Today, Minou Cortazzi (member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Leicester and former Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths) speaks first. Beverley Farrand (from Leicester Cathedral Education team) follows with the Christian viewpoint. Interesting differences here in that one of these two communities is the longest-standing and largest of the eight on Leicester Council of Faiths, the other is the most recent arrival in the city and the smallest. (Though it's little known that, after the Christians and Jews, Bahá'ís were the first faith community to have their own official meeting place in Leicester; there was a Bahá'í centre on New Walk from 1957 to 1963, when the couple who owned the property, John and Vera Long, moved to Oakham to establish the first Bahá'í community there.)
I keep my ear open for common themes emerging from the conversation. There's a very clear common thread about the two communities contributing to the education of young people - empowering them to exercise some degree of meaningful control and direction over their own lives and to help those younger than them do something similar. At the Cathedral, of course, this is done on a considerably greater scale: last year, more than 2,000 children and young people undertook educational visits there on official school trips. Many of these involved participation in the multi-media "Breathe" activity, which is usable for children and young people from a variety of backgrounds and traditions. But despite their comparatively meagre resources, the local Bahá'ís have made whole-hearted efforts in providing spiritual and moral education not only to their own children and young people, but also extending this to similar age groups in some of the deprived areas of the city.
A few days after this event, the Leicester Speaks website carried a blog entry from Kenton Hall, who attended this session in the Welcome Centre as part of the multimedia team who are making a record of the week-long event as a whole. I was really taken with what Kenton had to say about this dialogue session and asked his permission to reproduce his blog entry on this page. He said yes, so here it is below in its entirety.
Cards on the table time. I am not a man of faith. Okay, I occasionally veer towards the belief that a centuries-old being in a bow tie is whizzing round the universe in a police box righting wrongs, but that’s as near as I get these days. The vast majority of my truly religious experiences have resulted from my being chivalrous enough to spring for dinner and a movie. However, I was brought up to be very religious indeed and if there is one aspect of that which has never left me or, at very least, for which I have occasionally pined, it has been the sense of community that comes from shared belief: shared goals, shared ideals, a shared sense of the shape of the universe.
Nonetheless, it has been of increasing concern to me – as I’m sure it has been to many others – that when any group of people subscribe to a particular set of beliefs, there too often follows in their wake a sense of entitlement, a sense that if they are right then others must be definitively wrong. And it is this that has led to the violence and dissent we too often associate with organised religion.
So, when I was asked to cover one of a series of events in which members of various faiths were invited to speak, in dialogue, with the idea of exploring common ground, rather than differences, I was understandably dubious.
The Leicester Council of Faiths is an organisation which strives – by its very remit – to promote understanding and cooperation between the many faiths – Christian, Muslim, Jain, Hindu, Jewish, Ba’hai, Sikh – that make up Leicester’s spiritual life.
Today’s event was a discussion between representatives of the Christian Church and the Ba’hai Faith, outlining the positive aspects and programmes provided by each to the community at large.
In an age where even the word “religion” is too often a harbinger of violence, disorder and war, it was reassuring to see such a positive spin being put on proceedings. And while I may, personally, not see or understand the need for an organised belief system, it is difficult to argue against the good work presented in evidence today. Impossible, in fact.
Nor can it be considered in any way a bad thing to see disparate groups, with different and occasionally contrary cultures and backgrounds, coming together in the quest for commonality and the promise of a brighter, less contentious future.
Whatever your feeling about religion in general, or any particular faith specifically, the point of today – as indeed of this entire week of Leicester Speaking – is to allow all those good, concerned people out there to hold up their hand and say “This is what we are doing for our city’s well-being. Care to join us?”
I remain unconvinced by the form, but I am utterly convinced by the ideals and the motivations of the people concerned. And when we accept people for who they are and what they do, rather than what they are or where they’ve come from, then we have a chance at putting our quarrels behind us and moving forward as a city, as a community, as a race.
And to that I intone a hearty – if secular – Amen.