East London Humanists article Newham Recorder May 2017.
In an extraordinary intervention the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have attempted to make faith an election issue. At the same time they have insulted the countless decent people who have no religious belief and who play an important part in the life of this country.
In their pre-election letter to the Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England the Archbishops denounce the growth of secularism and call for faith to play a central role in politics. The letter makes the bold assertion that: ‘Religious belief is the well-spring for the virtues and practices that make for good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities…’ Really?
Where does their claim leave all the excellent non-faith schools? Or the non-faith based youth groups? These include the Scouts and Guides who recently abandoned any religious qualification for membership. Are they not equally capable of creating good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities? Are non-religious parents somehow less able to raise good children than religious parents? Are the sacrifices and dedication of nurses and police who don’t believe in God of less value than that of believers?
The letter is from a Church that enjoys a position of power and privilege completely out of place in a modern diverse Britain. Their Bishops have an automatic right to sit in the House of Lords and decide on our laws without the inconvenience of having to stand for election. Church of England schools, often state-funded, continue to turn away pupils who are of the ‘wrong’ faith or belief, and often from poorer families. While the letter celebrates this country’s Christian heritage it is silent on the Church’s less than perfect record on women’s rights, gay rights and child abuse.
The letter correctly recognises the importance of this election and the many challenges we face. However, elevating the role of faith in our political life is not the answer. On the contrary, the best recipe for peace, social cohesion and progress is a secular nation where all are treated and valued equally regardless of their religion or belief.
Chair East London Humanists.’