Atheism is not about ‘removing’ religion from society

Over in England, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is worried. It seems there are attempts afoot to eliminate the christian voice the public sphere.

The cardinal is a little vague as to who wants religion removed from society. There seems to also be a thinking that a natural trend towards disbelief must have some movers behind it.

But the cardinal’s words allow me to address a canard often thrown at atheists. And that is we want religion removed from public life. Far from it. I don’t speak for all atheists but I don’t want religion removed from the public sphere. I just want any special status that is applied to views and beliefs because they are religious, removed.

And it is this idea, that religion needs to be demoted, that worries Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor the most. He reckons:

Last month, in an interview with the Guardian, he hit out at the representatives of an “aggressive secularism” he said was gaining ground in the UK, defended the church’s role in the debate over “hybrid” embryos, and argued that Christian leaders should hold a privileged position over the leaders of other faiths when it came to their input into public policy in Britain.

Sorry. But just being the dominant faith should offer no special favours. The idea that a belief or idea deserves special status because it has a religious foundation is absurd. One may claim to speak for God but God seems pretty silent about most things these days. Some followers reckon he wrote it all down in the Bible and seem content to apply the patriarchal, intolerant views of 2000 years ago (with some selection) to the modern day.

The cardinal obviously has his vested interested in maintaining Christianity as the leader of faith. But Christianity deserves no special privileged in arguments of public policy. Nor can Islam or Judaism lay any claim either. The cardinal fears most people questioning religious authority. If the only argument you can muster is a variant of “Well, God said so, so there” then you deserve to experience a decline in privilege.

The privilege has not been deserved through any intellectual rigor but simple being part of the religious old boys club.

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