In the light of the recent terror attacks in Paris, it might not seem the best time for this blog about the positive nature of faith; I did pen in before the most recent incidents. However, on the other hand maybe this is just the right time to put out this opinion, to exercise freedom of expression, in favour of faith. No one should be cowed into a corner at a time like this unable to express thought and opinion.
I believe real faith is what goes on underneath. It's the motivator behind many of the significant positive contributions that I see individuals making to society on a daily basis, and the work done by faith organisations to support the most vulnerable. Often the commonly held perspective is that faith is a problem. But the kind of faith that I see in action every day is more akin to a healthily beating heart that reliably pumps the blood through the veins of many a grassroots organisation making a positive difference to thousands of ordinary lives.
The irritating thing about this need to make an argument in favour of faith is the sheer numbers involved. Church attendance on a weekly basis in London is greater than the membership of Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem Parties combined. Faith is pervasive; in my view positively pervasive. Of course there are some bad eggs. For example, we might not think all members of the Labour party make a positive contribution, but we don't then tar all members of every political party with the same brush.
A recent report by the Cinnamon Network conservatively estimates the value of faith-based social action and community service to be £3bn annually. So we see from these arguably astounding stats that faith is numerically significant and financially important. And that's before we even consider the moral, holistic and devotional nature of the activity of faith. An enquiry into the nature of 'faithful Citizens' led the think tank Demos to ask the question 'why do those who do God do good?' They found that 'religious people are more active citizens, and that they are more likely to be politically progressive, putting a greater value on equality than the non-religious.' Their second report, 'Faithful Providers' argued that 'local authorities stand to benefit both financially and through improved community relations if religious groups were brought into service delivery'.
The activating nature of faith is hard to deny. Not necessarily as a 'giving something back' mentality, but more as a 'giving something forward' philosophy. This led many in my own faith community to not only play a key role with faith based organisations as volunteers, but also to perform involved roles including school governors, patient representatives, on residents' committees, or trustees of local charities with no direct link to faith. Of course much of this is unseen and unrecognised, and therefore not available as counter imagery when faith gets a bad rap on the news.
The question often asked is 'what about emotional manipulation?' The 'come and join my church/mosque/temple/religious community' brigade? Theos have done a lot of work around the thorny issue of proselytism. Some might argue that faith SHOULD be shared because it benefits society as a whole. However, many faith groups choose an alternative path. One where they make sure they keep clear boundaries between their 'spiritual' and 'social action' work.
Faith is so often associated with negativity. It's either politely ignored, or results in darkly proffered opinions about intolerance and the crude, lazy lumping together of radicalisation under the preface of 'religious'. But the people of faith that I know develop solutions to pressing social need. They do it because they love, care and have a compassion for people that goes way beyond religious mantra. I know, as person of faith myself that faith inspires. It makes me hope with a sense of certainty that things WILL change. This certainty leads my friends and me to action. Actually, faith ends up invigorating every area of life; it inspires people, and when people are inspired they generally end up being better spouses, parents, community leaders, friends....and civil society actually works!