We took part in the best debate yet at The Bell, as the house put forward the motion that a secular society should not prevent people acting on their religious beliefs.
Table Talks’ host Emma B laid the foundations for a lively discussion, reminding us that the UK has undergone secularisation, fewer of us go to church and there appears to be a lack of support for religious liberal values while fundamentalism recently lead to the fatal attack on Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London.
The panel featured the writer and filmmaker Gita Sahgal, who is also Executive Director of the Centre for Secular Space. Gita said, “The point about a secular society is it allows people to live together…You should be able to hold any lunatic belief you wish to hold, however if you act on that lunatic belief, you have to be stopped.”
Father Michael, the Priest of the Catholic Church of Christ the King in nearby Burwash, argued that society should be allowed to practice its religion. “I agree we don’t need religion to be good, and I agree with the notion about fundamentalism…But, if you analyse the secular states that we’ve had in the last 100 years – Communist, Fascist….” well, a far better option for Father Michael is a pluralist society whose people are allowed to practice their religions all the while respecting one another.
“The great thing about religion, said the comedian Joy Carter, “is that it’s a glue that holds society together…I was bullied and what kept me going was my faith.’’ Joy lost her family to war in Africa and was adopted by missionaries.
The broadcaster James Whale delighted in clashing with his fellow panelists and said, “To be in tune with Mother Nature and the environment, like the religion of the red Indians, is the ideal religion.”
Gita Sahgal won the audience’s approval with her passionate intellect, “The point about a secular society is that no-one is trying to take your religion away from you…religion flourishes in secular societies, it is also limited in secular societies where it does harm.’
After tonight’s lively debate, the motion was carried: a secular society should not prevent people acting on their religious beliefs.
The bell may have tolled, but heated conversations continued into the night…in our multicultural society we are often encouraged to hide our religion – this week the Girl Guides scrapped the allegiance to God that hitherto formed part of their oath. In today’s multicultural society are we going too far in our effort to be all inclusive and avoid inflaming tensions?