FORMER deputy Labour leader Roy Hattersley used a keynote York lecture last night to criticise what he claims is the hypocrisy of religion.

The peer and author delivered the first in a new season of Ebor Lectures at York Minster, speaking of how he did not believe many of Christianity’s teachings celebrated “the diversity of humanity”.

Lord Hattersley, an atheist, described himself as “simply incapable of accepting the essential elements of Christian faith”, said the Bible was “littered with ambiguities”, and said he did not understand how people whose religious beliefs centered on equality “accept or even promote great disparities in thequality of life on earth”.

“If we are to celebrate the diversity of humanity, we cannot refuse the complete rights of citizenship to any group within society,” said Lord Hattersley.

“Yet some Christians would deny full married status to gay men and women.

“Some churchmen want to prohibit stem-cell research, the results of which could save thousands of lives.

“And I have no doubt a number of men and women who will be in church next Sunday will support the amending of the law to give greater protection to householders who assault burglars.

“I do not. Life – even a burglar’s life – is more important than property.”

Lord Hattersley said the Church of England sometimes avoided “meeting great moral issues head-on” to maintain unity.

He said: “The equal society, in its perfect form, is not attainable, but that is not a reason for not working towards its achievement.”

Graham Hutchinson, who co-chairs One Voice York, the umbrella organisation for York churches, and is pastor of York Elim Pentecostal Church, said he welcomed Lord Hattersley’s contribution to the debate on what makes “a good society”.

But said: “I think it is difficult for an atheist in our country to comment on moral questions, as they will have been shaped by the norms of our Christian heritage more than they generally like to admit.”