‘How dare the Archbishop claim the moral high ground, at the same time as he demands the right to discriminate against gay people and condemns stem cell research that would alleviate human suffering?’ asked Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), as she condemned a sermon by Vincent Nichols, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham in which he accused Government and non-religious people of a lack of morality. “What upsets the Archbishop so much’ she continued, ‘is not that our secular society is immoral, but the fact that most people’s morality no longer depends on religious authority.’
A moral society
An Ipsos MORI poll published this month (click here) revealed that a large proportion of the British population adopt a humanist approach to morality, without any reference to religious authority. 65% said that what is right and wrong ‘depends on the effects on people and the consequences for society and the world’, against only 13% who said what was right and wrong was ‘unchanging and should never be challenged’. 62% of Britons believe that ‘Human nature by itself gives us an understanding of what is right and wrong’, against only 27% who said ‘People need religious teachings in order to understand what is right and wrong’.
Ms Stinson commented, ‘The very moves that the Archbishop attacks, for example seeking to alleviate human suffering through the encouragement of stem-cell research, are part of what makes our society a moral society.’
Protection from discrimination
In his sermon the Archbishop also condemned the Government’s forthcoming provisions to give legal protection from discrimination to gay people, and Ms Stinson called on the Government not to give way to religious pressure: ‘Introducing new protection for gay people does not infringe the rights of religious people to their beliefs. Protecting all people from irrelevant discrimination is actually the moral thing to do. Archbishop Nichols has a responsibility not to interfere with legal activities that harm no-one, just as others should not interfere with his activities if they do not threaten the rights and freedoms of others. There is nothing moral about his position.’
Religious groups and leaders too influential on Government
In response to another question in the Ipsos MORI poll, ‘Religious groups and leaders’ topped the list of domestic groups to which the British public believe the Government pays too much attention. Click here for more
Ms Stinson commented. ‘Just as most of the British public do not derive their own morality from religious authorities, so a large number of them believe that our Government should not derive its policy from religious leaders, many of whom do not even represent the beliefs of their followers.’
For further comment, contact Hanne Stinson by email or by telephone on 020 7079 3583
The sermon of Archbishop Nichols is reported by the Daily Mail and Independent Catholic News
The British Humanist Association (BHA) represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination against the non-religious, and for a secular state.