In the days before democracy, education and Rustlers microwavable burgers, it was a given that religion leaders had a heavy-hand in deciding laws, since who could argue with the guys who spoke for the Almighty? Well, we could, now that we’re a little older, wiser and more sceptical in the wisdom of someone reportedly omnipotent who decides to speak through humans. These days, anyone in power who tries to justify self-interested actions by claiming to have had a personal chin-wag with Yahweh is considered, at best, a bit eccentric.
Since we’ve abandoned most of the advice in the Bible in favour of more tangible and evidence based beliefs, such as treating leprosy medically rather than the NHS subsidising the blood-sacrifice of birds, you’d think that having religious leaders directly involved in deciding policy would be superfluous. Not a bit of it. In fact, amongst the elected MPs in the House of Lords speaking for us lowly mortals, there’s also reserved seats for 26 Bishops who speak for God, and we know that they do because they told us they do. That’s proof enough for me!
The ‘Lords Spiritual’ are there to “provide an important independent voice and spiritual insight to the work of the Upper House”, which sounds about as useful as a chocolate teapot. An invisible chocolate teapot, orbiting Neptune.
The British Humanist Association has launched a campaign to remove the right of Anglican Bishops to sit alongside elected representatives in the House of Lords, arguing that such authority should not be granted to any special interest group and, in fairness, they’re correct.
Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury with the face of an unholy union between Terry Pratchett and a blow-dried Furby, has defended the presence of the Lords Spiritual on the basis that it’s traditional for them to be there and they provide a unique ethical and spiritual insight. I’ve already described how much tangible utility there is in “ethical and spiritual insight”. Tradition is just a hollow, last-resort plea for submission, playing manipulatively on sentiment and nostalgia; the same emotion that stops you from admonishing the racist comments of an elderly relative. Tradition only persists by virtue of being tradition, the undeserved weight the word is given on fallacious assumption that the past should dictate the future.
Williams also claimed that the Bishops represented the views of the 70% of the British population who identify as Christian. Ignoring the fact that only a fraction of the population identify as Church of England, an Ipsom Mori poll published earlier this year showed that not only do the majority opinions in the country differ considerably from current Anglican teachings, but also 74% don’t think that religion should have any influence on public policy to begin with. William’s claim that the Lords Spiritual represent majority opinion is a bollocks-out lie and, even if it weren’t, most people don’t think that religion should have a look-in anyway.
Basically, the counter-argument consists of feckless whines and breaches of the ninth commandment.
Surprising as this may sound, I don’t want to remove the Lords Spiritual out of the House. In fact, I think we should extend the criteria to be amongst the Lords Spiritual to have a representative of every religion, and of every denomination within that, and every opposing school of thought within that. You could even have an atheist representative, all you’d need is a cassette of a weary sigh playing on loop taped to a broomstick.
What’s more, they should only have one vote between them all, so have to reach a concensus amongst their mutually exclusive faiths, values and opinions. Their discussion period should be limited to the time it takes to dissolve a Fruit Pastille in acid, and they must engage in a merciless knife-fight for the right to speak, provided they can perform a sufficiently impressive yo-yo trick, judged by David Blunkett.
Religion is too often given a free pass, this way they can earn their keep through sheer entertainment value.