6 April 2011

Big Ideas on religion in US political life

March's Big Ideas asked the provocative question, What Is The Role Of Religion in US Political Life?

Religion and US political life are two topics that I know little about but I am always happy to learn so I went along.

But first a slight change of routine; instead of cheesy chips from the bar I stopped off at Govinda's Restaurant on Soho Street, just north of Soho Square. It's run by the Hare Krishna people and does a great line in veggie food, including curries. I'll be back!

Once at The Wheatsheaf I got a pint and headed straight for the upstairs room to grab a decent seat.

A psychologist may be able to tell me why I gravitate to the right of open rooms but, whatever, the reason is, that is what I did taking a chair at a table next to the wall about half way back.

Just to prove that I'm not a saddo, it was not the same table I had the last time. But it was next to it.

I was not the first person there by any means but it was empty enough for me to take a clear picture of the impressive front windows.

By 8pm the room was full, but not to overflowing this time, and we were off.

Dr Tim Stanley (the other person in the room wearing a tie) kicked the debate off in traditional Big Ideas style with a short talk thick with hooks to hang the discussion on.

This is some of what was said over the following hour or so.

The separation of Church and State is there to protect Churches from the State; this is why the founders had fled Europe.

The Democrats are just as guilty as the Republicans of playing the Church card when they can.

The Religious Right is losing the moral battle with things like Gay Rights and abortion now generally accepted by the public and increasingly by the Church. Capital Punishment is an odd exception.

America was founded by white men for white men and is obsessed by it's history.

The Constitution has achieved Biblical status and to question the Constitution is to question America, even though it has been changed in the past.

America is a young country that has yet to decide what it wants to be, with sharp divided between the small-state Right and the social-democratic Left.

Europe sees America as a cute but troublesome teenager who has yet to grow up.

For some reason we spent quite a bit of time on philanthropy and charitable giving which caused the only significant split of the evening with some quoting Katrina as an example of the USA helping each-other out and others pointing out that Comic Relief had raised £17 million in one evening. I made the Comic Relief point so you can tell what side of the split I was on!

The mechanics of the debate were good with Tim Stanley responding well to all comments and questions, Rich Cochrane controlled us calmly and fairly and, by and large, we stuck to the rules allowing others to contribute and not being too dismissive of their views.

It's because Big Ideas addresses unusual and challenging concepts in a balanced way that I find it so stimulating.

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