Saturday, 22 September 2007

An exemplary celebration

Three thousand people of all ages from many parts of Britain gathered at City Hall today to make a procession of witness from there through the streets to the Sri Swaminarayan Mandir in Merches Gardens Grangetown, in celebration of the Temple's silver jubilee.

Go to BBC News webpage report here.

If there were any politicians or civic dignatories present, they were keeping quite a low profile. Nevertheless, the procession was led by a Police Silver Band, and several uniformed police officers from senior to junior ranks, who just happen to be Hindu, on duty or off, marched with the crowd. The procession was orderly, joyful and exuberant. It included people in prams and some in in wheelchairs or using sticks. Thousands of bottles of water were consumed (and collected), but that was all.

It was an example of community cohesion and festivity entirely devoid of alcohol consumption.

If only our great sporting organisations could take this lesson from their fellow citizens!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Cardiff Hindus celebrate

The domes of a Hindu Temple decorated for festivity, resplendent in sunlight. Where are we? Merches Garden, Grangetown, Cardiff's Sri Swaminarayan Temple. Which celebration? The silver jubilee of the Hindu community in South Wales having its own place of worship in this city. This building is the first to accommodate Hindu worshippers. It has undergone renovation, and adaptation, not only for worhsip, but a wide range of social activities. The exterior, and local environment is greatly enhanced with the addition of domes to the building during the two year development programme. This reaches its climax in the week of 17-24 September, with a visit from the world head of the Sri Swaminarayan religious community, his holiness Acharaya Shree Koshalendraprasadji Maharaj, and a public procession from City Hall to Merches Gardens on Saturday 23rd September.

Members of the community at work decorating the Temple
in preparation for the arrival of their honoured guest.

These celebrations are a sign of the social as well as spiritual health and vitality of a well established religious community in the capital city. All that has been achieved here is the work of hundreds of volunteers offering their time, talents and money for the welfare of a Cardiff community as diverse as India, yet as present at the heart of its local setting as any church or chapel.

On Church and State

Rowan Williams has been forthright in his advocacy of the traditional role of the Monarch in relation to the establishment of the Church of England, through an
interview for the Daily Telegraph, summarised by the BBC News website, reminding the world that the future King, as Head of State inherits the historic role of Defender of the (Christian) Faith, as Head of the Church of England.

The law of the land actually does quite a good job at defending believers' and faith communities' freedoms, even if implementation is patchy and can leave something to be desired. As Head of State the Monarch has an unique representative function in sustaining the rule of law. So why do the media much such a fuss, and strive to insist these two roles are in conflict?

Follow this link for a more extended personal view.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Ritual, time and the structure of meaning

Another Thought for the Day extract from Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, one of the great apologists for religious faith in our secular age.

"Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. For ten days, culminating in Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, we reflect on our lives, apologising for the wrongs we've done, and seeking forgiveness from God and our fellow human beings. It's a fixed time in the Jewish calendar for trying to put things right in our lives, and it involves an immensely powerful set of rituals and prayers.

I've been fascinated by the recent spate of books casting doubt on religious faith, as if religion meant believing six impossible things before breakfast. Well, religion is a matter of holding certain beliefs, but that's not the only or even the most important thing about it. Religion is also about ritual; and ritual is about taking certain beliefs and making them real in the way we behave.

Would my life be the same without the Jewish New Year? No. I might still believe that life has a purpose, that what matters is not how much we earn but the good we do. I might still be convinced that it's important to apologise for the wrong I do and try to make amends. But those beliefs would have no fixed date in my diary and I might never get round to acting on them at all.

Religion isn't the only way of thinking about ultimate questions. There are others, philosophy for example, or science. But philosophy and science never created rituals. And when you lose ritual you lose much else besides.

When people pray, they ritualise the sense that there is someone watching over what we do, and that creates internal restraints. When we lose that, we have to invent another form of watching, closed circuit video cameras, and that's the beginning of a loss of privacy.

When we have the Sabbath, we have dedicated family time. Lose the Sabbath and a generation later families begin to fracture. Ritual structures time the way music structures sound. It turns life into a work of art, giving it shape, proportion, grace and beauty.

In English the world secular comes from seculum meaning worldly, so religion signifies something other-worldly. But the Hebrew word for secular, chol, actually means sand. And that, without ritual, is what we can sometimes become: a grain of sand blown by the shifting winds of moment and mood. Rituals help us consecrate time, weaving into our lives the things that are important, not just urgent. And with that, may I wish you shanah tovah, a good new year."

copyright 2007 BBC

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Religion & Civil Society - a timely caution

On BBC Radio 4's Thought for the day this week Indarjit Singh, editor of the Sikh Messenger spoke some wise words, reproduced here with full and very grateful acknowledgement to the Beeb for providing a platform for some of the more sensible thinkers of our time.

"Religion has come in for a bit of a hammering in the last few days. According to an opinion poll published in the Sunday Times, nearly half of the people in this country feel that religion is harmful. And Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, the newly appointed President of the British Humanist Association, speaking on the BBC Sunday Programme, expressed anger at the influence of religion on public life.

It's all pretty strong stuff, but I believe there's reason for the unease. The track record of religion in power or authority is not very good. It's been more about preserving or extending power than working for a just and peaceful society. Unthinking allegiance to power structures rather than teachings has often led, and still leads, followers to behave like fanatical supporters of a football team, bent on vocalising their inherent superiority

The problem is that ethical teachings of religion are easy to state but extremely difficult to live by. It's much easier to believe that we are simply the best and God on our side, no matter what we do.

As for the actual teachings of religion, we put them in ornate books; and set them to beautiful music. We build and adorn beautiful places of worship and engage in rituals to please God. It's all a bit silly really. As Sikh Scriptures remind us, God the creator of infinite universes and all that exists, is hardly likely to be impressed by such shallow flattery.

The Sikh Gurus were fully aware of the danger of the religion falling into the hands of those who put power before principle, so they decreed that the Sikh faith should have no priests, no hierarchy of religious leadership and no power structure, only the abiding guidance of the Sikh scriptures.

Like some teachings of other religions, our Scriptures remind us of core values for responsible living:

*to look beyond self to the needs of others;
*to work for social justice,
*to look after the weak and vulnerable,
*to put principle before expediency
*to stand up to injustice whatever the cost.

Sadly the word 'religion' today has been debased almost beyond repair, but I'm sure if an opinion poll were to ask if such values should influence public debate as well as our individual lives, the response, even from those who say they have no time for religion, would be far more positive."

Copyright 2007 BBC

Friday, 7 September 2007

Religion important in guiding nation's morals

BBC NEWS UK Most say UK is in 'moral decline' click

More than eight in 10 people believe that Britain is in moral decline, a survey has found.
The poll, for new BBC One show The Big Questions, found only 9% disagreed that moral standards were falling.
Of 1,000 adults asked, 62% said religion was important in guiding the nation's morals, while 29% disagreed that faith had a role to play.
And people said they were more likely to help a stranger who had collapsed than try to stop anti-social behaviour.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

The world's fastest growing faiths

The world's fastest growing faiths
1. Islam:Growth rate 1.84 per cent* with 1.3 billion followers worldwide
2. Baha'i faith: Growth rate 1.70 per cent with 7.7 million followers worldwide
3. Sikhism: Growth rate 1.62 per cent with 25.8 million followers worldwide
4. Jainism: Growth rate 1.57 per cent with 5.9 million followers worldwide
5. Hinduism: Growth rate 1.52 per cent with 870 million followers worldwide
6. Christianity: Growth rate 1.38 per cent with 2.2 billion followers worldwide

*rate of change of adherants to this religion between 2000-2005 as a percentage per year

Atheism is growing at a rate of 1.39 per cent and Afghanistan has the fastest growing population of Atheists.

Where are faiths growing fastest?

Faith Where is it growing fastest?
Baha'i faith Qatar
Buddhism New Zealand
Chinese Universalism Finland
Protestantism Afghanistan
Roman Catholicism Sierra Leone
Confucianism Northern Mariana Islands
Ethnoreligion Afghanistan
Hinduism United Arab Emirates
Jainism Uganda
Jewish Uganda
Islam Soloman Island (followed by Norway)
Neo Religionism United Arab Emirates
Shintoism Singapore
Sikhism United Arab Emirates
Taoism Laos
Zoaroastrian Netherlands

Figures taken from the World Christian Database

In God we doubt - from Splott to the World


In God we doubt -Times Online

At 15 I left school to work on a local newspaper and then, two years later, left home to work for a bigger paper in the Welsh valleys. It was then that I stopped going to church. Saturday night was pub-crawl night, which meant that Sunday morning was spent recovering. But in any case I realised that going to church was a meaningless exercise. I was bored by the ritualised responses, by priests who seemed to have nothing to say, by my own failure to be genuinely moved by any of it.
Yet I continued to pray. I prayed every single night without fail for half a century. The problem was that I had absolutely no notion of the God to whom I was supposed to be praying or, for that matter, why I was praying. Did I really think my prayers would make any difference? I doubt it. So, if I was getting nothing out of it and neither were the people I was praying for, why was I bothering? Mostly, I wanted to believe. I envied friends with an apparently solid faith their certainties and the comfort their faith appeared to bring them.
My years as a reporter and foreign correspondent took their toll. I was not much more than a boy when I watched the miners of Aberfan digging for the bodies of their children after the coal tip crushed their school. A few years later I was watching weeping mothers trying to free the bodies of their children from the ruins of houses wrecked by an earthquake in Nicaragua. In various African countries I have seen children, all hope gone from their blank and staring eyes, slowly starving to death. In divided countries all over the world I have seen the bodies of young men horribly mutilated by other young men for no other reason than that they belonged to the wrong tribe or religion.
In war zones I have listened to soldiers – ordinary people like you and me, with their own children to love and care for – justify the slaughter of other entirely innocent human beings, other children.
And over and over again I was asking myself the other Big Question, one that would not have occurred to the innocent little boy on the aerodrome: where was God?

My spiritual journey – if that’s not too high-falutin’ a notion – took me from my childish Big Questions to my ultimate failure to find any corresponding Big Answers. I have ended up – so far, at any rate – as a doubter. It’s clear that I’m far from alone.

Copyright John Humphrys extracted from In God We Doubt to be published on 6th of September 2007 - Permission obtained