Friday, November 27, 2009

What kind of religion?

Large parts of the third generation are finding religion in a way that few predicted. Some have attempted to explain it all away as something foreign and dangerous. I have understood it as something familiar, once one gets behind the veneer of difference. Is it strange that spiritual discipline should be attractive to those who were raised in the same North that welcomed Methodism? Is marching for social justice so foreign in a place that gave rise to the labour movement? Is believing in more than the material really that problematic in ‘Wuthering Heights’ country? Behind the veneer of difference, therefore, is a familiarity that can become obvious to those who lend a listening ear to the souls that are discovering their religious selves.

Religion is here, not arriving from outside, but developing from within our own local traditions. But what kind of religion is it? I am struck by the Muslim capitalist spirit that is present in Bradford. It is a religious spirit that bases itself on moral chauvinism, prides itself on the show of external symbols of religiosity and is linked closely with a capitalist spirit that seeks to exhibit the trophies of success to all those who are also engaged in this game of mutual rivalry. They have become religious and financially successful. But how moral is this position on religion? Is this why the moral voice in the community is seldom heard and why many very wrong things continue to be tolerated in the name of a chauvinism that pretends that God does not see everything?

There is another way of being religious that is also emerging. It is value-driven. Shami Chakrabarti came to Bradford recently and she is admired by many in the Muslim community. She has spoken out on issues even though she is not from amongst us. Are our convictions like her’s or are they driven dare I ask by a selfish individualism or perhaps even a selfish communitarianism? As the Sufis say, people wrapped up in themselves make small packages.

There is another kind of religion that is becoming evident: it is one of integrity, dignity and service to others; it seeks the Divine Mercy while also recognising that it is perpetually under the scrutiny of the Divine Gaze. Religion is about worship, contemplation, prayer and remembrance. It is also about our relations with each other: family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and fellow city-dwellers. Does the Prophetic tradition on relationality – as this is how it could be described – encourage us to give or to take from others? The encouragement is to give to everyone, and continuously, because the consequence of possession (of time, wealth and health) is generosity, for those who understand the true nature of things. Hence, as the moral energy is gathered, so it should be distributed, if we are minded so. Wordsworth said, ‘Blessed are they who in the main, this faith even now do entertain’. It is time that we began to feel this.