Leader: Methodism, not Marxism

A secular state is essential but faith still has an important role to play in the public sphere.

This magazine has been resolutely secular since its first issue in 1913. Yet our annual "God" issue often proves to be our most popular. Proof, perhaps, that as Harold Wilson recognised, social democracy in Britain always owed more to Methodism than it did to Marx.

For us, secularism has always meant a secular state, not a secular society. A belief in a state that does not act on the basis of religious considerations is perfectly compatible with a recognition that faith has an important role to play in the public sphere. However, acknowledging that doesn't mean we are indifferent to the depredations of organised religion - far from it, as is shown by John Cornwell's report (see page 22) on the crisis engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

Religious observance in Britain is, with a few exceptions, in steep decline, but interest in science, metaphysics and epistemology has perhaps never been stronger. David Lewis-Williams (see page 53) is right when he says that the human appetite for belief is hard-wired. We hope this issue goes some way to sating your hunger.