A CHARITY set up by an ardent Christian to fight slavery and the opium trade has identified a new social evil of the 21st century - religion.
A poll by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation uncovered a widespread belief that faith - not just in its extreme form - was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution.
Pollsters asked 3,500 people what they considered to be the worst blights on modern society, updating a list drawn up by Rowntree, a Quaker, 104 years ago.
The responses may well have dismayed him. The researchers found that the “dominant opinion” was that religion was a “social evil”.
Many participants said religion divided society, fuelled intolerance and spawned “irrational” educational and other policies.
One said: “Faith in supernatural phenomena inspires hatred and prejudice throughout the world, and is commonly used as justification for persecution of women, gays and people who do not have faith.”
Many respondents called for state funding of church schools to be ended.
The findings contrast with Rowntree’s “scourges of humanity”, which included poverty, war, slavery, intemperance, the opium trade, impurity and gambling.
Poverty and drugs remain, but are joined by issues such as family breakdown, young people’s behaviour and fears over immigration.
Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark, rejected the indictment of faith. He said: “People meeting together, week after week, for worship, support and education in church, synagogue, temple, gurdwara and mosque can not only help people build local community but can teach children to become good citizens.”
However, Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said he was “extremely pleased”.
“Britain has had it with religion,” he said.
I always liked the Brits!