Opinion: Is faith a problem?

One of the themes which has recurred in the leadership election debates is the question of faith, which I have been hearing in terms of comments on Tim Farron’s Christianity, whether this is a good or a bad thing, how Liberal it is to make an issue over that, and how that places him in relation to Norman Lamb describing himself as agnostic.

This territory is very familiar. For some years I was Secretary of the East of England Faiths Council and very much involved in the engagement of faith and governance. But I have also spent some years doing one-to-one spirituality work, which leaves me very conscious of how much more complex these things are in the realities of an individual.

Religions in general, and Christianity in particular, cover a wide range, from those for whom “believing” something makes it a “true” to those for whom faith is about a deep rootedness which lets them be both resilient and flexible. Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are shining examples of the latter — Nelson Mandela might be an even more striking example of someone whose Christian faith enabled him to step well beyond that label.

I’ll pick up two contrasts:

  • Assisted dying: some years ago there was a legal case where Diane Pretty, in the late stages of Motor Neurone Disease, sought a ruling from the courts to enable her husband to help her end her life without being prosecuted. One senior churchman was quoted as saying that, “while he had considerable sympathy for her situation, there were more important issues of principle at stake”. The brutality of placing his convictions over another’s suffering was shocking (I am not naming him here because I hope the quote mis-represents him). I contrast that with the position of saying “I can’t make this decision for someone else” — which becomes an argument for assisted dying. I find myself leaning to the second position, and inhabit my Christianity as giving me the freedom to not be the ultimate authority, and so to leave the decision to the person affected.
  • Same-sex marriage is often another touchstone. From a Christian perspective, I find myself contrasting those who oppose equal marriage because they need to persuade themselves that God supports their (heterosexual) way of being, with those who trust that God didn’t make a mistake in making people gay.

Deep faith — deep mysticism — is good at being with unknowing. It makes it easy to recognise difference and not be threatened by it. At its best, I see it in the Christian side of the Liberal heritage, where faith resources people’s engagement with politics, but would be deeply uncomfortable at being part of a political party which espoused one religious orthodoxy because that gets in the way of one’s own faith changing. This is caught in the wise cliché “The opposite of faith is certainty” and stands in contrast to all forms of religious fundamentalism.

Friedrich Schleiermacher’s ground-breaking book Speeches on Religion to its Cultured Despisers makes the radical-seeming claim that he was meeting many people outside the Church whose way of being in rejecting Christianity seemed more authentically Christian than he was seeing in the Church. That book was published in 1799 — by an intriguing coincidence, the word “liberal” is used by theologians to describe the stream of thought it began.

I don’t mean that to mis-represent Norman’s description of himself as “agnostic” as something other than that, but Schleiermacher’s language reminds me of the depth in genuine agnosticism, and the limitedness of an overly-narrow definition of “Christian”.

Christianity — or agnosticism — could create certainties that make someone far from Liberal, or could give the rootedness that enables someone to be deeply Liberal.

I have heard unease about Tim as an Evangelical Christian, and others feeling under threat as Christians in part because of this mentality. Both sides of that can be problematic.

By a fascinating coincidence, the article immediately following that on Liberal Democrat Voice is Sal Brinton, another Liberal Democrat of deep Christian faith, sending a Ramadan greeting to British Muslims. There is no sense there of her faith as a barrier to working with people of all faiths and of none across the party and across the UK.

I am an Elder in the United Reformed Church, and from my perspective, what matters is that our new leader has a rootedness and depth which enables them to be flexible but not adrift, to think creatively and foster the creativity of others, and an inner liberty which enables them to foster liberty. I’m drawn to Norman because my instinct is that he inhabits these spaces more naturally.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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94 Comments

  • President Kennedy’s opponents tried to use his religion against him. He made a powerful speech that in a democracy religion must be neither a qualification nor a disqualification for office.

  • Alisdair McGregor 26th Jun '15 - 10:26am

    I’m a pretty damn hardcore atheist, as anyone who knows me will be well aware.

    I’m voting for Tim.

  • David Quayle 26th Jun '15 - 10:35am

    Christian input into debates on gender and sexuality have been pretty illiberal of late and I feel that this is where much of the antipathy towards faith in our Liberal leadership candidates is coming from. Spokespersons for people of faith regularly appear to be trying to promote gender inequality (their stance of female bishops) and are actively anti-gay. The trouble is that then moving on from this to then attempt to ‘disqualify’ liberal people of faith from leadership roles is just as oppressive and illiberal

  • Faith should not be a part of public life, and particularly not education.

    What faith people choose to follow in their own time is up to them, providing it does not impact on others.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Jun '15 - 10:51am

    @Will Mann

    “Faith should not be a part of public life, and particularly not education”

    I hope you are not suggesting that schoolchildren should not be taught ABOUT the major faiths? (as opposed to being indoctrinated in one of them)

  • Glenn Andrews 26th Jun '15 - 10:53am

    Heard Farron a few times now and not once have I heard him mention his religious beliefs…. in the same way as I rarely mention mine (which are the same as Alisdair McGregor’s)…. my leadership voting intentions are the same also.

  • Faith as a problem in as much as;

    – different faiths have different “red lines” that are often mutually exclusive
    – some people of faith seek to impose their morality on everyone including non-adherents
    – when faith trumps secular law-making
    – faith-held views influence policy-making

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 11:09am

    Great article.

    I’m voting for Norman but would have absolutely no problem of principle with a leader with a religious faith.

    Liberalism has strong historical roots in non-conformist religion. These were people who wanted to practice their private (and at the time unconventional) religious faith freely and without fear of discrimination, and saw the relevance to other forms of personal freedom. They also had a social mission in areas like health and education which gained an expression in our social liberalism. Times move on of course, but I’d hate to lose that spirit and those people.

    There is, I’m afraid, a “but” coming. It’s one thing for Tim to say he wouldn’t choose to end his life if his quality of life was becoming intolerable without prospect of improvement because of his own religious views. That’s fine; maybe even admirable. It’s quite another to deny the freedom to choose to others, as is his position on the right to die debate. I find his “liberal case” on this matter deeply, deeply unconvincing. It smacks of cherry-picked evidence to justify a prior conviction that the time of one’s passing is a matter for a higher power and that this should be imposed on people who don’t share his view. He tied himself into similar knots over gay marriage.

    In short, those of religious faith are more than welcome. But I’m troubled where religious faith trumps or threatens to trump a leader’s conviction that others should be free to chose, even if they chose path differing from his own.

  • As a Christian and an LGBTI activist and leader, my faith and liberalism fortify each other. It is not deep faith which forces the believer to desert the care of others but greed. Think temple and money-lenders, and someone’s anger. That is where I am focussed, as my candidate is also.

  • Lizette van Niekerk 26th Jun '15 - 11:22am

    I think it was about time that someone discussed this issue honestly as it has come up consistently during the campaign and seems to be of great concern to many members currently making an important choice. I am a Christian and a Liberal and have never found those beliefs to be in conflict. I am supporting Tim, not because he is a Christian but because he is the best person for the job and will listen to the grassroots campaigners slogging it out in the rain and cold and getting doors slammed in our faces. We need someone with the common touch rather than overly intellectual discussions about Liberalism.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 11:43am

    Lizette – we need both, don’t we?

    It’s absolutely vital to listen to activists, engage and motivate them – of course it is. But it rains in Norman’s North Norfolk too, and you should feel the cold when the wind comes off the North Sea onto Cromer Pier! The doors also have hinges and slam as hard as elsewhere.

    But we didn’t lose in May because we delivered too few Focus leaflets. MPs and candidates went down despite all those things pushed through letterboxes, and despite all those doorstep conversations. There is a huge intellectual task to be done do re-establish what the Lib Dems are for in the minds of the electorate. We need to be consistent and principled in our liberalism, and the throwaway anti-intellectualism at the end of your email is troubling.

    Tim’s position now on the right to choose to die and in the past on gay marriage are genuinely worrying for a party which needs to re-establish its liberal credentials as well as rally its troops.

  • Maybe I am missing the point. I don’t see what Tim’s religion has to do with anything. I have no problem with a leader professing whatever faith they like.

    Equally I would never vote for any leader (or any political party led by somebody), of any faith or none, who failed to vote wholeheartedly for equal marriage when given the opportunity to do so, or who voted against laws protecting gay people from discrimination in the provision of goods and services, or against measures enshrining the legal right for gay people to adopt. These are important, “red line issues” for me.

    I couldn’t care less why Tim voted as he did, or what part his faith played in his decision. I am judging him on his actions, not on his beliefs. This is my personal opinion, everybody voting in the leadership election will form their own. It is, of course, both illiberal and wholly wrong when people in any party (or anywhere, for that matter) experience abuse of any kind because of their faith. But the repeated suggestion that to be concerned about Tim’s voting record is, per se, to be concerned about his religion is beginning to grate on me.

  • Glenn Andrews 26th Jun '15 - 12:16pm

    Sir Norfolk, you say Tim’s position now on the right to choose to die and in the past on gay marriage are genuinely worrying for a party which needs to re-establish its liberal credentials…. it might be worrying if the party leader decided policy; but he doesn’t…. so the rallying of the troops is more imporatant.

  • Mr Norfolk, I’m also a Norfolk-man and believe in equality: Always remember that if we are true to our Liberal and Democratic name – the leader will represent the policies developed by the members. Unfortunately, some previous leaders forgot what we represent, and began to act more like the larger parties around us. Both of our candidates have a chance to go back a little to our principles before going forward and carrying millions of citizens with us once more. We may differ on who that leader should be – but we are listening and voting “for the future of our party” and who is going to listen to us the better – and bring countless votes to every council and parliament we will help to shape.

  • Simon Oliver 26th Jun '15 - 12:45pm

    My concerns with anyone of faith is that it is a way of thinking that places value on the rejection of evidence, and regards certainty in the absence of evidence as praiseworthy. Neither is a good quality in a policy maker, who must always seek out the evidence and make their policies address the real world problems they are supposed to address.

    However, leadership demands that those who follow are inspired and given reasons to believe. It’s very hard to be a good leader when you are unable to convey certainty and hope in contradiction to the evidence.

    Perhaps part of the party re-organisation could be reducing the influence of the party leader on policymaking?

  • I am an atheist, and I disagree with some of this article – the opposite of faith may be certainty from your perspective, Mark, but from mine it is a healthy scepticism, based on evidence.
    But I would be concerned if Tim, as a Christian, had NOT gone some way to listen to the concerns of those of a similar faith to his own, even though I disagree with many, if not all of them. It would in my view, be beneficial, to have a openly-Christian person prominently espousing the views Tim has on equality, and on the essential aspects of Christianity generally (i.e. the ethics of forgiveness and tolerance, rather than, as I said yesterday, believing what Adams called ‘six impossible things before breakfast’) .
    While I can recall being occasionally mildly concerned about where Tim’s religion has led him, it seems to me that only in the wilder reaches of our own party could the idea that Tim Farron is not very, very, liberal be possibly entertained! And I have been horrified by the deeply illiberal line taken by some of his opponents. They risk giving both LGBT+ rights and atheism/secularism/humanism (both of which are important to me) as bad a name as intolerant religious fundamentalism.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 1:10pm

    Glenn & Tony – I totally agree that a leader of a democratic party doesn’t dictate policy.

    But I have to take issue with Glenn’s apparent view that “rallying the troops” is all important and establishing liberal credentials can, for the leader, take a back seat. To be honest, you seem to be looking at the job description of Party President (where I voted for Tim and don’t regret it) and not Party Leader.

    A leader does have to set an agenda, and to make decisions about what aspects of policy to emphasise in Parliamentary debates, interviews and campaigns at the national level. They needn’t agree with every jot and tittle of what conference decides… but they have to be closely in tune with members’ principles and to be authentically, whole-heartedly and clear-headedly liberal. When interviewed and challenged on policy, they can’t afford to say “well, conference has decided X, Y and Z” – they must live it; they must convince.

    And that is the source of my concern with Tim. Nothing to do with his religion, but to do with the conflict he clearly feels between liberal principles and other principles close to his heart, and the obvious difficulty he has resolving these in a plausible, convincing way on issues like gay marriage and the right to die.

  • Discussions on Liberalism vs Religion are becoming the new LDV backdrop. A topic seldom discussed here until recently apart from when MPs (Farron, Teather) voted in a way some felt incompatible with liberalism.

    I think these issues will haunt Tim’s tenure, reinforcing public perception that Lib Dems say one thing when campaigning and do the opposite in Parliament. It’s not my idea of a rebuilding strategy and I hope I’m wrong, but I think if we look at recent discussion we can see the seeds of our next problems. Whether we’re religious or not, whether we support Lamb or Farron, deep down we know a leader that voted against the 2007 Equality Act and then says “I’m in favour of that Act, I was also challenging it” to Pink News is going to be inherently problematic. Just when we needed unity we found the greatest divider of all.

    @GPPurnell
    “only in the wilder reaches of our own party could the idea that Tim Farron is not very, very, liberal be possibly entertained!”

    “Abortion is wrong” – Tim Farron, The War Cry, 24/02/07

    Does this sound “very, very liberal” to you? He recently said that he doesn’t still hold this belief, yet up until 8 years ago he thought it appropriate. I may be wild, but I can read and he wrote this for publication. If you can’t entertain the notion he may be a bit socially conservative you’re describing the parameters of your imagination rather than saying anything about the circumstance. Tim(e) will tell who is right. 😉

    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/06/07/tim-farron-defends-lgbt-voting-record-peter-tatchell-was-on-the-same-side-as-me/
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/24/lib-dem-leadership-tim-farron-abortion-gay-rights

  • How can a person be leader of a ‘liberal’ party that didn’t vote in favour of Gay marriage ?

  • George Carpenter 26th Jun '15 - 2:50pm

    I’m pleased that many of these comments are stating that Tim and Norman’s religious positions don’t affect how they would vote, a welcome change.
    I would also like to refute the position that a few Norman supporters are taking on here, in that Tim didn’t vote for equal marriage. Tim voted for equal marriage, anyone saying anything otherwise is telling a blatant untruth.
    I’m a Liberal and a Christian and I find they both complement each other nicely.

  • Kevin,

    Tim did vote in favour of Gay Marriage, several times. But he voted in favour of a conscience clause amendment for Registrars, and then was absent for the third reading (which you can count as an abstention) of the unamended Bill. He has said he would not do that (abstain) if it came up again, given his absolute support for the principle of equal marriage

    I do not personally agree with that particular conscience clause, but I would not describe wishing to put it in as “illiberal”, given the talk about conformity in our preamble..

    Assisted dying is an issue that does not break along religious lines. Many atheists are against it… Some Christians are in favour (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/jul/09/assisted-dying-christianity-religion) But Lib Dem conference has generally voted for it when it has come up, so Tim is out of line with the mainstream of party activists on this. I am in favour of assisted dying but I would allow MP’s a free vote on this, even Party Leaders!

    Personally I could not believe that the Leader of a “liberal” party could break a pledge made to his electors, when it was always within his power to keep it (he just had to walk through the right lobby). We all have our pre-occupations in politics…

  • David Howarth 26th Jun '15 - 2:59pm

    @kevin
    Both Tim and Norman voted for equal marriage at the Second Reading of the bill and both abstained at the Third Reading. So they both voted for it in the vote on the principle of the bill and neither voted against it on the final vote before it went to the Lords.
    For the Second Reading vote see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130205/debtext/130205-0004.htm at column 231 (Division 151) and for the the Third Reading vote see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130521/debtext/130521-0004.htm at column 1169 (Division 11).

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 4:14pm

    David – that’s not quite the complete story.

    Tim was present but chose not to vote on the third reading because he could not bring himself to support the unamended bill. Norman was abroad on ministerial business but madeabsolutely clear he would have voted “aye” had he been able to attend (he may have been paired – not sure though as I don’t think it was a close vote).

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Jun '15 - 4:40pm

    Sir Norfolk Passmore

    ‘ Tim’s position now on the right to choose to die… genuinely worrying for a party which needs to re-establish its liberal credentials as well as rally its troops.’

    I disagree. Firstly, there is a strong Liberal argument against Assisted Suicide and any form of Euthanasia. This is because Liberals understand the need to balance often conflicting freedoms – self-regarding and other-regarding.

    While a few very strong-minded persons may indeed wish to ‘take control’ and end their lives, such as in the recent case of 54 year old Dignitas member, Jeffrey Spector (who was not terminally but incurably ill), others may be subject to real harm by a weakening of the law.

    In a post-industrial society like ours where there is a growing consciousness of elder abuse (often carried out by carers and close relatives), assisted suicide can easily be regarded as putting vulnerable people at even greater risk of subtle coercion and emotional abuse. This is even more likely if that person has a terminal illness.

    Tellingly, Lord Falconer has recently admitted he thinks assisted suicide is more about existential fears of losing independence than relieving pain of terminal illness, as this can be controlled through palliative care.

    http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/peer-admits-real-reason-he-thinks-terminally-ill-people-should-be-helped-to-die/

    Finally, as this issue is actually a conscience issue, how Tim and the other Liberal Democrat MPs choose to exercise their conscience is up to them. Each person’s conscience is formed variously by their religious values, political beliefs and other influences. It is not for the party to mandate them how to vote.

  • Ben Jephcott 26th Jun '15 - 5:08pm

    The determination of Normtroopers to repeat that black is white is getting tedious. Tim supports LGBT rights and voted for Equal Marriage in a similar way to Norman as David Howarth has explained and does not favour any change in the abortion law as it stands.

    If Norman wins, I hope he does not take his cue on how to proceed from threads like this.

    Reviving the Lib Dems will not come from mounting a party political as opposed to conscience-based campaign on Assisted Suicide, where he lines True Liberals behind the banner of Lord Falconer of Baghdad.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 5:23pm

    Helen – thanks for a thoughtful comment on the issue.

    I do slightly struggle with your characterisation of the anti-right to life argument as a “liberal case”, however, or as about balancing conflicting freedoms.

    I can see that there is a practical risk of elder abuse and coercian. But there is a risk with ANY freedom that another person may seek to strong-arm you into using your freedom in a manner contrary to your own interests. It does smack of sophistry when someone argues against giving someone the freedom to choose on the basis “Ah, I’m not restricting your freedom… I’m balancing your freedom to choose with your freedom not to be coerced into an unwise choice”. I mean, you can justify almost any illiberal measure on that curious basis.

    It MIGHT be the case that an otherwise liberal person would be in favour in principle of the right to die, but for purely practical reasons think it so hard to design an effective regulatory regime that sufficiently protected against abuse my unscrupulous relatives that the benefits couldn’t outweigh the costs. That strikes me as defeatist, and inconsistent with international evidence. But I don’t think that could be described as a “liberal argument” – it’s a purely practical one.

    It MIGHT also be that Tim opposes the right to die, with regret (as a liberal in favour of extending freedoms), on a purely practical basis having studied the evidence in considerable detail. That view MIGHT in no way be informed by his religious faith or a view that it is for God not man to chose the time of our going – his religion may be coincidental. But that isn’t how he’s articulated it – indeed, he’s struggled to articulate it at all.

    On it being a vote of conscience, I agree that it’s right that there are issues where MPs aren’t whipped. There should be more such issues rather than fewer. But the public look to leaders’ views as a way to understand what the party is about and what it’s values are about. For example, capital punishment is a free vote, but you surely agree it would be peculiar and confusing for people were a hanger and flogger to take charge of the Lib Dems.

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 5:30pm

    Ben – you’re wrong on gay marriage . Tim supported wrecking amendments and could not bring himself to back the bill on third reading when those failed. Norman did not support wrecking amendments and made clear he would have voted for the bill on third reading were he not out of the country on ministerial business. In fairness, Tim has since then admitted he was wrong and that’s great. But it doesn’t give me confidence in his ability to lead on LGBT or broader liberal issues.

    On the right to die, the “someone else who supports the right to die is a bit of a nasty man, so anyone who supports it is a nasty man” is too silly an argument to bother to engage with.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jun '15 - 5:32pm

    Unless it is religious extremism then I don’t see it as a problem. However I must say I don’t agree with Lamb banging on about it all the time. Never did I think Lamb was going to try to win the leadership by pitching to the left of Farron, but that is broadly what he has tried to do. If the party run its national campaigns on this kind of thinking then it would be a disaster.

  • “Tim supported wrecking amendments”

    That is an interpretation which is at variance with anything Tim has said at the time or since, as far as I am aware….

  • David Allen 26th Jun '15 - 6:41pm

    Leadership of a political party means leadership on all the major questions of political philosophy: the economy, the environment, fairness and justice, civil liberties, war and peace, centralism versus localism, Britain’s place in the world.

    Issues such as assisted dying, gay marriage, and abortion are specific issues of conscience. They should be decided by a free vote in Parliament. It would be grossly illiberal to impose a party whip vote on any such questions (and the idea would equally offend most socialists and conservatives).

    It is quite irrelevant to the leadership debate, therefore, what views Tim Farron might or might not have expressed on any of these issues of conscience. If it were true that Farron had supported “wrecking amendments” on gay marriage (which I believe is in fact basically an incorrect charge), then I might feel a little less inclined to feel any sense of personal friendship. But it would make no difference at all to what I thought of him as a leadership candidate, where I judge – and I think we should all judge – on the basis of his ability to tackle the major questions of political philosophy I listed in my first paragraph. On that basis I think Tim is our stronger candidate.

    Only extreme fanaticism should be considered a barrier to leadership – that gross perversion of belief or faith which enables an individual to support terrorism, genocide or war in aggressive pursuit of a religious or political belief. Tim Farron is a million miles away from that.

  • As a Christian and a Liberal Democrat I have found the debate on here interesting. I have welcomed the changes brought about often by Liberals on abortion, rights for LGBT groups etc. I have no problem with gay marriage in a civil context, but do support the exemption for churches etc. Maybe this is a hypocritical view. Interestingly unlike the USA most of the clergy I know have liberal views. Pro supporting asylum seekers, the Human Rights Act, etc.

    I ale believe that MPs even leaders must have a right to vote on these sort of issues as a matter of conscience not being whipped into line. Tim has wound himself up in knots on some of these issues. He would frankly be better saying he can’t support x as a matter of conscience. However I will still probably vote for him, irrespective of his faith because the party needs a rotweiler not a competent minister, which Norman clearly was hen in office.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 26th Jun '15 - 6:52pm

    Where is the tolerance in our party, and the statement enshrined that we should not be enslaved by conformity? I can’t remember it being an issue when Simon Hughes stood for party leader. Freedom to hold a belief or religion is enshrined as a human right. With all this talk of ‘true liberalism’ apparently some people in the Liberal Democrats think its a good stick to beat a candidate they are not supporting. A completely illiberal & intolerant position to hold.

  • David Howarth 26th Jun '15 - 7:05pm

    @ Sir Norfolk
    Was Norman also away on ministerial business for these six votes? (Tim wasn’t and voted for equal marriage.)
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140305/debtext/140305-0004.htm#140305-0004.htm_para38

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Jun '15 - 7:12pm

    Sir Norfolk Passmore

    It is not a practical argument but a Liberal argument against the introduction of assisted suicide and/or euthanasia on the grounds of the harm such a ‘deregulation’ of the law would allow. We are hoping that there will be ‘sufficient’ safeguards to protect terminally ill people from either coercion or not acting freely. Yet the Falconer Bill when it was proposed, did not allow for a full psychiatric test on any person requesting doctor-assisted suicide. Now some say, ‘oh well we can adjust this.’ Falconer did not want a psychiatric test included as he thought it unnecessary. As depression is a very common response to diagnosis of terminal illness, this omission is reckless at best and gives us every indication that safeguards will not be adequate to protect the vulnerable from making a decision from which there is no way back.

    It is not defeatist to flag up the serious consequences and potential harm to individuals and society. Evidence shows this from other countries. For example, the numbers of assisted suicides increases each year in every country it has been introduced and mainly in the elderly population (av. age 72).

    International evidence: In Oregon, the most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were surveyed in 2014 and came out as existential: loss of autonomy (91.4%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.7%) and not fear of physical suffering. The reason is that hospice care is outstanding in Oregon. In the UK is is patchy – some areas do not have it at all.

    Now if we as a party advocate and lead on outstanding mental health care (as Norman Lamb has) and also outstanding provision for palliative care, then at some point in the future assisted suicide could be discussed. We are by no means ready for such a programme however and it is reckless in my view to argue that this is a liberal priority when there are other liberal priorities which balance more naturally with our equal concern for community.

    It is as well to recall that our preamble states very clearly: ‘ we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience .’ We as a party have always championed the role of conscience and we have always allowed MPs to vote on conscience matters according to their individual discretion. Why should that change?

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 10:17pm

    David – Norman was 100% consistent on gay marriage and made clear his wholehearted support from the start. Ministers have a lower attendance record than backbenchers – for example, Norman was visiting a mental health unit for the third reading. Tim himself has said he regrets his decision not to back gay marriage on the third reading, and that his decision was because he had qualms. Fair play to him for that – I’d say “there’s more joy in heaven…” etc but possibly not the thread! But his first call was, by his own admission, wrong.

    Helen – I genuinely respect your views and agree that improvements in palliative care are deeply important, as did Norman as care minister. I don’t believe they amount to a liberal argument, however. Almost all of us have had relatives or friends who have had difficult, slow deaths. Palliative care can only go so far in that respect – there comes a point where life is hard to tolerate and the prospects of improvement are nil. For myself – as best as I can judge and in line with Tim – I’d want to hang on regardless. But I can see others feel differently and, as a liberal, I strong;y believe they should have that option.

  • @ Meral I agree it is illiberal not to accept other people’s religious views. That is what fuels so much of the religious discord, even hatred, we see on our television screens today. People have a right to their religious beliefs and to practise their religion – that is enshrined in the Human Rights Act – but of course things were more ‘straightforward’ in the UK when the state and the church were, more or less, of one mind . Today religious believers are in the minority and our laws are increasingly grounded in secular thinking. Where will this all end? Well as a Christian I am troubled, but I cannot impose my views on others.

  • Helen Tedcastle 26th Jun '15 - 11:22pm

    Sir Norfolk Passmore

    Thank you for your reply. I disagree completely with your claim that the argument against the introduction of assisted suicide is not a liberal argument. Quite simply, other-regarding and self-regarding actions must both be accounted for in this conscience issue. The fact that I put the emphasis on other-regarding actions rather more than you do – is the difference between us.

    The fact that we live in a society means that Liberals must consider what is the common good for others and what might well bring them harm, as they might not have made a wholly free choice. It might well have been influenced by coercion, depression (often easily disguised) and other factors such as fear of being a burden.

    I have already explained twice to you that evidence shows in the places where assisted suicide is practised, the most common reason for ending life is existential, not as a result of pain. Where palliative care is of high quality and well-provided, as in Oregon, physical pain and suffering is not the reason given for deciding to end one’s life.

    As a Liberal, I strongly believe in protecting the vulnerable from harm as much as I value my own personal freedom.

  • David Howarth 26th Jun '15 - 11:47pm

    @ Sir Norfolk
    It’s hardly ‘wholehearted support’ to miss seven votes.
    You are also wrong about Norman’s attendance record. It was better as a minister from 2010-15 (72%) than it was as in opposition from 2005-2010 (71%) (http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?id=uk.org.publicwhip/member/41222), As it happens, it was also better than Tim’s attendance record in 2010-15 (59%) (http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?id=uk.org.publicwhip/member/40816).
    Why do you keep making assertions that are easily refuted using publicly available information?

  • Sir Norfolk Passmore 26th Jun '15 - 11:51pm

    Hi Helen,

    There is evidence both ways on the effect of assisted dying in those places where it is practiced,

    I do still find your argument hard to reconcile on liberal grounds. For instance, your final comment is “I strongly believe in protecting the vulnerable from harm as much as I value my own personal freedom”. But opposing the right to die is not really about your “own personal freedom”. It is about those whose right to end their own life you deny. As it happens, I tend to agree with you….hard though it is to imagine (thankfully) at this time in my life, I think I would want to cling on. But I respect those with another view, and would like them to have a choice.

    We obviously will not agree on this. I want you to know, however, how much I respect your view and welcome you as part of the party whoever prevails.

  • Kevin Manley 27th Jun '15 - 12:14am

    I don’t see what the problem is and as the proverbial “aggressive secularist” and atheist I am surprised to find myself dismayed at those who are arguing that Tim’s religion should somehow bar him from the leadership, and dismayed that Norman Lamb (who I think doth protest too much when pushed on this pushpolling thing) seems to be turning things negative by bringing up abortion and gay marriage at every opportunity and trying to imply ever so subtly that Tim is some extreme religious nutjob.

    If – if – Tim is against gay marriage and abortion, then that’s up to him and he is entitled to think that and whilst I would disagree quite strongly with him on those issues that would not in itself stop me voting for him – its not an integrity issue. But the fact is he isn’t against either of those things, albeit that he might think the time limit for aborton should be brought down, but thats not a faith-based view but an evidence-based view. He’s explained this numerous times.

    What I can’t bring myself to do however, even though I quite like Norman Lamb, is vote for someone who, for convenience, cast aside a personal pledge made to his voters by voting for the tuition fee rise, losing all integrity in the process, and who voted for the bedroom tax. Its stuff like that that’s got the party in this mess in the first place.

  • Kevin Manley 27th Jun '15 - 12:26am

    Whats much more important to me is Tim seems to have a better understanding about why the party was all but annihilated at the election, of who the party is supposed to be standing up for, and how its going to get out of this mess.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jun '15 - 12:43am

    Sir Norfolk Passmore

    You are asking for me to value my alleged choice or right (the ‘right’ to die is not in the UN declaration of human rights nor is it in the EU charter of fundamental rights) over the real prospect of putting others in harm’s way ie: some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

    I have explained a perfectly Liberal argument to you over and over again. Where I put the emphasis of other-regarding over self-regarding actions is different to you. We will agree to disagree but please do not tell me that my argument is not a Liberal one or not ‘True liberal’ or that despite your misgivings over my liberal purity, I am still welcomed to a party I have actually belonged to for thirty years.

  • I object to the way in which the word ‘faith’ has been hijacked by religious people enabling them to throw around the term ‘no faith’ as some kind of insult to people who are not religious.

    What this discussion is about is ‘religious faith’ which despite having it pushed down my throat as a child I am thankfully free of. However that doesn’t stop me following a moral code, rejoicing in my family or contemplating my place in a complicated and mysterious universe.

    I am not ashamed to be extremely anxious at the prospect of a seriously religious person leading our party. We have to accept, unfortunately, that some people of religious faith have an agenda that would make many liberals nervous. There is a recent example in Tory MP Eric Pickles, who used his position in government to promote religious prayers being inserted into the formal agendas of council meetings and that was wrong.

  • @Helen. Well put . I absolutely agree with you. I too believe the greatest good lies in protecting those people who feel they might be becoming a nuisance and a burden because of their illness. Without firm laws prohibiting assisted suicide, the generous and best of them might think I will ask to die for the sake of my family. That question would always be in their minds. It would haunt them day after day. It would become an intolerable weight to bear.

  • David Howarth 27th Jun '15 - 9:06am

    On assisted dying, may I just say, as someone who was once responsible for the party’s position on the issue in the Commons, that I found it (even as someone who doesn’t practise a religion) extraordinarily difficult.
    On the one hand, it is clearly a violation of the principle of autonomy to forbid suicide. But on the other, a person who needs assistance to kill him- or herself has already lost autonomy to a very considerable extent and is dependent on others, so the principle of autonomy itself cannot resolve the issue. The key problem for me was always whether there could be sufficient safeguards. I was never quite convinced that we had found a way to do that, although Charlie Falconer’s bill makes a good effort in that direction.
    Another very serious problem is the question of mental illness, especially depression, which, as anyone who has had it will tell you, often repeatedly prompts involuntary thoughts of suicide. I don’t think the proponents of assisted dying are suggesting that we should assist the suicides of the depressed, but diagnosis of depression is far from certain, not least because to a very great extent it depends on what the patient is prepared to reveal to the doctor.
    I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who thinks it’s obvious or easy. To attempt to make support for assisted dying a shibboleth of liberalism strikes me as utterly bizarre.

  • I find the notion of ‘true liberalism’ slightly alarming. It reminds me of wizards and witches being rounded up and interrogated to see if they had any ‘mud blood’ in them.

  • @ Phyllis. I agree. And more importantly, the party will implode if the argument about ‘what true liberalism’ starts to dominate our agenda. It is not where most people are at. Do we want to focus on developing policies to help real people living ordinary lives or become inward-looking and eccentric?

  • personal faith is not a problem. but politicalised faith plainly is. Just look at the news. The thing about religion is that it isn’t a choice. It’s actually a form of indoctrination that starts at birth. By including religions into the political process we are condoning sometimes health threatening, freedom restricting indoctrination elevating religious values to a level of importance they should not command. The fact that people go to Church, or Synagogue, Mosque, or worship anything doesn’t bother me. The fact that their beliefs are given more political clout than say Satanists, Flatearthers, people who believe in pixies and Ufologists does bother me. I do not see why fantastical mythologies should have any say in what people who do not believe in fantastical mythologies should or shouldn’t be allowed to do.

  • I can completely understand why LGBT+ Liberals are anxious about Tim’s Christianity because they have been hounded by the Church for centuries and are only now achieving equality. However for many years there have been Christians who are gay and clergy who would perform a marriage ceremony in secret. So Christians come in many shapes and sizes, they are not all Pharisees. Having faith involves developing, changing, not casting the first stone and I believe that Tim will never abuse his Christianity by harming others.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jun '15 - 2:55pm

    Glenn

    ‘ The thing about religion is that it isn’t a choice.’ I’m afraid that statements like these have a tendency to come across as absolutist in nature. All people in all religions each and every time have no choice? Can you verify that with any evidence?

    The line that really all religion is superstition is an old line which is based on little depth of understanding of religious teachings and practices beyond superficial externalities.

    It is interesting to note that in countries where religious belief and practice is actively discouraged and indeed persecuted as in China, ancestor worship, fortune-telling and the burning of paper money to assist the dead in the next world, are widespread. These kind of practices are discouraged strongly by the Christian Church on the grounds of being… superstition.

  • Paul Brownsey 27th Jun '15 - 3:11pm

    ‘ The thing about religion is that it isn’t a choice.’

    If your religion is to be understood in terms of what you *believe*, then it is hard to see that religion can be a choice unless we can choose what we believe. Can we do that? Can I choose to believe that you are the reincarnation of Elizabeth Tudor? I can pretend to believe it, of course; I can choose to act as though I believed it; but neither of these is choosing to believe it.

    Likewise, if I believe that the tree in my garden embodies the spirits of Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha–well, can I choose NOT to believe it?

    I know we have the phrase, “I don’t choose to believe that,” but that can usually be cashed out as: “I choose not to act as though I believed that.”

  • “It is interesting to note that in countries where religious belief and practice is actively discouraged and indeed persecuted as in China, ancestor worship, fortune-telling and the burning of paper money to assist the dead in the next world, are widespread. These kind of practices are discouraged strongly by the Christian Church on the grounds of being… superstition.”

    Well that’s the church for you! Just before the election the Archbishop of Canterbury was calling on a future government to address “economic inequality in the UK”. That of course was not an offer from the Anglican church to start paying tax on its £6.1 billion of investments & estates under management!

  • Denis Loretto 27th Jun '15 - 3:59pm

    I wonder how comfortable are (for example) Muslim Lib Dem members with this thread? Some of the posters get very close to on one hand questioning the right of people who hold any religious belief to be regarded as liberal while on the other hand specifying precise policy positions which they have set up as a kind of liberal orthodoxy. It gets precious close to bigotry at times.

    I think Tim Farron is a liberal down to his bootstraps . He has made it clear that he personally supports gay marriage rights and if he is guilty of anything it is going a bit too far in trying to reach out to those of his co-religionists who he sees struggling with this despite being liberal in their general attitudes. We must bear in mind how far all this has come in recent times after many decades (centuries?) of entrenched defence of the concept of marriage being confined to man/woman relationships. The recent Irish referendum result is a profoundly welcome demonstration of how things have changed even in communities thought not to be in the forefront of progressive thinking on such matters. Let’s celebrate that and the even more recent decision by the USA supreme court rather than vilifying Tim Farron or anyone else for showing some understanding for people who are still catching up with the what they see as a whirlwind of change.

  • Paul.
    I’m not sure I get your point. My point is very simple. A lot of people are brought up within religions and have little choice but to follow that religion. Whether they believe in a deep sense is less important than the customs imposed on them and the restriction sometimes placed on the irreligious to placate religions. To me tolerance is a very different concept to indulgence and compliance. I think that a lot of what of is currently seen as tolerance in fact acts as a licence to perpetuate sometimes oppressive practices. I would never restricted someone’s right to follow their faith, but this does not mean I have think it’s special or needs protecting from criticism or should be listened to anymore seriously than any other set of fantastical beliefs.

  • Helen.
    Oh please, all the major religions and most of the minor ones rely on families bringing up children within the faith. Sure, their are adult converts, but they are tiny minority. Then their is the pressure to remain within faith based communities through marriage etc.
    Fine, you’re religious. I’m not. And China is hardly indicative of secular countries is it? Plus religious one s are clearly more repressive than ones that separate state from religion. I don’t even get you’re pint a bout superstition or folk customs. Plenty of Christians knock on wood, avoid walking under ladders and burn incense,. If the Chinese go in for ancestor worship that is their business and it has nothing to do with them being irreligious as they’ve been doing it for thousands of years. It wasn’t invented by Mao. I live in Leicester, Hindus throw coconut shells and coins onto bonfires during Holi. They also put pots and coins in the storm drains and canals when relatives die. The ancient Britons liked to throw swords and money into water. Most ritualised behaviour has deep cultural roots going back millennia. I have nothing against it, but I wouldn’t insist that the schooldays begins with ancestor worship, money burning or knocking on wood nor would I demand that Jedi’s or Pagan’s or Scientologists or Pastafarians needed a head of state or community representatives. permanent seats in the House of Lords and should be consulted on medical matters or gay marriage. Although in the case of Pastafarians it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The point is that I’m not against people’s customs or beliefs. I just refuse to give them a special credence based on spurious claims to divinity and congregation size or whatever.

  • Simon Banks 27th Jun '15 - 8:03pm

    The system’s just told me my comment is too long – without specifying the maximum. Pity.

    So here’s part of what I wanted to say!

    How on earth can your basic values, about things like life and death and love and violence and lies and truth, not impact on your politics? To ask religious people to keep their religion out of politics is to ask them to split themselves. For many Liberals who have a faith, it’s their understanding of that faith that leads them to Liberalism. I can’t see how I can separate my Quaker beliefs and my personal religious insights from my political values. They are not identical for a start because they deal with issues at different levels: for example, as a Liberal and as a Liberal Christian I believe people should be helped to take power, to speak out and to find their own paths, but how that plays out in terms of local government finance or the snoopers’ charter is a political issue.

    I find it depressing that some people here have talked about, for instance, input of religious leaders on woman bishops as if it’s all negative. They seem to be cherry-picking the reactionary bits. After all, women bishops are an issue because many people in the C of E including the present and previous archbishops of Canterbury have pressed their cause and a major change is happening. That couldn’t be without a lot of religious people fighting for it. And the C of E is a fairly conservative organisation in the sense that it moves rather slowly. Many religious groups have had no distinction between women and men in positions of authority for ages.

    Many protests against power have come from religious people. Quakers had a huge impact on pacifism. Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany laid down their lives for freedom and justice.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th Jun '15 - 10:39pm

    Glenn
    ‘… all the major religions and most of the minor ones rely on families bringing up children within the faith. Sure, their are adult converts, but they are tiny minority. Then their is the pressure to remain within faith based communities through marriage etc’

    In Western Europe and the US this is not the case though is it, considering the demographic trends are pointing downwards in the numbers of people identifying as ‘religious.’ So your claim that people have no choice whether to carry on in a religions they were brought up bares no relation to fact, certainly in the northern hemisphere.

    In Latin America, there are shifts from Roman Catholicism to Protestant Evangelicalism, so again, if religion was set like stone in someone’s mind, as you imply, they would not be switching.

    My point about China was that where religious practice is in decline, there is a tendency in the culture to resort to or return to superstitious practices. Religious observance and superstitious practice like fortune-telling may rub along in parallel in some cultures such as in Mexico but in China it is a big cultural and social practice. Indeed in England, the rise of the new age culture, belief in angelology and crystals, lucky charms, are another response to the lessening grip of Christianity on the culture. Here it may well have more echoes with pre-Christian superstitions of ancient Britain.

    I would expect to see more such practices not less if the demographics are to be believed. This suggests again that people are doing their own thing when it comes to belief and constructing a DIY belief system of their own. There is no suggestion that people are any less spiritual than previous generations – they are expressing it in increasingly eclectic ways.

  • Helen.
    China practiced that kind of thing befor Marxism so it is a sign of them returning to supersticious practices, They’ve been doing it for thousands of years. it’s an ingrained part of Chinese culture. Hindus still practice similar kinds of tradition. As do a lot of South American Catholics. Cultural traditions in China have to do with the decline of religion as you see it because they were never part of the Abrahamic religions in the first place. They have carried on for thousands of years because they are built in to the fabric of Chinese culture. And nor are the traditions of Hinduism anything to do with the decline of religion. . So I think your point is muddled at best and seems to be based on the idea that middle eastern monotheism is a universally shared cultural experience or that I should draw a distinction between superstition and “proper religion”. It isn’t and I don’t and nor do I separate them from my own occasional bi-polar flights of delusions. Actually. I’d love it if fantastical mythology was real and pixies, werewolves, ghosts, god, tantric flight, the Lady in the Lake and my ability to alter the fabric of space were demonstrably real, but they ain’t, Whereas maths, science and reason pass every test every time which is why I believe in the absolute separation of religion and state.
    As for the other stuff I stick by it.

  • Helen Tedcastle: “It is interesting to note that in countries where religious belief and practice is actively discouraged and indeed persecuted as in China, ancestor worship, fortune-telling and the burning of paper money to assist the dead in the next world, are widespread. These kind of practices are discouraged strongly by the Christian Church on the grounds of being… superstition.”

    This is a rather disturbing comment, especially as I believe Helen has described herself as being an expert on world religions and someone who has been responsible for teaching religion, in an impartial way, to youth. The distinction between “religion” (implicitly good) and “superstition” (implicitly bad) is an artificial one designed to justify prejudices favouring one religion over another. We can see where that leads to with ISIS and similar fundamentalist movements, which have dynamited centuries-old Muslim shrines and forbidden popular practices on the ground of their being “superstitious.” For centuries, Protestants condemned such Catholic practices as the lighting of candles to saints, wearing medals, praying the rosary, and so forth as “superstitious.”

    As Glenn pointed out, both “ancestor worship” (which is actually the respectful commemoration of ancestral spirits) and burning of money for the dead (which is no stranger than many Christian funereal practices) are entrenched religious practices which have been around for centuries. They hardly merit the name of “superstition” except from the bigoted points of view which label any foreign religious practice “superstitious.” As for fortune telling, it can be found coexisting with every religion (and non-religion) everywhere around the world. Divination was much practiced in mediæval Europe, not exactly the standard for a secular society.

    In short, Helen’s remarks seem to reflect a European Christian bias, and exemplify exactly the kinds of worries I had the last time we exchanged words about the appropriateness of faith instruction in the schools. I simply do not trust teachers, even those who (like Helen) consider themselves very well informed, to get it right and not import their own biases into the instruction.

  • Also, I find statements like “belief in angelology [is] another response to the lessening grip of Christianity” almost impossible to make sense of. Angelology is, of course, a very traditional Christian preoccupation, perhaps frowned on by Protestant Christian “great tradition,” but very much alive at the popular level for centuries. If anything, I might say that it’s an attempt by self-identified Christians to find a source of spiritual consolation and, perhaps, material empowerment, that fits their inherited religious beliefs despite being outside the scope of what their church teaches. One might regard it not as a response to the “lessening grip of Christianity,” but rather the continued vigour of Christian ideas despite the failure of Christian churches to appeal to a certain kind of spiritual need.

  • David Howarth 28th Jun '15 - 9:11am

    @Geo
    I am horrified by what you have said. It is fundamentally shameful to use religion to divide the party. Using religion as a wedge issue has destroyed all hope of reasonable politics in the US and if we allow the same tactic to get a hold here it will destroy us too.
    (Also, what you say is utter rubbish as a matter of fact. What about the apophatic tradition, in which God is unknowable, the deist one, in which God is absent, or the anti-theist one in which God is not a being but rather the ground of being? In none of those is God some kind of supernatural boss handing out instructions.)

  • @Geo Meadows

    well I am an atheist.. So I think the “word of God” is actually just the voice of personal conscience, dressed up in Faith…

    In those circumstances I would prefer “God” to trump everything than a “coalition agreement” to trump everything. Hence I voted Tim (who actually has shown on many occasions that God does not trump everything anyway…)

    Norman Lamb voted with the government on every whipped vote (like a lamb to the slaughter…) On several occasions when his conscience (and political judgement) told him the Leadership was wrong (tuition fees, bedroom tax, secret courts) Tim rebelled and voted against (not just sitting on the fence by abstaining). I admire him for it. The Whips have far too much power in our political system and MPs are supposed to represent their electors, not the Party Leader

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jun '15 - 1:05pm

    “All the major religions have, at one time or another, come up with the same Golden Rule, that one should do unto others as one wants them to do unto you.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Armstrong

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jun '15 - 1:51pm

    Pharisees are mentioned in the new testament, but they were Jews, not Christians. Early Christians were both.
    Today large numbers of people follow two religions simultaneously if the religions are non-exclusive.

    The majority of us who have not been an MP or an MEP should realise how difficult it can be, for instance if the standing orders prevent tabling amendments.

    When we campaign on human rights legislation we should note that there are fewer absolute rights in the European version than in the USA. Articles 2, 3 and, in practice, 4 of the ECHR are absolute. In the USA conflict between absolute rights leads to too much work for lawyers, with consequent delay and expense.

    What does the right to life mean?
    Should Michael Schumacher be kept alive as long as he has money?
    Thou shall not kill. Are we looking for loopholes in the Ten Commandments or suffering from a mistranslation? If a mistranslation, was there an effective body of law defining murder as different from other deaths at the time that Moses brought in these rules?

    The ECHR is a living document, unlike the American, and therefore evolves. Those who treat the writings of John Stuart Mill as almost equivalent to holy writ, should recognise that he accepted capital punishment, a form of murder by the state. Federalism in the USA allows some states to do this. Amnesty International reports show Texas as the worst offender.

    Consider immigration policy in the UK. A man comes from a country in which polygamy is legal, documented with a valid passport. He claims asylum on the basis of political or religious or ethnic persecution and is granted or wins on appeal. A wife arrives, with a marriage certificate, and is granted leave to enter or remain in line with her husband. Another wife arrives, also with a genuine marriage certificate. Check the policy and find that the UK recognises monogamy. Should the wife who arrives second in the UK get a second-rate immigration status? what if hers was the earlier marriage and both still subsist? The situation in the country of origin has not improved. Now, as an aspiring candidiate or MP take up the case and try to legislate.

    The House of Lords has done us a useful service by debating assisted suicide. Painful as it is to read Lords Hansard or watch the debate on the Parliament Channel we should recognise the genuine emotions expressed, including from several disabled members.

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th Jun '15 - 2:06pm

    David-1

    My comments on religion and superstition were a direct response to Glenn’s comment. The latter claimed that superstitions and religious faith were the same. My reply was to set out why this is not in fact the case. Hence the point about China, a society where certain popular folk practices are in full swing, although religious faith has been suppressed for many decades there (although there is a strong trend upwards in recent years towards Catholicism).

    That suggests to me that there is a longing for spiritual affirmation and indeed ritual among populations. You are right that often these folk traditions run in parallel and become seamless in a dominant tradition. I made that point in response to Glenn aswell.

    My point about New Age practices in relation to the UK was that as mainstream Christian culture appears to be lessening its grip on the religious imagination of people, there has been a growth in folk practices/superstitions. Many English towns have New Age shops which sell a variety of such materials – it’s a mix of folk lore, practices loosely derived variously from Judeao-Christian culture (angels is one but the emphasis is different – more on promotion of positive feelings and less on the role of angels found in biblical tradition).

    To try to equate my response to Glenn and my using the word ‘superstition’ to describe folklore and practices with Islamist militants blowing up what they regard as idols in Iraq, is stretching credulity to breaking point. It is simply pointing out that mainstream religious traditions appear to have less impact on the popular imagination, certainly in the UK than they did and this is fact is in parallel to the popularity of folk traditions and DIY spiritualities. I have never claimed to be an expert on religion by the way.

    Geo Meadows

    ‘The bottom line for anyone with a god based religious faith is that in the limit, almost by definition, god trumps everything.’

    Patently untrue and a ridiculous caricature, which you have shared for your own reasons.

    As David Howarth comments, Christian thought and reflection on God is a good deal more profound than you are stating. It might be worth looking into and learning a bit more before posting on the subject.

  • @David Howarth
    Big respect for you and your work, but if you were really “horrified” about what Geo Meadows said how will you stomach the road ahead? We’re all going to have to adjust to this discussion, it’s becoming a mainstay. To do that we’ll probably have to suspend horror, disgust and outrage from the dialogue if we’re to get anywhere. I have big misgivings about being represented by someone who doesn’t share my views on equal marriage, abortion, embryological research, the relationship between business and government, assisted dieing, etc; talking it through might make it easier and help us collectively work out what a good response on these subjects might look like.

    This is the beginning of the next chapter and as I understand it you’re one of the more prominent authors. Even after your horror, you retort with “what you say is utter rubbish as a matter of fact”, yet I suspect you’re aware that monotheistic religions with omnipotent deities dominate the modern religious landscape. It might not be the only view, but it’s certainly the largest mode, so I feel that your outrage might of been a little melodramatic and in my view it’s this sort of reaction that typifies the American political landscape that you’re so eager to denounce.

    I thought Andrew’s point above was excellent, and much more the sort of pro-Farron argument that could effectively counter some of these points.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Jun '15 - 4:42pm

    ‘The bottom line for anyone with a god based religious faith is that in the limit, almost by definition, god trumps everything.’

    Hinduism has many gods. The Buddha was not a god. Religions come into conflict when they claim exclusivity, which often means mono-theism.

    Imagine a country where most people are Roman Catholic or Christian Orthodox, but partially suppressed by atheist communists. Relax the power of the communists and the others go to war, in Europe, in the former Yugoslavia, not yet fully healed.

  • David Allen 28th Jun '15 - 4:57pm

    “The bottom line for anyone with a god based religious faith is that in the limit, almost by definition, god trumps everything.”

    This is not “patently untrue and a ridiculous caricature”. But it is very often quite untrue in respect of persons of religious faith. It depends on the nature of the individual’s personal faith.

    If it is a fanatical, fundamentalist belief – such as that held by ISIS and, I would argue, by the most extreme Christian fundamentalists such as Bush and Blair – then yes, God trumps everything.

    However, the majority of religious believers clearly do not have that type of faith. Some believers would in fact argue that God leaves it up to the individual to make their own moral decisions. A believer of that kind would not be dictated to by their God, but would take moral responsibility for deciding all their own actions.

    Many believers, I think, take an intermediate stance. They essentially argue that “God trumps everything” in dictating to them how they should conduct their personal lives, but not that they should attempt to dictate the moral stances that others should take. Thus for example, a believer with that kind of belief system might have a moral objection to personally committing suicide under any circumstances, but nevertheless support the right of others to do so.

    Tim Farron seems to me to have made it fairly clear that his beliefs align with this last category. Thus, he would treat issues like assisted dying as matters of individual conscience, rather than topics on which a party leader should seek to lead the direction of his party. Speaking as a convinced unbeliever, I have no problem whatsoever in supporting a leader with that form of religious faith.

  • Paul Brownsey 28th Jun '15 - 5:01pm

    Glenn says, “Paul.
    I’m not sure I get your point. ”

    I do not really know how to make it clearer. I did say expressly that i was concerned with religion considered in terms of a set of *beliefs*, and claimed that you cannot choose what you believe. You cannot choose to believe that your brother is Harry Potter. You can pretend to believe it, but that does not mean you believe it. You may indeed believe it, but you did not make a choice to believe it, like choosing lunch from a hospital menu.

    So if someone believes that same-sex marriage gets up God’s nose, that is not something they have chosen to believe.

    I grant that quite often when people talk of religion being a choice, they mean, not beliefs pure and simple, but a complex of practices and customs. If religion is conceived in that way, then one *can* choose whether to continue with it or not. But that is not quite choosing to *believe*.

  • David Howarth 28th Jun '15 - 5:49pm

    I really was horrified. I am still horrified. Religious tolerance is fundamental to liberalism. For members of the party to be applying a religious test to an office within the party betrays the whole liberal tradition. And to turn the issues you refer into tests of liberalism and to claim that there is only one liberal answer to them, is to invite a Kulturkampf that will eventually do liberals nothing but harm.
    As to monotheism, I was challenging Geo’s view that all believers in a God by that very fact believe that they are subject to orders from a supernatural being. As Mark was pointing out at the start of this, that is not so. It fails to understand the development of Christian theology over the past two centuries. I’m not denying that there are such people. I’m just denying Geo’s claim that all monotheists are like that.
    (I repeat that I’m not a practitioner of any religion, but I am trying to understand, not just to dismiss, religious points of view).

  • David Howarth 28th Jun '15 - 6:13pm

    Sorry – that was to ChrisB!

  • Helen.
    Once again those practices were never not in full swing in China is my point. The fact that they are still practiced has nothing to with suppression. It’s actually in spite of suppression. You simply have no grasp of the difference between Western and Eastern cultures. There are no parallels with New Ageism, which peaked in the 70s and 80s anyway. Hindus are not filling a spiritual void caused by religious doubt either. Again it’s an entirely different culture with an entirely different history as is China. They are simply doing what they’ve always done. And Helen there isn’t a massively strong uptake of Catholicism in mainland China, there’s a small one in Hong Kong. Though given your religious affiliations you will insist there is.
    The reason I don’t draw a distinction between what you call superstition and religion is because there isn’t one as far as I’m concerned. They are all beliefs in supernatural and quasi-supernatural forces as expressed through ritualised behaviour whether they are monotheist, pantheist or whatever. Anyway this is way off subject, you aren’t convincing me and I not you.

    On subject Tim Farron seems like a thoughtful chap, mostly has a decent voting record and would make a fine Lib Dem leader as far as I can tell.

  • Toby Keynes 28th Jun '15 - 7:59pm

    “I really was horrified. I am still horrified. Religious tolerance is fundamental to liberalism. For members of the party to be applying a religious test to an office within the party betrays the whole liberal tradition.”
    @ David Howarth

    I’m afraid it’s a fact of life that in a party with as many members as ours, a small percentage will vote against any candidate who says they have a religious belief, while others will vote against any candidate who says they don’t.

    It’s unfortunate, but I really don’t think it’s something we should lose sleep about.

    We should certainly try to persuade them otherwise, but ultimately the two should more-or-less cancel one another out, and they’re hugely outnumbered by those who will vote on the basis of the candidate’s political views (whether they derive from their beliefs or not) and their capabilities.

    I’d be deeply concerned if I were a citizen of a country where the overwhelming majority of the electorate say they could never vote for an atheist (the USA), but we’re not.

  • Glenn, thank you for your very insightful posts. I have enjoyed reading them and I agree with everything you have said.

  • David Howarth 28th Jun '15 - 8:39pm

    @Toby
    I very much hope you are right that this is an isolated outbreak, but it shouldn’t be encouraged or condoned. Also, it wouldn’t make the situation any better if there were two groups of intolerant people of opposite views. It would make it worse.

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th Jun '15 - 11:12pm

    Glenn

    ‘ Once again those practices were never not in full swing in China is my point. The fact that they are still practiced has nothing to with suppression. It’s actually in spite of suppression. You simply have no grasp of the difference between Western and Eastern cultures. There are no parallels with New Ageism, which peaked in the 70s and 80s anyway. ‘

    I really do not know what the problem is. I have simply pointed out that although religion has been actively suppressed Chinese superstitions are still resorted to – they have not gone away. I know they have gone for centuries.

    I agreed with that.

    The simple parallels with the west are than even when religious belief is a. under threat b. loses grip on a culture (in terms of worship and commitment) superstitions continue and in UK have enjoyed a resurgence. There’s an eclectic shop selling Buddhas, tarot, crystals, angel cards, dream-catchers etc.. in practically every town – it has not gone away since the seventies. That is the parallel. Obviously each culture has its own practices.

    Superstitious practices are not the same as religion as I have tried (and obviously failed) to explain.

    A superstition has its basis in ancestor worship, luck, fortune-telling and auspicious and inauspicious periods in time. Religious belief and practice is based on the teachings of a founder (usually), a sacred text and developed set of rituals and practices more related to concepts like salvation or detachment for example. They are very different though folk traditions become woven in at times to religious practice eg: the cult of the day of the dead on the same day as Catholic All Souls Day in Mexico.

    Okay, in terms of Catholicism, it has not advanced as fast as Protestantism (I checked again) – Christianity as a religion is growing fast in China, mainly underground churches as the police watch churches very closely.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a6d2a690-6545-11e4-91b1-00144feabdc0.html

  • It bemuses me that Liberal Democrats are always saying they believe in basing their views and policies on ‘evidence’ and yet can believe in things for which there is no evidence whatsoever ie God, Heaven, Hell; and/or things which are simply impossible ie Virgin Birth, Resurrection etc. I’m sorry but I just find it baffling.

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th Jun '15 - 11:33pm

    Chris B
    ‘ I have big misgivings about being represented by someone who doesn’t share my views on equal marriage, abortion, embryological research, the relationship between business and government, assisted dieing, etc; talking it through might make it easier and help us collectively work out what a good response on these subjects might look like.’

    So basically you seem to be using yourself as the litmus test for the fitness for office of the next leader of the party. I don’t really understand that because at least three of the issues you mention as being crucial for agreement are conscience issues. Do you think that Nick Clegg shouldn’t have ever been leader, because he does not support assisted suicide?

    Liberals and Lib Dems are absolutely clear (it’s in the preamble) that every person (including our MPs and Leader) has the right to freedom of religious belief and freedom of individual conscience. That will not change unless the preamble is re-written and our fundamental principles change.

    And this to David Howarth:

    ‘ Big respect for you and your work, but if you were really “horrified” about what Geo Meadows said how will you stomach the road ahead? We’re all going to have to adjust to this discussion, it’s becoming a mainstay. ‘

    There is no reason why we have to stomach intolerance on the road ahead. Those who find it difficult to be tolerant of others who do not share their perspective and actively seek to misrepresent their view, have to ask themselves whether a liberal party, where religious tolerance is a fundamental principle, is the right kind of party for them.

  • Helen,
    the argument should be over. Different cultures have different religions with different teachings. Ancestor worship is not a superstition just because you insist it is. It’s part of a lot of religions. All the things you describe have roots in pre monotheist religious practices or are the rituals of cultures that developed outside of Judeo-Christian traditions. . You only have to look at Ancient history and non Judeo- Christian cultures to know this. Let me suggest that your belief that Jesus is the son of God and that his teachings are the word of God are clouding your ability to see that in the historic and wider world terms there is no universally accepted version of religiosity and there never was one. Different culture have different religions and histories, which result in different practices. To label them as superstitions is to argue for the exceptionalism of your particular beliefs. Which again is fine. . But as I said before I’m not religious so I don’t see the distinction you are making. Honestly. this is my last post on this because we have both hit a brick wall and are never going to agree.
    So Helen, thank you for replying to my post. I found it stimulating, but I have to agree to disagree.
    PS
    Phyllis thank you for taking the time to read my posts.

  • Douglas McLellan 29th Jun '15 - 8:10am

    The issue is not about the belief someone holds but how that belief manifests itself in the role they are elected to. When Tim (and Willie Rennie and others I assume) took interns from Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) its clear that they looked at the Christian part in the name and didnt worry about anything else. Even a simple examination of the CARE website shows several policy areas that are diametrically opposed to Lib Dem policies. It should not have been a suprise that CARE supported a gay cure event. Why were Lib Dems taking interns from an organisation that campaigns against Lib Dem positions and organises psychologically damaging events?

    And who can forget Tim signing that letter to the ASA and subsequent explanation here on LDV. He claimed healing through prayer should be exempt from the regulation that applies to advertising of medicines and other healing practices. Which is a little dangerous and not exactly evidence based policy making.

    Faith and belief is an important part of many peoples lives and that should be valued but it is interesting to see what happens when someones belief runs counter to party policy or the health and safety of others.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Jun '15 - 11:42am

    Glenn

    I am happy to leave the argument there but I take exception to being told my judgement is clouded by someone I have never met in person. It seems to me that you are going to insist on your assumption that religion and superstitions are the same when I have explained to you that they are not.

    I have done research at two respected UK universities on Religious Studies and so have a moderate claim to know what I’m talking about. Ancestor worship is arguable as to where it stands in relation to superstition or cultural practice – it’s semantics really. What are your particular credentials as a commentator on this seeing as you question my judgement so readily?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jun '15 - 12:12pm

    Glenn

    And Helen there isn’t a massively strong uptake of Catholicism in mainland China, there’s a small one in Hong Kong. Though given your religious affiliations you will insist there is.

    I work part of the year in Beijing, and was there just last month. When I’m there I attend mass at Beijing South cathedral, so I can see some of what is going on. There was a big appeal for donations to the seminary, and lots of young Chinese seminarians present at it, many of whom didn’t speak much English i.e. they are native, not incomers.

    OK, it’s hard to get a proper picture of what’s happening. This is the International mass, intended mainly for overseas visitors which I think the Chinese government is keen to promote as indicative of freedom of religion, so it doesn’t give a true picture of Catholicism as practised more generally. However, the Chinese language masses there are packed out.

    The division between the government approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Catholic Church as recognised by the Vatican is fuzzy. There’s an unspoken convention that you just don’t talk about these things in public. However, it’s fairly clear that there is at least a curiosity about the Catholic church among the Chinese, with a lot of casual young attenders.

  • Douglas,

    Perhaps taking interns might be an opportunity to educate young people into more positive ideas?

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jun '15 - 12:40pm

    Glenn

    Oh please, all the major religions and most of the minor ones rely on families bringing up children within the faith. Sure, their are adult converts, but they are tiny minority. Then their is the pressure to remain within faith based communities through marriage etc.

    One of the things that keeps me in the Catholic Church is that it does seem to me now to be the one big force left that is strong enough to stand up to the dominant consumer-capitalist culture. I’m afraid liberal Protestantism is dying, and much evangelical and pentecostal Protestantism seems to me to be about putting a thin Christian veneer on something which underneath is very much consumer-capitalism.

    To me, the consumer-capitalist culture, with its religion of celebrity worship is just as much illogical and illiberal, and even more manufactured and run for cynical reasons by its controllers than Catholicism. The propaganda pushed out for it is overwhelming, only a minority of young Catholics manage to stand out and avoid conversion to it. The proportion of Catholics who marry Catholics and bring up their children to do likewise is tiny. So, if it’s all about control, we’re not doing a good job of it.

    I am sure if you had children (maybe you do), you would want to bring them up with your own values. I am sure you would want to encourage your children to be gay-friendly, anti-racist and so on, you would not want to leave it entirely up to them to decide. If you have a particular hobby or sport you are interested in, I am sure you would want at least to encourage an interest in it in your children, even if you would accept it is up to them eventually whether they want to carry on with it. Would we as Liberal Democrats impose a firm ban on getting our children involved in our political activity, or talking about it positively to them, on the grounds that to do so is “indoctrination”? I don’t think so, and what I observe certainly doesn’t support that attitude being common among party members.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Jun '15 - 12:40pm

    I find it hard to “come out” as someone who practices a religion in these sort of circles, because, to be frank, I find the misunderstanding and making of assumptions about it shown by many here to be somewhat offensive, but while I’m happy just to dismiss it as ignorance rather than intended that way, I always find I get drawn into long philosophical discussion about it which I just do not have time for. Mostly it is obvious that their understanding of religion is simplistic and what some would call “fundamentalist”, although I reject that word for what it is used for, I would prefer to say “incidentalist” meaning an obsession with incidental aspects which actually misses the more fundamental ones.

  • Good for you Matthew!
    No-one should get flak on here for being religious, or for not being religious.

  • Helen Tedcastle 29th Jun '15 - 1:01pm

    Matthew Huntbach

    Well said. Very thoughtful posts. You have hit the nail on the head, especially with your last comment.

  • Matthew,
    I am a parent. I teach my kids to be inquisitive and just hope they will have a happy life. By and large, I encourage their interest not mine. If they show an interest in things I like I will pontificate for hours on end and in return I listen to their enthusiasms with the same indulgence. My view on indoctrination and religion is based on my mother who went to Catholic girls schools throughout her childhood. and observations made living in a multicultural city, plus an interest in history. I can see the positive things religion does, but it ain’t all good.
    . You assume that I find religion illogical. No I find fantastical mythology, the idea of miracles, special powers, angels demons, ritual magic utterly enthralling ,. I don’t buy into any of it but it is fun and imaginative and makes for great stories. I actually find the worst of religion all too logical., just like the worst of politics can work to an undoubted logic.

  • Denis Loretto 29th Jun '15 - 2:33pm

    If we really must have a thread in which some people decry religion and question whether a practitioner of religion can properly be admitted into the inner sanctum of our party ( we really do risk sounding rather holier-than-thou at times) how about this Old Testament quote (King James version)which seems to welcome those of us of liberal persuasion.

    Isaiah Chapter 32 verses 5 to 8 –
    “5. The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful.
    6. For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail .
    7. The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.
    8. But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand .”

    So that’s all good then!

  • Kevin Manley 29th Jun '15 - 9:42pm

    I guess the answer to the author’s question, based on the number and tone of a lot of the responses, is – yes!

    To me it doesn’t matter what someone’s faith, or lack of it, is. It doesn’t even matter if there are some areas of policy I disagree with them on, particulalry if those are conscience issues – the leader doesnt make the policy after all – but I do think Tim Farrons position has been a bit misrepresented by those making faith into an issue to try to create some clear blue water between Tim and Norman.. What matters is where they stand on the big policy areas that define who we stand for, civil liberties, social policy, etc. and whether they’ve got what it takes to engage, charm and draw in the wider public to condider voting Lib Dem again. Also whether they have the integrity to stand up for what they believe in, even if it means going against the party line.

    I think Tim Farron’s got that in spades.

    Norman I’m not so sure on; he voted for the tuition fee rise, the bedroom tax, etc. and doesn’t seem to grasp quite as well as Tim does why the Lib Dem vote has completely collapsed. Perhaps that’s unfair; Tim’s understanding of it tallies more with my understanding of it. I also don’t like the way Norman seems to be bringing faith into it and is ever so subtly turning things a bit negative; only on Friday on Any Questions he was making out Tim’s position on assisted dying is based exclusively on his faith which is not what Tim has said. Last Monday on Victoria Derbyshire he was making out that Tim having questioned the time limit for abortion was based on faith which it clearly wasn’t.

    Funny how no one seems to be talking about Tim having expressed support for moving towards a more inclusive, more secular education system and disestablishing the Church of England.

    So despite being an atheist and a secularist I will be voting for Tim, and his religion is a complete irrelevance, and it does seem to go totally against what the party is supposed to stand for to suggest his religion should be a reason why he should not be leader. Can you imagine the upraor if people were suggesting he shouldnt be a leader becuase he was a Jew, or a Muslim etc?

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 1st Jul '15 - 9:47am

    Liberal Faith: means those people whom believe that sanctity exists in the commitment to enter consensually with others from a set of principles. Therefore isn’t a problem in politics.

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