Yesterday Nick Clegg MP, the Deputy Prime Minister, raised the issue of dis-establishment of the Church saying that it would be better for the Church and the State to stand own their own two separate feet. What does he exactly mean? They are hardly joined at the hip that they depend on each other for their daily dose of secular politics and spiritual peace, respectively. They are separate and are so standing own their own feet. What Establishment does is that it ensures there is a mutual respect for each other’s different modes of work, different stances on policy, and that ultimately by giving a small, a tiny proportion of the parliamentary space, an inclusivity of faith which otherwise would be assigned to the wilderness, takes its rightful place in forming policy. Indeed the Establishment works as a two edged sword, whilst the Church may have a very small influence on political policy, it too is obliged to reform and move with the times, by the larger weight of the secularity with which it has to interact.
To disestablish the Church would not only weaken the British democracy but it will alienate the Church from its own internal reforms that are as necessary as we have seen recently with the debates on Women Bishops and Gay marriage laws. Furthermore from our Hindu minority point of view we would feel left stranded alone since the Church by reason of its disestablishment would have no obligation to look after us for our engagement in the political process. Of course as good Christians, and that is why I say I am comfortable with the nation described as a Christian Nation, the Church will I am sure definitely remain inclusive towards all faith minorities, but it will not have a mechanism – in state – to promote that inclusivity at a political level. Thus for us at Hindu Council UK, even from a selfish perspective, the disestablishment would make no sense at all.
Indeed in my tenure as General Secretary at Hindu Council UK form 2003 to 2009 I had serious issues of disagreements with the Church but I feel because of its Establishment we worked hard to resolve them as it was in the interests of the nation, not just our respective faiths.
Faith is important to people, and it is not so much about Church or Temple attendance, which is bound to fall in this busy life led by instant messaging, instant decisions, higher stress levels, and people choosing to relax first through all the entertainment channels readily available. People need a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose beyond the daily mundane living, and their faith provides them with a direction to make the right choices, especially allowing for the ‘other’ person. Market too works well like that as otherwise we are all too familiar with the monopolistic greed levels that have a direct adverse impact on the vulnerable in society.
In ancient India the King always had a Raj-Guru to seek his advice on policy matters and that does not mean that religion was entrenched in all constitutional activity. There were instances where the King would summon a Rishi, a Seer, from his ashram in the forest to debate an issue for a short period and then let him go back to his ashram. It was a softer advisory relationship. That is what the Church’s Establishment is all about. It is not set hard in the Constitution as the religion is in some other countries like Pakistan and Saudi-Arabia where secular policy is thwarted by it more often than not, nor it is like India where secularism after Indira Gandhi’s emergency developed simply into how best to hang on to power even if it led to the erosion of the moral fibre of the country but as it is in the UK it has found its rightful place to foster an inclusive representative democracy by allowing faith a marginal voice.
A representative democracy is not just about votes and numbers, as perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister would have it, but how different intellectual opinions are represented in forming policy that affects all the people.
Anil Bhanot OBE
Hindu Council UK
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Hindu Council UK is a national network of the Hindu Temple bodies and cultural organisations co-ordinating all different schools of Hindu theology within the UK