The Church of England should tackle hard-line atheists head on or face total marginalisation, according to a new report.
The report, endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, says that the Church must counter the rhetoric of the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens or face being “pushed from the public square.”
And it has warned that both the Church and nation face an “exceptional challenge” over the next five years.
The document also warns that intolerance towards churches and faith groups has become more widespread and can be seen in public bodies, which often display attitudes of “suspicion or hostility”.
“There is still work to be done to counter the prevailing tendency of treating faith as a private matter which should not impact on what happens in the public realm”, the report said.
“This is a challenge for all churches and faiths, but especially for the Church of England.”
The authors of the report, the Bishops of Birmingham and Derby, are anxious for the Church to address arguments in books like The God Delusion and God Is Not Great, which have been bestsellers in recent years.
There is concern that the rise of this new, militant atheism is leading to a less tolerant attitude towards religion, which the Church must oppose.
“Bishops have a key role here both as public apologists and as teachers of the faith,” the report said.
The report, entitled Challenges for the New Quinquennium, will be put to the General Synod this week for its approval.
“One of the paradoxes of recent times,” it argues, “has been the increasing secularisation of society and attempts to marginalise religion, alongside an increasing interest in spiritual issues”.
The report goes on to say that the Church must be “explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem”.
The report comes in the wake of a number of cases where Christians have been facing hostility for living out their faith in public.
Last year, street preachers Dale Mcalpine and Anthony Rollins were arrested and locked up for expressing their beliefs about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.
And in 2008, Caroline Petrie, a Christian nurse from Somerset, was suspended after she offered to pray for a patient and accused of breaking nursing guidelines by failing to “demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity”.