Sentamu Attacks Undermining of Britain's Religious Heritage

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has attacked the systematic erosion of Christianity from public life.

|PIC1|The second-most senior archbishop in the Church of England told lay readers that illiberal atheists were undermining Britain's religious heritage.

In particular, he criticised government officials for sending Christmas cards marked season's greetings, which completely ignored the Christian nature of Christmas. In addition, he also rebuked Torbay council's decision to remove a cross from a crematorium.

He strongly urged that Christians should be more politically active to ensure their principles were not purged from society.

Dr Sentamu also criticised Birmingham council for trying to re-brand Christmas as Winterval in 1998, which he suggested was its mistaken fear of causing offence.

Other similar debates have been held this year. British Airways banned one of its check-in staff from wearing a cross necklace on the basis that the attire might cause offence to its other workers and customers. However, the decision was rebuked by religious leaders from all major faith groups.

Also earlier this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams and Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor launched a joint attack on what they labelled "intolerant public atheism".

In the piece entitled 'Doing God: A Future for Faith in the Public Square', a report by new religious think tank 'Theos', they strongly advised against limiting religion to the private sphere. Dr Williams and Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor argue that religion has rarely been so important in society, or so badly misunderstood. And they claim that society is experiencing a period of collective confusion about the most important questions in life.

"As a society, we must decide how we will respond to this moment of collective confusion - can we go on living as before? Or, like Tolstoy, will we reassess the importance of faith to individuals and society?"

Countering claims that the increasing prominence of religion in society is a cause for concern, Dr Williams and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor argue: "Many secularist commentators argue that the growing role of faith in society represents a dangerous development. However, they fail to recognise that public atheism is itself an intolerant faith position.

"If we pay attention to what is actually happening in the United Kingdom and beyond, we will see that religiously inspired public engagement need not be sectarian and can, in fact, be radically inclusive. This report argues that faith is not just important for human flourishing and the renewal of society but that society can only flourish if faith is given space to makes its contribution and its challenge."

The Theos report attacks institutional atheism and argues against consigning faith to the private sphere. It claims that religion will play an increasingly significant role in the UK due to three trends: the return of civil society; the pursuit of happiness; the politics of identity.