Mark Owen

Religious fascists and the conscience vote

If you check your dictionaries you will find many definitions of the word 'Fascist' and 'Fascism'. The name is probably most often attached to a particular political group or party that flourished in Europe in the middle of the 20th century. The best-known of these were the Fascists of Mussolini's Italy who were closely allied to the Nazis of Germany, although there were other Fascists, e.g. Franco's Spaniards.

One definition you will often find refers to Fascists being adherents of 'right-wing authoritarian views.' The words 'totalitarian' and 'dictatorial' come to mind. Fascists are all of these things and often more. The Oxford Dictionary sums it up this way: 'Any system of extreme right-wing or authoritarian views.'

I believe religion, more especially dogmatic religion such as that of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and fundamentalist religion, whether Jewish, Islamic of Christian, is essentially fascist in its nature.  Such religion believes its doctrines are the ultimate truth and thus each endeavours to dictate to the rest of the world in matters of morals and behaviour.

Clearly there is an inherent conflict when these religions lay claim to the high moral ground and demand society obeys their dictates. They can't all be right! And when such conflicts arise religion ceases to be a mere spiritual exercise and becomes what it so often clearly is - a political movement.

No wonder in the USA we have a body of people known broadly as the Religious Right. These people have transformed their spiritual exercises into a political movement endeavouring to impose their authoritarian views on the community at large. Well do we describe such a movement as religious fascism. In an earlier era the mighty Roman Church did in fact impose its will upon society at large with rulers subjecting themselves to the dictates of the Church.

And we find the same despotic view among fundamentalist Islamics. There is a teaching prominent in their mosques and schools that insists that everybody must become a Muslim and submit to the rule of Sharia Law. Many Muslims look to the establishment of a modern worldwide caliphate, that is, a sort of kingdom under Islamic rule, essentially a theocracy.

What hope is there for democracy when people embrace such thinking? And I'm not just thinking of Middle Eastern nations. Christian pressure groups threaten to subvert our own democracy. While religions ask for tolerance so they can practice their beliefs they are often quite unwilling to extend the same tolerance to the rest of us. We don't all have the same views on issues such as marriage, women's rights, censorship, prostitution and nudity, to name just a few.

And, if democracy means government according to the will of the majority (with safeguards for minorities) why is it that politicians, for example, pay more heed to the views of the religious minority in issues such as voluntary euthanasia where time and again surveys have shown strong support for this facility?

The best safeguard for democracy would be the institution of citizen-initiated referenda but our politicians will never agree to such a system. They would then forfeit too much of the power they so love to wield - especially in that egregious process known as 'the conscience vote' - which I have opposed for years. As I've said so often, if it is a matter for conscience then it is a matter for the conscience of the whole of the people, not just a small group of politicians. How dare they exercise their consciences in this manner when we are denied the same opportunity!

Mark Owen, 2010 -