The spiritual practices of political leaders

Image: Atanas Chankov

Spiritual practice should be encouraged, not disdained

In America, it’s close to impossible to become the US President unless you can guarantee the genuineness of your Christian credentials. Here in the UK, however, religious practice of any kind has to be downplayed. Admitting to the need to pray is close to political suicide.

Though David Cameron calls himself a Christian, this is very much played down (except when after certain voters, of course) and no one questions the reality that his Christian faith is distinct from his being Prime Minister. There is a clear separation of personal faith from political leadership.

In our mostly secular society, we despise any sense of dependence upon any kind of deity. Hence the scornful questioning this week by Channel 4 of Andrea Leadsom, the Tory candidate running to replace Cameron.

In many ways, this type of questioning is exactly right. The idea of our politicians ‘hearing from God’ is far too subjective. It’s one thing to ‘hear God’ say you should be generous to someone in need, it’s a whole other thing if someone is ‘hearing God’ say we should, say, go to war.

There is a real danger though with this scepticism around prayer and, in particular, hearing from God, that we dismiss all spiritual practice as being kooky. We live in a country where no political candidate is allowed to give any indication of an active spiritual life, and I don’t think that’s healthy.

Laying aside any particular religious orientation, a healthy spiritual practice in life is vital for anyone hoping to make good decisions on behalf of our nation. I’m not talking about hearing from God or anything subjective like that. I’m talking about practices like reflection, solitude, silence, meditation, and rest.

The science behind the benefits to these practices is indisputable. And so I find it disturbing that there would be disdain toward something that, if practiced by our leaders, would without doubt make them better and more effective leaders.

We should demand to hear about the spiritual practices of our political candidates. We should demand to know how they look after themselves holistically so as to maximise the chances of them making good and wise choices.

It’s one thing to ask our political leaders what their views are, but I’m more interested in the process by which they form their views. And a political leader who engages in thoughtful, reflective, and reasoned decision making – which spiritual practice encourages – is far more likely to be a wise leader.

Why would we mock this? It’s time to not let disdainful religious questioning move us away from the vital truth than healthy leadership requires healthy people. And that means I want a Prime Minister who, religious or not, has an active spiritual life.

How to be human

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