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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

A Seasonal Message from the President

The economic downturn is being seen by the churches as an opportunity for them to bring people back to religion. Vicars are reporting more bums on pews, priests are telling us that mass attendance is rising.

But they shouldn’t get their hopes up. After three generations of secular life in this country, church-going is not something that people turn to as an answer to life’s problems. The churches say that people are “returning to church”. The problem with that bit of flim-flam is that most of them have never been there in the first place in order to “return”.

Or, as one wag put it: “People are returning to church – they forgot their umbrella”.

Poll after poll shows that religion is increasingly irrelevant to most people’s lives. The Eurobarometer poll taken this year showed that in Britain only 9% of people consider that religion has any personal value for them. Only 38% believe in God. And given the well-known phenomenon of overstatement by respondents to polls about religion (one trusted religious statistician put it at as much as 50%), these are very conservative figures.

Let’s be clear. We at the National Secular Society have no problem with anyone’s personal faith. We’re happy if people want to believe in God, Allah, Yahweh, Thor, Buddha and uncle Ron Hubbard and all. The parting of the ways comes when those personal beliefs get organised and try to impose themselves on “unbelievers”.

We need tolerance, of course, but tolerance works both ways. We need respect, but respect has to be earned. I am happy to tolerate people’s religious beliefs, so long as they don’t try to dictate the political agenda, and I am happy to respect people’s right to faith (I can’t go so far as to respect the actual beliefs. I find them ridiculous) so long as it is personal and non-invasive.

As liberal people lose patience with the reactionary turn that religion has taken, they are abandoning it in increasing numbers. What is left is a religious establishment obsessed with issues that the rest of society has now settled in its own mind – women’s equality, abortion, contraception, homosexuality, bioethics, euthanasia. Religion has decided to wage war against the consensus. It will lose.

The struggle to keep increasingly political clerics out of our legislative process will continue. The Government in this country still seems obsessed with the “faith communities” and their self-proclaimed power and influence. One day that will change, because the claims that religion is important to our society will have to be acknowledged for what they are – fantasy.

In the meantime, it is beholden on all democrats, secularists, freethinkers, rationalists, humanists and believers in human self-determination to stand against these theocrats who would reshape our society into their own regressive, repressive mould.

Make a start by joining the National Secular Society. Do it today.

Terry Sanderson
President, National Secular Society

22 December 2008


Published Mon, 22 Dec 2008