Monday, 31 January 2011

give with one hand ...


In the copy of Know Faith! (quarterly newsletter produced by Faiths Forum for the East Midlands) that I picked up this evening at County Hall, I read, with interest, the following text in relation to National Inter Faith Week 2010:
At national level, there was no multi faith event on the scale of last year's launch as the change in Government led to late confirmation of support for the Week and limited planning time. but the new Government expressed strong support for the Week and the Secretary of State for Communities, Eric Pickles, hosted a reception at Admiralty House for the Week. Members of the Regional Faith Forums were invited along with key officers of Inter Faith Groups in their regions as a gesture of appreciation.

Mr Pickles (photo above) has since removed all funding from these Regional Faith Forums across the country. Because of that decision, the work of these organisations has been thrown into confusion as they've had to make staff redundant, close premises and (in many cases) call a halt to their activities. There's a "gesture of appreciation" for you.

Mindfulness & Morality 3: Hindu Perspective

I'm not able to attend the session on Mindfulness and Morality this evening as I'm at County Hall doing the "Religion and Media" presentation. This is the first of the "faith specific" sessions, on Hinduism. Kevin Commons has taken notes, which I reproduce here, just as he has sent them. That makes Kevin my first guest blogger!

There was a total of 19 people plus Ramesh Majithia (facilitator). Ramesh's introductory talk set out the following five pillars of Hindu ethics:

  1. Reverence for self (the self is the image of the Divine)
  2. Reverence for other (obviously, others are also the image of the Divine)
  3. Reverence for the animal kingdom (God's creation)
  4. Reverence for the plant kingdom
  5. Reverence for the material kingdom

These obviously have implications for the environment and the ecology of the planet. He then described the 4 ashrams as life stage that guide moral behaviour. These are:
  • age 0 to 25 where the focus is study and learning
  • 25 to 50 where the focus is family life
  • 50 to 70 where the individual starts to let go of attachments
  • 70+ where the individual lets go of everything and becomes a sanyasin (homeless person)

He explored a few quotations from the Gita and Upanishads and told the story of Saint Jalaram, which provided the basis for his discussion item that had food and family life as its focus.

Raj's behaviour
Raj is 13 and is the only son. Rings mum one day from school that he will be late home and that they eat at the usual time of 6.00 p.m. Dad has a medical condition and has to eat at regular times. Raj arrives at 7.00 p.m. Dad had gone to rest upstairs. Mum has been waiting to eat with son. As son is warming up the food Raj says he wanted to eat pizza. Mum cannot persuade the son otherwise. Raj get the pizza out of the freezer and puts it in the microwave. the next thing is he sits on the sofa, switches on the TV to watch "Neighbours" and starts eating the pizza. Mum is stunned.

This story provoked a lot of discussion but certainly brought home the significance of family activities and the place of food within these.  Issues of Raj's lack of mindfulness of his mother and father's needs and the lack of respect for the food that seemed about to be wasted were well rehearsed.  However, Raj's mother's behaviour was also pointed out.  Why did she not eat with her husband?  Why wait for Raj since he had chosen to break the family routine.  One view suggested that this was Raj's mother's dilemma, requiring her to ask why Raj behaved as he did in a way that would seek to find out how he was seeing the world, rather than castigating him for his unacceptable behaviour.

If the key point was lack of respect for authority and, in a more general sense, the law, then the level of moral judgement in Kohlberg's terms seems to be at stage 4, the higher of the two levels of conventional thinking.

INTERFAITH FORUM FOR LEICESTERSHIRE: RELIGION & THE MEDIA


At County Hall, Glenfield (seat of Leicestershire County Council), for a meeting of the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershire. The topic this evening is "Religion and Media". I'm doing part of the presentation: one third of it, to be precise. First John Florance (BBC Radio Leicester) speaks on the topic in relation to broadcast media, then Nick Carter (Chair of Prospect Leicestershire and the Leicester Multicultural Advisory Group - LMAG) on print media. John (centre) and Nick (right) are in the photo above, with Resham Singh Sandhu, who chairs the meeting. I'm on last, speaking in relation to social media.

We have a good turnout (filling the Sparkenhoe Committee Room, with around 50 attendees) despite considerable competition this evening. Just a few doors away, top TV celebrity historian Michael Wood is giving a talk about his BBC series, The Story of England, which narrates the country's history through the story of Kibworth, a Leicestershire village that predates the Domesday Book. If I weren't in here speaking, I'd be in there listening to him!

Athea, from Faiths Forum for the East Midlands, brings the latest edition of their quarterly newsletter, Know Faith! issue 05, hot off the presses. It has good coverage of Inter Faith Week 2010, including our exhibition at Highcross and our feature in The Wave.

John Florance is Producer and Presenter of the Breakfast Show, on BBC Radio Leicester, Sunday mornings, 0600-0900. He gives a potted guide to the history of BBC Radio Leicester, including the birth of the BBC's Asian Network, which began in Leicester in the 1970s and still shares its premises. It's a statutory duty for local radio stations to have a programme on the topic of faith and ethics. John's show has a largely Christian audience, composed of older people up early to get to church. This doesn't stop the programme from carrying news and features about the diverse faith communities of Leicester. He lauds the good communication and positive relationship between the faith output and the newsroom. He is aware of the station's responsibility to promote good relations and better understanding among local faith communities. John also produces the "Thought for the Day" slot (he's asked me this evening if I would do a few of these - only 90 seconds long, thankfully!) He makes a few practical suggestions about getting heard on BBC Radio Leicester. Most importantly, tell him what's going on, rather than moan about it after it's over - and been missed. He also gives a few tips on how to write, submit and follow up on a good press release. He ends by acknowledging that those who genuinely know Leicester don't see it as a multicultural paradise - but one in which lively, courteous debate (some of which can - indeed should - be conducted on local radio) helps iron out the wrinkles among and between communities of differing background, practices and traditions in our city.

Nick Carter was editor of the Leicester Mercury for 16 years, having left the post two years ago in January 2009. During his tenure (says our Chair this evening), the paper covered faith community issues more sensitively and sympathetically than it does today. This evening he briefly considers how the place of faith in mainstream British society has changed radically, since he started as a junior reporter with an evening newspaper in Slough in 1975 (when religious news was made up of little more than church social events and traditional Christian festivals) and how the mainstream media has not kept pace with this change. He proposes that the media (especially local media) has a responsibility to dispel misinformation and lack of understanding. In this day and age, it's easier than ever for such opinion to find a platform, which makes the responsibility of "traditional" media all the more serious. The media as a whole has failed to understand the changing nature of religion, of communities and of their potential audience and customer base. They are now struggling to catch up - and for the most part, they have missed the boat as their audience has fragmented. Nick makes a plea for inclusion in the media of "soft news" - without setting the threshold too high, before faith issues are admitted into the mainstream as "hard news" when crises emerge. Without the background of "soft news" that would promote understanding and sympathetic coverage of faith and cultural issues. this is not as negative or pessimistic as it might first appear as he has a number of observations and suggestions for practical improvements.

My contribution is on social media, speaking about Leicester Council of Faiths' foray into Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, iPadio and - of course - blogging. I also give a puff to Amplified Leicester. I talk the audience through each of these (including my amusing anecdote about King Abdullah of Jordan reading my blog - unprovable either way, of course) and give a little live demo of a few in action. I come across like an enthusiastic twelve-year old at Show and Tell: "I've got a blog!" "We're on YouTube!" "Have you got as many facebooks fans as we have?" At the end of their presentations, John and Nick get a quarter of an hour of reflective, interesting questions; I get none. I think I've pummelled the audience into submission (but later this evening and early next morning, I get a lot of visitors to the blog).

I finish the evening here by recording half a dozen short video interviews with some of the attendees for our YouTube channel.

ANOTHER REDP AWAY DAY: "WHAT ABOUT THE WORKERS?"


Following on from the Away Day we had for the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership on 20 Jan (see blog entry), we have another one today, just for members of the Working Group. We're meeting at Leicester LGBT Centre, Wellington Street. The centre is having their ground floor cafe renovated, which has led to the entry buzzer being disabled and (more worryingly) a lot of rattling and shaking in the training room, right above where the work is being carried out. Despite one or two scares, the floor didn't give way, thankfully!


Our group today comprises Taherah, Chino, Kelly, Carolyn, Tonia (l-r, photo above) and Laura (REDP Project Manager, far right). Liz Harrison was missing today. As with the last meeting, Bob Clarke is our facilitator.


The Working Group carries out most of the day-to-day work of REDP, including circulating papers published by central government and coordinating responses to them, from the Core Partners and the wider Core Reference Group. Our discussion today homes in on ways to help make the group work more effectively. Not that it isn't effective now - but no matter how good something is, it can always get better!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

ISLAM: A LIFESTYLE CHOICE

This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Islam: a lifestyle choice
Here is a secular view of what Tory peer Baroness Warsi said on your front page (Leicester, January 21).
It was simply a demand that Islam is above criticism. She claims "prejudice against Muslims in Britain is at an all time high", but offered no evidence to support this claim, unless you count the e-mail she received as an example of prejudice against Muslims.
But the e-mail was nothing more than a concise sentence typical of hard political debate, that used a play on halal, which is indeed a Muslim custom/superstition hated by many, especially animal rights folk, that seemed a fair way to have a dig at her to me.
This is the e-mail: "Instead of bleating like some halal lamb being led to the slaughter, how about ending the knee bending to Islam at every opportunity."
This is mild indeed compared to the messages sent from Islamists to their critics.
She goes on to confuse race with religion. She tries to draw a similarity between racism to the Jews and criticism of Islam, but she is wrong; criticism of Islam is equal to criticism of Zionism – criticism of an ideology. Does Warsi think Zionism above criticism?
Opposition to Islamic aims, as to how we should all lead our lives are not racist, but ideological, as they are with any political creed we may oppose.
When asked whether she still faces regular discrimination, she said: "On the basis of my race? Less so. On the basis of my religion? More so". So Baroness don't be a Muslim, give it up! It's not compulsory. Here in Leicester it's a free choice, unlike being Jewish or Asian. If Warsi is attacked for being Asian, that is racist and she must be defended from that, but when she is criticized for freely following a lifestyle ideology many of us disagree with, she must expect hard arguments against that choice.
Especially as someone who has excepted an unelected, privileged, and well paid role in the Government on the Tory side!
She states that anti-Islamic sentiment is bigotry, so she can call those of us who are critical of Islam bigots, but we must, in her words, "be urged to be more careful about what they say about religion".
Why? She must extend the same freedom of speech to those of us who disagree with her, as she received on the front page of the Mercury.
Mr Lyn Hurst, Leicester

"COMING HOME" TO QUAKERS

This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
"Coming home" to Quakers
David Clark (First Person, January 21) explains the dilemma of many within the traditional Christian churches, in wanting to remain part of a worshipping community, but finding difficulty with some of the doctrines, whether they be Catholic, Anglican or Islamic. 
As one confirmed long ago in the Church of England, I know how hard it is to break from the fellowship of a faith community, but we cannot hide our doubts. I once heard a great churchman, Canon Charles Raven, say: "Your doubts are your growing points". 
My doubts led me to Quakers in the Society of Friends. Quakers have no creeds and no set prayers or hymns that oblige us to repeat things we cannot believe. Instead Quakers rely on silent communion – meeting together to experience a deep sense of peace and spiritual renewal. Our meetings are open to anyone who wants to share an hour of silent Sunday worship (10.30am, the Meeting House, Queens Road).
We don't have to dress up to go to meetings and we certainly don't wear Quaker Oats hats. In fact, we like to think that, generally speaking, we are really quite normal!
Malcolm Elliott, Leicester

LAUNDE ABBEY: ONE OF THE LAST BASTIONS OF HUSH

The Bishop of Leicester has written the First Person Column in today's Leicester Mercury:

Launde Abbey: one of the last bastions of hush
The Bishop of Leicester says that in a world dominated by noise we need places of silence
Many of us grew up with memories of trips to our local library where zealous librarians enforced the silence by frequently telling people to "shhh". The Pipe Down Campaign once described libraries as the "last bastions of hush in an increasingly noisy world".
However times have changed. In Gloucestershire, libraries have introduced sound systems to provide background music to boost their appeal to younger users. During a recent visit to a school in Leicester, a member of our clergy asked the children when they last experienced silence. None of them could remember ever having done so.
Here in Leicestershire we have our own "bastion of hush" – Launde Abbey which is one the few remaining diocesan retreat houses.
The Archbishop of Canterbury described retreat houses as offering a tranquil environment where you can "find spiritual nourishment in an otherwise hectic world".
At Launde Abbey silence pervades the atmosphere. There is no mobile phone signal – unless you walk up the hill. Neither is there any noise or stress.
Last Tuesday Launde Abbey welcomed His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, when it re-opened fully to the public after a year of complete restoration and refurbishment. The major refurbishment of the building was possible after a highly successful public fund-raising campaign in 2009 to save Launde Abbey.
The newly-refurbished building has been designed to ensure that those who go there on silent retreat are able to have that silence respected.
During his visit the Prince of Wales took part in worship in the chapel, met some of the craftsmen involved in the restoration work, and spoke to those involved in the daily life of Launde Abbey, including many staff.
The Prince spoke at length of his joy that places like Launde Abbey were being revived. "Places of calm and transcendence are vital in our busy lives," he said. "We cannot act effectively if we don't know how to restore our inner self. Launde Abbey is an ideal place of retreat for people of any faiths, and of no faith."
Retreat houses are not the only places left where you can seek out silence. Silence and tranquillity can still also be found in many of our churches and cathedrals. People who visit them still talk in hushed whispers as they wander round gazing at the architecture and others choose to sit in silence to offer a private prayer.
Philip Larkin summed this up in his poem "Church Going". "It pleases me to stand in silence here: a serious house on serious earth it is."
In the 1960s Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, lamented that there was not enough silence in the world. Have you ever considered seeking out a place of silence and paying it visit?

Friday, 28 January 2011

CITY CENTRE'S FOUNTAIN AND LIONS STILL LOOK IMPRESSIVE


The "Sketchbook" column in today's Leicester Mercury has a very nice drawing by Olwen Hughes of the fountain in Town Hall Square. Since the fountain features every now and again in this blog (it's what I see when I look out the window of the Welcome Centre or of my downstairs office after all) I thought it appropriate to reproduce that piece here, faithful reader, so you can see her fine drawing and read her interesting historical summary.

I've also put this on here because the fountain is a very public mark of the significant and lasting contribution that the Jewish community has made to the city and people of Leicester. Alderman (later Sir) Israel Hart (1835-1911) is arguably the most prominent citizen of the modern Jewish community in Leicester. Sir Israel Hart was four time Mayor of Leicester (Leicester was declared a city in 1919, at which time the office of Mayor was elevated to that of Lord Mayor).
City centre's fountain and lions still look impressive 
I was on my way to Leicester market via Town Hall Square, and the elegant fountain, always attractive to small children, caught my eye.
It was an especially interesting subject to draw, for the rays of the setting sun made the lions look orange.

I always thought that this was because they were actually made of bronze, but I later found that they were not, but are of cast iron, painted to look as if they were bronze.

The Town Hall, and its square, of course, was the site of the cattle and horse market until the Aylestone Road cattle market was opened in 1872, and this incredibly valuable site became available.

The City Corporation had debated finding an alternative to the Guildhall for 25 years, because it had become so cramped, and the new Town Hall was opened in 1876.

The fountain was given to the city by Alderman Israel Hart in 1879, a major local benefactor, and four times mayor of Leicester, and cost him £2,000 at that time. He always had the best interests of the city at heart, and the gift was made on the condition that the Borough Corporation laid out the grounds left over from the construction of the Town Hall as a public open space, and did not sell them off.

We have all enjoyed the result of his vision and generosity.

The design is the same as the fountain in Oporto, in northern Portugal, and one has to assume that Israel Hart had been there, seen it, decided that it was a delight and that Leicester should have one too.

It was cast in Paris, for this is where the moulds for the statue must have been, and it was unveiled with great ceremony.

It certainly does have the feelgood factor, and is in a remarkably good state of preservation, given that the fountain received some careful maintenance work a few years ago.

2011 CENSUS: WHAT IS YOUR RELIGION?

I wrote about someone from the 2011 Census being involved in our REDP Equality Update Event in Nottingham on Thursday 27th (see blog entry). I thought it would be helpful to put in a bit more about the census - especially its religious dimension. So here's the relevant text:
2011 Census - register your religion
Providing information about your faith


In 2001 over 37 million individuals registered themselves as Christian on the census questionnaire, with the majority recorded in the South East of England. Although the census has been around since 1801, the religion question has only been asked twice before, once in 1851 then again 150 years later in 2001, and remains the only voluntary question in the entire questionnaire, simply asking: What is your religion.


The information gained from the religion question helps improve understanding of local populations, and helps to promote equality legislation, in order to prevent religious discrimination.


The next census takes place on 27 March 2011 and can be completed online for the first time in census history, at http://www.census.gov.uk/


Due to space constraints Christian denominations have not been separated into their own categories on the census questionnaire. If you'd like to write in your particular denomination you can do so by ticking the "Any other religion" category and entering your denomination in the space provided.


Genealogists use census data for historical research, academics use statistics for their studies and businesses and local authorities use the information to cater for an ever changing society; this could include identifying the need to build new schools, care homes or leisure centres, or catering for religious groups.


I am sure, faithful reader, you can see why Leicester Council of Faiths is keen to ensure that as many people as possible fully in the census this year (if only so we can update the figures on our leaflets). The city's Asian community didn't respond strongly to the 2001 Census, which has led to some dispute over the relative size of some of the faith groups - for instance, I've heard it said on good authority that there are actually twice as many Sikhs in Leicester as are shown in the official record.

confrontation will not create a better society


When I met Dr Allan Hayes (recently retired President of Leicester Secular Society) at Phoenix Square on Wednesday evening, he told me over a pint (his) and plate of fish and chips (mine) that he'd submitted a "First Person" column to the Leicester Mercury responding to Baroness Warsi's speech at Leicester University last week. This is published in today's edition and reproduced in full below.

Confrontation will not create a better society

Allan Hayes says the concept of "dialogue" was missing from Baroness Warsi's speech

I came away from last week's speech by Baroness Warsi deeply disturbed: I am even more disturbed after reading her speech to the College of Bishops. Islamophobia, bigotry and ignorance are certainly to be combated by us all, on that there can be no disagreement, and we all recognise the good work done by religious charities–it is her views on the wider issue of religion and society and her lack of recognition of the good work done by others that concern me.

We have a dynamic and effective politician who is giving the impression to the religious, particularly Muslims, that religion is under attack from the non-religious; and to the non-religious that government is pushing religion on them. This is not helping anyone.

Speaking in Leicester, she could have highlighted how we are building One Leicester, how we live together, how councillors of different beliefs work together, how we talk to one another, how the oldest secular society in the world is welcoming the vicar of an Alpha Course church and a prominent Muslim academic. She could have mentioned how we came together against the English Defence League.

The concept of "dialogue" is missing. She shows no recognition of the serious discussions that are going on between people of different beliefs, religious and non-religious, and no awareness of the amicable relations between many secularist, humanist and religious members of our society. She is all for confrontation.

She calls for us to combat bigotry and religious illiteracy and to use reason, but to her, bigotry is anti-faith bigotry and she seems not accept that secular and non-religious views need to be acknowledged and understood–it is not sufficient for religious leaders to explain their faiths better. We have to remind ourselves that she speaks not as an individual but as a minister with influence. She proclaims that her government not only "does God" but "gets God"–whatever that means. She sees herself far too much as the leader of a religious revival–this is dangerous stuff.

She is pushing us towards a society where we may have to ask what is the religion of a politician as well as of a school or a social centre–this is not a good way to go.

Where can we go? To paraphrase her: we need to build a more open, inclusive society, a more grown up-society. Could we start by reversing the Government's decision to exclude Religious Education and Collective Worship from the forthcoming curriculum review; and by having a more open discussion of its policy on faith schools?

And perhaps she could include in her history the rights to freedom of religion and for elected MPs to take their seat regardless of any religion or belief? She might find that secularism had something to do with securing these rights.

Now ... interesting as I find this piece in its own right, I probably wouldn't have added it to this blog were it not for the conversation I had with Allan on Wednesday evening, during which we discussed the pros and cons of having an occasion like this in Leicester.

Obviously, Dr Hayes has his own agenda, which is well known, given his position and prominence in Leicester life. (He is Humanist Chaplain to the present Lord Mayor, Humanist representative on the Leicester Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education and - nationally - a trustee of both the British Humanist Association and of the Sea of Faith Network.) He makes no attempt to disguise that agenda here, flying the flag, as he always does, for the cause of Secular Humanism. But I would not do him the disservice of presenting an edited version of his short piece in today's Mercury or take the risk of quoting him out of context just to further my point here. It's more interesting and effective to read it as a whole. Dr Hayes doesn't need an apologist for his views - least of all me. But I think it shows the nature of the debate over these issues in our city that we can so often stand side-by-side with those who might be assumed to be our opposites. There's much more common ground than most folk realise. And in instances like this, I keep coming back to the Equality Act 2010, which protects everyone from having religion or belief being made into a stick with which to beat us, no matter what our personal affiliations may be.

Baroness Warsi's speech was certainly high profile, being of national - even international - interest, having been picked up, published and republished by all sorts of media (print, broadcast and social) all over the world. It certainly took off among those agencies, bodies, organisations - and individuals - with an online presence promoting issues to do with culture, religion and society in general - and Islam in particular. Overlooking the muddle over just where the talk was taking place (see my blog entry for the event) it was surely to the benefit of Leicester University to host it. But why Leicester? We agreed that Leicester is probably the safest city in which to make this kind of speech (demonstrations were threatened for Baroness Warsi's appearance at the university, but in relation to spending cuts and tuition fees, not ones to do with the actual content of her speech). But Allan made the point (as have others who heard the speech - I have to remind you, faithful reader, that I did not) that she could have been making it in a vacuum. The content did not reflect anything about Leicester as a community, how Islam is seen here, how Muslims live here - how we all live here. It was perhaps analogous to the recent broadcast of The Big Questions (see my blog entry) in which the speakers and panelists were brought in from outside Leicester, spoke about the issues in ways that were disconnected from the actual life of our city, then go away at the end, leaving the viewer with the impression that they had been shown something about how we are here. It was so disconnected to Leicester that it might as well have been broadcast from TV Centre in London, or from the bottle city of Kandor for that matter. Did Baroness Warsi do any different? Did she speak on the basis that what she has concluded, largely on the basis of her own experience, holds true for everywhere- including Leicester? In speaking and going like this, with hardly even the most cursory nod to the distinctive nature of the city hosting her, the question arises of whether Baroness Warsi is really on the side of the angels.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY: STATEMENT OF PURPOSE

As it is Holocaust Memorial Day, and since there are entries in this blog today about a couple of events commemorating it in Leicester today, I thought it would be good to round off the day with this published "Statement of Purpose". This describes the aims of Holocaust Memorial Day as being to:
  • recognise that the Holocaust was a tragically defining episode of the twentieth century, a crisis for European civilisation and a universal catastrophe for humanity.
  • provide a national mark of respect for all victims of Nazi persecution and demonstrate understanding with all those who still suffer its consequences.
  • raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust as a continuing issue of fundamental importance for all humanity.
  • ensure that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimisation committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten not repeated, whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world.
  • restate the conitnuing need for vigilance in light of the troubling repetition of human tragedies in the world today.
  • reflect on recent attrocities that raise similar issues.
  • provide a national focus for educating subsequent generations about the Holocaust and the continued relevance of the lessons that are learnt from it.
  • provide an opportunity to examine our nation's past and learn for the fututre.
  • promote a democractic and tolerant society, free of the evils of prejudice, racism and other forms of bigotry.
  • support the Government's commitment that all citizens - without distinction - should participate freely and fully in the economic, social and public life of the nation.
  • highlight the values of a tolerant and diverse society based upon the notions of universal dignity and equal rights and responsibilities for all its citizens.
  • assert a continuing commitment to oppose racism, anti-Semitism, victimisationa and genocide.
  • support our shared aspirations with both our European partners and the wider international community centred on the ideals of peace, justice and community for all.

HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY 2011: UNTOLD STORIES


It's the city's main commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery this evening. This annual event is jointly sponsored by Leicester Council of Faiths, the Schools Development Support Agency (SDSA), the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council. It's one of the most high-profile and prestigious occasions in the Council of Faiths calendar. There are at least 100 people attending this evening.


Cllr Manjula Sood (Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths) opens the meeting, welcoming distinguished guests. She's followed by Sir Peter Soulsby MP who makes introductory remarks. Next we hear from Anne Webb, Manager of the Lessons from Auschwitz project, run by the Holocaust Educational Trust. Then four students from Beauchamp College (in the photo above with Cllr Sood) who have been to Auschwitz, and two from English Martyrs RC School, who are preparing to go, address the meeting. The girls from Beauchamp change the tone of this event. For the first time, it feels to me like the balance well and truly tips  toward the young people involved, rather than them being here under polite sufferance of the older participants. They owned the stage. (I found out later, from my son Harry, that some of the Beauchamp girls had visited Bushloe High School in Wigston, which he attends, to talk to students there about HMD earlier this week.)

The Paul Winstone Memorial Essay prize is awarded by Paul's widow, Siobhan Begley, to Jake Edward, from English Martyrs RC School (who reads his essay to us).

We're treated to a musical interlude, that includes a performance by Joel Moore of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 6.

Professor Aubrey Nemwman speaks briefly to this year's theme, "Untold Stories". Rev. David Clarke proposes the vote of thanks. During the mixing and mingling that follows, I record some video interviews for the Council of Faiths YouTube channel.

PARAGRAPH 175


I drop in for 20 minutes or so at Leicester Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre on Wellington Street, where they’re holding their public observation of Holocaust Memorial Day. They’re remembering in particular the tens of thousands of LGBT people who suffered and died as a result of the years of brutality and hatred during the Fascist regimes in Europe.

The centrepiece of their programme this evening is the showing of Paragraph 175 (2000) a feature-length documentary directed by Rob Esptein and Jeffrey Friedman, narrated by Rupert Everett. The film chronicles the lives of several men who were arrested by the Nazis for homosexuality under Paragraph 175, the sodomy provision of the German penal code, dating back to 1871. Between 1933 and 1945, 100,000 men were arrested under Paragraph 175. Some were imprisoned, others were sent to concentration camps. Only about 4,000 survived. In 2000, fewer than ten of these men were known to be living. Five come forward in the documentary to tell their stories for the first time, considered to be among the last untold stories of the Third Reich. “Paragraph 175” tells of a gap in the historical record and reveals the lasting consequences, as told through personal stories of gay men and women who lived through it.

“Paragraph 175” fills a crucial gap in the historical record, and reveals the lasting consequences of this hidden chapter of twentieth century history. Since the theme of Holocaust Memorial Day (chosen this year, as it is every year, by the Holocaust Educational Trust) is “Untold Stories”, the Nazi persecution of LGBT people fits right in the mainstream of this year’s commemoration. Indeed this persecuted group is mentioned specifically by Prof Aubrey Newman during his speech at the HMD event in New Walk Museum starting later this evening.

A much better understanding of faith is needed

Here's the "First Person" column from today's Leicester Mercury, by Dr Clive Marsh, Director of Learning and Teaching at the Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester. The Council of Faiths has lent some assistance to Dr Marsh over the past several months in his efforts to get one or more courses that include some aspect of the study of religion off the ground (see blog entries passim).
A much better understanding of faith is needed

Dr Clive Marsh explains why the search for religious literacy is so important in our society

Behind the headlines created by Baroness Warsi's talk at the University of Leicester recently was a basic concern which many, religious or not, might agree with: the need for a better understanding of religion in society.

It is widely accepted by people across the political spectrum, and with widely differing views about religion, that you don't really understand British culture without grasping religion's place within it.

Even if you think religion's a bad influence, and the Church should be kept well apart from the state, it is vital to know something about Britain's Christian past, and about the many different religions which feature in British society.

But how do we develop our knowledge of faith traditions? Where do we discuss openly and honestly the role that religions play in society? In Leicester, we have ample opportunity for informal interaction with people of many faiths and none. We just need to talk to neighbours, or with those with whom we work or spend our leisure time. This is the benefit of living in a "multi-cultural" society, though it's rightly been said that "multi-cultural" often means in practice that we live alongside those of different cultures and faiths. "Inter-culturalism" should be what we aim for, where there is genuine interaction between people.

We might, though, want something more formal. We have in Leicester two faith-based training institutions (the Markfield Institute of Higher Education and the St Philip's Centre) both of which offer courses open to the public to assist in the development of the understanding of religion. The work of Leicester Council of Faiths is also well-known.

But where might the "faith-suspicious" meet the "faith-based" in a constructive, respectful way? Two days before Baroness Warsi's speech I attended "Skeptics in the Pub" which meets monthly at Square Bar in the centre of Leicester. I didn't find the discussion quite as rational and evidence-based as the group might like to think. But I'd love to see the people there meeting up with the many religious people I know to have a serious conversation. It would help the literacy of all.

A university is not a "neutral" space, despite its own quest for scientific methods which are as objective as possible. But it is a place where this longed-for conversation might happen. It is not to be claimed by any single religious group. The Institute of Lifelong Learning's part-time Certificate in the Study of Religion could entice people to study at university level for the first time. And by studying religion, those of any faith or none could understand themselves and their society better, and gain useful critical skills at the same time.

Find out more about the Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/lifelong-learning

You can read this article on the Mercury website, along with reader comments: http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/news/better-understanding-faith-needed/article-3149522-detail/article.html

SACRE AT SOAR VALLEY COLLEGE, JANUARY 2011


At Soar Valley College this afternoon, for a meeting of SACRE (Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education), starting 1630. Thanks to Kelly for getting me here on time from Nottingham, where our REDP Equality Update Event finished at 1500.

One of the main purposes of Leicester SACRE is to receive requests for "Determinations" from city schools. If the head teacher of a school feels that the provision of collective worship within the broadest interpretation of the law is not suitable for that particular school, then the head teacher should consider whether it might be appropriate to ask the SACRE to grant a "determination" in accordance with the law. A determination is the decision of the SACRE as to whether it is appropriate to lift the requirement for wholly or mainly broadly Christian collective worship to be provided for the school, or any class or description of pupils at the school, having regard to any circumstances relating to the family background of the pupils for which the determination is requested. The SACRE must review the determination if the school so requests and, in any event, within five years of the date when the determination was made or last reviewed. Members of SACRE discuss such requests in fixed blocks, reflecting their own interests and associations before voting on whether or not to grant the determination. Leicester Council of Faiths doesn't have voting rights at SACRE. We're involved as an invited observer; we have the right to speak and query, and can get involved in all sorts of activities and projects (e.g. Leicester SACRE's two-year development plan, which we discuss today), but we don't vote on determinations or any other processes.

Our booklet series, "Engaging with Leicester's Faith Communities" is on the agenda, but far enough down to prevent us from reaching it till five minutes after the meeting is scheduled to finish. Rather than rush it, it's decided that we should hold this over till the next meeting in March.

Equality Update Event: Nottingham


At Nottingham Voluntary Centre, Milton Street, this afternoon for the second in a series of Equality Update Events presented by the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). We have a good turnout, with eight VCS organisations represented, even if the basement room is a bit cramped. Kelly Jussab, REDP's Project Officer and I are presenting jointly and we give over the last so minutes of the two-hour session to Michelle Breslin, who speaks about the 2011 Census (which is now only two months away).

Find out more about REDP:
http://www.redp.org.uk/

Find out more about the 2011 Census:
http://2011.census.gov.uk/

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Amplified Leicester: aftermath


Sounds dramatic, doesn't it? Just a bit of shameless attention grabbing (to go with my usual shameless self promotion).  Would make a good title for the sequel of a hit film about AmpfiedLeic though ...

All it really means is that I wasn't able to attend the talk this evening (a panel on "Amplified Policing"), but did get down to Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre in time to catch up with those who did. I prevailed upon Noel Singh to give me a lift down from the Bishop's Lodge in Springfield Road (where we'd both been attending the Faith Leaders Forum) down to Phoenix Square (well, it was just about on his way).

Since I'm convening the next panel session in two months time (on "Amplified Communities of Religion or Belief") I thought it good that I come down and show my face, check in with Prof Sue and Jayne.

I spend  some time talking with Dr Allan Hayes (of Leicester Secular Society) who got to hear Baroness Warsi's talk at Leicester University last week. At last I find out where it was held (in the David Wilson Library, which has new lecture facilities downstairs). Allan has submitted a "First Person" column to the Leicester Mercury about the talk, which I look forward to reading.

Find out more about Amplified Leicester (and sign up):
http://ampleic.ning.com/

FAITH LEADERS FORUM


To Bishop's Lodge, Springfield Road, for a meeting of the Faith Leaders Forum, starting at 1800. I've been invited to attend specifically to contribute to the start of planning for Inter Faith Week, Sun 20 - Sat 26 November. Noel Singh (Policy Officer for Community Cohesion at Leicestershire County Council) has been invited for the same purpose.

Bishop Tim himself isn't present; the meeting is chaired by Richard Atkinson, Archdeacon of Leicester and Chair of Trustees at St Philip's Centre for Study and Engagement in a Multi-Faith Society (that's Richard on the left in photo above, along with Chief Inspector Rich Keenan, Leicestershire Constabulary; Dr John Hall, Director of Studies at St Philip's Centre; and Sheikh Ibrahim Moghra, Chair, Interfaith Committee, Muslim Council of Britain). Five of the city's faith communities are represented here this evening. I suppose I could be considered occupying a seat for a sixth, but I've not been invited here to represent the local Bahá'ís.

I've not been invited to one of these meetings before, so I find it helpful when another attendee asks Mike Smith (Policy Adviser and Chaplain to the Bishop of Leicester) briefly to describe the origin and purpose of this group. He explains how it's not constituted on a formal basis (like the Council of Faiths is, for example) which allows it to have a more free-ranging brief, holding informal conversations on subjects that might be a bit more controversial or difficult than those which other organisations might tackle. It was gathered together by (and around) Bishop Tim in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 - which is appropriate this evening, since the first item on the agenda is the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

In connection with this topic, it's decided that the city's faith communities have to focus on reconciliation, finding common ground and solidarity with Muslims. This tenth anniversary falls on a Sunday, which would allow certain kinds of events in public spaces to be appropriate. We don't know if the City Council or County Council intend to hold anything. We're reminded that this tenth anniversary will be covered extensively in the media - and that if we don't write the story of how it plays out in Leicester, others will.

Other topics tonight include policing issues (in particular a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Leicestershire Constabulary's record on Stop and Search); the omission of Religious Education from the new English Baccalaureate; and the establishment of the new Hindu school in Evington, in the old Leicester Grammar Junior School, adjacent to St Paul's (the school is eager to engage with the wider faith communities of the city and has offered itself as a venue for the next meeting of the Faith Leaders Forum in March).

When Noel and I are asked to speak about Inter Faith Week 2011, he goes first. We're sitting at opposite ends of the room and that's reflected in the kind of things we say. Noel's concerned about Inter Faith Week being a case of preaching to the choir, with same old faces saying the same old things to the same old audiences, in the same old places. He urges getting out and connecting with ordinary people throughout the city and county - going where they are and trying to bring Inter Faith Week to them. He's particularly keen on getting schools involved.

I, on the other hand, think that we made a pretty good fist of getting among the public, through our week-long exhibition in Highcross for the second year running. I say a little about how that came about in 2009, how it went in 2010 and how Highcross has tentatively offered the same opportunity to us again this year.

I don't think I need to go over National Inter Faith Week 2010 (or 2009 for that matter) here. There's enough about them already in this blog (see entries passim). But in this context I do get to raise a few truisms that I think would be good if we could acknowledge and change. One is the absence from events such as the Highcross exhibition by "faith leaders" who simply don't know how to talk to members of the public. Now I wouldn't want to give the impression that I'm knocking anyone by saying this (and I seem to get agreement round the table when I do). They may be at ease speaking with royalty, MPs, academics and the like, but they'll run a mile from a single mum pushing a double buggy! It's a different mindset and skillset: many of those who enjoy being among the general public at occasions like the Highcross exhibition or the Celebrate One Leicester event would feel ill at ease in the presence of dignitaries and notables. Beyond this, another problem (and a more serious one I believe) is that some of the faith communities at large don't seem interested in supporting an event such as this. Also, in the two years this event has been held so far, there has been little acknowledgment or support from Leicester City Council (only in the form of Lord Mayor Roger Blackmore and his wife Hilary opening the event in 2009).

We discussed what we can do for 2011 that we haven't done before. I mention Chris Minter's offer of the City's Council's Adult Skills and Learning Service getting behind the event. We also have a promising offer of Phoenix Square running a season of themed movies during the week. There's a proposal that we should make a concerted effort to make it something bigger for schools. The idea is raised of each faith hosting one day (making it an eight-day week, but we can sort that out somehow). We also acknowledge the need for appropriate central coordination.

FEATURE REVEALED A NARROW-MINDED ATTITUDE TO SPIRITUAL HEALING

This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Feature revealed a narrow-minded attitude to spiritual healing
In response to Lee Marlow's so-called report on Vaughan Way Spiritualist Church (Mercury, January 22), it seems that it is more acceptable for reporters to criticise some religions and not others.
If the job of a reporter is to be sarcastic and patronising he did a very good job! Maybe he should consider partnering God in Heaven as he seems to have all the answers already!
If he'd bothered to learn about spiritual healing properly, he would probably have been told that, like anything, results vary, depending on whether the individual needed to experience certain conditions as part of their Spiritual Path, as most Spiritualists believe that Earth is the classroom in which we learn various lessons, not just health-related ones.
Saying that he could not feel anything when he reluctantly took part in a 10-minute healing session, is like trying to love someone who doesn't want to be loved. In other words it helps if you are open to it.
Also spiritual healers always insist you see your GP as the healing is there to support, not to replace.
Maybe Mr Marlow should visit a synagogue, Catholic church or mosque with the same attitude, or does he just visit soft targets?Spiritualists respect all religions as at the end of the day they believe it is the same God that we pray to but is just given a different name.
I hope the Mercury will encourage this equality.
I am not saying he shouldn't have a view – it's his narrow-minded disrespectful attitude that I find annoying.
Russell Smith, Coalville

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

NO MEAN CITY


I've never watched an episode of Taggart. Not even back in the day when there was someone actually called Taggart in it. Since it's set in Glasgow and it's the longest running police TV show in the UK (the first episode was broadcast in 1983) - the longest running English language police TV show in the world actually - you'd think I'd have seen at least one. I'm more familiar with police procedurals set in Baltimore than I am with any in my home city. Of course I'm aware of it, just the same as several other TV shows I've never watched (like Inspector Morse or Cracker or Hollyoaks or Dancing on Ice); it's hard to live in Britain today without picking up something about such elements of popular culture. I get what someone's on about if ever they say, "There's been a murrdurr" for example. I've listened on more than one occasion to Alex Norton talk about Taggart on BBC radio 5 Live (most recently, within the past few weeks) which he does very entertainingly by the way, never taking himself or the show too seriously. That's never made me think that I must sit down and watch an episode though.

I don't really know why I decide to watch my first ever episode tonight. Maybe it's because it's Burns Night and I feel like something Scottish. I should be marking OU assignments. But I was just flipping through the channels and went with it - and what a one to pick!

It's episode 106, "Silent Truth", first broadcast October 2010 (misleadingly described in the programme synopsis as being "set in and around the lofty portals of Glasgow University"). An Iranian asylum-seeker family is at the centre of an investigation following the violent death of their eldest son, who is found dead in a back alley, having been dowsed in petrol and set alight. On the way to meet the family for the first time, DCI Burke (Alex Norton) asks DI Reid (Blythe Duff) if the family are Muslim, she replies "Don't know." When the father of the family says he was a teacher in Iran, that after the revolution he'd been sacked from his job and his property confiscated, that they couldn't go back because they'd be persecuted for their beliefs ... well, I begin to wonder.

Burke, Reid and co might be trying to find the killer but I'm engaged on a different investigation. As the clues emerge, you hardly need the skills of a TV detective to work out which religion the family appear to follow. The name "Bahá'í" is never used, of course. And thank goodness for that, what with the murder, robbery, blackmail, homophobia, racism etc that fills the screen. (Well it is Taggart after all.) Some of it is perpetrated against the family, but they are responsible for some of it too.

Shortly after the half hour mark, there's a memorial meeting held at the scene of the murder. As DI Reid approaches the scene, we hear the following prayer being read. It's one by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, read in English (although the book being used isn't any Bahá'í prayer book I recognise).
O Thou forgiving Lord!
Although some souls have spent the days of their lives in ignorance, and became estranged and contumacious, yet, with one wave from the ocean of Thy forgiveness, all those encompassed by sin will be set free. Whomsoever Thou willest Thou makes a confidant, and whosoever is not the object of Thy choice is accounted a transgressor. Shouldst Thou deal with us with Thy justice, we are all naught but sinners and deserving to be shut out from Thee, but shouldst Thou uphold mercy, every sinner would be made pure and every stranger a friend. Bestow, then, Thy forgiveness and pardon, and grant Thy mercy unto all.
Thou  art the Forgiver, the Lightgiver and the Omnipotent.

That pretty much clinches it, I'd say. Case closed.

While the show is still playing, I exchange a few messages on Facebook with a knowledgeable friend, asking if he's watching (no) and if the institutions of the Bahá'í community knew about this episode (yes). From this brief chat I understand that some protestation was made to the production company while this episode was in development. I wonder what kind of concessions were granted and if there will be any fallout from this for the Bahá'ís in Glasgow, Scotland, the rest of the UK - Iranian or otherwise? I recall, a long time ago, someone saying at a conference or convention or the like that the Bahá'í Faith could be said to have emerged from obscurity in this country when it featured in mainstream TV, in soaps, drama, comedies and the like. Maybe this is a step in that direction. It can be taken to show that the message of Bahá'í It's not exactly an accurate depiction of the beliefs, culture, attitudes of Iranian Bahá'ís (in this country or anywhere else) and there's no sense at all that the family are part of a faith community, that there would be others of their religion who'd be involved in their lives. But hey - it's Taggart. You could say that while it's not accurate, it's sympathetic; at least within the parameters of the Taggart universe. There are some parts of this episode that I like: the portrayal of Glasgow as a genuinely multicultural city; that the city benefits from the variegated nature of its people; that everyone has the right to live peacefully and be protected. There's a clever, sensitive, heroic and attractive Diversity Officer. I like that especially! Some elements of the Bahá'í experience have been scooped up and squished together with the conventions and tropes of the TV policier into a blob of fiction that, for most viewers, passes an hour-and-a-half in entertaining fashion then barely sticks in the memory.

When does any group or community - religious, political, social - ever think it's been fairly represented in fiction? I used to get vexed over fictional depictions of the Open University years ago, when I was a student with it. I feel more bemused by this evening's Taggart, but not vexed. Older and wiser now I guess - with a better understanding of how all this stuff works. So-called "reality" shows can be bad enough (at the same time on another channel was the deplorable "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings") never mind when it's in something made up. At least it shows that the message has got across that Bahá'ís are being persecuted in the land which is the cradle of their faith.

You can watch this episode of Tagggart on the ITV Player:

If you'd like to be kept informed of the situation of the Bahá'ís in Iran, follow this link to the Muslim Network for Bahá'í Rights - which describes itself as being run by Muslims defending the rights of the Bahá'í minority in Muslim-majority countries: http://www.bahairights.org/ They tweet as @BahaiRights.

Oh and while we're on the subject of Glasgow, I'm writing this blog with the telly on in the background, showing "Pleasure and Pain". The presenter, Michael Mosley, has recorded a short segment of the programme in Edinburgh. "According to a recent demographic study," he says, "it is home to the most miserable people in Britain." Nuff said!

REDP working group

At Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living (LCIL) this morning for the weekly meeting of the Working Group of the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP).

Much of the (admittedly short) meeting is taken up with debriefing on our away day last week (especially since two members of this working group missed it through illness) and a bit of preparation for the away day planned for the members of the working group this coming Monday.

I show that front page article from The Mail on Sunday ("Equality Madness") and we discuss whether there is some meaningful way we can respond to this and other pieces like it. I propose that we have a space on REDP's website called something like "The Wrong end of the Stick" or "It's Equality and Diversity Gone Mad!", covering stories such as this. I used to do this sort of thing when I worked at NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health). It was part of my brief there to seek out and collect stories that we called "Bonkers Conkers" for inclusion in the annual report and in the Chairman's address at the AGM.

I think that we need to acknowledge this sort of media misrepresentation of equality and diversity work, such disparagement of the Equality Act 2010, and be able to rebut it - but with a relatively light touch.

Monday, 24 January 2011

MINDFULNESS & MORALITY 2: PSYCHOLOGY OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT


To Christchurch, Clarendon Park Road, this evening for the second session in the course, "Mindfulness & Morality". It's the second of twelve sessions, part two of the "faith-neutral" introductory segment, before handing over to a different faith contributor each week.

Ian Grayling and Kevin Commons (from Leicester Serene Reflection Meditation Group) devised the course. They  deliver this session jointly, as they did last week. This session is entitled, "The Psychology of Moral Development". Ian and Kevin outline some of the biological, neurological and behavioural aspects of development of the mind and of our moral faculties.

Developmental psychology argues that development occurs in individuals as they interact with their environment. The sub-school of cognitive development involves a change of mental structure as individuals are exposed to a situation, or problem, that stretches their ability to find a satisfactory solution. This process generates cognitive conflict which individuals seek to resolve to restore their equilibrium. Having reached an understanding of the problem and worked out a strategy for its solution, individuals are able to apply the insight gained when similar problems arise, even if the content of the situation is different. this reinforces the new logical structure that has been acquired, or is in the process of acquisition.

Jean Piaget
During the first half of the twentieth century Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist described what he believed to be the first stages through which human beings develop cognitively. These are:

Stage: Sensory-motor (birth-2 years)
Characterised by: Differentiates self from objects; Self as agent of action (acts inentionally); Achieves object permanence.

Stage: Pre-operational (2-7 years)
Characterised by: Language (represent objects by images and words); Egocentric; Simple classification (single feature).
Stage: Concrete operational (7-11 years)
Characterised by: Thinks logically about objects and events; Conservation of number, mass and weight; classification by several features; Order (e.g. by size).

Stage: Formal operational (11 years and up)
Characterised by: Thinks logically about concepts/ideas; Test hypotheses systematically; Concerned with hypotheticals (future, ideology).

Lawrence Kohlberg
In the second half of the twentieth century Lawrence Kohlberg used Piaget's work as the basis for his own research which led to the construction of his six stage theory of moral development. On the basis of this research he asserted that:
  1. There are clearly defined stages.
  2. The stages are sequential and in an invariant order.
  3. There is a statistical tendency for stages to be related to age.
  4. People tend to prefer to make judgements at their highest level of attainment.
  5. There is a correspondence between cognitive development and development of moral judgment.
  6. The existence of formal operational thinking is a necessary but not sufficient precondition for the higher moral stage.
  7. Individuals can "role play" the stage below their level, but not above.
  8. Individuals have no comprehension of arguments that are two stages above their level.
  9. People can be pushed up by one stage at a time.

Kohlberg's six stages
The Pre-Conventional Level
Stage 1: Obedience and punishment orientation (How can I avoid punishment?)
Right is blind obedience to rules and authority, avoiding punishment and not doing physical harm
Stage 2: Self-interest orientation (What's in it for me?)
Right is serving one's own or others' needs and making fair deals in terms of concrete exchange.

The Conventional Level
Stage 3: Interpersonal accord and conformity (Social norms or the good boy/good girl attitude)
Right is playing a good (nice) role, being concerned about other people and their feelings, keeping loyalty and trust with partners and being motivated to follow rules and expectations.
Stage 4: Authority and social-order maintaining orientation (Law and order morality)
Right is doing one's duty in society, upholding the social order and welfare of society or the group.

The Post-Conventional Level
Stage 5: Right is upholding the basic rights, values and legal contracts of a society, even when they conflict with the concrete rules and laws of the group.
Stage 6: Universal ethical principles (Principled conscience)
Right is being guided by universal self-chosen ethical principles which all humanity should follow. the principles are justice, equality of human rights and respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons.

James Rest and the Defining Issues Test (DIT)
The DIT uses a numerical scale to give quantitative rankings to a number of moral dilemmas, the data from which are then analysed to produce information about three areas of moral reasoning the Personal Interests Schema, the Maintaining Norms Schema and the post-conventional Schema. This test updates the original that was used to assess the transition of moral development from adolescence to adulthood. The new DIT has been dubbed "Neo-Kohlbergian" as it emphasises cognition, personal construction, development and post-conventional moral thinking, drawing on the work by Lawrence Kohlberg and his stages of moral development.

As was the case last week, we're given an activity in the second half of the session, to help us focus on relevant moral issues.

Andrew's Dilemma
Andrew worked in the development laboratories of a well known pharmaceutical company. The organisation was developing a pain-killing drug which would greatly improve the quality of life of chronic pain sufferers such as those suffering with arthritis and spinal complaints.

Andrew's job was to inject rats with a pain-inducing substance and then administer the pain-killing drug in controlled doses. He did not enjoy this aspect of his work, however, he felt that the expected end justified the means.

One day the head of Andrew's department informed him of the plan to accelerate the development by using chimpanzees for the tests. He promised Andrew a good increase in salary if he could conclude his testing programme on the apes within three months.

Andrew sat at his bench and loo0ked into the intelligent, accusing eyes of the chimps. He was saving up to get married and the final goal was a good one.

(Quoted from Assignments in Business Studies by Commons, Greensmith and Moore - McGraw-Hill Book Company (UK) Ltd, 1983)

Activities
In a small group you will be asked to address the following questions:
"What is the moral dilemma facing Andrew?"
"What should he do? Should he undertake the new programme?"
"Why, why not? Give your reactions and share your feelings about the case."
I won't be attending next week's session. I'm giving a presentation to the Interfaith Forum for Leicestershire at County Hall, Glenfield, on "Religion and the Media" with Nick Carter and John Florance. I've made a general appeal for guest blogging of next Monday's session here (which might be put together from notes taken by more than one person).

In the photo above: Barbara Butler and Beatta Dehner, two of the mainstays of Christians Aware, sponsors of this course.