Ouch! Nick Shields’ erratic blunderbuss (Pilgrim’s Progress, March 2) hits some of my most cherished beliefs including republicanism and democratic reform of the House of Lords.
However, due to limitations of space may I be permitted as an atheist member of the British Humanist Association to restrict my reply to his assault on secularism?
Mr Shields attacks Richard Dawkins for ‘confessing’ (strange word) to being ‘a bit of an agnostic’. Well, of course he is, as is Mr Shields himself! We are all agnostics in the philosophical sense. Your correspondent cannot know, in any real sense of that word, that his God exists and I cannot prove in the strictly scientific sense that he/she does not! However, for all practical purposes I am an atheist in that common sense suggests to me that the concept of an existent supreme being is completely nonsensical and irrational. As Bertrand Russell famously stated: no-one can actually prove that there is not a teapot in elliptical orbit round the earth but no-one thinks this is probable. The same goes for God. Accordingly, I live my (hopefully not too debauched) life without reference to any such supposed entity.
It is not secularists who are sidelining, marginalising or downgrading religion as Mr Shields alleges. This is the argument put about by those Christians (by no means all) who want their faith to keep a privileged place in society (sometimes exempt from equality laws) with freedom to discriminate against the non-religious or those who do not conform to their mores.
Why else have faith schools, religious assemblies in state schools, religious organisations increasingly providing public services, Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords or indeed set prayers at council meetings? If religion is being sidelined it is because of a social trend which has been going on for years.
For ours is not a Christian society but a secular, pluralist and multicultural one. The recently published Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation found that of those who ticked the ‘Christian’ box in the 2010 Census form 65% were not religious, 60% had not read the Bible in the past year, only 30% claimed to have strong religious beliefs while a mere 10% sought guidance on moral questions from religious teachings.
Unlike in the former totalitarian Soviet Union, Humanists want a tolerant and just society where all, whatever their beliefs or philosophical positions, are treated equally and without prejudice, are free to practise within the law what they believe and where no-one receives special treatment because of their creed. It is this purely reasonable position which is under attack from certain Christians and other religious adherents like Baroness Warsi.