Questions raised over St Paul's service for 7/7 victims
Tuesday's commemorative service at St Paul's Cathedral, designed to remember those killed and injured in the 7 July 2005 London bomb attacks, has been praised by many as a dignified and unifying occasion - but it has also faced criticism from those who felt excluded by the style and nature of the church event.
Families of some of the victims of the attack expressed frustration beforehand that grand public ceremony was being used to mask anger and questions about the ramifications of the government's policy in the Middle East.
The British Humanist Association also expressed disappointment at the absence of any significant non-religious representation in the service. One of the victims of the bomb was an active secularist and a number were not apparently religious believers.
Questions have also been raised about the comparatively minor role given to leaders from other faith communities in a national public ceremony organized by the established Church as a predominantly Christian service.
In the event, Prime Minister Tony Blair made some time after the 1 November ceremony to talk with bereaved families about their concerns.
Sean Cassidy, whose son Ciaran was killed in the Russell Square bomb, declared: 'As far as I am concerned there would be no memorial service if it wasn't for the war in Iraq.'
But Graham Russell, whose son Philip died in the Tavistock Square bus bombing, said: 'I think they have done the honourable thing by holding a proper memorial like this.'
The Dean and chapter of St Paul's have stressed that they consider a broad range of faith groups to arrive at an event which, while 'broadly Christian in character', seeks to recognize the needs of a broader constituency.
However, Hanne Stinson, executive secretary of the British Humanist Association (BHA) said: 'The exclusion of the non-religious from such notionally inclusive national acts of remembrance is a standard feature of UK life.'
She continued: 'Although a humanist representative was invited to and present at the memorial service at St Paul's for victims of the Tsunami, it looks like this was nothing more than a one-off gesture. Such inclusion should be a matter of course.'
BHA exists to advocate on behalf of humanists. It calls for an end to the privileging of religion in public life, but seeks to work positively with faith groups on humanitarian issues of common concern.
Ms Stinson commented: 'How can a service affirm the identity of London when it takes place in an entirely Christian context, and London has the lowest proportion of Christians, at 58.2%, of any region in the UK. Moreover, 15.8 per cent of Londoners are non-religious, and one of the victims of the bombings, Giles Hart, was himself a prominent humanist.'
At the St Paul's service senior figures from other faith communities (including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism) shared with the Anglican Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, in making a joint declaration against terrorism.
One of the biblical readings was also given by an atheist, London Mayor Ken Livingstone - who has been criticized by some for seeking to build bridges with traditional Muslim leaders outside the western liberal mainstream since the 7/7 atrocities.
However, critics of the service say that these are minor concessions, and that major public events in modern plural Britain need to reflect a wider range of voices and styles in their ceremonial.
Those who support the Church of England's established status and role on such occasions claim that this is appropriate because England is historically a 'Christian country'.
Others say that active church-goers are now a distinct minority, and should no longer be given a controlling say in public life. This is a view resisted by many in the churches.
But a growing number of Christians recognize that Britain is increasingly a post-Christendom society. They also question whether privileging church institutions is good for their spiritual health, and point out that it sits ill with a Gospel message based on Jesus' rejection of power and might.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gave the address at the St Paul's service.
Dr Williams said: 'Even our grief on an occasion like today becomes an action that is prophetic, challenging, an action that resists terror. To those who proclaim by their actions that it doesn't matter who suffers, who dies, we say in our mourning, ëNo. There are no generalities for us, no anonymous and interchangeable people. We live by loving what's special, unique in each person. Everyone matters.''