Gale's View - 22nd February 2012
Asked, on a recent radio programme, to name the full title of the book that he regards as his bible”, Darwin`s Origin of Species”, Professor Richard Dawkins was stumped. Lost for words, the Professor could only mutter Oh God” which, for a self-styled Militant Atheist added not a little to his discomfiture! In praying in aid the name of a deity that he claims does not exist Dawkins did, though, underscore a point that has its roots in the blindingly obvious. Most intelligent beings, whether of great faith or none, ultimately have to recognise the reality of a power, somewhere, that is bigger than all or any of us.
You can go back into the mists of time, peer into as many black holes as you wish, analyse every Big Bang in the cosmos and you are still left with the original conundrum. Who, or what, created the Big Bang? Deathbed and gallows conversions” are too numerous to bother to list. Faced with earthly obliteration most of us find the total cessation of our existence just a little hard to accept. At that point ,if at no other, faith” has a considerable attraction.
All of which is a very long-winded introduction to a pretty simple statement. I believe that the determination, on behalf of what still passes for justice in this Country, that it is unlawful for a local authority to commence its formal business with prayers is an arrant nonsense, a gross intrusion into the Human Rights of those who DO wish to worship and a capitulation to a humourless, unpleasant and mean minded brand of militant secularism hiding under the skirts of political correctness”.
The House of Commons commences its business, every sitting day, with about five minutes of prayers conducted by the Speaker`s Chaplain. As it happens putting a prayer card” into the slot in the back of the bench is also the recognised way of demonstrating that a Member has been present at the start of the sitting and, therefore, of reserving a seat. It is not, though, a requirement for any Member present to participate in the prayers and indeed a few exercise their absolute right not to do so. If the Houses of Parliament can handle this difficult task then I can see no reason why local authorities or, indeed, any public body, should not be permitted to do likewise. I find it impossible to accept, therefore, that any Judge who has him or herself taken an oath of office, should deem it correct to interfere in any way with this right.
There is, though, much more than the right to pray at stake. The right of people to think and speak and believe and worship as they wish is absolutely fundamental to our democratic way of life. Those that seek to attack this freedom seek to undermine still further the very fabric of our society and it is imperative that we do not allow them to succeed. We have, in this still United Kingdom, an established church that is the Church of England. Her Majesty the Queen, as The Defender of the Faith, regards it as a paramount duty to seek to defend not only the Anglican, but all , faiths.
In the course of my time in parliament I have been privileged to have shared worship in many places and to many deities. An Anglican myself, I have taken great pleasure in enjoying the devotion and the commitment of others in far-flung places and in exotic or very humble buildings around the world. I have found that those who believe in something tend to believe, also, in their fellow men, and generally want to join hands and hearts and minds to build a better, a healthier, a happier and a more peaceful society.. Terrible things, certainly, have been done in the name of religion” but that has had more to do with the politics of the day than true faith. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and many others are not insurance policies for a hereafter that may or may not exist. They are a commitment to ways of life that, if pursued, have the power to make the present world a better place.
I do not ask anyone to share my own private beliefs but I cannot help but feel some sorrow for those who, at the end of the day and when self-doubt prevails, can only say in an echo of Professor Dawkins, Oh God!” I hope that prayers, spoken or silent, will still rise from the Town Halls and the Law Courts across the Country, proving that there is one powerful voice that no number of pontificating Law Lords will ever silence. Even Judges may one day be surprised to find themselves facing a Higher Court.