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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

The Interfaith fantasy

Editorial by Terry Sanderson

It seems “interfaith” is the new buzzword to ensure taxpayers’ money is poured into the pockets of religious groups. This week, Hazel Blears, the Communities Minister, announced a £7.5 million fund for “interfaith” groups that are aimed at bringing warring religious factions together for the benefit of the community.

It’s a great idea on paper, and the self-serving proponents of “interfaith” groups will happily produce a list of projects as long as your arm about how successful their initiatives are. But I still can’t help being sceptical. At base, religions are mutually exclusive. Their beliefs are largely incompatible with each other. When the artificial bonhomie is removed, conflict will flare again.

Each of these religions has words for people of other faiths (or even dissenters from their own interpretation of their own faith) that are not very flattering: kaffirs, heretics, infidels, apostates, blasphemers etc. All faiths have, at some point in their history, tried to eradicate their competitors. In some parts of the world, that effort is still going on.

It is only in places like Britain, where religion is weak and treated with suspicion by the general population, that such a concept as “interfaith” can exist. Can you imagine the existence of “interfaith” in Iran or Afghanistan, for instance? Religious minorities in those parts of the world walk a constant tightrope of insecurity and fear. The death squad or the lynch mob can arrive on your doorstep at any moment.

So, interfaith might seem like the answer. Bring these hostile forces together and try to make them understand each other. The trouble is that interfaith groups tend, by definition, to attract only the people of good will, the ones who desperately want peace between faiths. Those who really need to be convinced are nowhere to be seen at these gatherings – they’re too busily engaged in planning and working towards bringing an end to competing religions.

Let’s be honest. The real target of Mrs Blears’ initiative is radical young Muslims, the ones that we occasionally see on trial for conspiring to bring carnage and chaos to the West. This whole Government obsession with religion is based on the fear of what such young radicals will do next. In other words, terrorism and blackmail has succeeded as a strategy for the radicals whose aim is to impose their world view on us all.

For all its big words about “the war on terror”, it is Government initiatives such as the interfaith one that illustrate that the terrorists are winning the propaganda war.

Suddenly, it’s religion, religion, religion – everywhere you look. And this is precisely not only what the radicals and the bigots wanted, but also the established Archbishops, imams and rabbis. They might tut about the bombs and the threats of bombs, but they also enthusiastically exploit the new focus on religion that these acts of terrorism have brought. They have opportunistically brought themselves to the fore on the back of a very specific fear of a very specific interpretation of Islam. They whinged for decades about their neglect, but now they have seen that change — in the name of religious inclusion — into a political obsession. It is the other religions that are piggy-backing their way into our lives on the back of the tiger that radical Islam has released.

But here’s a message Mrs Blears – one that she will not want to hear. Hardly anyone in this country is interested in religion. In fact, your constant harping and favouring of the religious is actually creating hostility in the minds of people who were previously indifferent. You should take a look at the readers’ comments that appear in newspapers under the proliferating number of pro-religious articles. Invariably the message is the same: get religion off our backs.

Why isn’t the Government listening to the majority who don’t want religion interfering in their lives? Who don’t want the “faith communities” providing their schools, their welfare services or their law making?

The interfaith project will not solve the problems of terrorism, nor will faith-based welfare bring the benefits that its enthusiasts promise.

We must get religion out of the state. We must get theology out of politics. Let religion solve its own problems at its own expense. The state need concern itself only with upholding the law. If the adherents of religion fail to abide by the law of the land, they should be brought to justice.

One day, hopefully before it’s too late, the Government is going to get the message. Secularism is the only answer. If we continue down the line of religious accommodation, we will see the endless conflicts that religion seems able to generate worming their way into the machinery of state.
See also: The Saudi conference on interfaith co-operation” was a farrago of hypocrisy


25 July 2008


Published Fri, 25 Jul 2008