Chris Lancelot - The secular society must be sensitive to religious beliefs

When Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during a cup tie, many among the shocked players and the crowd appeared to be praying desperately for his recovery - and quite right, too.

Fabrice Muamba: the footballer's collapse triggered an outpouring of public prayer for his recovery (Photograph: Rex Features)
Fabrice Muamba: the footballer's collapse triggered an outpouring of public prayer for his recovery (Photograph: Rex Features)

Yet sadly, for many people emergencies are the only time when religious belief gets expressed: something to turn to when all else has failed. This is the opposite of how religious people normally regard prayer.

For the true believer (of whatever religion) their faith is something that they live and breathe, of which prayer will be a regular component.

And it is this ubiquity that I want to emphasise: for the true adherent, belief is never tacked on to life, to be expressed only in private or like a hobby. Their life, attitude and actions will be permeated by their principles.

Their faith may have many effects: it may help them to be less selfish, give them different standards to aim for, or a different view of others. It certainly can't be discarded like an overcoat on entering their workplace.

Yet many in the secular world think that this is exactly how religious beliefs should be expressed: purely in private. It doesn't work like that.

This matters greatly whenever the secular law and faith meet. Individual believers can be in a difficult position here: how should they react when the secular world wants them to behave differently from what their religion dictates - for example, over abortion, homosexuality or contraception?

It is easy for secularists to say: 'Leave your faith at the door when you come to work.' - but that's just not possible.

Nor is this a neatly circumscribed area. Quite rightly, the secular law forbids the aiding and abetting of crimes.

Religious people often feel similarly accountable when asked to involve themselves (even peripherally) with activities their religion proscribes, such as when GPs are required by their professional regulations to tell patients exactly how to obtain an abortion even when they are not prepared to recommend or approve it themselves.

True religious belief is for every moment of the week, not just emergencies. Secular society needs to be particularly sensitive over this.

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