In a recent survey 50% of those asked said that ‘religion’ was harmful
for society, and when one looks at what appears in the papers these days
as a result of extremism of all kinds one finds that religion is never
far away from the list of ingredients. Polly Toynbee, who writes for The
Guardian, has joined the chorus of voices against religion in her new
role as president of the British Association of Humanists. She
deplores, among other things, the fact that there should be 18 bishops
in the House of Lords giving continuous religious oversight, albeit
rather limited these days, to the way this country is governed. And yet
as Indajit Singh, of the Sikh Messenger, said during ‘Thought for the
Day’ last week, we still have much need of the values that religion
holds dear; care for justice and the fabric of society, and
understanding of the need for compassion in our own lives and in the
lives of others.
The lines that are being dug in the Middle East today, be they by
Israeli, Sunni, Shia, Brit or the next faction, though they may be
trumpeted shrilly in terms of righteousness and Good vs. Evil, are
usually underpinned by a murky mix of politics, power and expediency.
These are the things that can so often give religion a bad name, in our
own country as much as anywhere else. But we can still benefit from the
values of religion and from meeting to think and talk about them.
Often we just need the chance to see things in different ways, in a new
When I was in Sussex, we would occasionally have church meetings at
Worth Abbey, the Benedictine community and school which achieved
prominence a year or two ago through the programme ‘The Monastery’.
Five ‘ordinary Joes’ were taken out of ordinary life for a few weeks to
re-discover God. I only had a couple of hours there but was struck with
the beauty and peace of the place and how, in the gentle architecture
of the building, it was hard to encounter people as anything other than
fellow-travellers and friends. I came home with a book entitled ‘Humane
Christianity’. The print was a little blurred but what was said was
comforting and affirming, and challenging.
Perhaps religion and humanity aren’t always the enemies they often
appear today; but such things take time to discover and they’re often
best encountered doing other things; like digging in the garden or at
the ‘Bunkfest’. I look forward to meeting you in the village if not
down at that ancient and not-so-ancient building with bells on it!