Friday, 24 February 2012


This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Misrepresenting secularism
Bishop Tim (First Person, February 18 ) suggests that this is an opportunity to "make those who are secular feel at home".
I would welcome that: for I did not feel welcome when he kept me from speaking in the civic service as chaplain to the Lord Mayor, nor when he wrote in these pages that my beliefs were a "tale told by an idiot", nor when the Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress and I found ourselves listening to a psalm in which the psalmist grieves about "the ungodly" prospering but is reassured knowing that they will "consume: perish and come to a fearful end!".
I do not feel welcome when he insinuates that I would get rid of spires, churches, gurdwaras and temples – he did this several years ago in correspondence over setting up the Samworth Academy – he has had ample time to learn otherwise.
And as for wanting "a secular state from which all signs of human believing have been removed" – it is very difficult to engage with fantasies.
These may be personal matters, but when we come to Baroness Warsi's Vatican Speech, we are getting to serious issues important to us all.
We have a senior figure in our government who seems not to have the first idea of political and religious history, who lacks breadth of vision, who is dangerously intoxicated and naively enthusiastic.
Her smearing and demonising of secularism is frighteningly like the demonising of Islam that she and I would both condemn – it is never plain "secularism", but always "militant and deeply intolerant secularism", "aggressive secularism imposed by stealth", "totalitarian secularism that denies people the right to religious identity", "secularism that attempts to remove all trace of religion from culture, history and public discourse".
How did she get these ideas? Not by growing up in Leicester.Humanists and secularists do not ask people to give up or diminish their faith or dumb down – we ask them to look more deeply into them and share what they can with us.
We fully recognise that religion has a role to play and that it is central to the lives of many – we have always defended and will always defend freedom of religion.
We share with the Pope the view that "the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief... need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation".
We share with caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib: "Every man is your brother... either your brother in faith or your brother in humanity."
We share with Sayeeda Warsi the view that "the cultures we've created, the values we hold and the things we fight for stem from something we've argued over, dissented from, discussed and built up" – but does she have any idea what these things are? We share humanity with everyone.
Allan Hayes, Leicester Secular Society

It's ironic that, when I read Allan's letter on the Mercury website, two of the three "Ads by Google" listed immediately below it were: "How to convert to Islam" (become a Muslim with Live Help chat) and "Loft Conversion Experts".

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