[originally published on qceablog.wordpress.com]
I was recently invited to participate in discussions on the role of religion in public affairs. The discussions were fascinating: depending on the religion from which one views the question, the answers differ. The question is, how can religion play a role in increasing environmentally and economically responsible behaviour? And this leads to practical questions, such as, ‘where is the concrete alternative to the market economy?’
Quakers express a fairly wide range of political and social views. (In fact, we also include a range of religious views.) The concept of ‘that of God’ in everyone does mean that the variety of experiences and opinions is more accepted than it might be in religions in which a certain type of thought is accepted as the dominant, or only, truth. But Quakers also sometimes find it hard to see the light of God in another person’s views. At this seminar, hosted by a centre-right political group, some raised the spectre of same-sex marriage and the expression from civil society in some countries against this legality. One Irish participant highlighted our assumptions by noting that it could be a false assumption to assume that people were getting married to have sex with one another, by calling it homosexual marriage. The descriptor ‘same-sex marriage’ simply means that people of the same gender are marrying.
Quaker Gordon Matthews asked why there was such a fuss about whom people are loving, when the question is pressing of whom people are killing with arms and in conflict.
A wonderful quote was cited: focussing on values without the spiritual source is like having cut flowers in a vase – beautiful but no longer living, no longer connected to the root.
What do Quakers think? What does our faith lead us to do? We regularly ask ourselves- I just had the pleasure of joining a contemplation of works and faith with over 100 Irish Quakers. At the seminar I describe above, I took the microphone to note that Quaker faith is based on experience, on living rather than saying. And that we have to consider how the choices we have made in the past have helped make the world we now want to change. We need to consider, for example, how our love for cheap products has created global inequality and overuse of natural resources.
We cannot expect everyone in a pluralist society to have the same basis for their values. We seek fairness and consideration for all people whatever their religious faith or whether they act from secular or spiritual values. All sorts of faith may inspire and facilitate ethical behaviour. Our role as faith-based social actors may be to facilitate ethical behaviour becoming the norm, to create a society in which more and more people work for greater equality and environmentally responsible behaviour.
What I noted to the members of the centre-right political group, who were asking for input from faith-based advocacy groups, Christianity is based on the concept of forgiveness: forgiveness also means being honest with God and with yourself, analysing what you have not done properly and taking action to do it differently. Changing the world through repentance and forgiveness is what many religious people can bring to society.
This post was drafted with the help of Gordon Matthews.