As a result of the large migrations, which have taken place since the ending of the colonial period, there are now large numbers of Moslems, as well as Hindus, Sikhs and adherents of other Eastern religions in Western Europe. In the United States there are huge numbers of ‘Hispanics’ from Central and South America. There are large numbers of adherents to a wide variety of ‘New Age’ religions. In Europe an increasing proportion of the population affirm that they belong to no religion and secular humanism is widely practiced. In other words, there is a plurality of religious beliefs and practices, all of which make claims to some sort of legitimacy. Religious pluralism is a social fact in our current social context. Secondly, personal and social morality is much less likely to be dictated by some religious or other authority figure or by tradition or social custom than it used to be. With increasing levels of education more and more people are making up their own minds on more and more issues and moral dilemmas than used to be the case. At the Second Vatican Council even the Catholic Church finally affirmed the primacy of the individual conscience, even though it insisted that such a conscience ought to be ‘informed’ by an awareness of official Church teaching....
eme of Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor in which the pope warned against 'today's widespread tendencies towards subjectivism, utilitarianism and relativism . . . (which claim) full cultural and social legitimacy'.25 The prevalent view would deny that there is any way in which one person's view of what is 'natural' can be verified above that of anybody else's conflicting view. For believers, the Ten Commandments provide important guidelines though even here there are exceptions: the poor have the right to take and eat someone else's food if they are starving, and the State has the right to kill in legitimate defense.
Part of a common contemporary perception is that religion is not always benign. Religious conflicts have been pervasive throughout history. In our own times we have experienced the vicious 'troubles' between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland; between Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Moslems in Bosnia; Moslems and Hindus in Kashmir; and Moslems and Jews in Israel. Secular humanists see these conflicts as clear evidence of the evil consequences of strongly held religious beliefs. Nor can it be claimed that all forms of Christianity are benign. People in the justice and peace movement would certainly want to distance themselves quite firmly from extremist forms of fundamentalism, for example those articulated by some elements of the 'new Christian right' in the Southern States of the USA and possibly fundamentalist House Churches in Britain.
All of these factors, suspicions concerning the 'fruits' of religion, the fact of a plurality of at least partially conflicting faiths, no universally accepted authority on moral issues, the emphasis on experientialism, subjectivism and relativism, a pragmatic utilitarianism, and a