Let Freedom not Wither
Poet Alan Brownjohn is glad to live in a secular country
As an occasional traveller to places where religion seems to be regaining a hold on the public consciousness, I invariably return to this country with a sense of profound luck. There may be greedy and destructive force at work here. We may have possibly the least civilised press in the world, with the broadcasting media gradually following suit. Our environment and institutions are increasingly determined by those with commercial purposes. The governments delivered by our supposedly democratic processes may be indistinguishable in their bland dishonesty. But at least we are, in the main, a non-religious society.
It was not always the same. This has come about during my own lifetime (b.1931). My not-particularly-religious family thought that it was a 'good' thing, therefore implicitly a 'necessary' thing to put in the odd appearance at a church or chapel. I believe this impulsion has largely vanished, even though residual religious elements strive to maintain their influence in the educational system. I believe that it must not return, via any of the routes which religionists and irrationalists of all sorts are trying to open; they range from the usual world religions to crazy cults of a fundamentalist or 'New Age' character right down to wearying fads like astrology and day-to-day superstition.
Rationalism has a task-has it, in effect, with each new generation and with every change in the character of ordinary living-of exposing and combating obvious and harmful nonsense. As one grows older it feels deplorable that this still has to be undertaken (we still have to fight notions like the restoration of the death penalty, or, as Clinton's and Blair's bombs fall on Belgrade, the religious humbug of a 'just' war). But we have to do it, in our everyday conversation, in what we tell the young, in what we write to newspapers. We are still just about lucky enough to be able to go about this task freely and unrepressed. But if we don't keep it up, that freedom will wither.