Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has been struggling a little bit since the announcement of the snap election. He had positioned himself as the defender of the pro-Europe remain camp, who believe themselves to have been forgotten and marginalised by pro-Brexit politicians. Yet since the confirmation of the June 8th election, Farron’s religious beliefs have come under increasing scrutiny.
Farron appears to hold very conservative Christian views, as became apparent when he refused to say that gay sex is not a sin. It is bizarre that the Lib Dems chose someone with such appalling beliefs to lead them, especially after the debacle of the coalition years (an option Farron has not ruled out repeating).
Much of the media has been hounding Tim Farron regarding his religious views and other MPs are using this as a way to show how progressive they are. Yet this new focus on a politician’s religious beliefs speaks of the hypocrisy of many journalists and political pundits given that Theresa May has herself commented on not just her religion, but more worryingly, how it influences her politics. May for instance has declared that her faith helped guide her decisions.
Can you imagine if Sadiq Khan said he’d ask Allah for guidance on dealing with London’s housing crisis? No? Exactly. So why the silence on May?
Part of this double standard is because of the endemic and entrenched Islamophobia in our society. More broadly such acceptance of May’s faith is because many of the societal norms in Britain are underpinned by the idea that Christianity is a civilised religion (unless expressed in the terms used by Farron, even though many Britons undoubtedly share his views).
As an aside there are also glaring hypocrisies in May’s political speech on Christianity. On the one hand she says her faith helps her make the right choices but on the other she pursues incredibly inhumane policies that clearly aren’t very Christian.
The fact is that Christian cultural values, such as those espoused by Farron and May, are far more prevalent in Western political discourses than we often care to admit. The idea of the West being secular doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny. Christianity undeniably influences society in the Western world, from our judicial system to the way we are schooled. We cannot escape the influence of Christ no matter how badly we might want to.
The US is an extreme example of this and in many ways it is a Christian fundamentalist state. George W. Bush, for instance, operating within the US context which has a clear delineation between Church and State at a constitutional level, famously commented “God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’.”
Bush went on to say:
And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East’. And, by God, I’m gonna do it.
Yet the same media who are currently scrutinising Farron were oddly quiet about this terrifying statement. Instead, they beat the drums of war as they were lead along by Blair and Bush, highlighting a double standard present in much of the press. Journalists should be asking May the same questions they are currently asking Farron, as she shares his faith.
Furthermore the press, which often fetishizes Western secularism, should be trying to understand why May thinks it’s acceptable to ask her “god” for answers on some hugely difficult questions facing the British public. Perhaps it was her “god” who told her to call the snap election!
In short, we need to accept that British society is inherently intertwined with Christian values and that there is no real separation of religion and public life. It’s also worth remembering that smugly pointing to Farron’s homophobia isn’t very useful as Britain has a long history of homophobia that was informed by Christianity and subsequently informed the imposition of anti-sodomy laws in many of the former colonies.