"WE ARE not a
disappearing minority who are still fool enough to believe in God,"
the Archbishop of Canterbury told leaders from ten faiths at a
gathering in Lambeth Palace on Thursday of last week.
He was addressing about
100 invited representatives from the main religious traditions in
Britain - Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jain,
Baha'i, Zoroastrianism, and Christian. The reception was the
initiative of the Lambeth Palace interfaith office. It was one of
the first engagements for the new Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.
Archbishop Welby spoke of
the way that "many people who think that, like the 13th strike of
the clock, a person who believes in a spirituality of some kind
consequently must be mad about everything else as well". But he
also praised spiritual traditions' "deep commitment . . . to the
Speaking of the
challenges to faith in the modern world, he emphasised how "the
common view is that religion leads to violence", and the way, in
"the secular West, that we are encouraged to downplay any
particularity in order to blend in". He contrasted this with "the
fact that faith is specific, is distinct, is particular. That it
catches us in a way, and catches us up in a powerful way, and leads
us to things that we wouldn't do.
"If it wasn't for faith,
I certainly wouldn't be standing here; I'd probably be a recently
made redundant, middle-ranking oil executive, if I was lucky."
From this, he developed a
point about interfaith dialogue: "Because of the particularity of
our faith, it is when we are most true to our faith that we are
best able to engage with others. When we're most passionately
caught up in what matters to us, with a hospitable generosity, we
are most able to engage with those around."
He ended by encouraging
the various faith communities to commit themselves to "sharing the
objects of our daily lives. . . May our lives show that, rather
than faith being the problem, it does in fact put us in the best
time and place for understanding, respect, and becoming the answer
in a world that is wondering."
The Archbishop's address
followed a brief welcome from the Minister for Faith and
Communi-ties, Baroness Warsi. She spoke of the Government's wish to
take interfaith work "beyond a cup of tea and a samosa in a
draughty church", and highlighted the Near Neighbours Programme,
which has "been able to use the network of the Church of England as
a basis for reaching out and doing interfaith work together".
She said that "one of the
things that's been most powerful, has been . . . when people of a
different faith speak for a faith. . . When, I think, as a Muslim,
I can speak out for Christians and Jewish [people] and other
minorities around the world who sometimes don't have a voice."
The main presentation of
the evening was given by the Director of the British Museum, Neil
MacGregor. He sketched the history of tolerance and dialogue
between faiths, using ten objects from the museum's
These included a Sikh
temple token from Amritsar, made in about 1898, which showed "Guru
Nanakh, the first great teacher of the Sikh tradition; and on his
left, the Muslim Mardana; and on his right, Bala the Hindu. It is a
dialogue between three faith traditions," Mr MacGregor said.
He also recalled the
foundation of the British Museum in 1753, when the chairman of the
trustees was the Archbishop of Canterbury. In that same year, the
Bishop of Durham, Bishop Trevor, led a campaign to pass the Jew
Act, giving civil rights to a non-Christian body for the first
Mr MacGregor emphasised
the way that the clergy of the Established Church fought "for the
rights of another faith group" in 1753. There was, however, a
public outcry, and some of the clergy who had supported the Act
were stoned in public. Parliament repealed the Act in that same
Mr MacGregor concluded:
"This fight for toleration of different religions in the same
political space is something that every generation has to fight. .
. The collection here of objects that belong to all of you are part
of a great resource to enable everybody in this country to consider
how their traditions fit into the bigger story."
An illustrated version of Neil MacGregor's address will be
published in a forthcoming edition of the Church