Living God's Love Values - Generosity, Joy, Imagination and Courage
Living God's Love Values - Generosity, Joy, Imagination and Courage

The contribution of the faith communities to the common good is so great that it cannot be sidelined and doesn’t depend on numbers alone says the Bishop of Bedford, the Rt Revd Richard Atkinson, speaking ahead of the 2011 Census figures for faith allegiance being published next week.

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In his ‘A Year of Service’ lecture at the University of Bedfordshire, he has highlighted the enormous contribution made by different faith communities to those around them. ‘A Year of Service’ has run during 2012 as a year in which, each month, one of the major faith communities has hosted a day or days of volunteering in communities and businesses across the country.

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This has been seen in projects ranging from a community clean-up at Sewa Day, a special time of the year when Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities work collectively for the good of all, to a homeless project run by Christians in Luton, or the Qu’ran- and Bible- inspired Golden Pledge sport project of Faith in Queen’s Park, Bedford which expresses the Golden Rule (always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself) in the context of multi-faith cricket, basketball and other sport.

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This contribution speaks of a society that is highly spiritual in many ways, as he observes, but in the lecture, ‘Spiritual Poverty in a Big Society,’ he also challenges those within faith communities and wider society alike to address six areas of spiritual poverty to make this contribution bigger and more effective, to rise to the challenge of the ‘Big Society’ vision which calls for faith communities to do more of what they have always done. He does this addressing “not so much the details of the activity but the spirit that undergirds it.”

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The six points are:

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To wider Society

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  1. “We have lost the ability in our society to talk adequately of values, purposes and the nature of the good.” He calls for a rediscovery of that: “If we can’t speak of morality and values in a shared way, and hear within that the contribution of faith communities, especially the Christian tradition that underlies so much of our common life in this country, then we will be severely lost. As the Church of England response to the current commission on the banking crisis indicates it as much a matter of values and culture, as it is of regulation, institution and structures.”

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    1. “We are a spiritual society in many ways. Firstly there is a world of difference between that spiritual journey that is primarily or exclusively about self-discovery and self-realisation – where the focus is the individual; and that spirituality which draws its identity and strength from one’s relationship with others, and in particular from the divine. Secondly, and in some ways related to that, we should have concern when society, and sadly sometimes the faith communities themselves, paints faith as purely a private matter.”

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    3. We need to get society focusing more on the needs of others. “In a society where individualism and materialism are so often the guide there is a pressing need to enable the spiritual resources that emphasise love of neighbour, both this generation and the next.”

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    To Faith Communities

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    1. The Regional Faith Councils and Assemblies and local Interfaith Councils set up under the previous Government were “something of a trap that far from extending their contribution was in danger of constricting it. The emphasis on interfaith structures and ‘interfaith’ action -whilst it can be the release of this spiritual energy from each faith – had the danger of developing a new civic good called ‘interfaith’ which was in danger of losing its spiritual roots and representing something that was alien to each part. Interfaith relations are vital but it is the parts that matter, especially when we work together, not a conglomerated whole, and faith communities need to hold onto that.”
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  3. He observes that it is the riches of individual traditions that is the wellspring of their service. It is their own social teachings that must empower their contributions to society: “the faith communities must avoid the allure of civic engagement that diminishes their identity and contribution; there must be a renewed confidence in the theological and spiritual resources that equip for public engagement.”

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  5. Show bad religion the door: “Faith communities are also warned that distortions of religion undermine the wonderful contribution that faith can make to society. “Religion, like secular ideologies can be corrupted.”

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