LIVING WITH OTHER FAITHS

The politically correct response to living with other faiths is one of tolerance and mutual respect.

All very well in theory, but it turns out to be much more complicated than that, and the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy highlights how tolerance can be taken advantage of and abused for reasons that are not democratic in the secular sense that we hold dear in this country.

In my class last night we had a discussion about this. My students all agreed that they felt threatened by the mushroom growth of other faiths in our city. We explored this a bit. Although in theory they agreed that it should be fine, clearly their emotions and gut feelings were saying something very different.

There was a feeling of being ‘outnumbered’. They were of the opinion that our government is over-tolerant, and is storing up trouble for itself as a result. Although ‘we’ have a proud history of giving sanctuary to those fleeing war, starvation and persecution, and although this is legitimate, necessary and desirable, the result of having boundaries that are too vague is resulting in a society where they now find themselves a minority in their belief, surrounded by other faiths some of which have a reputation for being aggressive.

We talked it through. At the end of it, I said that I am of the opinion that we Christians have got used to being ‘the majority’ and to ‘having influence’. Those days are over. We need to adjust to the new realities, of being in a minority of faith and of having our influence eroded away.

I believe this will be good for us, and force us to work out what is baby, and what is bathwater. What are we really here for, and are we fulfilling our calling? We can no longer rest on our laurels. We have to roll up our sleeves and take our place in a positive way in a market of ideologies and lifestyles. That is, after all, how the Christian faith started.

My students were not convinced, and were as anxious at the end of the discussion as at the beginning. An Indian student, who is here as a self-funded PhD researcher, told us that her country would not dream of giving permanent jobs to non-nationals. We would be welcomed, and able to follow courses or work temporarily – but permanent jobs are for nationals.

I know very little about the policies of other countries on this matter, but it would be most interesting to find out what some of them are, and see if there is anything we can usefully learn that would be constructive.

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34 thoughts on “LIVING WITH OTHER FAITHS

  1. Very thought-provoking. I think we should uphold British law and all people have to adhere to it whatever their religion. That OUGHT to be some kind of step toward making some religions less scary and discomforting?

    And in fact some people within certain religions (such as women?) might find comfort that they have more rights therefore? So by our law a husband can be found guilty of raping his wife whereas in certain religions he couldn’t be….. Hmmmm…….

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    1. I suspect that one of the problems people have with other cultures is that British law is not being adhered to, and women from within those cultures are afraid to challenge their husbands because they might get thrown out and left with nothing. One husband I know forbids his wife to come to church or see her Christian friends. That’s against our principles of freedom of religion … but it goes on all the time.

      Mind you, of course it is not just other cultures. White English culture can be just as bad.

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      1. Yes that is true re English culture :no: but I don’t think there are religious or cultural excuses for it uner UK law?. Mind you the number of women who die every week at the hands of violent men….Hmmmmm….. I suppose there is that honour killing culture thing too that is not a white British thing that is a scary sounding business…

        I suppose it is fear that our liberal culture and human rights will back-pedal and women suffer the brunt of it if alternative religions become the main ones over Christianity.

        Bearing in mind it is illegal for Catholics to ring church bells I’d be well miffed if the muezzins were calling the Muslims to prayer all over the country! In Egypt I found that a tyranny…… like being in a nightmare at times…. I wouldn’t like to live with that… Nor church bells going off all night either πŸ˜‰ :))

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  2. If different faiths were actually tolerant towards each other, then it wouldn’t be a problem. The council are trying to push a large number of Somali Muslim families into our Anglican community school. As experienced in other schools in Ealing, once the demographics start to take hold (and with Somali families averaging 6.2 children, that doesn’t take long), then the erstwhile visitors start making increasingly Draconian demands which conflict with a tolerant and liberal approach to religion and culture.
    It’s like a flock of sheep inviting a wolf into their field and expecting it to eat grass.

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      1. It has to begin with educating the children about tolerance. The government has made a start in trying to resolve the problem about Islamic radicalism in prisons and university but I feel this will be unsuccessful.
        Kids need to be around children of other faiths, to see them as not so different from themselves (and this isn’t confined to Muslims – look at Ireland for the last 300 years). But if the adults condemn other faiths by using their sacred book as a rigid text, then they will inculcate their children with these beliefs….a non-Muslim teacher in Tower Hamlets was horrified at the extent to which his young Bangladeshi pupils habitually preached hatred for Jews and Christians.
        My only answer is to go back in time and kill Mohammed before he has his crazy-arsed visions. Well, you did ask, Gilly!

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      2. I don’t know what happens … children of different cultures grow up together and mix with each other and don’t really think about differences. And then there comes a point, sometimes, where it can all collapse – witness the horrors in Bosnia and Serbia between people who had been neighbours for centuries.

        We need to pinpoint where the trouble starts, and work out how to deal with that.

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  3. A very interesting post. I wonder if there is a more generalised fear. We see people who look different, who speak a different language, eat strange foods and dress differently. We wonder if parts of our lives like free speech, democracy, education for girls and respect for the law are also valued. It may be that refugees and immigrants come here for the very things which we hold dear. Changes in our neighbourhood, our town are the hardest to deal with.

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    1. The Indian girl, who is a Christian, lives at home in India surrounded by Hindus and Sikhs, and has many friends in those faith communities. She understands where they are coming from and is able to talk respectfully with them. I asked her if she felt ‘under siege’ in her own country, and she said no. I wonder what the difference is.

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    2. (following on from last comment) – I suspect the difference is that Hinduism and Sikhism are old established religions in India and are considered native. I suspect that what threatens the British is the feeling that all the new faiths in our own country are not native, and this is why they feel alien.

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    1. Thank you, Marika. I do think their points of view need to be heard and taken seriously, and I’m glad they felt able to be honest because at least then we are beginning to talk about the real issues for them.

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  4. I just think that people are ‘blind’ to the fact that there is but one God that most worship no matter what he is called. They tend to be ‘protective’ of their religions and THEY are the only ones that are right.

    Here next month, Ashford is having a Church day where all faiths workship together. I won’t be going obvious, but I will get feedback.

    P xx

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      1. The books in anyones Bible all seem to say the same thing. They all worship a GOD no matter what called. I have looked into this in the past.

        P xx

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      2. I don’t think that, for example, the many gods of Hinduism bear much resemblance to the monotheistic religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. There are fundamental differences, but I don’t think these are the problem. The problem is, why do people feel threatened, and is there anything that can or should be done about it?

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      3. I’m not sure that it’s selfish … although it can be. If somebody is convinced of the truth of something, then they can’t be convinced that something which is opposite can also be true. There has to be integrity. But you can think somebody sincerely wrong, without being disrespectful.

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  5. The Great Debate! Does any so-called ‘Faith’ have to pose a threat? If anyone is secure enough in his or her particular ‘faith disposition’ how can another ‘faith disposition’ be experienced as a threat…? A threat to ‘What’ or ‘Who’? πŸ™„ xx

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      1. Much will depend…quite clearly…on the ‘faith disposition’ – if any – of your students…
        In my past involvement with the ‘issue’, I’ve noticed how often students/people/ group participants seem to be perceiving the ‘object’ of their ‘faith disposition’ as totally different from that of the others….;)

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      2. I’m just pondering, however. As I’ve commented to SilverLiz, our Christian Indian student lives at home in India surrounded by Hinduism and Sikhism, and has many friends from those faith communities – indeed, shares a flat here with some. I asked her whether she felt ‘under siege’ at home too. She said no … and I’m wondering whether this is to do with the fact that those religions are considered ‘native’ to India, whereas their rapid growth here is not ‘native’ and therefore feels ‘alien’.

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      3. If one follows your reasoning to her…Then I would want to ask WHY the local population (white british – even if nominally Christian)should feel ‘under siege from ‘other faith dispositions’…
        There is more to ‘this lass’ feeling ‘under siege’ here…..:yes: πŸ™‚

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      4. Might it be a similar thing – that Islam, Hinduism etc are ‘new’ to our culture (relatively ) and therefore feel like ‘imports’ to us. I also wonder whether, having wanted to be tolerant and welcoming to other faiths to begin with, many people are alarmed at their rapid growth and rise and feel ‘taken over’ and ‘out of control’. All these are ‘scary’ feelings. It will take some decades – maybe centuries! – before they ‘feel native’. Meanwhile, I think that the resentment that is growing needs to be taken into account or there are going to be some very unpleasant consequences.

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      5. Consider the concept of ‘Otherness’….and ‘Difference’….Until people realise that they are fundamentally ‘human beings first and foremost’..and then ‘human beings with difference’.. they cannot hope to terms with their fear of others….;)

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      6. Very important – but not widely shared, and I fear the consequences if this is not addressed. Living in a city like ours it impinges on the consciousness every day. The constant building of temples and mosques, along with the closure of churches, is creating a ‘siege mentality’. I could not persuade them otherwise, and my students are not ‘white minority’, and are thoughtful people with friends and relatives of other religions.

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  6. My field is mathematics and computation.

    I feel no need whatsoever to tolerate, be nice to, or even speak pleasantly to anyone whose belief system contradicts the axioms of integers, and goes round claiming a pixie told them 2+2=5.

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    1. thanks for your comment, but I’m afraid I don’t understand your point. Can you elucidate, please? I know you yourself are not a believer – are you saying that those with faith are equivalent to those who believe in pixies?

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