Peers urge greater recognition of atheism and humanism

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Peers have urged greater recognition of the role of humanists and atheists in society during a debate on 25 July 2013.

A number of humanist and atheist peers criticised organised religion, with Crossbencher Baroness Flather saying "there have been endless conflicts in the name of religion, right up to the present day".

She added, "I do not denigrate religion for its own sake but I do find some of the things religion has been responsible for just too awful to think about."

Humanism is a non-religious philosophy in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts.

Its followers believe in scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works. Humanists make ethical decisions based on reason, empathy and concern for other human beings and animals.

Atheists are people who reject the idea of a god or gods as creator or controller of the Universe - they reject religion of any type as a way of explaining the universe and how it works.

According to census data the number of people who do not hold religious beliefs is steadily increasing. In a 2011 survey by YouGov, 39% of people in England and Wales ticked a "No religion" box.

Labour peer Lord Soley insisted it was possible to believe in God without believing in religion, saying that religion itself was a "social control structure".

Responding to the debate, Communities Minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon - professing himself to be "Muslim by birth, Christian by primary education" - paid tribute to the diverse nature of British society.

He stated that religious belief was "not a pre-requisite for public services", and added that "the country is a stronger place due to the diversity of people's beliefs".

The minister concluded: "We do not judge people on what they believe, but we respect people for what they stand for."

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