Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Nature of Big Society & its relationship with faith & faith groups

The non-religious think
whilst the religious pray?
source: | (90 minute discussion)

Committee Room 15 
Meeting started on Thursday 30 June at 9.53am
ended at 11.21am


Witnesses: Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi, Charles Wookey, Assistant General Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, and Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association

 9:54am - Bernard Jenkin MP (Committee Chair)  - We are looking at the nature of the Big Society and the relationship with the various faiths and faith groups in our Big Society.

9:55 - Mr Halfont - Wall Street Journal, 30th June 2011 (Godless Britain The U.K.'s churches are empty enough to land jumbo jets inside) - Britain is one of the most irreligious nations in the western world.

Britain today has become one of the most godless societies on earth. Its principle religious exports today are thinkers who despise religion. From Richard Dawkins, who has compared religion to child abuse, to my friend Christopher Hitchens, who titled his 2007 book "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," the British have cornered the market on being anti-God, at least the Christian and Jewish varieties.
While 92% of Americans believe in God, only 35% in Britain do and 43% say they have no religion, according to Britain's National Centre for Social Research. The number of people who affiliate themselves ...

9:56 - Bishop Tim Stevens (C of E) - Britain is in the vanguard of secularism ... the measure of secularism is not clearly defined ... government would want to be equidistant between people of faith and people of no faith and between the different denominations within the faiths.

9:57 - Andrew Copson (CEO, BHA) - In 2010 British Social Attitudes Survey, 51% Britains said they had no religion, 43% were Christians, but compared to US this makes little difference with civic participation such as volunteering eg in 2009 survey 60% of religious and 60% of non-religious people were involved with civic participation.
10:02 - Mr Halfont - Lord Sacks has said that faith communities are essential for the Big Society, which I agree with. If religion is declining in this country does that mean that it will be very difficult for the Big Society to work, because of a lack of belief or a decline in religion?
10:03 - Lord Sacks quotes work of Robert Putnam in USA which says religious people who attend church have more social capital than non-religious ie religious give more money to charity, voluntere for a charity, give  money to homeless person, donate blood, help with housework, spend time with someone who is depressed.
10:04 - Andrew Copson - reiterates, in 2009 survey 60% of religious and 60% of non-religious people were involved with civic participation. UK society is differant from USA society. ‘In the UK there is no difference between non-religious [and religious] people’s charitable, civic or voluntary engagement. None at all.’
10:05: Bernard Jenkin - would you say Mr Copson that that reflects the fact that we are Judeo-Christian country and that this infuses our values whether or not they are actively participating in religion or not?
10:06: Andrew Copson - I think that important values of civic participation predate the various Christian institutions in Europe, they’re shared around the world, they’re more likely to be human values, because we’re social animals who cooperate and participate in a shared society, and I think that’s a firmer foundation to build upon.’
10:07 Mr Halfont - is social capital as important as economic capital?
10:08 Tim Stephens - in Leicester immigrants, asylum seekers are reached out by faith groups. 
10:11 Charles Wookey, Assistant General Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales - Robert Putnam unpublished research applys to UK as well as USA ie religious have more social capital than non-religious.
10:12: Andrew Copson refers to research included in BHA submission. Read the BHA’s 2010 briefing: ‘Religion, belief and volunteering’
10:13: Tim Stephens, If C of E did not participate in Big Society you would reduce impact of all 19,000 C of E clergy / 16,000 churches/ church halls, public education, youth workers, expenditure by congregation on clergy and buildings is £700Mpa.
10:14: Lord Sacks - What is Social Capital? Emerson said Education is what you are left with when you've forgotten everything you were taught in school. Social Capital is what is left when you subtract the state and the market (ie transactions to do with power and wealth).
10:22 Andrew Copson - Humanist funerals are attended by 500,000 a year
10:23 Lord Sacks - Social capital is partly bonding capital (within a group) and bridging capital (between groups) - hence InterFaith discussions 
10:30 - Mr Flint MP - Churches are being used cynically by government to do their dirty work
10:38 Andrew Copson - transfer of secular Eves Housing contact to Salvation Army.
10:57 Andrew Copson - risk to focus on people as if they were members of groups - individuals should be canvassed too, can build in risks of division between groups, reinforce heirarchies and inequalities, best to work with individuals in their locality without introducing notion of religious affiliation, 
11:00 Bernard Jenkin - shouldn't humanist groups stand shoulder to shoulder with religious groups?
11:00 Andrew Copson - focus on streets, on localities is appealing. A very small minority of people are interested in philosophy or religion. Better to have interfaith initiatives than inter religion strife and tension, but 73% from latest social attitudes survey says that religious beliefs cause division. 
11:03 Lord Sacks - media is blowing out of all proportion the extremist religious viewpoints to the detrement of the good work done by vast majority of faith groups
11:04 Bishop Tim Stephens - no evidence of public square free of religious groups would be easier to government. Muslim groups are problematised - religions are part of the solution not the problem. Religious providers should not provide for everyone. Religious groups can provide small scale and transformation eg local police centre, asylum seekers, unemployed - should not behave like a local authority or government department
11:10 Charles Wookey - family care homes, homeless projects
11:14 Andrew Copson / Bernard Jenkin - balkanisation of public services or manage friction and treat as obstacle, compulsory secularisation becomes a tyranny of its own? legal discrimination by religious groups, Equality Act does not bind some religious groups as secular providers, no protection against prostelytizing,
10:18 Lord Sacks - Erosion of religious liberty if attempt to impose Equality Act and anti-discrimination on religious groups. Might get 17th century Mayflower situation where people leave UK to find religious liberty elsewhere. equality and human rights law were somehow eroding religious liberty and he referred to the pilgrims on the Mayflower who had to leave England to go somewhere where they had more religious freedom. 
11:19 Andrew Copson  - Equality and human rights was not the flag under which the pilgrims on the Mayflower had been oppressed in England. It was a religious intolerance which we risk re-importing into public services if we split them up now.’
10:20 Bernard Jenkin - a humanist absolutism would be just as tyranical
11:20 Andrew Copson - of course which it is not desirable.
11:22 Meeting ends.

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