BHA warns against making a fetish of faith in the “Big Society”

The government’s proposed focus on faith groups and “interfaith” work in its work towards the “Big Society” has been questioned by the British Humanist Association (BHA).

The BHA has responded to a speech made earlier today by Communities Minister Andrew Stunell to the Inter Faith Network for the UK in which he stated that ‘Inter faith activity is more important than ever in our work towards the Big Society’ and commented on the value of faith communities to national life, local communities and their role providing a moral outlook.

Andrew Copson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘We know from experience with similar policies under the previous government that making a fetish of “faith” and “interfaith activities” in this way excludes not only non-religious people from dialogue and activities, but many religious people too. In our diverse and increasingly secular society, it is alarming that the government is seeking to pursue and resource policies that can only be damaging for social cohesion.

‘This trend begun by Labour and now continued by the coalition government seeks to promote the alleged virtues of “faith”, such as its promotion of moral values, with virtually no critical analysis. “Faith” is seen and treated by many politicians and policy makers as a panacea: an intrinsically good thing which imbues those associated with it with some special goodness unattainable by the rest of us. Not only is this insulting to non-religious people, there is no evidence to support it.

‘Moreover, policies that focus exclusively on dialogue and activities that only some religious people can access gives greatly disproportionate and privileged access to government policy and decision making, effectively raising the importance of religious opinion above that of any other voice in the public sphere.  This is already happening at all levels of government via the Faith Communities Consultative Council and various ‘interfaith’ forums across the country and it is deeply worrying that the coalition government wants to increase this unnecessary pattern. We will be raising our concerns with CLG directly.’

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596.

See here for a summary of surveys and statistics on religion or belief in the UK, including from the 2010 British Social Attitudes survey which found 43% of people are happy to identify as non-religious and found 59% of people do not describe themselves as religious.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.