to celebrate gay marriages.

    Fanaticism is a totally different kettle of fish. It can be based on religion, or atheism (like Stalin). Whichever it is based upon, it is one of the great dangers that faces humanity. Do not think there will never be another Hitler, another Pol Pot, another Stalin, another George W Bush, another Milosevic. There will be. Fanatics must be exposed for what they are. To seek to hide them behind Desmond Tutu, Justin Welby and the Pope is a gross mistake and an insult to decent Christian belief.

  • David Allen

    “You have painted a false picture of me and then condemned me on the basis of your own false picture.”

    You paint an interesting picture of yourself.
    Blair makes a decision you don’t like makes no reference to religion – you state that he is a religious fanatic
    Matthew takes a position you agree with and states it is heavily influenced by his religion (in particular the position of the Pope) – you state “practical, political, moral and yes, spiritual” so Matthew took a balanced view with the “spiritual” aspect last.
    Perhaps you could answer: if Matthew had come down ‘on balance’ in favour of the war rather than ‘on balance’ against (due to a belief that Iraq could be run closer to the model of old secular Turkey) would the fact he views difficult decision in life with the aid of his faith make him a fanatic?

    Often on here I read accusations the ‘other” side of an argument is involved in some kind of conspiracy, acting on behalf of some ill-defined group. Every negative outcome is not an error or misjudgement, but an intentional act of oppression. I’m just glad I don’t share this mind-set, life must be very draining living with this outlook.

    I met some Iraqis just after the war (I’m not claiming this sample is representative) and they were broadly positive, it was in the at short window when it looked as if the violence could be temporary. None of them saw the US as motivated by religion, which was a view I heard expressed a lot by people from the UK and US.

    The Iraq war and most of what has followed has been a disaster but it has nothing to do with the religion of the decision makers. I have no idea who you think is being ‘hidden’ “behind Desmond Tutu, Justin Welby and the Pope.”

  • David Allen

    “I am telling the truth about the motives of Bush and Blair. By denying this truth, you are contributing to the continuing and rational resentment which many Muslims feel about Western imperialist policies, which of course feeds into the irrational fanaticism of that small minority of Muslims who react in a grossly disproportionate way and join ISIS.”

    It is important to distinguish between ‘Belief’ and ‘Truth.’

    You ‘Believe’ the motivations of Blair and ‘W’ were religious, we will probably never know the ‘Truth’ though evidence suggests not. Many young Muslims ‘believe’ what you do. A tiny minority ‘believe’ that the Isis controlled area is a wonderful place to live, which certainly doesn’t make it ‘truth.’

    Earlier in this discussion someone stated that some one stated that people with a faith were attacked as “”irrational” it is worth noting that the attacks on some people on the basis of their faith are themselves rather irrational.

    Matthew is right that encouraging the view that disastrous actions in the Middle East are the result of some “crusade” is very irresponsible. It was when a speech writer put it in a speech by ‘W’ and it is when is is done in the form of peddled conspiracy theories by people on the internet.

    Claims of knowing “The Truth” do not make wild conspiracies credible.

  • David Allen 26th Jun '15 - 3:22pm

    “Perhaps you could answer: if Matthew had come down ‘on balance’ in favour of the war rather than ‘on balance’ against (due to a belief that Iraq could be run closer to the model of old secular Turkey) would the fact he views difficult decision in life with the aid of his faith make him a fanatic?”

    Of course it blooming wouldn’t. Matthew’s pro-war argumentation is just as rational as his anti-war argumentation. All of it is based on reasonable humanitarian considerations, and on being a humble human who was trying as hard as he could to work out what best to do. That’s a million miles away from fanaticism, and if you don’t see the difference, I despair for you.

  • David Allen 26th Jun '15 - 3:37pm


    Instead of googling all the different meanings people now give to the word “crusade”, in place of its original meaning (the “cru” is etymologically related to “crucifix” and it meant a mediaeval Christian war expedition to the Middle East), just play my youtube link. NB, the previous link may have been faulty, below is what I meant.


    Bush clearly delights in the language he chose to use. It was widely criticised at the time. Bush ignored the criticism.

    The Iraq war had everything to do with the religious fanaticism of the decision makers.

  • Shirley Campbell 26th Jun '15 - 8:49pm

    Paul Halliday, I should very much like to have been given the opportunity to meet you. As a Liberal who knows my roots, I am utterly dismayed at the arrogant attitude displayed by many who parade as liberals. Unfortunately, liberalism and liberal thought is on the decline and, as I read the above comments, I can fully see why true liberals have sought to distant themselves from pseudo liberalism. I never seek to disrespect those non conformists who changed the course of history by adopting the path of individual conscience and individual responsibility. Individualism is at the core of liberalism. Oh my. I am not in an intellectual mode, but please, please would someone explain to current day liberals the concept of liberal thought as opposed to collective thought.

  • Wikipedia on Blair:

    “In an interview with Michael Parkinson broadcast on ITV1 on 4 March 2006, Blair referred to the role of his Christian faith in his decision to go to war in Iraq, stating that he had prayed about the issue, and saying that God would judge him for his decision: “I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people … and if you believe in God, it’s made by God as well.” According to Alastair Campbell’s diary, Blair often read the Bible before taking any important decisions. ”

    “Cherie Blair’s friend and “spiritual guru” Carole Caplin is credited with introducing her and her husband to various New Age symbols and beliefs, including “magic pendants” known as “BioElectric Shields”. The most controversial of the Blairs’ New Age practices occurred when on holiday in Mexico. The couple, wearing only bathing costumes, took part in a rebirthing procedure, which involved smearing mud and fruit over each other’s bodies while sitting in a steam bath.”

    Ordinary normal bloke, eh? Pretty straight kind of guy, eh?

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 27th Jun '15 - 7:05am

    What Liberals and those of faith have in common is that Liberals, of all people, shouldn’t be afraid of some disagreement; as much as in the same as within the religious social constructs that we have in place in society. But they also shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging that the real potency of Liberalism lies not in doctrine but in practice, which is similar to those of faith do so with conscience too. The Liberal and those of faith are ultimately ones who recognises any ideal of liberty means little if it doesn’t empower people in their daily lives.

  • Simon Foster 27th Jun '15 - 2:18pm

    Good article Paul. The vast majority of Liberal Democrats I’ve encountered have had the open minded tolerance for different faiths and religion that you would expect from liberals. Indeed, when I was approved as a council candidate, I was delighted when I discussed my faith as a potential issue which the opposition might throw at me. I’m pagan (out of the broom closet I step again!) which means I get a whole load of negativity about devil worship thrown at me, where I politely point out that the Devil is nothing to do with my religion, and I do get to define what I believe in.

    The local party Chair, who was on the panel gave me exactly the encouragement I was looking for: “Bring it on. Anyone of any religious faith should be able to stand as a Lib Dem, whatever their religion, and the local party supports you in this.”

    The trouble is, as with any large organisation, there are a minority of people who will be intolerant. I choose my words carefully here. People are allowed to politely question matters of policy in the public sphere. However, there needs to be respect for people’s different views, particularly when it coms to matters of private faith.

    What disturbs me is that I’ve encountered within the Lib Dems is an intolerance which goes beyond this, and can be nasty, aggressive and makes the assumption that anyone who believes in religion is simply wrong, misguided and somehow inferior to those who do not. Disagreement and debate is part of what it means to be a liberal. However, militant atheism, which I have encountered in the Lib Dems, is as bad a militant views of any other religious belief, in my opinion.

    I’ll close by saying how glad I am there is diversity within the Lib Dems. I believe we learn the most when we engage with people’s views who are different from ours. Learning how different people think is a great way of learning more about yourself.

    “Merry met, merry part, and merry meet again”, as the saying goes 🙂

  • Davis Allan

    “Ordinary normal bloke, eh? Pretty straight kind of guy, eh?”

    I don’t know anyone who claims that last I remember him claiming that was something like 1998.

    As for the rest your link provides nothing to suggest the term was used to denote religious action rather than the more common usade which was not religious.

    The origional usage of a word does not prove the intention when there is a more common usage.

    I’m supprised you seem to have missed that your examples about reading the bible and taking part in “new age” stuff point in the other direction from the one you claim.

    Your hatred of individuals appears to have deprived you of the ability to look at evidence objectively. I may not like the individuals who made these decisions or the decisions they made but that is not licence to extrapolate far beyond any evidence.

  • Dominic Stockford 29th Jun '15 - 5:02pm

    I wonder whether Norman Lamb can give rational and logical reasons for why he likes the music he does, and for what his favourite foods and colours are? Or maybe it ‘is different’ when it is his heartfelt views that are under scrutiny, and ‘not the same at all’ as someone else’s heartfelt views which took them into politics in the first place.

    Frankly, Mr Lamb’s views on assisted suicide being ‘good for society’ are so illogical and irrational as to be laughable. ‘We’ll make doctors kill people if they ask, it’s good for them.’

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Jun '15 - 10:50am

    David Allen

    I am not “helping perpetuate the false idea that the intervention was some sort of Christian attack on Islam”. I am telling the truth about the motives of Bush and Blair. By denying this truth, you are contributing to the continuing and rational resentment which many Muslims feel about Western imperialist policies, which of course feeds into the irrational fanaticism of that small minority of Muslims who react in a grossly disproportionate way and join ISIS.

    What is “this truth”? I am saying that I see no reason to suppose that the invasion of Iraq was intended to be an attack on Islam. You have used words which could be interpreted as suggesting it was – by highlighting a use of the word “crusade” at one point and by giving a particular interpretation to some words use by Tony Blair on which I believe you are very wrong. As I have said, if the invasion really was intended to be some sort of attack on Islam, just where were the actual anti-Islamic aspects?

    It seems to me to be clear that it was about deposing a cruel dictator and hoping that when this was done a decent government would somehow arise. Sure there were also hopes that government would be pro-Western, but I don’t necessarily see that as a contradiction. It was, of course, a very foolish intervention, because as soon became apparent actually there WEREN’T any clear plans to impose any sort of replacement government. It was fairly inevitable that the destabilisation would be used by various factions to try and gain advantage, and that the inevitable violence that would be necessary to depose the dictator was going to be used by those who wished to portray the invasion in the way you seem to want it to be portrayed – and those people are the fanatics we are talking about.

    So, I believe that Blair and Bush were foolish to go ahead with it, but not evil, and I don’t see any signs whatsoever that they were motivated by anti-Islamic feelings. In some ways, if they had taken more direct control and really forced on Iraq a government directly under their control it might have saved the situation from the vicious factionalism that came after.

    There are people here – including many Liberal Democrats – who used this situation to make attacks on Blair for purely domestic reasons, perpetuating this ludicrous notion that the intervention was some sort of Christian attack on Islam, which Isis use to gain support.

  • Selwyn Runnett 30th Jun '15 - 11:20am

    Paul – A very thoughtful and timely contribution to a debate that is often brushed under the carpet. As a Christian Liberal myself, I’ve always thought of the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats as a coalition of Liberals where Christian Liberals, Social Liberals, Secular and Humanist Liberals etc can come together in one Liberal ‘movement’. However, like you, I have sometimes felt unwelcome in the recent past by a vocal group of secular atheists within the Party who hold the view that Liberalism is rational, faith is irrational, therefore faith and Liberalism are incompatible in the 21st Century. The conclusion is therefore that Christian Liberals (and other Liberal s of faith) are at best irrelevant to modern politics and at worst they are ‘fundamentalists’ peddling religious bigotry and extremism. Either way, they are not really welcome in the Party. I hope this view is in the minority because I think it is certainly illiberal. If the Liberal ‘coalition’ is reduced to a Party of secular atheist true believers then I can’t honestly see it having much of a future. Traditionally in the UK, we haven’t had a Christian Democrat Party or Movement, for a number of reasons, but largely because most Christians have felt able to make a full contribution within the existing Parties including the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats, which has a long tradition of Christian Liberalism. I think it would be a sad day if this changes and Christian Liberals are marginalised and so end up with no political voice. So, I do hope voting in this Leadership Election will be based on what each candidate can offer rather than on any form of prejudice based on faith v. secular atheism/agnosticism.

  • Jonathan Pile 30th Jun '15 - 3:38pm

    I agree strongly that the anti-christian attitudes recently expressed in the party are illiberal and that we should tolerate each other’s personal faith, and deeply held belief. We are a broad tolerant coalition as a party or a narrow intolerant sect. The choice we make now is vital for the future.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 1st Jul '15 - 9:45am

    Liberal Faith: it means people of whom believe that sanctity exists in the commitment to enter consensually with others from a set of principles.

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