Sea of Faith, Yorkshire


SoF at Leeds Reason Week 2011

We had a good turn-out of SoF people at the 2011 Leeds Reason Week Panel on 'Religion as a Human Creation' (Monday 7th March). Two of us were panellists.

We were primed to defend the non-realist view of religion, along with the positive aspects of religious life. But a little surprisingly it turned out that these were well understood and even largely accepted by the atheist and humanist audience. Rather, their fire-power was directed at aspects of religion that we (SoF) do not endorse, but perhaps after this encounter should pay more attention to. These were:

  • faith schools (seen as socially divisive)*

  • indoctrination of children into literalist beliefs; also fear and guilt before a supposed all-seeing and punitive deity

  • social exclusion, eg of homosexuals

  • failure to educate congregations out of literalist and fundamentalist attitudes

  • blocking of medical advances, eg stem cell research

  • taking public funds for religious institutions which claim exemption for practices outlawed for the rest of the population (eg gender discrimination)

While this would be a shift of focus for us (tackling the negatives, rather than, as we have tended to do, promoting the positives), what was revealed was an unexpected target shift on the part of the atheists and humanists. Their campaigns target beliefs, rather than practices, but it became clear to us during this session that it is practices that they really object to.

* We have already had a session on this, from Allan Hayes.