Sunday, 28 August 2016

British or Christian?

Another quote from the comments on the article I discussed last time:  “I will never trust anyone who claims allegiance to religion over this country.”

An interesting point, which begs two questions.  The first is personal: If it came down to it, and I had to choose between my beliefs and my country, which would I choose?  Currently I see only minor conflicts between the two, in areas such as the treatment of the poor, but suppose that they came into direct opposition.  In an either/or situation, would I choose my country or my religion?

You occasionally see claims that one’s religion is something one chooses, normally to emphasise that as a result religion should yield to things that are not chosen, such as sexuality.  I’ve already addressed this question in a different post, in which I stated that I did not ‘choose’ to be Christian, merely that it makes sense to me to be so.  Equally though, I most certainly did not choose to be British.  I’m happy to be, maybe even proud to be, if that’s not entirely irrational, but I am not British by choice.

The thing is though, that my beliefs are my own.  Although, like Chesterton, my personal heresy turned out to be orthodoxy (or something very close), I’m neither a literalist nor a fundamentalist.  I do indeed cherry-pick my beliefs, and believe that it is right to do so.  I am not slavishly devoted to every word of the Bible; I consider its teachings carefully, accepting many, rejecting some.

I have no such options when it comes to my country.  I am unable to go through its laws and statutes and decide which ones make sense to me, which ones seems right, which ones, in the context of the overall corpus, seem truest to the general message, and reject the others.  For the record, off the top of my head I am unable to think of any laws that I would wish to be exempt from.  It is not merely the written laws of the land that prevent me from going on killing sprees or tour the country defrauding old ladies of their pensions.  All the laws of the land apply to me; I can’t opt out of any because I happen to disagree with them, and this is for the best.  After all, if everyone could do that, they would be completely pointless.

However just because something is legal does not make it right; there are a great many examples of this, not all of which are merely down to loopholes and lawyers’ tricks.  Conversely, just because a thing is illegal doesn’t not make it wrong, although this is more subjective and relativist.  Some laws even now seem unjust, and there is no guarantee that in the future, unjust laws will not be enacted.  At that point, when my faith and my personal morals tell me one thing, and my country tells me another, which will I choose?

It is a foregone conclusion.  Currently I don’t feel that my allegiance is split, but if it ever is, I will choose my faith over my country over and over again.  And why should I not?  I would choose my faith over country, but my faith is self-crafted and carefully picked over, it’s not one forced onto me from outside, and informs, rather than contradicts my personal morals. 

This brings me to my second question; Why would this poster not trust anyone who claims allegiance to their religion over their country?  What the commenter doesn’t seem to realise is that by comparing the two, he (I’m assuming, on the basis of nothing whatsoever, that it’s a he) has made the latter into the former.  In the absence of God, he has deified the state, turned it into something to which we should bring our unquestioning praise and obedience irrespective of what it does or how it treats us.  ‘My country, right or wrong’ is a foolish and fundamentalist creed, as dangerous as any militant sect which says ‘Our god above all, death to the unbeliever!’  Blind faith is blind whether it is in a religion, a political ideology or a state.

The implication is that the poster won’t trust the hypothetical disloyal theist because they are irrational and dangerous.  I would contend that he is exactly what he is trying to condemn.  I wouldn’t trust anyone who claims allegiance to country over their own private beliefs, be they religious or secular.  If these happen to coincide with the country’s, then good for them, but I struggle to believe that anyone, in the face of an obviously unjust ruling, would say “That doesn’t seem right to me, but the government says so, so it must be ok.”  Actually, having just typed that, I suspect that it has indeed happened multiple times in the past; people have persuaded themselves that any disquiet they feel is misplaced, because clearly a national government wouldn’t do anything utterly wrong, and if they did it must be for a very good reason which is more than adequate to justify the apparent wrong.  I suspect it was thinking just like that that birthed and sustained the most horrific regimes in history.

Anyone who suspends their own judgement and morals and blindly and uncritically accepts the commands of others, who claim absolute allegiance to any movement, ideology, faith or state at the expense of their own conscience and free will is a person who should be treated very carefully, because they are potentially capable of anything.  “But I was just following orders!” is the cry of one who has abdicated responsibility for their actions, and is therefore capable of anything.  Unfortunately, it seems that there are plenty of people apparently willing to do just that, and persuade themselves that they are right to do so.  For whatever reason, the commenter seems to think that it is perfectly acceptable to do this for a country while it is foolish to do it for a religion, and is therefore part of the exact problem they claim to want to solve.

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