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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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The former Labour Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has criticised the “disgraceful” behaviour of secularists in the run up to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 visit, and said their actions spurred him on to organise a series of debates on the role of faith in public life.
In an interview with The Tablet Mr Clarke cited Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee and prominent atheist apologist Richard Dawkins as examples of people who hold “this secularist view that somehow right was on their side, and rationality would mean that religion was swept of the face of the earth – a point of view that I think is completely wrong.”
He said the activities of secularists before the papal visit – which included plans to arrest Benedict XVI – inspired him to work with Professor Linda Woodhead at the University of Lancaster and arrange the Westminster Faith Debates.
The debates, which start again on Wednesday, are backed by a £12 million grant from a religion and society programme funded by UK research councils. Mr Clarke is a visiting professor of politics and faith at Lancaster University.
Also in the interview Mr Clarke, a former Labour MP who served as Home Secretary from 2004 until 2006, expressed pessimism about his party’s chances in the next general election.
“I’m pessimistic from a Labour point of view,” he says. “More pessimistic than I think many in Labour are. I don’t say that … we can assume that Labour will be able to win at the next election.”
Subscribers can read the interview here.
You can subscribe to The Tablet here.