The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the Government has "no grip" on what it is to be religious and "can't see really the difference" between Muslim extremist groups and those from the conservative evangelical wing of the Church of England.
He added that both groups were assumed to be "a bit bonkers".
Justin Welby made the comments while speaking to heads and senior teachers of Church of England schools during a visit to the diocese of Bath and Wells, the Telegraph reported.
"Our Government generally, is desperately trying to catch up, to understand a world in which they have no grip on what it is to be religious at all; where religious illiteracy is prevalent and extremely destructive of understanding and where they can't see really the difference between an extremist Muslim group like the Muslim Brotherhood and a sort of conservative evangelical group in a Church of England church," he said. "They assume they're a bit bonkers." He added: "It's fine to reject and condemn many of the things done in the name of religion but you still need to understand what it is that can so catch hold of someone that they think life itself is not worth living if that contradicts what they believe."
Welby was speaking against the backdrop of the Government's 'Prevent' strategy to tackle extremism, which has raised the prospect of Ofsted inspectors being sent into Sunday schools and youth groups in search of radicalisation.
He said that he had once told a senior minister that he would himself count as a religious "extremist" under the definition being applied because he believed that faith could outweigh the rule of law in some circumstances.
The Archbishop also spoke of changes in the economy that would affect the careers of today's schoolchildren, and highlighted the rise of religiously motivated violence, which he said was now at the top of the agenda in a way it had not been in Britain since the aftermath of the Reformation.