Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Good Faith in the Face of Bad Faith

I am writing a few days after a terrorist attack in London and two weeks after a terrorist detonated a bomb in the Manchester Arena. We live in worrying times. There will be a General Election in a few days. People of faith are reacting to events in different ways and they aren’t all planning to vote the same way either. This is because we each bring our own upbringing and experiences into the mix when we interpret facts.

People who already felt anxious are likely to feel more anxious after terrorist attacks. Some people will have been shaken by these events but appreciate that statistically they are still safer than people living in most of the rest of the world, including the USA with its high incidence of gun crime.

Fear can make some people turn inward and it can make some people lash out. Fear can make some people want to live in a fortress with tighter controls to keep strangers out, to keep a closer eye on people they are afraid of. This is a natural response, but such measures probably won’t actually make us any safer.

At the heart of Christianity is the commandment to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Some people laugh at this. There are Christians who would call it liberal and weak. However, Jesus told us it was the second most important commandment and that the whole of the Law and the Prophets should be interpreted in the light of loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. This means that anyone who uses Christianity as a reason to hate anyone else has got it all wrong.
Matthew 22:36 - 40
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised)
If all those who call themselves Christians took Jesus seriously everything they did would be about loving other people as much as they love themselves, balancing their needs with the needs of the people around them. At a very basic level this would mean every time we go shopping we might buy an item for the food bank, and not the cheapest tinned meat, but something we would be happy to eat ourselves. It would mean paying a bit more for Fairtrade goods if we can afford to do so. It would mean showing as much respect for the shop assistants and other shoppers as we want to be shown ourselves.

Loving our neighbour as ourselves means we treat ordinary Muslims just as we would wish to be treated by them. It means listening to what their faith means to them, not telling them what we think about Islam, especially if we are ill-informed.

When it comes to voting I should think Christians would vote for the party they think will do most to look after the needs of their neighbours who are poor, chronically unwell, disabled, elderly or vulnerable. If we really take Jesus seriously our concern won’t just end at the ballot box, but we will also get involved with helping some of these people in need in our own communities because politicians and legislation can only do so much.

At the end of the day a good society is created by citizens getting involved and making things better. A good society is one in which everyone is valued and respected and a society where everyone's needs are met. These are the things that really makes us safer, which is why I think loving your neighbour as you love yourself is a good rule to live by whatever your faith. It's something we need much more of on our fragile planet.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father of all the people on this earth
you know how hard it is to love some of our neighbours
but help us to love them anyway,
even the smelly ones, the scary ones, the embarrassing and the inconvenient ones.
Thank you for your great love for each of us
even when we are unkind, selfish and downright unreasonable.
May your Spirit fill us with your love when our own capacity to love is limited.
Help us to be channels of your love to everyone we meet.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Good Faith for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

We live in an uncertain and unfair world at a time of great change. This can be unsettling. It is easy to become anxious, especially if you struggle to find work or your job is under threat. Even if you don't have to worry about paying the rent or mortgage and putting food on the table, the media could make you worry about terrorists, climate change or the economy. Sometimes we can feel very lonely and vulnerable.

Human beings seem to be hard wired to worry. It was important for our ancestors to be alert to danger all the time. That is how they survived. Being alert, or stressed, has it's downsides, though. As I'm sure you are aware, too much stress can make us ill. Being afraid of strangers and those of our neighbours who are different from us can result in aggression and social tensions as well as causing us stress.

Religion arose, not only to appease the gods of primitive people but also to develop social cohesion, to calm aggression between neighbours and to generally reduce social tensions. Religion is thought to be based on Latin for "the ties that bind".  Ties that bind us can have a very positive effect, but they can also be manipulated by the unscrupulous. The ties that bind us to a group can be used to force us to conform or to give more than we are able to. It's not surprising that religion has a bad name.

Spirituality is closely related to religion. Sometimes being spiritual can seem like turning inward, but true spirituality connects us not only with the Divine, or our Higher Power, but also to the people and the rest of the world around us. We don't have to belong to any kind of organised religion to be spiritual. Some would argue that everyone is spiritual, in the sense that we all need some connection with other people and the world around us.

In thinking about the kind of faith that might help us live well on our fragile planet I hope to consider how we can be better connected as well as if it's possible to have healthy ties which might bind us in a positive way.