Saturday, 3 November 2012

Government and churches: best kept out of bedrooms

Interesting times. The world’s most important election is only a few days away, and the general view is that if the world could vote for US presidents, Obama would be home in a landslide. Sadly, however, selecting the holder of the most powerful office on the globe is left to Americans alone, so the rest of us just have to wait and hope.

Ah, if only the rest of the world had a say.
What makes it particularly tense is that the battle is far sharper than it has generally been in the past. As the Economist wrote last week, the nature of Conservatism has changed:

This newspaper yearns for the more tolerant conservatism of Ronald Reagan, where 'small government' meant keeping the state out of people's bedrooms as well as out of their businesses.

It’s always pleasant to find some common ground with a voice of the right, even though in this case it’s only half-way common. Keeping government out of business doesn’t strike me as a recipe that works particularly well: when that same Reagan began to roll back the Glass-Steagall act, he got the government out of the banks and let the gambling side of the business, investment banking, play with the money of ordinary customers, in retail banking, and we all know how well that turned out.

But getting the government out of bedrooms is certainly something that would get my support. It’s bad enough that down the ages the Churches – and when I say ‘Churches’ I’m including mosques and synagogues too – 
apparently obsessed with sex, have never been able to stop talking about what goes on in bedrooms, but now a certain conception of conservative politics would have supposedly lay governments getting in on the act too.

What on earth business is it of theirs? It’s not as though anyone is talking about making gay marriage obligatory. There is no sense in which men are going to be paired up with other men and forced to marry them. The aim is simply to allow those who wish to have that option, to exercise it.

The same is true of abortion. No-one likes abortion, or at least I’ve never met anyone who does. Painting the pro-choice side of the argument as in favour of abortion is a travesty. It’s not hypocrisy that makes it present itself as supporting the right to choose: that’s precisely what it asks for. Leave any woman facing the decision free to make her choice. No-one’s going to promote abortion, least of all a woman about to go through one.

The Economist’s conclusion was that, with regret, it had to endorse Obama. For that conservative paper, Romney represents that too intolerant a strand, and that means they have to back the Democrat.

This comes on top of endorsements by Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York and a nominal Republican, and Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, and considered a possible future Republican candidate for President himself.

Is that the beginning of a fight-back by a different kind of conservatism, a conservatism that actually believes in conserving, rather than in radical ultra-right wing change? We’d all be a lot better off if it were.

One thing’s for sure, though. As the Economist, Bloomberg and Christie have discovered, if that fightback is to succeed it has to start with the defeat of Romney next Tuesday. As a recent Twitter comment claimed, Republicans wouldn’t enjoy living in the kind of United States Republican candidates want to build.

And there’d be little to celebrate around the rest of the world either.

Postscript. Churches have be no means got out of the business of dictating what happens in bedrooms, just because lay politicians have started to do so too.

On the contrary, we still get solemn pronouncements on other people’s sexual behaviour by exponents of Christian love such as Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland. He described gay marriage as ‘grotesque subversion’.

Cardinal O'Brien:
long on gay marriage, short on humour

Now he and his Church are terribly upset that Gay Rights group Stonewall have chosen him for their coveted ‘Bigot of the Year’ award. 

Ah, well, the Churches were never really known for their sense of humour, or their openness to other points of view. After all, the congregation has no right of reply to sermons, does it? I’ve often wanted to hold up my hand and say ‘yes, but...’.

Must come as a shock that these days people give them as good as the Churchmen hand out.

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