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‘Being religious has never been a guarantee of goodness’

14:30 13 February 2013

Paul Kaufman

Paul Kaufman

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Chair for East London Humanists Paul Kaufman

Some argue that religion is vital and relevant because of the good religious people do.

And there is no doubt that many religious people do a lot of good things.

But so do people who are non-religious. There is no evidence that there are proportionately fewer of us who give our time and money to good causes; or who occupy the caring professions; or that we are any less kind or considerate than the religious. It is human values which motivate us to do the right thing.

Unlike some religious people, we feel no need to advertise our beliefs when we act.

Being religious has never been a guarantee of goodness. The abuse of children in the Catholic church is just one dreadful example of this.

From the crusades to the inquisition, from Afghanistan to Northern Ireland, religion is associated with conflict and bloodshed.

It seems that for some religious people the more devout they are the more they are prepared to harm others in the name of their faith.

That is not to minimise the good that is done by many religious individuals and groups. Indeed the government has seized on their eagerness to take on work in the community and David Cameron, in his speeches on what he calls the Big Society, describes his aim of outsourcing programmes to such groups.

Humanists fear the risk of discrimination and bias where faith groups become involved in providing for the community at large.

For example, will a faith group with responsibility for family planning give impartial advice on abortion?

And religious and non-religious alike should consider the real agenda behind Cameron’s proposals. They may be welcomed by faith groups and suit their own interests.

However, they are integral to the Con-Dem policy to cut public spending. They turn the clock back to a time when governments washed their hands of responsibility for taking care of the poor, the sick and the homeless, and they fly in the face of what most people expect from a modern welfare state.

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