Wednesday, 3 August 2016

So what do we mean by Diversity, and further thoughts ... by Mari Howard (aka Clare Weiner)

Just 3 of the faith symbols of UK communities today,
(source, Wikipedia)
BBC Radio 4's Sunday is always a diverse programme, covering many religious topics beside Christianity.  Three items specially caught my attention this week.

1. Don’t Write Jedi!

The Atheists’ Foundation of Australia is anxious about the upcoming Census. Anxious that people don’t ‘waste their vote’, they’re urging that you take courage, be honest, and tick the ‘no religion’ box, said the upbeat atheist  interviewed by Sunday. Why? Well, for Australians to discover discover if they, like the UK and New Zealand, have a diverse society with a majority who simply have no religion at all. Not committed to secular humanism, or to atheism? No religion is your box. No map, no guide, and no community who think like you…

2. Citizen of a country where the ‘official’ religion is not yours ...?

Meanwhile, at the ‘Living Islam’ festival (a kind of Islamic Greenbelt, held this past weekend), two women from ‘other faiths’, Sughra Ahmed, Chair of the Islamic Society of Britain, and Rabbi Laura Janner Klaussner, senior rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, were to appear in a panel discussion. The subject was whether their country, the UK, should continue to have a ‘state religion’, at present the Church of England.

Sughra Ahmed, interviewed on the Sunday programme, argued that we should. She appreciates the C of E as a stable and decent force for good, which accepts the diversity of other religions in our country, while also keeping a religious side (acknowledging God) to public life. We all, she felt, might hopefully see the C of E, as our ‘state religion’, functioning a bit like a benign umbrella which protects those of other faiths. (My words not hers.)

Rabbi Laura preferred the monarch to be ‘defender of faiths’.  She saw this as acknowledging that we have many faiths within our population. She backed this up by mentioning the place of Roman Catholics and Nonconformists within the Christian, but non-C of E, group. She also, possibly relating to the historical precedent of the Holocaust, expressed some apprehension about the C of E as a state religion.  Our present Archbishop Welby, she said, is a good head of the Church of England, but is there any guarantee others in the future would be as tolerant? One third of his remit is, apparently, evangelism. Evangelism could be a threat to other faiths: after all, what does or could it mean? She has a point, even though we in ACW would not necessarily agree. Try imaging being an ‘other faith’; in a country which has an official religion.  

So what is diversity?

Here we see two, opposing, examples of the attitudes to what is called ‘religion’. One, which would like to see ‘religion’ (however they define it) dying away, leaving nothing in its place. Nothing to disturb, challenge, care and protect, comfort or assure. Nothing which demands obligations or unites in joy and praise to the Other, the ‘divine’, God. The census box you can tick if you live in Britain, New Zealand, or Australia, and your vote will be counted in the stats (on policy making).

Or an option of retaining a diversity, or number of differing, and unique, ‘faiths’ (note not ‘religions’) within a society. These seek to live harmoniously alongside one another, in a world where life has developed in such a way that religions and countries don’t necessarily demand we all think the same thing. And the two women, specialists in their areas, suggested two alternate ways of this being worked out.

Our map collection (and some books - is that a Plass?
To the right?)
Faith beliefs are a kind of 'map' ...

Life without a Map

Personally, I find that census box creepy. Quite how anyone decides that ‘no religion’ is a practical way to live as a community is mysterious.  Try imagining it. What exactly would ‘no religion’ mean? 

After the thousands years of human cultural development, to totally excise every cultural aspect of society which is grounded in something, someone, greater than ourselves, can only be possible by scratching out all vestiges of what we call ‘moral’ or ‘ethical’ behaviour, or indeed, ‘human rights’. As communal living patterns have been worked out, the actual sense of the law being given by God has declined. But the imprint of what we call ‘religions’ remains. Remove the basis totally, step away from ‘secular humanism’ or ‘atheism’ — which attempt to maintain ‘the most useful/easiest bits’ (of Christianity, in Western society) and there is nothing. The house built on sand, falls.

‘No religion’ perhaps describes a blind hedonism. Or putting policies in place of faith? Of making no reference at all to any wisdom from scriptures or spirituality? Or of  human wisdom built up over eons of time? It is something which may work for the individual if and while they are in control of their own, individual, life. 

A scary, sobering thought. Where can secular societies of ‘no religion’ find themselves in a few generations’ time? 

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …’
(from The Second Coming, by W.B. Yeats, 1919 - apposite lines, though Yeats’ religious beliefs were unorthodox, these lines well describe a breaking down of society)

Note the countries which give the no-religion option. In many non-Western places, the Church is strong. What can Christians do for a Western World heading towards an ideal of holding no basis or direction other than, presumably, each person getting a good life for themselves? Saving the planet is even a ‘religion’ of sorts, a faith placed in the worth of the planet, with its amazing eco-systems, the flora and multiple creatures including ourselves, along with the elephants, tigers, and all other endangered species. Humanists believe in humanity's qualities, atheists possibly in energetically denying the existence of God. But no religion ...?

And how best to include those of other faiths? Other than none?

3. Meanwhile, in another part of the wood… 
Woodland, Shincliffe, Durham: how many diverse
species live in these trees, this undergrowth, this leafmould?

Up to or maybe over a million young people gathered in Krakow, Poland, for a Catholic youth rally. Some from Australia, others from Indonesia, and from Europe and South America. The young people were bubbly and enthusiastic as they sang, chatted, and waited for Mass, celebrated by Pope Francis, to begin. Faith for them was not dead, and diversity was represented in a crowd of many, many nationalities.

So, three options on ‘diversity’ ...

Finally ...

‘God is nice. He likes (us).’
(from Adrian Plass, The Sacred Diaries of Adrian Plass, aged 37 3/4, reproduced from Tony Collins, Taking My God for a Walk)

If only the ‘no religion’ people knew that God likes us … even while knowing our faults and our arrogance, he wishes us well… and a great deal more is on offer, through grace ... they might take a chance on … a map …?

Mari Howard's website is having a make-over. The blog will then move to the website. 
Meanwhile, Her blog is at


  1. Thoughtful stuff, thank you for giving us food for thought. When I was teaching RE I used to refer to the views of many different faiths on the topic in question, including the atheist faith. And I think that's important. Atheism is a faith, based on the hope that God does not exist, and, like all other faiths, having to ignore or at least explain some inconvenient evidence that might call its tenets into question. Feuerbach suggested that religion is wish-fulfilment; a benign Father-God looking after us makes us feel safe and so we project such an idea onto the world. Atheism can equally be seen as a similar kind of projection; we find the idea of coming face-to-face after death with the All-Good, and being called to account for the lives we have lived, a scary prospect. And so we invent a world in which such accountability is absent. Thus atheism, just as surely as religious extremism, can free us from the moral restraints that would seem to be built into our humanity. A J Ayer refused to regard himself as either a theist or an atheist, believing the very concept of God to be utter nonsense, and therefore not something one could be either for or against. This led him to the ethical system of emotivism, where our actions are constrained by nothing except our feelings, and no one has the right to judge anybody else's actions. Alasdair MacIntyre rightly pointed out that emotivism does not have to be a true ethic, but only has to be widely believed to be true, for society to lose its moral compass.

  2. An excellent post,full of things to ponder. Thank you.

  3. Interesting post, Claire, but I have to take issue with the idea that having 'no religion' automatically makes one an amoral person or creates an immoral society. My parents were a secular Jew and a lapsed Catholic, who would probably have described themselves as humanist, and were the most moral, caring, generous people you could hope to find. I learned more from them about living a good life than I have learned from many Christian churches. Yes, in my teens I realized that I needed more, but the values they gave me are central to my life as a Christian.

  4. I was not sure whether to reply to your post or not because I have just resigned from the ACW, but it was such a breath of fresh air that I felt moved to do so.

    You said, “She has a point, even though we in ACW would not necessarily agree.”

    Some time ago someone on your association Facebook page started a thread asking people what they thought of the association. One person (a young man, I think) obviously had something to say, but no wish to be rude, so he posted a link for you all to follow to the famous Soloman Asche experiment on conformity. I’ll try to re-post the link, but I don’t know if it will work.

    If I remember correctly, no one seemed to understand what he was tactfully trying to say – or there was an unspoken group agreement to ignore an uncomfortable point.

    Thus, I return to the quote. I would love to know what the members of the ACW would agree with, because yours is the first post that I have seen where someone has had a really serious attempt to reason and think rather than emote.

    The unspoken rules of your group are of an emotional and not a thinking nature. I have seen some blatant New Age thinking go completely unchallenged because it conforms to your emotional norms. So, in this spirit, I will channel my inner git.

    To put it bluntly no one cares if a bunch of over-privileged, middle class Christians are having a bad day or suffer from internal angst because they envy the success of others (one of your common group themes). To encourage each other in this kind of emotional navel-gazing is to encourage each other into infantile, narcissistic territory from which some may never escape.

    Priests are being decapitated in churches and children mowed down in the street. The world needs less emoting and more thinking. The ACW seems like it might be in a good position to start making a reasoned contribution, but I for one do not know what you believe or stand for.

    Finally, to be honest Mari, there are some technical issues with the grammar and flow of your reasoning in your post. Be absolutely sure that clear points follow logically one from the other, and that the phrasing supports understanding – but keep at it - I nearly cried when I saw that someone was really trying to think something through rather than express their own emotions. Thank you, and please forgive me for using your post to express my own feelings. Oh, the irony!

  5. Evidently there was something unclear in Mari's blog that led Veronica to a regrettable understanding. The whole point of what Mari was saying was that decent humanists like Veronica's parents (and my father, who had a very similar background) ultimately are in the same "camp" as people with a traditionally "religious faith", because they believe in something definite that includes caring for others. She was not drawing the boundary so that Christians, etc., would be on the faith side and humanists on the "no faith" side. Mari was asking what it would mean for people to be without any such "faith" at all, not Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Humanist, etc.,or any organized system of belief. So I hope Veronica will be able to see that this was not about opposing faith to humanism but trying to imagine the almost unthinkable world of people literally without any beliefs, faith, prinnciples, or whatever, at all!

    1. Yes! The more 21st century concept of totally ignoring a "map" to guide us in everyday living and in ethical and moral areas. These people do exist.