Can Religion and Politics make Happy Bedfellows?

In every-day life, two of the most controversial topics of discussion are politics and religion. What happens when you bring them together? Napoleon used religion to indoctrinate the French people so that he could increase his power. Consequently, the Catholic Church had great influence over the politics of France; however, 200 years on, religion plays only a minor part in French politics due to the diversity in religious belief which has diluted the power that religion can have.

In modern politics, the popularity of an election candidate can depend on their religious views. In big secular societies such as the UK, if a politician was to declare that they were a Christian, depending on the constituency they were looking to represent, this could have either a positive or a negative impact on the voters. However, the direct opposite can be seen in America where a President has to declare himself a Christian to even stand a chance of running for office. This is due to the prevalence of Christianity in American society and results in religion having a significant impact on American politics. How often has a President’s speech ended with the strap-line of ‘God bless the United States of America.’ The difference between the two countries attitudes towards religion shows the psychological diversity that can exist between different secular states.

Although religion plays an integral part in American politics, it does not necessarily influence their policy. For example, in California, gay marriage has been legalised however the state of California is under a Republican Senator and Republicans are often associated with conservatism whilst Democrats are associated more with liberalism. This shows that although America is secular most Americans conform to the same religious belief. An explanation for this could be that religion is used to garner votes rather than guidance for governing.

A prime example of religion in recent British politics is that of Tony Blair. When he was Prime Minister he made no reference to religion at all but it was only when he stood down as Prime Minister that he made his religious beliefs as a catholic known to the extent that he had an audience with the Pope. It would have been interesting to see the public’s reaction to Tony Blair had he revealed his religious belief whilst he was Prime Minister. Suffice to say, it would have made justifying some of his decisions harder.

Saudi Arabia is a polar opposite to the U.K. as it has an Islamist government. Conservative religious values provide the foundations for its internal politics and this is due to Sharia law. However, there is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia and although this would seem to not have anything to do with religion, history shows that many religious establishments had the same problem. Religious establishments historically have worked with many previous rulers claiming that they have been appointed by divine command however the direction of travel in modern society indicates that divine command is no longer a legitimate justification to rule by. In Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern countries every aspect of their way of life is governed by religion.

In conclusion, it is evident that there is an unhappy balance between religion and politics although in theory, they should both be able to co-exist. It seems to be nearly impossible for there to be a good and peaceful balance for people living under an establishment with religious political views as can be seen by the uprisings in both Syria and Egypt over the past few years.

Contributed by Gregory Lobo

Is a Democratic Government a Necessity for Modern Society Today?

A democratic government can be found in approximately 120 countries today, however the direction of travel in the last four years points towards freedom declining around the world. Although a democratic government is best for popular opinion being listened to it is not necessarily best for economic growth in a country.

Human beings are generally rule-following by nature and they conform to the social norms that they see around them. A democratic government would therefore normally make laws based on popular opinion – especially if this supports the governing party gaining re-election – which would be followed by the majority of people in the country because that is what their innate nature would tell them to do. However, in America, people’s ideological views can be seen by where they choose to live. Therefore a democratic government across the entirety of the country would be less beneficial than a system of state governments which make decisions for the local citizens. This results in more satisfaction and agreement amongst the local population as it would be aimed directly at their needs. Overall though, only social and limited financial policies can be dictated on a state by state basis with (for example) foreign and military policies requiring a national decision as it would affect the entire country and therefore some form of national government would be needed.

The positives of a democratic government can be seen in Denmark where good political and economic institutions have been put in place. It has a stable government, is democratic, peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive and has low levels of political corruption. However, it is not clear whether Danish political order could be implemented into different cultural contexts where technology is less advanced and people have been under the rule of a dictatorship all their lives. A prime example of this is when the US administration was under the impression that once they had removed Saddam Hussein as President of Iraq, conditions would automatically revert to a democracy with a free market economy and were surprised at the levels of looting and civil conflict that resulted. Therefore, although a democratic government would be ideal for most countries, it is a laborious process that must take place with technological improvements and many countries are not at the stage where this transformation can take place. The recent political unrest in Egypt is a prime example of this.

Location can also play an important part in whether democracies are necessary. In Europe, most countries are full democracies though there are a few flawed democracies, particularly some of the countries which were part of the former Soviet Union. However, when looking at East Asia, successful authoritarian modernization is commonplace with countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China benefiting. However, the question must therefore be asked as to why similar systems are not successful in Africa and the Middle East. Overall, it is therefore evident that different locations are seemingly better suited to different forms of government.

In conclusion, democracy seems to be the best form of government only in areas where technology is advanced enough and also where there are high levels of entrepreneurship that will benefit a free-market economy and where a robust law-and-order regime is in place. However, in other locations authoritarian governments are more suited because it is a system where the economy can develop more effectively when it is regulated, such as China.

Contributed by Gregory Lobo

Should there be compulsory national service for 18-26 year olds in the UK?

A debate over whether 18-26 year olds should be forced to do national service will be held in Parliament in February. The bill is being sponsored by Kettering’s Conservative MP Philip Hollobone who is convinced that some form of service for youngsters, be it charitable work, care for the elderly, work linked to the NHS or participation in the armed forces, would help instil a greater sense of ‘self-respect, personal reliance, discipline and behaviour’ into society. Those with severe mental or physical disabilities will be exempt from partaking in national service. However, surely this promotes the question of what is actually considered a severe mental or physical disability? Would depression count as a severe mental illness considering that over 1 in 100 people at one stage have suffered from it?

As a student at Tiffin, I believe that it would be very detrimental to society if this bill were to be passed. The vast majority of my peers have a good idea of what career path they want to pursue. Therefore, inflicting a year of national service onto them would mean their careers would be delayed by a year. In addition to this, who would be responsible for paying for national service? Would it be the young people who are being forced to undertake it or would it be the government? It would be very unfair on a young person to pay for their own national service considering that many of them would be totally against the idea of doing it. Moreover, they would be put into debt and therefore a much more difficult financial position. In addition to this Philip Hollobone believes that the skills picked up by young people partaking in national service will increase their prospects of getting a job. However, if every young person were to be forced to undertake national service, then surely it would then become worthless on a CV because everyone would have that skill set.

Although some people may say that the values of self-respect, personal reliance and self-discipline will be promoted in society through national service, are these not the exact values that are supposed to be taught at home and enhanced through the British education system? There is only a very small minority of society that lack these values and who commit crime, however the introduction of national service would mean the entire population in the UK aged 18-26 would be forced to suffer for the mistakes of only a few. If a bill similar to this were to be proposed, would it not be more sensible to force the unemployed into national service so that they could benefit society rather than waste government money through benefits? Furthermore, forcing the unemployed into work would support the British economy because it would decrease unemployment.

In conclusion, I think that it is evident that compulsory national service for young people aged 18-26 would be a bad idea because it would hinder the careers of many young people who would have to undertake national service, as opposed to being able to pursue the careers that they have studied for. Others may say that it would promote the values of self-respect, personal reliance and self-discipline but nearly all of young people in the UK already have learnt these values by this age. This call for national service is largely in response to the growing unemployment problem in the young population and the increase in disaffected youth who seem to view benefit entitlement as a rite. However, in fact out of the 2.7 million unemployed, these people are in the minority. Many within this age range have gone to university and are desperately seeking employment, despite already having the skills they would gain by undertaking national service. I believe that the government needs to focus on addressing the lack of graduate jobs available, rather than try to improve employment statistics by introducing unnecessary and unwanted national service.

Contributed by Gregory Lobo