“the influence that the church used to exert simply by being the churches”

It’s probably evident that I don’t have much time for most supernaturalists.. but the new primate of the Church of Ireland, Archbishop Alan Harper, might just be one I can agree with – at least on the point he makes in this report.From the report, which refers to an interview in the Church of Ireland Gazette.

The changing role of the churches in society means that weight of numbers is no longer sufficient to ensure the churches` voices will be heeded in public affairs, he said.

Instead, the power and quality of the argument of their case and strength of analysis would be the litmus test, he added in this week`s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette.

The Archbishop said: “We can no longer rely on having a place as of right in terms of public affairs, or the influence that the church used to exert simply by being the churches.

“We have now to command that, as a result of delivery and providing a critique of society that others can take with a degree of respect…. persuading people by the power and quality of our argument and the genuine strength of our analysis, rather than merely by weight of numbers.”

To which I’d add, as A C Grayling put it

In debates that crucially affect the wellbeing of the world, ideas and beliefs should be open to tough challenge and hard discussion. Let someone state a view, and let the view be subjected to rigorous scrutiny, no holds barred, and no pleas of offence, hurt feelings, self-proclaimed sensitivities, “sacredness” or any other excuse allowed to stand in the way. But with a strictly governed exception, namely, an office-holder speaking ex-officio, let no individual be the target of attack, and even then neither abuse nor ad hominem attack.

What Emperor Pope Benedict XVI will make of it all is another matter..


  • Comrade Stalin

    Could we have a blog on the sectarian attack which took place on Twaddell Avenue last night, endangering the life of a weeks-old baby ?

  • joeCanuck

    “Most supernaturalists” pete but surely all supernaturalism?

  • Dawkins

    Good to see one Church drop its arrogant stance. Respect is no longer a given but must be earned.

    Over to you, Archbishop Brady.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    This is fair enough as far as it goes Pete, but the elephant in the room is the Muslim. It’s fair game to patronise, demonise and satirise every aspect of Christianity, but there is a real reticence on the part of both govt and media to behave the same way towards Islam, despite it’s belief system being ridiculous, confused and abhorrent. A large part of the reason for this hypocrisy must go to the fear of violent and possibly lethal protest, and that’s really the heart of the matter.

    Two obvious local examples of undeserved power and respect being justly removed are the Roman Catholic Church and Sinn Fein, both effectively neutered organisations having to justify their existences on a level playing field rather than demanding respect through fear.

    Organised religion has never been anything more than a method of control, and modern day fundamentalists of whatever hue simply pick and choose their holy book extracts to fit their personal prejudices.

    It’s entirely unacceptable that in the 21st century we tolerate women walking round in sacks, make allowances for turbans, veils and crucifixes in the workplace, finance intolerant ‘faith’ schools and wheel on religious ‘leaders’ to spout forth on stem cell research and sexuality.

    At least Alan Harper is taking a step in the right direction, more through expediency I suspect than genuine progressiveness, but his statement is to be welcomed nonetheless.

  • Dawkins


    Of course you’re quite right about the Muslim issue, and I certainly agree that we’d better watch out there. Let’s hope that Gordon Brown is less tolerant of the intolerant than his predecessor.

    Fact is though it’s the Christian Churches who most like to get their oar in when moral issues are being debated in public and by government. I give you the abortion issue, stem-cell research (which you check), gay rights, adoption, euthanasia, education and many more questions. Muslims are usually vocal when their own religion is under pressure.

    IMO the real elephant in the drawing-room is the large number of senior clergymen (20+) occupying the House of Lords. What are they doing there and who gives them their mandate? As you so rightly remind us, this is 2007, and the concept of a “Lords Spiritual” is truly a throwback to a darker age.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Fully agree Dawkins. The presence of unelected supernaturalists at the heart of govt is entirely indefensible. Rather more depressing is the unspoken requirement for any serious US presidency contender to be a ‘believer.’ If the richest and (as of today) most powerful nation in the world can’t function without a God botherer in charge, what chance for the rest of us?

    Regarding the Christian interference in ‘moral issues’, there needs to be a sea-change in govt and media attitudes to these chauvinistic dinosaurs. These people have no more right to a say than the local Star Trek appreciation society, yet they are wheeled on and pandered to as if they are somehow qualified to lecture on matters of high scientific import and social expediency. By all means let them sermonise to their gullible followers (within the boundaries of the encitement to hatred laws), but spare the rest of us their tedious archaic ramblings.

    As regards Muslim protest, I would venture to suggest that the Muslim lobby is still relatively small in the UK, and we are likely to see increasingly strident protest and high powered whinging over dress codes and sharia law in the near future. If this country is to remain even remotely secular, this obseqious govt pandering to the fundamentalist must cease.

  • Sadly, part of the problem in retaining/defending our secular society is that the supernaturalists are much better organised than the non-religious.

    Census returns show us that about 14% of the population have abandoned supernaturalist beliefs and now hold non-religious views. In NI that percentage would amount to some 200,000 persons. But only a handful of them join a Humanist group. So rational, secularist opinion has very little clout, because there are few card-carrying Humanists compared to the hundreds of thousands who turn up at church every week and put money into the religious organisations.

    So the obstacle that is hampering progress towards a properly secular, non-sectarian NI is the failure of all those who have dumped their religious upbringing to make common cause with others of like mind in their local Humanist group. To paraphrase Carlyle, all that is necessary for irrational beliefs to dominate society is that sensible people fail to get organised.

  • Dawkins


    Love the nick!

    I hear what you’re saying of course but don’t know if this is feasible. Speaking as a godfree chap myself, I wouldn’t dream of joining a group of fellow travellers. For two reasons. IMO such an organization would

    1. quickly become a talking shop, or

    2. come to resemble a Church.

    I don’t much like either scenario. There’s a third possibility and I don’t know how practical it is. It’s the emergence of political leaders prepared to acknowledge the presence of the godfree out there among their constituents — you say the numbers could be as high as 200,000 in NI. Those tens of thousands are as entitled as the religious to representation. Their voices — the voices of reason — ought to be heard, and heard loud and often. We have a lot of sensible things to say.

    I believe the time will come in NI (or indeed in Britain and RoI) when a politician will feel confident enough to wish to run on a rationalist ticket. Lord make it soon :0)

  • Perhaps it is just my bias, but it seems to me that those bloggers who are critics of religion are usually more incisive and logical than those who defend it. The secular camp includes a lot of independent, intelligent people, for example, whoever invented the Shit Happens tee-shirt on the varieties of religious faith.

    But despite their intelligence, they do not see that their dream of a properly secular society will not be achieved as long as they themselves fail to join Humanist organisations. The churches are well supported, well funded and they have centuries of tradition on their side. So the struggle for a secular society is between poorly supported Humanist groups and wealthy, entrenched religious groups.

    As Auden put it: “If that’s what their Reason has brought them to/ I praise the Lord I’ve none at all.”