29 November 2006
Iona Community and Thought for the Day
This led Frank to write to the Iona Community, which is an ecumenical group, for their views on humanism.
Frank wrote: The substance of John Bell's 'Thought for the day' (BBC Radio4 1/11/06) made a lot of sense to me, an atheist, and I suspect that most fellow members of Leicester Secular Society (not all of whom are atheists) would agree with much of it. I also respect that John, unlike other TFTD speakers, does not 'have a go' at secularism which is denied a platform on the programme. In fact I was so impressed with the humanity of John's talk that I would like to understand better what you are about. I wonder if you would mind responding to a few questions?
He received the following replies from Kathy Galloway, the Leader of the Iona Community.
I'm glad you liked John's Thought for the Day. I'll try to answer your questions below. I'm also attaching a statement by the Council of the Community on our spirituality and practice, which hopefully will answer your questions in a bit more detail. I don't always find common parlance language very helpful. I consider myself, for example, to be a secular Christian and a humanist, influenced by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I find the constant vicious sniping of some Christian and atheist commentators (and some of these are extraordinarily disrespectful and uninformed; I am sure you will know the frustration of being condemned for beliefs that you don't actually hold) at each other unhelpful at best and intellectually dishonest at worst, since I think we share a very large degree of common ground. The convictions of the Iona Community place an emphasis on searching out common ground, and considering how best to live respectfully with difference (since if we can't do that, we are all lost anyway!)
Does the Iona community have a policy of respect for those who have high moral standards but base this on their humanity rather than their religion? We have a policy of respect for everyone, regardless of their religion or beliefs or nationality, etc. Naturally we recognise that high moral standards are found among people of all religious beliefs and none. In your website you stress your ecumenical emphasis and Inter-religious relations. Do you also foster relations with atheists, secularists, humanists (or whatever you may want to call us)?
We work in partnership with, and are affiliated to many non-religious and humanist organisations as well as religious ones; usually in connection with our justice and peace commitment. These would include such groups as CND, Stop the War Coalition, Action for Southern Africa, UNA, WDM, Scottish Civic Forum, Poverty Alliance, Scottish Palestinian Forum, Positive Action in Housing, etc.
Finally, secular viewpoints are excluded from many forums where it is assumed that only the religious have anything worthwhile to say - such as TFTD and Chaplaincy teams in hospitals, universities, prisons, etc. Would you support the participation of non-religious people in these areas?
I personally don't see any reason why humanists should not be able to have a 'Thought for the Day' (though we have not discussed this, so it couldn't be said to be Iona Community policy!) A chaplaincy role is essentially a pastoral one-if people in hospitals, etc, request the pastoral and spiritual support of non-religious organisations, and qualified people are available, then I see no reason why this should not also be available. I guess that some people might feel that the non-religious counselling and support services that are already available in hospitals, prisons, universities, etc, already serve that function, so this would depend on being able to present humanism as a positive additional value (which I actually believe it is).
Please note that I am writing personally, not as a spokesperson for the Society, but if you are agreeable I would like to share your response with others possibly via our unofficial blog.
I'm also writing personally, apart from those views contained in the attached statement. I'm happy to have my response shared.
Frank comments: It occurred to me that attacking the BBC over its policy of not allowing atheist, rationalist or freethinker speakers on Thought for the Day has proved fruitless, but I dare say quite a few of the religious speakers might, like Kathryn Galloway here, support an end to the religious exclusivity in the programme.