The great Kate Forbes religious panic

If you are the betting type, then I would not advise you to place any money on Kate Forbes becoming the next leader of the Scottish National Party. Until just a few days ago, Ms. Forbes was regarded as one of the frontrunners for the job: She is just 32 years old, a fluent speaker, and has been widely seen as a capable Minister in a Scottish Government not overflowing with people seen as capable Ministers. She is a convinced Scottish Nationalist who believes in independence, and on paper, matches up well as a young woman with the key demographics that the SNP relies on: Young people, women, and, since she represents a rural seat, those more conservative rural voters who are most hesitant about independence.

There’s just one problem: She’s a Christian. Actually, to be more specific, she’s a Christian who appears to actually believe in what her church teaches:

Go read the quote tweets and replies to any of those, and ask yourself seriously whether this woman has a chance. Perhaps the SNP will prove my instincts wrong here, but I might suggest that even the most tolerant and open-minded elector in this contest will think twice before electing as their leader somebody who is going to be asked these questions over and over and over and over again, endlessly.

Don’t fool yourself that the forces of tolerance and free conscience will win here: They absolutely will not. What the outraged and offended potential voter wants, the outraged offended potential voter gets, even when the outraged potential voter is, as in this case, an idiot.

In theory, of course, Ms. Forbes should have no difficulty. The theory of secularism says that there should be separation between church and state, and that the views of a particular church should not be enacted into law. That is exactly what Forbes says above: She has private personal religious views about marriage and gay relationships, but she would not seek to enact them into law.

The difficulty is that there is a substantial difference between what secularism means, and what a great many progressives wish it to mean. For many of them, particularly the more casual progressives, secularism means the functional eradication of religion and religious people from the public square entirely. It is not enough to simply believe that others have a legal right to do things which you personally consider immoral. If you do not personally endorse their behaviour, you are attacking them.

It is worth pausing here to remember the arguments for same-sex marriage at the time when it was being introduced, both in Ireland and the UK: Do you happen to remember the phrase “if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a man?

The implication of that was obvious and logical, and persuasive to many: Ultimately, who other people choose to marry does not affect you.

What Forbes is saying is that personally, she would only consider marrying a member of the opposite sex, on the ground of her religious beliefs. That’s it. But apparently those religious beliefs themselves are disqualifying to many people. Ergo, it follows that it is only possible to be a Christian in public life by either lying about what you believe in public, while believing in privately, or by genuinely renouncing your religious faith, or at least large parts of it. Consider the first instance, and you realise that in actual fact, many voters are perfectly happy to be lied to.

It is relevant here to mention Ms Forbe’s main opponent, a fellow by the name of Hamza Yousef. Mr. Yousef is a practicing Muslim. It is a statement of simple fact that on the questions of gay marriage and sex before marriage, the beliefs of Christians and Muslims are functionally identical. Indeed, the main difference is that majority Christian societies tend to be more tolerant of “sin” – there is not one muslim majority country on earth where gay marriage is legal. There are a great many where sex before marriage is illegal.

Mr. Yousef, presumably, will have the political good sense to declare in public that he supports sex before marriage and gay marriage, and does not see them as sinful. Is he telling the truth? Who knows. We must presume that he is, but we should also acknowledge that were he to say these things, then he would be a perfect progressive, but a deeply imperfect muslim.

What we do know is that voters don’t mind being lied to about this stuff, so long as they don’t have to confront the lie too directly. They would in fact rather be lied to than to be confronted with sincere religious faith that differs from their own moral framework.

And so, how many politicians do we think lie in public about their own moral and religious values and beliefs? I suspect it is a great many. And the reason for that, as Kate Forbes proves, is that voters, for all they complain about politicians lying, actually tend to react worse when they tell the truth. This is also, incidentally, true in the case of things like pensions. We would much rather be told lies about the retirement age and pensions than told the truth about them.

We like to think we live in an enlightened age. We do not. In fact, you can draw a direct line from the anti-religious hysteria of today in Scotland (and Ireland, and elsewhere) to the religious hysteria of the 1700’s. Then, it was considered impossible for a Roman Catholic to sit on the throne of these Kingdoms. Now, it is considered impossible for basically any practicing Christian who professes to believe what their church teaches to sit in the highest political offices.

Cromwell, were he alive, might have different views today. But he’d thrive all the same.

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