Religion cannot be confined to private sphere - Williams

Religious commitment cannot be a purely private matter, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Dr Rowan Williams was speaking during a debate with atheist professor Richard Dawkins.

The debate at Cambridge University last week considered the motion that "religion has no place in the 21st century".

Dawkins described himself as a "cultural Anglican" and said that if he were a cultural Muslim, he would have something to say about the faith's "appalling attitude to women and various other moral points".

He contended that religious belief was a "cop out" and a "betrayal of the intellect" and "all that's best about what makes us human".

"It's a phony substitute for an explanation, which seems to answer the question until you examine it and realise that it does no such thing," he said.

"It peddles false explanations where real explanations could have been offered, false explanations that get in the way of the enterprise of discovering real explanations."

In the end, the audience was persuaded by Dr Williams as he won the debate by 324 votes to 136.

Defending religion in the public sphere, he recalled that the religious roots of human rights and the notion of respect for human life.

"The convention of human rights would not be what it is were it not for the history of philosophical religious debate," he said.

"Religion has always been a matter of community building, a matter of building relations of compassion, fellow-feeling and, dare I say it, inclusion.

"The notion that religious commitment can be purely a private matter is one that runs against the grain of religious history."

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