The levelling power of religion

By Simon Barrow
November 5, 2007

Religion has sometimes been a friend of democracy and sometimes an enemy. It is impossible to generalise (about either religion or politics). But the 'credit' side is often overlooked in current debates.

Recently Stephen Bates noted an event in the Guardian which we should probably have reported, since it involves one of our associates. Then again, this particular vegetarian would have found a hog roast a little than inviting as his particular way to toast freedom. But each to their own!

Exactly 360 years after the Levellers gathered at his church in Putney to debate the sort of democratic society they wished to see, the current vicar Giles Fraser [of St Mary's], is throwing open the doors for anniversary discussions, with even a hog roast and beer tent in the churchyard this weekend. Dr Fraser - a contributor to the Guardian as well as the Church Times and the BBC's Thought for the Day slot - will be hosting historians Antonia Fraser and Tristram Hunt, Billy Bragg and Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti among others. There will even be a delegation of MPs - led by Black Rod - rowed upstream from Westminster. They will be celebrating the parliamentary soldiers' debates, which were first suppressed and then forgotten for several centuries. "This is a chance to show secularists like AC Grayling, desperate to claim that religion and democracy are always in conflict, that actually the first stirrings of democracy began in this country in church during a prayer meeting," said Fraser pugnaciously.

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