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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

New Year\'s message to the Archbishop of Canterbury

31st December 2003

Dear Dr Williams,

We have grown accustomed to hearing a New Year’s message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, so this year we thought we would reciprocate by sending you a message.

We listened with interest to your Christmas sermon this year and particularly to your assertion that many people fear religion. You admit that they have good reason to do so. We need only look around the world to see the bloodshed that is perpetrated in the name of religion in so many regions.

Your suggestion that this slaughter and oppression is not the "whole story" about religion is true. You say that such violence is rejected "at every level" of religious belief. This is self-evidently untrue.

The Islamic jihadists who are at present holding us all in a state of terror and apprehension, represent one level of religious belief. The people who kill in the name of Allah are undoubtedly sincere believers. Indeed, so sincere is their belief that they consider your, different, belief to be a lie.

You speak of the rise in anti-Semitism and religious persecution, but fail to mention that it is often other religionists who are responsible for this violence. The upsurge in attacks on Jews is, in the main, the responsibility of young Muslims, enraged by the situation in Palestine. This was revealed in a recent report from the EU’s European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia -- a report that was suppressed because it told this unwelcome truth.

The suppression of Christian worship in Islamic countries is not carried out by the secularists that you so despise, but by believers in another religion. The suicide bombers who destroy so many innocent lives are not non-believers. You and other apologists for religion understandably wish to distance yourself from the perpetrators of these monstrous acts, but there can be no doubt that their motivation is mainly religious.

People are right to be afraid of religion. Where it is powerful -- such as in the Islamic world -- it is oppressive, cruel and dictatorial. Where it is weak -- as in most of Europe -- it is less of a threat to human rights and is healthily regarded as eccentric and undesirable by many. The history of religion in Europe is not simply one of learning and charity, it is also one of warfare, slaughter and power-seeking. Europeans have worked hard to rid themselves of the legacy of such corruption. The French fought a revolution to remove the oppressive, self-serving Catholic Church from power. It now rightly seeks to protect that heritage.

This new international religious resurgence has the power to destroy us all. Sensible people are aware of that, and will continue to balk at the emergence of priests who pose as politicians and politicians who think they are priests. If that resistance expresses itself in the mocking of religious posturing in political life, then we welcome it.

We have nothing against your personal faith, but we are frightened by your proselytising. We will continue to resist your incursion into our education system -- a cynical exercise in self-perpetuation. We will struggle to remove your bishops from our legislature, and we will continue to agitate until the Church of England no longer enjoys privileges of establishment.

Secularism is not an alternative religion, as it suits the purpose of many -- including you --to categorize it. It is simply the seeking a level playing field where no one is either privileged or disadvantaged through their religious beliefs, or lack of them. Ironically, a secular democracy is the best guarantor of religious freedom. Britain has a long way to go before becoming that.

We also note with concern the growing influence of the Catholic Church in the UN and EU institutions. The Vatican has the sleekest diplomatic service in the world which it uses to undermine the democratic process and even-handed government. Much worse, in the fields of sexual conduct, it devastates human rights initiatives, and even spreads falsehoods about the effectiveness of condoms and obstructs their distribution which leads directly to countless needless deaths from AIDS in Africa. This is religious malignity at its worst.

Ironically, millions of Catholics are appalled by such inhumanity being carried out in their name. Women in particular suffer through the needless deaths, poverty and drudgery arising from the policies on birth control (that even apply even following rape) and abortion, and from their subjugation and the denial of any significant role in leadership their church.

We therefore note with concern your fealty to the Pope.

We would welcome a public dialogue with you on such matters.

We send you greetings for a peaceful new year and hope you will pursue this with rather more insight than hitherto. We also hope that you will use your position to stamp out the cruelty perpetrated to gay people by your Church and that has become more intense in the last year.

Yours sincerely,

Terry Sanderson
Vice President

NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY