Beith: church disestablishment “not necessary”

by Stephen Tall on November 11, 2008

The Religious Intelligence website has the story:

A DISESTABLISHED Church is not part of a truly liberal society, the British MP Sir Alan Beith has said.

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum’s inaugural Gladstone Lecture [entitled Faith, Passion and Politics], Sir Alan told members of the Liberal Democrat party that “disestablishment is not a necessary feature of a diverse and multi-cultural society.”

He said: “I know of no evidence that significant numbers of Muslims, Jews, Hindus or Sikhs are at all interested in getting the Church of England disestablished, and it is no longer a popular view with nonconformists or Catholics as it was a century ago.”

He went on to say: “Such is the confusion on these issues that in current conditions disestablishment might pander to the view that religion in general needs to be banished from society, painted out like offensive graffiti. “It is that sort of view which produces ‘Winterval’ and ‘happy holidays’ instead of Christmas.”

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Is is asking too much to want to live in a country that has freedom of religion written into its constitution?

by Manfarang on November 13, 2008 at 5:14 am. Reply #

More disappointing twaddle from Beith. Very sad.

by John on November 13, 2008 at 8:56 am. Reply #

Mantarang says:

“Is is asking too much to want to live in a country that has freedom of religion written into its constitution?”

This country doesn’t have a distinct constitution in which this freedom could be written.

What is in effect the constitution is laid down in various pieces of legislation, but nothing distinguishes them from any other piece of legislation.

This country is also signatory to treaties which are meant to commit it to this sort of freedom. What can be done to enforce it, however, is questionable.

The difficulty is in the detail – what do you mean by “freedom of religion”? Some would say that faith schools are an essential part of this – people should be free to bring up their children in their own religious culture, others would say the exact opposite – that faith schools amount to denying children freedom of religion.

But, in any case, why do you ask this question in this thread? In what way do you think the legal position of the Church of England acts against freedom of religion?

by Matthew Huntbach on November 13, 2008 at 11:57 am. Reply #

The Test and Corporation Acts are dead but they rule us from their graves.

by Manfarang on November 16, 2008 at 10:44 am. Reply #

By the way, I’ve found David Conner’s dubious remarks at the Cenotaph here, available for a limited period no doubt. The section I question starts at 0:49:55.

“The wisest of us have often seemed to understand that, though the world can be in turmoil, in the end we are in the safe hands of God. God’s loving purpose for us will be achieved, and we can put our trust in the future. They also seem to know that in all our working for that future, we need God’s help. We need God’s inspiration, empowering, and guidance. We cannot get there in our strength alone. That is why prayer finds its place at the heart of things today.”

It’s not quite as bad as I remembered, but even so do we think this is appropriate? In the unlikely event that I ever found myself presiding over such a ceremony, I think I can honestly say that it would never enter my head to use the occasion to promote an atheistic world-view.

by Laurence Boyce on November 16, 2008 at 11:45 am. Reply #

The words “the wisest” should not have been included, “some” would have been fairer, although of course atheists are very fond of stating that they are clever or “bright” people. Apart from that, it looks to me like you are seeking offence where none was intended. I think he is just saying that some find religion comforting in difficult circumstances. His words can be understood, maybe even are best understood, with “God” meaning an abstract concept which need not involve a real other figure.

by Matthew Huntbach on November 16, 2008 at 9:03 pm. Reply #

I have read everyone’s comments with interest but as a member of the organisation that arranged the lecture given by Alan Beith MP that you are discuss I would like to say that the disestablishment of the CoE was not the thrust of his speech.

Rather Beith’s emphasis was on the place of passion in politics and the place of faith within this. For example:
“Liberal Democrats seek to create a liberal society in which great differences of opinion can be resolved or accommodated through orderly and broadly-based constitutional government and the defence of basic rights and freedoms, in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Passion is required to create and defend such a society, and passion to do good based on religious belief is needed within such a society. The tolerance which is a hallmark of liberalism does not rest upon a visionless and lifeless political creed, but on a passion to serve humanity without enslaving it.”

He also spoke out in regards to people of faith being able to uphold liberal ideals: “it is both possible and desirable for a person who holds strong religious views and is motivated in politics by faith to be firmly committed to a liberal political order in which contrary views on religion are protected and respected. It is in no way a requirement of a liberal society that people should be expected to abandon or dilute their faith and convictions, so long as they allow and respect the freedom of those who disagree with them. There is nothing liberal about tolerating only those people you agree with.”

I hope you will forgive the length of this post and take a look at the press release about the lecture or the full text of it at

by Z Franklin on November 17, 2008 at 5:21 pm. Reply #

“Atheists are very fond of stating that they are clever or ‘bright’ people.”

Not at the cenotaph. In fact it’s not an argument I make much in any case. I don’t find his remarks personally offensive, but I do think he is using the suffering of others to make a blatant plug for his continued existence in the role. If I were an atheist serviceman, I would be livid. How about: “The wisest of us have always seemed to understand that when 20 million die during the course of a single war in which everyone was perfectly convinced they had God on their side . . . it’s time for a rethink!”

by Laurence Boyce on November 17, 2008 at 5:47 pm. Reply #

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