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Columnists

Zero Tolerance

James Cary

Ishout at the TV. It's partly a function of being a dad, and turning forty. But it's also because I'm a sitcom writer. The kind of thing I shout is 'No one would ever do that!' or 'Just call the police!' It's infuriating when characters behave oddly for no apparent reason or a plot contrivance means a character pursues a goal way beyond a point that is reasonable. My life is a constant stream of trying work out who characters are and what motivates them, so my audience don't shout at my show. We rarely hear these motivations spoken aloud because most sitcom characters are deluded, or in denial. We only see their actions. But their actions must have a reason. The way they behave is entirely dependent on how they see the world, and what they hold most dear. I mention this because the motive of politicians has been questioned in the latest round of the 'religion and politics' debate. This was sparked by the election of the new LibDem leader, Tim Farron, a man with a personal vibrant grown-up Christian faith. The worst kind. Or so the media would have you believe. John Humphries was very bothered by the idea that Tim Farron might pray about his politics, as he was when Tony Blair said he prayed with George W Bush. How dare either of them do something that is simultaneously presumptuous, stupid, pointless and dangerous? The suspicion of Farron is also because most journalists and pundits are unable to grasp the basic idea that one is able to personally disapprove of something or think it a sin, but think it should not be made illegal and reclassified a crime. But the bizarre world in which we now live has reclassified tolerance. Tolerance - or being liberal - is no longer putting up with the behaviour of others with which you disagree. It has become applauding the behaviour of others doing that thing you don't like. Or pretending to. This is not progress. The great irony is that religious people are seen as intolerant hotheads, determined to impose their dangerous views on others, but it is the secularists who have all the coercive power on their side. They have the law-makers, magistrates, police and prison guards all enforcing a particular brand of post-Christian, large- state, liberally-aggressive morality. If you don't agree with that brand of popular morality you're out of luck. If you don't bake cakes in favour of it, you will be fined. And if Theresa May gets her way with her jaw-droppingly ill-conceived anti-terror legislation, you'll be arrested for not being British enough. If being British means being a collaborator with the thought police, book me into the East Wing of Strangeways. The debate about whether faith has any place in politics rumbles on, but surely it is a non-question? How can faith and politics be separate? Politics is religion by other means. They are both answering similar questions about how we should live, and what is right and wrong. It is absurd to have to point out that the law and the welfare state are profoundly moral. But on what is that morality based? The real question is how this enforced morality is originated, maintained and amended: by the interpretation of the word of a deity? Or by the votes of an electorate? The will of the people may be democratically legitimate. But it doesn't make it right or just. It just makes it legal and enforceable. Politics is religion, only more so. Religions declare certain practises sins, or even abominations, an offence to God. You may invoke his wrath in the next life, or excommunication from your faith group in this. But if you don't agree with a priest's theology, you can walk away. Your choice of religion is your decision (disregard for a moment that I'm a Calvinist). Disagree with a politician's theology and you may find yourself unable to walk anywhere. The politician can declare your sin to be crime for which you can be arrested, questioned, fined or imprisoned. Far from being worried, we should be happy that we know what Tim Farron believes and on what he bases his politics. And rather than single out Farron, we should be asking every MP about the origins of their moral framework. How would his secular colleagues fare? We would discover that we should not be worried about religion but those who wield the sword of the state with views far more bizarre, unsubstantiated, incoherent and contradictory than those of Mr Farron.