Now atheists seek place in the Dome

In deciding on the contents of the "Spirit Zone" of the Millennium Dome, Peter Mandelson must satisfy not only those of different religions, but those of no religion at all. Britain's atheists are demanding that if, as Mr Mandelson asserts, the Dome is to have Christianity as its "central theme", it should tell the whole story.

In a letter to the Minister Without Portfolio and the New Millennium Experience company, Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, proposes that the section on Christianity should include a record of "the centuries of cruelty, inhumanity and repression".

He writes: "I do hope the Millennium Experience will be a complete experience with, for instance, the Crusades Salon to include Muslim heads impaled on spears; the Inquisition Pavilion where you will be able to torture and disembowel heretics; and perhaps, especially for the kiddies, the Witch Burning Experience - three old ladies an hour burned for your delectation. We must also have a section devoted to the suppression of scientific knowledge - how about Galileo in chains for suggesting that the Earth revolved around the Sun."

Mr Porteous Wood adds: "Please remember that the Dome is being paid for by the country as a whole, including those of many faiths other than Christianity and also those of no faith ... If the Dome is perceived as a primarily religious experience, it will be shunned by millions, as church attendances testify."

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, minister of Maidenhead Synagogue and spokesman for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, is also anxious that the "dark side of Christianity" be included in the Dome alongside the positive aspects of the religion. "There should be a realistic appraisal which includes the enormous human suffering that has been caused internally to Christian heretics, externally to the Jews and in its battles against science as in Galileo and Darwin," he said.

However, a spokesman for the New Millennium Experience Company yesterday insisted that the Dome would be "very much a forward-thinking experience. "It's not going to dwell on the heritage of the past too much. That's not the idea. We want it to inspire and embolden people rather than look back on negative things."

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