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Agnostics Anonymous

The General Election implicitly asks you to assess your own beliefs about a spectrum of issues, both prospectively (how will this political party behave over the next five years) and retrospectively (how badly has it messed up over the past five). But it ultimately means drawing a single cross in a single box, using chunky pencil on an unwieldy ballot paper, balanced on a splintery shelf in your local primary school. What mathematical system could possibly enable you to weigh up the decision to go to war in a foreign country against the provision of medical treatment for your kids? As a Christian opposed to abortion, is it a sin to vote for an individual candidate, or a party, who supports choice? The CofE has urged its members to vote not for a specific party, and not from self-interest, but by 'think[ing] about the kind of society we want here at home and abroad'. But how to transform this messy mass of judgements into one X is a problem that extends beyond the specific challenges of an election. How many child-molestors must there be among the clergy of a particular religion before we give up the whole shebang as a bad job? At what point do we say that the Church of England has become an institution that is no longer homophobic, or misogynist - or are these attitudes an essential part of it? Can a gay person feel that they have a true home within Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, or does it involve a degree of cognitive dissonance and voluntary deafness that precludes the possibility of a wholehearted belonging? Writing recently in The Independent, Maajid Nawaz argued that prioritising religious belief to the exclusion of other aspects of identity contributes to extremism: 'It is entirely normal for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to have multiple facets to their identity, and an excessive focus on just one reinforces the Islamist paradigm that we should be trying to avoid.' While older Muslims are more likely to see themselves as (for example) Cardiff City fans who support Labour and align themselves with the Bengali community, younger Muslims see themselves as Muslims above all else. This single-mindedness is dangerous because it erodes the bonds that link us across and in contradiction to other aspects of our identity. A Jew and a Muslim may find a common ground in their loathing of Swansea fans that (albeit in a twisted sort of way) preserves a sense of shared humanity. The General Election forces us to decide what, above all else, will determine our vote. But real life is messier than that, and for the other four years, 11 months, and 30 days of our lives, it is worth remembering that no-one's being can really be reduced to a single X.