Tuesday, 14 February 2012

On public prayer in a secular society

Source: thisiscornwall

In a recent High Court ruling on public prayer as a part of parish council meetings, former councillor Clive Bone backed by the National Secular Society won a ruling that stated the council has no basis in law for performing public prayer as a part of its business.

I have already written one post regarding the Bishop of Exeter's reaction to the ruling, but due to the media frenzy surrounding the story, I should like to take the time to write further on it.

In my local news paper (at least, the website version of it), I have become engaged in a debate on the subject, and would like to share it here before someone deems it inappropriate and has it flagged (this would not be the first time it has happened.

mygodlesslifeIf you want an authoritative view on public prayer, perhaps one should look to the scriptures.

Matthew 6:

1 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I wonder if someone were to arrive before official council business insisting on Islamic prayer, if they would be afforded the same religious freedom that Christians claim as a right? Should I too, then, be permitted to make a prayer to His Noodliness (Sauce Be Upon Him) The Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Of course not. The whole process is absurd, and saying that it is a part of our heritage or tradition makes a mockery of the law as it has been applied in Bideford, and is an apologia to those that would argue that traditional approaches to sexism and racism should still be held to be valid today.

Sure, you can say that we have moved on from those outmoded traditions, but why can we not also move on from the outmoded tradition of public religiosity too? It certainly has no rightful place in a society that encapsulates such a diverse set of faiths (and lack of faith). And in particular regard to council business, it serves no useful function whatsoever.

No one is trying to stop people from praying, just that there is a time and a place for it. A Muslim bus driver should not stop his round to lie prone towards Mecca because, whilst doing so, he is incapable of carrying out his duties. The same is true for our councils. Whilst deliberating over a divisive and elitist argument on whether one group's rights have been trampled on or not, no council business is being carried out.

If you chose to believe in the Christian God, fine, but do not force it on to others that do not hold with your flavour of piety, unless you are willing to open the floor to others religious rights.

That is equality. It may also be absurd and a horrible waste of time, but that is just my point. Christian prayer has no right to hold sway over the rights of other religious perspectives, and any form of public prayer in council is absurd and a waste of time. Just leave it out and get on with what you have been elected to do."

 This is a Christian country. . When in Rome do as the Romans do.

WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE ROMANS - "Don't set your own rules when you are someone's guest. The proverb has been traced back to the 1530 'Commonplace Book' and it is first cited in the United States in 'Voyages of Radisson' (1885). The proverb is often attributed to Saint Ambrose (c.340-397), whose advice to Saint Augustine read: Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi ('When you are in Rome live in the Roman style; when you are elsewhere live as they live elsewhere') English diviine Jeremy Taylor (1613-67) also used the proverb."
From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).
The pressures remain and now they span the world. . . . It is 'The Travellers' who must expect to adapt I believe; . . . The 'Romans' may change a little over time and 'ROME' will certainly evolve, but in its own good time!

mygodlesslife   “@Charlespk

Strictly speaking, it is a Protestant country; the monarch still not being permitted to marry Papists, but this misses the point. The fact is, that in reality, it is a secular country where religious freedom is enshrined in law.

As I alluded to in my previous post. Secularism is about treating everyone's religious freedom equally. So taking your 'when in Rome...' quote at face value, we shouldn't obey the law of the land and afford everyone's rights equally? Really? You don't believe in equality of rights?

It appears to me that you think (whether or not this is, in fact, a Christian country) that Christianity should not be held to the same level of equality as other religious persuaions. If this is, indeed, you position, you are a religious bigot. Your Orwellian proposition that some things are more equal than others is disgusting, and you should hang your head in shame. I am British, although sometimes not so proud of it, and it is people like yourself that make me hang MY head in shame.

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' seems to be your line of thought. Well, it is broke, and it needs fixing.

Just an afterthought. Did you mean we are a Christian country because the majority of people here are Christians (a.k.a. the 'might is right' argument)? Allow me to highlight a couple of extracts from research released today.

UK Christians are overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes on a range of issues from gay rights to religion in public life, according to new research.

Three quarters (74%) strongly agree or tend to agree that religion should not have special influence on public policy, with only one in eight (12%) thinking that it should.

More oppose than support the idea of the UK having an official state religion, with nearly half (46%) against and only a third (32%) in favour. The same pattern is repeated with the question of seats being reserved for Church of England bishops in the House of Lords: 32% of respondents oppose, with only 25% in favour.

When asked why they think of themselves as Christian, the research found that fewer than three in ten (28%) say one of the reasons is that they believe in the teachings of Christianity. People are much more likely to consider themselves to be Christian because they were christened or baptised into the religion (72%) or because their parents were members of the religion (38%) than because of personal belief.


Charlespk"it is a secular country."

No it's not, it's a Christian country that 'Common Purpose' are trying to make secular.


From The Times...

Lord Carey's complaint hinges on a sly elision of a crucial distinction. No one is objecting to Christianity's status as a public faith: the issue is whether it should be a civic faith. In a free society, it can't be. What binds us is common citizenship under the rule of law, not what any of us happen to believe about a Jewish apocalyptic preacher in first-century Palestine. - Oliver Kamm

You can object all you like to secularity. What you cannot do is subvert the law of the land which is by necessity secular. Not only English law at that!

The European Convention, made legally binding by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, supersedes British law and stands in International law.

No law can be held legal in this country if it is found to be in contravention os the European Convention of Human Rights.

What this all means is, that it doesn't matter whether you think this is a Christian country or not, legally, it is not. And as Mr Kamm explained, it is the law that binds us together in a secular civic society not our faith in one faith over another, which is illegal.

Is Christianity the predominant faith in this country? Sure! And by quite a large margin. But do not let this lull you into thinking that we live in a Christian society. It is simply a lie.

mygodlesslife “@esotericage3

The National Secular Society is, 'a democratic and independent non-profit organisation which receives no funding from government or other public bodies. Our Campaigning is wholly supported by our members and supporters, people like you who share our belief in the urgent need to keep religion and politics separate.'

Whoever said humanism and Darwinism (whatever the hell that is) are set to replace religion of any form? I think you do not understand what secularism is.

Secularism is a principle that protects both religion and government from interfering with one another. There is no suggestion that religion is to be abolished or even sidelined, in the same way that there is no suggestion that government is to be abolished or sidelined. Indeed, the separation of these powers serves to strengthen and enable each of them to carry out their remits without fear of prejudice or discrimination.

The press (I am looking at you Daily Fail and Torygraph) have done all that is in their power to give credence to the idea that secularism is prejudiced, discriminatory and abolitionist when the truth is the exact opposite.

Once church and state is intertwined, one automatically comes across a power struggle between the will of the people (government) and the will of the privileged (whichever religion has bullied its way into our democracy), and our rights which our ancestors have clamoured for for so many centuries become meaningless.

Yes, this is a Christian country in many ways, but our society is formed under the rule of law that protects everyone equally. If one religion is given preference over any other, ALL of our rights to freedom of religion and conscience have been abandoned.

TO ALL OF YOU that feel that secularism is in any way bad for this country, I have one question I would like to posit.

Do you think that Christianity should have priority over other religious positions at the expense of the equal right to freedom of religion?

If the answer is no, you are a secularist. If the answer is yes, you are no different than those that opposed the female vote, the abolition of slavery, the legalization of homosexuality and even the Papists Act of 1778.”

Charlespk “This talk of secularism is a Red Herring. . This just happens to be a Christian country. .The use of the phrase "I am looking at you Daily Fail and Torygraph" betrays the doctrine being put forward here. . 

It's another of those that has turned this country from Great Britain the United Kingdom, into this dis-UK region of the European Soviet and now without even an English parliament.

There are a lot of references here using the adjective 'normal' in respect of Christianity, now trying to suggest that Christians are somehow 'abnormal'. . I find this to be hypocritical in the extreme, when these commentators would appear to be exactly the same ones who seem to defend unfettered homosexuality, and now even try to somehow suggest homosexuality is as 'normal' as ginger hair. . Redheads are common among Germanic and Celtic peoples and are about 3 or 4% of the UK population. . Examination of the 'tracts' in human biology will tell you one is sterile and very necessary for human reproduction, whilst the other is completely unsterile and totally unsuitable.

To believe in a God, Christ and Christianity and understand man's insignificance, becomes increasingly logical the more we discover about the endless nature of the universe.

Even Steven Hawkings once believed that and in my view nothing new has been learned; quite the opposite in fact.”

mygodlesslife “No, Charlespk, it is not a red herring. You don't get to say that without answering the question I asked of you. Something I notice you have done without having actually answered the question.

I repeat, 'Do you think that Christianity should have priority over other religious positions at the expense of the equal right to freedom of religion?'

So you want to equate homosexuality with ginger hair? Okay. 4%, you say? According to official Government figures, 6% of the UK population are either gay or lesbian. Like having ginger hair, homosexuality is not a choice. I couldn't care less if it is sterile or not. Not everyone is as obsessed with sex as you appear to be.

I'll not even approach what you mean by biological 'tracts'. It is reminiscent of the homophobic and generally hate -filled 'Chick tracts' of the 70's. 

You clearly have no concept of evolutionary biology if you think sterility is necessary for reproduction of ginger haired people. If it were, why are we not all of us ginger haired? 

Your allusion to logic is pitiful.

And if you knew anything about Steven Hawking at all, you would know that he was using the same metaphor that Einstein used before him. Neither believed in a personal god, but were misrepresented by the likes of you.

Back to school with you.”

Charlespk “I rarely answer questions, neither do I do 'Facebook' or 'Twitter'. Ginger hair will not preclude you from any human activity. It is not an abomination.

Ginger hair is a normal genetic variation.

Your medical knowledge is obviously non-existent.

I refer to 'a' God not 'the' God. . It does not matter what God anyone worships.

This is a Christian country revolving around Jesus Christ, son of God the Father, daughter of the Virgin Mary.

I would caution against trying to talk down to me. 


Charlespk “Of course that should read son of the Virgin Mary.”

esotericage3 “@mygodlesslife
From my point of view, "secularism" as an idelogoical philosphy is replacing Christianty as a new form of "world religion" like all those before, just as fantatical, and just as convinced that its outlook as a new religion is the only one that should be followed. I've seen all of this before, whether medieval Christianty of old (and new) Islam, and now we are hearing them again, this time in a new world religion, the one that gives a unique view of God, other religions and how life should be lived is what I call the "religion of secularism." Its aim has been clear to me, to replace traditional religion on the 'back burner' of life and install a completely new view and outlook on life. Secular religion teaches a very different credo from the Christian stand point. A more humanist vision that serves as a more selfish philosophy. 

A religion is the belief concerning the divine
Secularism is 'the belief' a reference to a God/creator.

Secularism has defined the concept of democracy and proclaims it the highest and finest of of government. The majority rule is law, regardless of the will of the minority. Today in the UK as with most of the western world we have what has been defined as a culture war between Conservatism & Liberalism, both left & right of the paradigm are being played off one another to the benefit of those that drive the idea of secularism. Today, the war is between the religion of the old Bible teachings (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) versus the religion of the new order, "anti-religion" of secularism, a one world religion if you wish. There's no way of getting around the fact that secularism is just atheism, atheism is bound to Darwinism, so that makes man a non spiritual entity, devoid of the divine spark of the creator. Love over rational thinking. I fully understand what secularism means in all its forms. I'm neither a Christian nor secularist. I just don't like the fact that their are those who deem it their right to impose a secularist philosophy upon humanity for their own gain and others. All this is about is controlling the consious thoughts of men and women. I do not share your ideology of secular belief mygodlesslife.”

esotericage3 “That should read... secularism is "the belief" without a God or creator. 
Apologise for that mistake.”

mygodlesslife “@Charlespk

You refusal to answer the question, for what ever reason you may wish to ascribe, leads me to conclude that the genuine answer lies in the fact that you do think that Christianity should have priority over other religious positions at the expense of the equal right to freedom of religion?

You do not, then, believe in equality in law for the freedom of religion?

If you disagree with this observation, feel free to correct me. If, however, you continue to evade the question, it will be abundantly clear to everyone here that you either do not have the ability to understand the question, or you are a religious bigot that doesn't care about equality or rights.

Your choice.

With regard to the genetic nature of ginger hair. You are right. It is entirely genetic. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that there is a genetic level towards homosexuality, environmental factors play more of a role in sexuality. So comparing hair colour and sexual preference in this context is of no intrinsic value. Quite what this has to do with my medical knowledge, I am sure I do not know. I have not studied medicine, but evolutionary biology is one of my degree subjects, so genetics is something I can speak of with more than a modicum of experience and training.

You cannot refer 'a God'. It is grammatically incorrect. 'God' is a proper noun, hence its capitalisation. If you are trying to refer to a singular concept 'a god' that is not the Christian God, then there is no requirement for you to capitalise it. You can also use the lower case term in the following sense, 'The Christian god, Yahweh'.

I have already granted to you that this is, in many respects, a Christian country. I do not see why you keep pushing this on me as if I don't get your point. It only serves to solidify in other's minds what I have already stated, though; that you do not care about equality and peoples rights to freedom of religion fly out of the window when it is not your religion that is being threatened. This is the definition of bigotry.

I suspect you may consider calling me the bigot in kind, but let me state clearly here, and on the record, that I do not wish to take your faith from you, and I will defend your right to freedom of religion with the same level 'militancy' that I defend my own freedom from religion. This is the premise of secularism that you do not want to admit to, because it commits your character to an absolute quality of bigotry.

You can advise me all you like, I'll talk down to whom I please; especially those that seek to rob people of their rights before the law.”

mygodlesslife “@esotericage3

Well that may be your opinion on what you believe secularism to be, however it is an incorrect one. And one I see very clearly in the writings and styles of those that oppose freedom of religion and equality for all before the law.

I feel my definition is closer in every detail to the generally understood terminology, and it is not wrapped up in the theistic non-cognitivism that you feel it is necessary to couch it in. 

Secularism is not a religion in any form of the definition, and you attempt to wrap it up as one is dishonest and does not reflect the usage of the word (outside of those that wish to demonise it).

But you go further than just saying secularism is a religion. You equate secularism with atheism. By this, I infer, that you think atheism - the lack of belief in the existence of a god or gods - is a religion?


Thanks you guys. As infuriating as your arguments are, you have given this wizzened activist a good laugh today with you utter disregard for honesty, logic, critical thought and reason.

You are the very reason why secularism is desirable. Who would want to have you guys tell us what our rights are if you can't even understand the basics? It's a good job Christians are rapidly disappearing from the rank and file. Your extinction is further served by your actions here on this forum.


Look, answer the question properly, or let it slide. You can't be ashamed of the answer, can you? If you are right, of course. Answer it, don't answer it. It is up to you, but I am otherwise done listening to your nonsense.”

esotericage “@mygodlesslife
Well that may be your opinion on what you believe secularism to be, however it is an incorrect one. And one I see very clearly in the writings and styles of those that oppose freedom of religion and equality for all before the law.

Who are you to say what is right or wrong. I do not oppose freedom of religious expression. When you talk of the law, what law are you stating here. We have three laws active in the UK. Corporate law, common law & European law. Turning those who don't share your opinion/ideology of atheism as a belief into those who oppose such a concept/belief is blantantly wrong.

You are the very reason why secularism is desirable. Who would want to have you guys tell us what our rights are if you can't even understand the basics? It's a good job Christians are rapidly disappearing from the rank and file.

I'm not a Christian, "if" you cared to observe what I wrote. Secularism is just an extention of the new age religions that have appeared more recently in our human time. All I see is the evidence of a new age of influence. I only have to look at the social structure of society to see that Political Correctness and the group think mentality are new age concepts.

Your extinction is further served by your actions here on this forum.

It just goes to show that you have total contempt for other beliefs other than your own ideological belief. Its very clear to me that humanist/secularist movement wants to stamp it's agenda firmly on anyone it pleases, no matter whether you wish to believe or not. This to me is more about creating a dictatoral agenda of controlling what people want to believe, and marginalising what humans want to believe. Secularism also is the belief in Communism. Quite fitting, considering the state we're in as of now. Humanism/athesim are very similar in their construct. Both prefer a Godless world, but led by a scientific overlay. A society led by experts rather than individual thought. Man & woman should be able to exist free from any form of controlling thought. Whether that would be man made religion, humanist, athesim etc... Whenever people, groups or movements try to force or coerce me as an individual into a ideological belief I know that their's an ulterior motive behind it.

There's always a Common reason for why secularism has become so popular. Its purpose is very clear, and its motive is not a pretty one.”

mygodlesslife "@esotericag3

You still evade the question.

Do think that Christianity should have priority over other religious positions AT THE EXPENSE OF THE EQUAL RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION?”

What do you think?

Tris Stock is a secular atheist, sceptic, pop-philosopher and writer trying very hard to build up a following with a view to one day make an income from doing what he loves. Please follow him on Google+Twitter and Facebook.  

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