Sea of Faith, Yorkshire


9 August 2007

The variety of experiences I have had in our Yorkshire Group meetings is starting to amaze me.

At our last meet, in Leeds, we heard a paper of sparkling quality from Anna Sutcliffe on the question "Does Social Justice Require Religious Values"?

In a word, her answer was 'No', but on the way we were treated to her view of religious response as essentially the same as the response to imagery. This reminded us of Austin Farrer's view of religious faith as akin to the direct response evoked by images and metaphor. (Austin Farrer was not only an ordained minister in the C of E, but also a theologian and widely esteemed philosopher.)

We also pondered the thought that the response to music is also a good model, because music impacts us directly, without having to pass through the level of reason or words.

For me personally, such clear models for the nature of religious response make arguments against religion such as Richard Dawkins' quite beside the point. Religion is a natural phenomenon, part of our human make-up as much as the rocks and the weather are part of the earth. It is not the kind of thing you can argue against, it just IS.

Of course, religion as an institution is more than the individual response. Communal experience is important to it, and ideas and words are needed for the ethical teachings that arise out of the basic experience. (In Anna's view, these are Love, Tolerance,Reason and Freedom - though we did not get around to the important questions of just how these arise from the basic experience, and how they frequently get lost sight of.) We should beware of identifying 'religion' with religious institutions just as much as we should beware of accepting self-declared 'rational' thinkers like Dawkins at their own self-evaluation.

We had some discussion about the importance of (the wrong) language as something that puts people off religion. Yet these same people may continue to seek out representatives of religion as solemnizers and legitimators of their rites of passage. This leads to anomalies like people wanting to be married outside a church, yet by a minister of religion,yet without a religious service.

I began this piece with my surprise at the variety of experiences I have had in the Yorkshire group meetings. What I really want to convey is how stimulating and renewing this is. The energy I drew from the last meeting was like that I have felt from an ecumenical group I also belong to in Bradford (BEACON - Bradford Ecumenical Asylum Concern). The recognition of similar strands of thought and feeling across apparently very different people is both exciting and reassuring, even if we (in Yorkshire Sea of Faith)have some dramatic confrontations from time to time.

Please note: a programme change for the September meeting in Bradford will be posted here soon, when the details have been finalised.

The November meeting remains as planned:

24 Nov - York Quaker Meeting House (Friargate, near Clifford’s Tower)

Helen Bellamy “Acceptance, Belief & Commitment: van Fraessen’s ABC of Science”.

Science and religious faith may have some unexpected parallels. Helen will update us from her research in Philosophy of Science.

Carol Sherrard
Convenor, Yorkshire Sea of Faith Group