Letters - Letter of the week

The answer to Barbara Gunnell's question ("Religion: why do we still give a damn?", 3 May) surely lies in the conservative nature of "official" British culture. Despite the economic changes made under Margaret Thatcher and continued under Tony Blair, the country has been slow to modernise and democratise its habits and institutions. The survival of the House of Lords and a religious Thought for the Day on Radio 4 are cases in point.

This elitist adherence to traditional values is still diffused throughout the wider English community. In other words, deference to religious authority remains an essential ingredient of English feelings of cultural superiority. After all, Scotland is more openly secular. In its schools, pupils do not need parental permission to excuse themselves from collective worship, and the teaching of humanism is well established as part of religious, philosophical and moral education.

One consequence of this traditionalism is that we in Northern Ireland follow the English example, but with knobs on. If Gunnell thinks it's bad in her neck of the woods, she should visit Ulster, where the politicians are all avowedly God-fearing souls, the segregated schools are agents of religious brainwashing, sport on "the Sabbath" is still anathema to many, and BBC Radio Ulster on a Sunday is a godfest of Jesus chat, broadcast worship and religiously saturated record shows presented by dog-collared DJs.

Brian McClinton
Secretary, Ulster Humanist Association
County Antrim, Northern Ireland

This article first appeared in the 10 May 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Torture: Simply the spoils of victory?