25 April 2007

Humanism Vs Religion

Last week we had Lord Harrison of the British Humanist Association launch a debate in the House of Lords on "the position in British society of those who profess no religion," in which he criticised the Archbishop of York, called on the non-religious to stand up against what he claims is a "newly aggressive" religious lobby, and all but accused the leaders of monotheistic religions of an unholy alliance.

Now we have the Archbishop of Canterbury urging politicians to rediscover the "moral energy and vision" that inspired the anti-slave trade campaigners. He maintains that "Wilberforce – not to mention Equiano and the others – confronts us now with the question, 'If Christians, committed to personal responsibility and social justice, cannot keep before the eyes of the state and its legislators the greater issues beyond security and profit, who can?'"

It seems to me that this apparent stand-off between secularists and religionists is in fact another false dichotomy, not unlike the supposed clash of civilisations. We could all adopt intransigent positions and even burn effigies of those with whom we disagree on matters of truth and reality. Alternatively, we could recognise that everyone – be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, humanist, secularist, atheist, or agnostic – has a belief system that informs their decisions and influences the role that they choose to play in society.

The trouble, I suspect, is that for all too long the Church of England has taken a backseat when it comes to political debate in this country. It is only now that independent evidence is increasingly pointing to the loss of traditional, faith-inspired morality as a principal factor fuelling family breakdown and societal collapse that believers are waking up to the need for them to re-engage in the debate. This may upset certain vested interests who have grown accustomed to having their own way; however, if this means we see genuine debate over policies in this country once again, rather than the present perception that "all parties are the same," then this must be a healthy development for democracy. So long as we can avoid letting the extremists from polarising every issue...