One of the benefits of religion, according to its supporters, is that it teaches us morals and right behaviour. As I said in a recent blog, I take a different view. For me, morality is something that evolves. But insofar as the teachings of religion and moral conscience are consonant with one another, I accept that for some people on some occasions, religion has resulted in good things. It is undoubtedly true for example, (as has been pointed out to me) that Wilberforce was motivated to campaign for an end to slavery by his Christian beliefs (despite Biblical texts that might have dissuaded him). But revealed religion does not just tell us not to kill or steal – it invades every corner of our lives. It seeks to control what we wear, what we eat and drink, when and what we can do for a living, and who we have sex with – and how. Christianity is perhaps less intrusive than Judaism or Islam. Jesus, after all, came, we are told, to free from the Mosaic Law; but that hasn’t stopped its earthly representatives from inventing a few laws of their own over the centuries. It is only in the last 100 years or so that some of us at least have freed ourselves from this invasion of individual liberty and if we appear strident in our criticisms of religion, it is less that we care about the delusions of others and more that we feel duty bound to protect the freedoms that have been won for us by past generations and preserve them for our children. Being a libertarian does not (of course) mean that individual freedoms must not be restricted by custom and law if necessary, when they might impinge on the freedoms of others. We live in a complex society and I recognise that to enjoy its benefits requires me to accept certain limits on what I can do. But, and it is a huge but, when the State steps in to control matters that threaten nobody but myself, then it has overstepped the mark.
We haven’t fought for centuries to rid ourselves of religious control to allow the modern State to fill the gap. Politicians of all complexions once knew the limits of their remit and competency and by and large kept out of our private lives. When they did intrude, as in the cases of homosexuality or prostitution, they did so because they misguidedly thought they were protecting ‘family values’. I accept that insofar as such values are concerned, the existence of children does muddy the moral waters; parents have a moral responsibility to care for their children, failing to do which entitles society (via the State) to step in. The reduction of sugar and salt in the food and drink most often consumed by children might be justified on those grounds, although I personally doubt it. But current proposals to impose the same legal constraints on adult foods has no justification at all. I am overweight; eat far too much salt and sugar; and take no exercise. That is my choice and my choice alone. What next – legally enforcible use of a treadmill twice a week? Statutory stomach stapling for the obese? It is reasonable to enforce limits on my propensity to drive too fast to protect other road users. But to force me to wear a seatbelt or a helmet – whose liberties am I infringing if I choose not to? I certainly shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car under the influence of alcohol or drugs: but if, in the comfort and privacy of my home (and assuming I am not responsible for the care of another human being or animal), I choose to drink myself, or smoke myself, or inject myself to an inglorious and messy death – why the bloody hell shouldn’t I? Who suffers? Having done away with a heavenly father, I don’t need a human substitute sitting in Westminster or Brussels wasting my taxes on unwarranted intrusions and failing to confront issues of real social consequence, that require them to get to grips with sciences like economics instead of quasi-religious ideas of charitable interference in individual liberty.