Thought for the Day - Rev Lucy Winkett
“I’m spiritual but not religious” is now a commonplace among people in Britain, the majority of whose population live their lives without reference to organised religion. In my role as an Anglican priest, I meet significant numbers of people who are on the cusp of leaving the church or on the cusp of wondering whether there’s anything in it –people who are very unsure about the role faith or religious practice should or does have in contemporary society. I met a woman recently who works in the NHS who said that she found it a lot easier to say to work colleagues that she was gay than a Christian, as it was hard to be associated with the church in this generation.
One of the best things about being a vicar is that sometimes people really let rip: “Why are you a Christian? What do you think happens when you die? What’s the point of going to church? It’s all hocus pocus nonsense – and more than that it’s damaging to people’s ability to grow up because religion infantalises you!” Conversations such as this are invigorating and challenging and convince me that interest and appetite for faith is alive and well, even if the prospect of going to church doesn’t always appeal. The political think tank Demos published a report this week examining the relationship between the practice of religion and political involvement and civic participation. Its findings were surprising and striking. For all those who want to paint religious people as quietist, a bit crackers for believing in something beyond what we see and essentially taking part in a strange set of rituals that no one is interested in, the report will make very challenging reading. While it wouldn’t be right to go into detail about which party religious people are more likely to support, Demos has shown in its research that religious people are very likely to take part in local politics, to participate in the democratic processes of voting, standing for public office, volunteering; they are very likely to be active in their support for human rights, youth work, and that this high level of participation is based on shared values such as responsibility, patience, compassion and solidarity. Trust too, essential for a parliamentary democracy and civil society to flourish, is another link; as religion at its best cultivates trust and wisdom as part of the DNA of communities who gather to worship God.
None of this is to say that those who are not religious don’t do these things; that would be a facile conclusion to draw; but these findings run counter to a public narrative that often attempts to make faith an entirely private matter. In the struggle against apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that he didn’t understand people who said that faith and politics don’t mix. While of course the converse is sometimes true, Demos has shown that, as the title of the report suggests; “those who do God do good”.