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This is my point to the noble Lord: it so happens that the great faiths that we have in this countryChristianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhismare all, at heart, about just that. They are about empathy, feeling what it is like to be in anothers shoes, being self-critical, seeking and recognising the good in others, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and helping others where help is needed. Of course, that behaviour is plentiful in people who profess no religion, but because it is the kind of behaviour that all the great faiths in our midst nurture at their heart, and because, goodness knows, we all need that kind of behaviour, no one should feel threatened by, or indeed threaten or resent, those who live by a faith.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, referred the other day to his lecture at Dundee University and expressed the view that we in this country have never needed spirituality more than we do today. He speaks as a scientist. However, spiritualityones understanding of what life is aboutis a deep-down thing. It is part and parcel of a person, and it is unsurprising that, when that spirituality is threatened, there is a strong reaction from organised religion on their members behalf. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and those who share his concern worry too much. The tribal behaviour of religious bodies is one thing, especially when, rightly or wrongly, they are cornered into
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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, in 1959 I spent a holiday in the USSR and visited the city of Smolensk, where Intourist arranged a guide to show me around the cathedral. The guide was a Soviet woman battleaxe of the type who had no doubt killed whole regiments of Germans with her bare teeth. As we were leaving the cathedral she said to me fiercely, Do you believe in God?. I hummed and hawed for a bit and said, No, not really. She said, Well then, why do you not stay in the Soviet Union?. She clearly thought that as a non-believer I was subject to persecution in the United Kingdom. I did not feel persecuted then, nor do I now.
However, I have concerns particularly with education. I am therefore extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for having introduced this important and perhaps overdue debate. I agree with much but not everything that the noble Lord says. I do not want humanism treated as a virtual religion. For that reason, I do not want humanists to be represented as a specific group on public occasions. Nor do I have any particular objection to prayers in your Lordships House. For me, humanism is a fallback position not a matter of positive belief. As I get older I simply get more convinced that there is no credible evidence for the existence of God and see no merit in believing the truth of something not supported by evidence.
I fully support the right of believers to freedom of belief, but I believe that church and state should be separate. Schools are perhaps the most significant problem, if not the only one. Why should we have schools funded by the state which discriminate on grounds of religion? Why should children be denied entry to the best and nearest school to their home because their parents do not share a particular belief system to which that school is attached? Why should faith schools be entitled to discriminate in the employment of teachers who are not employed to teach religious education?
If we were starting from scratch, I would want to see a state-funded school system which does not teach any faith as truth or select on grounds of faith. Comparative religion and explaining the central tenets of main world religions could be taught, but teaching should not be wider than that. In principle, teaching any religious belief as truth should be left to churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.
I recognise that we do not start from scratch. By the time state education was introduced in the Education Act 1870, there were already established networks of free or subsidised church schools; namely, Church of England, Roman Catholic and non-conformists. Those networks were inevitably
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We have since become a multi-faith society, and non-belief has greatly increased. It is time to revisit the 1870 settlement. We cannot abolish it completely, but we could sayI believe we should saythat there should be no new state-assisted faith schools and no academies sponsored by religious bodies. We should remove the rights of existing faith schools to discriminate in their admissions and teacher appointments on religious grounds. State funding should not be provided for any school that teaches creationism or its little brother, intelligent design, either as truth or as a serious hypothesis.
I do not feel now any more than I did in 1959 that I suffer discrimination in this country on the grounds that I am not a believer in God. It has never been an issue in my political career, unlike in the USA, where an admission of the absence of belief in God would make a political career almost certainly impossible. My grandchildren go to a good local primary school which is not a faith school, but I have to say that if those grandchildren had been denied admission to a local primary school because their parents were not believers, I would have felt that there really was discrimination against them. That real threat must be dealt with in this country to avoid treating humanists in a way that they do not deserve.
The Archbishop of York: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has described me as having a harsher voice, but I can assure noble Lords that they will not hear a harsher voice. Twenty-seven years ago I was chaplain to a young offenders remand centre, Latchmere House. Every inmate was asked to declare his religious affiliation, and four young men were registered as having no religion. One Sunday, all the inmates were offered the chance to go to worship. The four young men with no religion declined the offer, while their fellow inmates on the A wing took up the offer. The prison officer, not wanting the four men to remain locked up in their cells, asked them to clean the toilets on the wing. The following Sunday, our four non-religious young men took up the offer to go to worship. The prison officer was puzzled why they had opted in this week. Why are you going to chapel? he asked. The four replied, Sir, we didnt like the No Religion place of worship. Crudely as they put it, those four young men were saying in their naivety that we are all essentially religious. The question is not whether we worship, but rather one of who or what do we worship. We give allegiance to something, and during my time at Latchmere House we persuaded everyone to volunteer to clean the toilets.
In a study called Spirituality among randomly selected primary school children in Nottingham and Birmingham some years ago, the researchers said that they did not come across a child who did not have an
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For me, this is not a human-centred universe. Religious and non-religious people need to recognise the absolute mystery of existence. By mystery, I do not mean the unexplained, but the question that persists beyond the possible explanation. Wittgenstein put it wonderfully when he said:
Beyond all the explanations the question persists: why should there be anything at all rather than just nothing? For me, belief in God, whose face I have beheld in Jesus Christ, means not only that he makes me see things in a new light but that he sets me free to do things in a new way. Why? Because for me he is not only a model for life, like birds for the aeroplane, but a living presence who helps me to live as he lived. He is not just a great teacher who lived, or simply a person to be studied in a book, or a perfect pattern or example.
We can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common line is that we all inhabit this small planet. We breathe the same air; we all cherish our childrens future. And we are all mortal.
How are we to do this? I suggest we do it by not polarising the claims of law and freedom. For me, the greatest danger we face in this country is the ethical and spiritual problems associated with the concepts of law and freedom. It is a problem for society, which can scarcely hope to survive without the delicate balance between them. If we do not delicately balance them, we will be in trouble. It is a problem for the individual, who swings uneasily between the seemingly old-fashioned moral imperative of a higher authority and the seemingly legitimate demands of their own physical and moral nature. As one of my predecessors, Archbishop Stuart Blanch, said:
Long before we perish of pollution or civilisation goes up in some nameless holocaust we may die the death of those who, in the pursuit of freedom, undermine the law, or in the name of the law extinguish freedomunless, that is, we are prepared to learn from the past and take more seriously than we sometimes do the accumulated wisdom of a peculiar gifted peoplethe people of the Bible.
For me, any society that forgets its memory becomes senile. Balancing the rule of law and freedom has been the greatest gift this nation has offered the world. I trust, therefore, that we will not give away that birthright for the very thin stew of social justice. The sure-footed way of keeping our birthright is the,
Lord Judd: My Lords, I am sure the whole House should be deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Harrison for having introduced this debate. I have often felt, in the debates he introduces in this House, that he brings with him a warm engagement with the realities of society, what people are really encountering out there and what really makes society, at the grassroots, tick. It is always good that he challenges us with those perceptions.
I am sure I am not alone in reflecting that in the experience of life, some of the finest, most humane, perceptive and principled, most socially committed, wise and decent people I have encountered have been among those who are agnostic, atheist and those just with no religion. Conversely, it would be madness to deny that the reality of the human story is that in the name of religion so much suffering has been caused, so much oppression and bigotry generated.
As one bred in a Church of Scotland and English non-conformist family, I have always been very much at home in the Anglican Church since my wife introduced me to it, and I sometimes ask myself: what is it that makes me feel at home there? I believe it is the inclusiveness, tolerance, rationality and openness of that church at its best. I cannot say how sad I become when there seem to be those in its ranks who want to turn it into just another exclusive sect. I would argue that exclusiveness and sectarianism are the biggest dangers to humanity in the age in which we live.
Some years ago I was serving on the Commission on Global Governance. It was a fascinating experience; people were there from all around the world, with a great deal to offer. We got on extremely well on that commission. I remember reflecting, in a casual conversation one day with another member of the commission, that in some ways our natural intellectual village was a commission like that. We lived in an international world; that meant something to us. We found it an altogether good and positive experience to be together. Reflecting on this, my friend and I came to the conclusion that our position was very privileged, and at times it must be very threatening to many deprived and excluded people throughout the world.
Dwelling on that thought, I have come to the conclusion that we must be careful not to deny identity. It is terribly important to develop a sense of identity. People need to be secure in what is familiar and means something to them. The challenge is then to lead on from that position to a recognition that the
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If that is true of those with faith, it must be true of those with no religion. We deprive ourselves of an essential part of the success of society unless those who have that particular orientationor lack of orientationare as full members of society as anyone else. We should be concentrating on the importance of contributing from our different backgrounds to a citizenship that we all share; a global citizenship.
I conclude with this experience. Forgive me if it is a little personal. I was once discussing my younger daughter with my parish priest, who is a good friend. She is an extremely warm and committed person who, I am proud to say, works in the front line among women with mental health problems in deprived communities. I was discussing the fact that she did not share a sense of religion. He said to me, Frank, I have come to the conclusion that what we should be doing in life is seeking truth. We all find a path to start climbing the mountain of truth. We cannot hang around at the bottom looking for the perfect path; we start climbing from where we are. It is a very big mountain and takes a long time to get to the top, but as we climb, is it is important to remember that countless other people are climbing it on other paths. If by climbing whatever path we have chosen we reach the summit together, we must respect and love those who have chosen paths different from ours.
Baroness Flather: My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this debate. This House excels at this kind of debate. Perhaps no other political Chamber is brave enough to discuss these issues so openly. For that, we should be grateful not only to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, but to everyone who will take part. They will say things that matter to them, and that is the bottom line.
I was brought up a Hindu by a very devout mother. At the age of 12, she started me off on meditation. Unfortunately, the holy lady who was living with us who I meditated with used to fall asleep very quickly and start snoring. A child of 12 is too young anyway, and when the person who is supposed to be leading you into something very special starts snoring, that is not a very good start.
The other problem that arose was that my mother was a very unhappy woman. In spite of her great religious beliefher following all the rituals and festivals and so forthshe was full of anger. She had great grievance against everyone, including all of us; her three children and her husband. None of us had lived up to her expectations in any way whatever. Surely, being a religious person should give you peace of mind. What else would you want to be religious for except to feel good inside you? She did not feel good inside and that is what started me on the path that I have now taken.
As we have heard, all religions are essentially good, we all know that. It is the followers who are a
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Hindus respect all faiths; there is no question about that. When I was a child we were told that it was just a question of pathways to God, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, and that you could choose whichever pathway you wanted. There is nothing lower or higher; it is a pathway to God. That is how I was brought up.
When I came to this country, I knew that it was Christian. I have never had any problem with the value system. My value system as a Hindu is no different from the Christian value system. We all want the same things; we all try to do the same things. It has always been thus for me.
Hinduism is a very broad church, if I may use that term. I am an atheist and yet I am accepted by Hindus because as far as I can I follow the principles of the Gita, which I consider the most important Hindu book. In my small way I try to live by that. I do not believe in God but I believe that we have to live a good life on this Earth. We have to give out as much as we can. That is no different from any other faith community. We are all taught similar things.
Looking at the Blair decade, where are we at? What different has happened? I am deeply concerned about the pandering to other faith communities in this nation. This is a Christian country. We should either accept that or separate the state and Christianity; you cannot have it both ways. The other faith communities should not be led to believe that they have equal faith rights in this country. That leads me essentially to the faith schools. If our children are not educated together, when will they learn to live together as adults? Our children need to live and learn togetherthat is absolutely straight down the linebut they do not.
The other problem is the intent to dilute very important factors such as our wonderful anti-discrimination legislation. In trying to pander to the faith communities our Prime Minister is willing to sacrifice parts of it, which is a very dangerous thing to do. He has led us into the most disastrous faith-based conflict we could ever have imagined. I do not know how we shall get out of it. It has destabilised the Middle East and put us under threat. What will come out of it? We need to consider these faith issues very carefully. I have not faced religious discrimination but that may be because I have faced other sorts of discrimination and have not realised that I faced religious discrimination. I have run out of time; I hope that noble Lords will forgive that.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, for the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, to initiate this debate requires him to adhere to the convention of the House by which he moves for Papers. I understand that that device is a technicality and that he will withdraw the Motion at the end of the debate, but it has set me musing upon this question: suppose the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, were to press his Motion for Papers? What would the papers be about? Who
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Some of the papers might, for instance, be trucesthat is, areas in which we agree that, although we differ from one another, we want to ensure are not going to turn into a battleground. Some of the papers will be academic papers, which examine the diverse philosophical traditions from which we operate and the contribution that both faith and non-faith has made to the development of those intellectual traditions. But those would not be all the papers.
Some of the papers would have to be vision statements about the shape of the public square in this country. What kind of life together do we envisage? How dull and flat is that public square to be in the interests of offending nobody or, on the other hand, how variegated, colourful and rich in design is it going to be to enable us to rejoice at bits of it, even though we dislike other bits? That seems the kind of vision statement that might be another of the papers.
There willand we had better be realisticalso be some papers that amount almost to a summons to battle on certain issues. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, is going to speak later, and I look back with very mixed feelings at the phalanx of Bishops with which he was faced when he presented his Bill to this House. That was a mark of a situation in which we have not come to a common mind, and where a sense of mutual threat arises between faith and non-faith on the particular issue with which the noble Lord was concerned. So some papers will make uncomfortable reading.
What will be the purpose of this set of papers for which the noble Lord has moved in his Motion? What would we be trying to achieve? We would be trying to achieve the production of a book of papers, as it were, or perhaps a loose-leaf folder, in which the particular issues of grievance that arise from time to time on the religious and non-religious sides can be held together in a binder that allows us to pursue these issues in due course and at the right timean educational enterprise or kind of seminar for us all to be involved in.
Some of the arguments that will take place around individual papers may be quite fierce, but some of them will be areas of agreement. As I was musing early in the debate, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was in his place and recalled the very creative work that he did in relation to the Scottish Parliament in developing ways in which the recollection and prayerful traditions of a variety of the citizenry could be articulated. Although I may well not reflect the views of all the Lords spiritual, I for one would welcome the creative production of a paper to go in that ring binder.
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