Friday, 6 June 2008

On Religion & Politics

This week I had the pleasure of hearing the Archbishop of York address the Institute of Jewish Policy Research Institute dinner. Dr John Sentamu spoke on the subject of Religion and Politics.

I offer a selection from his words, this week, as we approach our own moment of revelation. Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,

‘Organised religion is always ambiguous. It can be both an instrument for good or for great evil.

When I consider the history of organised religions the world over and look at the present state of our world and the countless acts of violence committed in the name of God, is it any wonder that the third commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai was not to misuse the name of the Lord?

‘Whether it be the so called Salafi-Jihadism of Al Qaeda claiming the lives of innocent people perversely in the name of Allah or those narrowly focussed political parties attempting to usurp religious values and heritage, the purveyors of hatred and violence cover their wickedness with a religious cloak, or to use the words of Rabbi Lionel Blue, "the terrorists covering their own inner violence under a fig leaf of faith".

Such abusers of religion lay easy claim to centuries of heritage with their lip service whilst their actions, and in some cases perverse ideologies, twist out of shape the garment of faith woven over centuries by faithful scholars and adherents.

For those who claim the mantle of faith, the ultimate injunction must be for us to know God better, to know God more, and to love and serve our neighbour better. In doing this we fulfil our obligations not only to God but also to the society which we share.

‘Such duties and obligations form the bedrock of a religious approach to politics that extends far beyond the comparatively modern term of "social justice".

Rather the prophets and the law lay the foundation for our primacy of care for the other and in so doing lay down the foundation for the role of religion in politics.

‘It is a test for all the key questions that we face: from family values to foreign policy, from the housing we dwell in to the social values that dwell within us, from health care to healing of our national fears and divisions, from the distribution of our resources to determining the things we value most, from the things that make for peace on a global level to the community level, from our definitions of justice to our practice of it, from what we'd like to change to what gives us hope for ever changing it.

‘Of course there are some for whom this business of our worship of God and the loving and serving our neighbour means that we should have no place in the political arena… It is perhaps no surprise that it is when I receive a letter from a correspondent supporting my views I am congratulated for my apparent bravery in speaking out, whilst those who disagree with my stance castigate me in the most telling terms for getting involved in politics – didn't I know that religion and politics should not mix ?

The word Politics derives from the Greek for Polis – the City, for the place where life was lived and public business was done. How can anyone think that God is unconcerned or unconnected with any parts of our lives, public or private, or that we can build arenas which become no go areas for God?’

The full transcript of the Archbishop’s words can be found at

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