Mr Simon Barrow
— Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society (NSS;
Letters, 2 November) misses the Revd Dr Giles Fraser’s
central point (Comment,
“neutral” version of secularism which the NSS upholds
apparently wishes to exclude religion from every sphere of civic
participation (not just governance). The NSS recently approvingly
quoted Ted Rall as saying “Religion has no place in the public
life of a democracy. None.” It therefore opposes not just
confessional teaching of religion in publicly funded schools
(quite understandably), but education about the phenomenon of
labels chaplains in hospitals (including humanist ones)
“parasites”. It does not think that religious groups should be
able to publicise events in libraries alongside other
civil-society groups, or that people should be able to wear
religious symbols in public places; and so on.
NSS says that religion is only “for the home and place of
worship”, though it appears to take the Dawkins line that
involving children in any religious activities is automatically
contrast, Ekklesia, while agreeing that religious representatives
and groups should not hold governing power or special privileges
in public institutions and the tax regime, supports a plural civic
arena open to all.
Sanderson has said that he regards all “moderate believers” as
sharing “the same beliefs that motivate bombers and theocrats,
misogynists and homophobes” (The Guardian). In an NSS article,
he says: “Rowan Williams’ theology is just as nutty as that of
the biblical literalists” — probably not on the basis of a
careful assessment of his scholarly output. This will strike many
as a curious form of “neutral secularism”.
comedian Pat Condell, moreover, goes out of his way to say that it
is Islam as a whole he is attacking, not just extremism. His video
calls Muslim women who wear face veils “mentally ill”, and
talks of Muslim men as “pigs”. It is astonishing that a
leading NSS figure appears unable to distinguish between
unpleasant abuse and reasoned criticism.
am sure this does not represent the majority of non-religious
people, let alone secularists. The NSS has important things to
say, but it sadly undermines its case when it appears to indulge
blanket anti-religious prejudice.
the Revd David Ackerman
— It is always useful to know what the National Secular Society
is up to; and so it was interesting to see the letter from Terry
National Secular Society is often wheeled out to make a critical
comment about the Church, but I wonder on whose behalf it speaks.
Secularisation is real, but it can hardly be described as a
popular movement (it rather advances by stealth). I am yet to meet
anyone who has told me of his or her burning desire to live in a
“neutral state”, probably because people know that one can
never exist. When a state becomes secular, it does not become
neutral. A state must always advance codes of behaviour and even
belief. If not, there would be anarchy.
Sanderson can speak only for members of his society. I suspect
that there are perhaps fewer of them than the people Dr Fraser
gets through his church door in a year.
Parsonage, High Street
Glos GL7 4ET
Mr Roger Godin
— Dr Fraser’s article on the National Secular Society caused
me to look at the society’s website and the certificate of
is such a sad site. As you read the “case studies”, you see
that many of the sad misunderstandings arise from the failure of
the Church to explain not only the meaning of baptism, but also
the heart of the gospel. The renunciation of “the perfidious
belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged
ORIGINAL SIN” (sic, from the certificate) reveals that many
people have not heard the full story of what baptism is all about.
I am grateful to the Archbishop of York for his gracious response
to one seeker of “de-baptism”, quoted on the website.
there is another aspect of “de-baptism”. That is the growing
number of Christian teenagers, in particular, who regret that they
were christened in infancy and, sadly, often seek baptism (usually
by immersion) in another denomination.
might be worth while to mention that a diocesan bishop wrote
recently, reminding us that the Common Worship Affirmation of
Baptismal Faith opens up for a person baptised in infancy the
possibility of renewing, affirming, and renewing his or her
baptism, by walking through a baptismal pool and immersing himself
or herself (Common Worship: Christian Initiation, pages 349f).
may not be the same as believers’ baptism (indeed, it must be
clear that it is not), but it does give the opportunity for the
vivid outward and visible testimony often sought by enquirers to
our website (www.baptism.org.uk).