Topic 2: OMG: Faif!

  1. I’ve taken on two parts of this task so far. I’ll answer the third first and the first second.  The second I will address in comments.

Part  3. Listen to the Kwame Anthony Appiah Reith lecture on Creed Write a min. 100 word reflection

His thesis: Religion is not to be reduced to a matter of belief. But instead religion is constituted of three elements: practice, community and beliefs. He argues that belief has the least significant of the three.

“…we’ve been taught to think of religion principally as a matter of beliefs. Now I want to argue that this simple idea is deeply misleading, in ways that can make understanding between religions seem both harder and easier than it really is. I want to persuade you that religion is not, in the first instance, a matter of belief.”

My response to his thesis is that I agree.

The current meaning of dogma is ‘incontrovertible truths.’ All the longstanding religions have revised their dogma. So the inconvertible is convertible? Yes it is.

The fact dogma changes undermines the authority which put down the dogma. I feel that what KAA lays out for us could be summarized like this: religious beliefs are actually no more fixed or correct than scientific theories. Both change over time as our understanding of the world changes.

In his words:

“I draw on a philosophical tradition in which one of the
central thoughts is the recognition of human fallibility,
and I think that one of the ways in which we’re fallible is
that we seek for certainty in places where it’s
not to be found and where the correct attitude is one of
… relatively relaxed convictions of one sort and another
which we leave open for challenge and revision if new
ideas, new stuff comes in.”

The openness of religious texts is a feature. Just as the openness of Shakespeare to interpretation is a feature. It is useful to change, something flexible. My sister likes to use a quote which is often attributed to Einstein; ‘the thinking that got us into this mess won’t be the thinking that is going to get us out.’ Scripture is a powerful motivating force in peoples lives, finding new meaning in familiar words can save communities when the world changes.

How can this be used in my practice and teaching? Authority for a teacher is not an entitlement.  It is earned. My dogma is to have no dogma. Knowledge is always a work in progress.  I am teaching as well as I can.  Sharing the best knowledge I have, so far.  I offer what I believe to be true now, and what my experience has shown me. But my nature is critical. I continue to learn by enquiring. I am confident that there is truth in what I deliver, but I know it is still developing. I wish to find exceptions, to hear new questions.

The most amazing moment in teaching is when the student schools the teacher. When insight from their lips surpasses the lesson they have been given. Then you see the gods in their eyes, they realise that their talent is bigger than they are, that the student will go beyond their teacher.

Part  1.Visit the Religion, Belief and Faith identities UAL website and answer the questions.

I think I can address all the questions  in one anecdote.

A few years ago a college approached. He was perturbed (stirred up, troubles, upset) by a student who, when working on Shakespeare scenes, was seeing the world entirely through her faith.  His approach to me was because I was American, and somehow I was supposed to understand the situation because a lot of Americans were intensely religious. He was grasping at straws and it was not hard to take his gaffe in stride.

He seemed to want her to drop her faith and see the scene through secular eyes. She was relentless in explaining how her Christian point of view was appropriate, since Shakespeare’s time was by no means secular. He felt he could not teach or direct her effectively, and that her insistence at seeing everything through faith was alienating the other members of the cast.

I was gobsmacked that he didn’t welcome her insight. What a gift. Living faith in a rehearsal. I was intrigued that she may have a different way of seeing and I really wanted to know what it was like for her. That surprised him. I then explained my faith to him as well. He was really taken aback.

He really had no idea that faith could actually be a motivating factor that frees up the artist. Like many intensely secular individuals he only saw faith as an inhibitor. In the end I mediated a bit, but on reflection I think I should have suggested he call the chaplain in.

Would  have been useful in that scenario? I don’t know. I can’t find a model or simple document about mediating secular and faith based approaches.

I also think that the UK is a lot less secular than it thinks it is.  There is a state religion, state sanctioned celebration of the condemnation of catholicism (bonfire night). The head of state is head of the religion, monarchy with regressive traditions of succession. And OMG! a heavily Christian flag (not one, not two, but three crosses for three saints!)

And this is all defended because it is ‘traditional’.  As if other countries don’t have long histories and traditions… Anyway, as a foreigner I can at least explain to other foreigners that the Brits are all a bit ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ when it comes to religion. In American and France there is a separation of church and state, so that religious freedom is protected in society. In the UK we have a state religion and please don’t act religious in society, sorry about that. Awkward.

In the UK we have strong but latent beliefs, values, and practices- which if you have never known anything else, seem entirely non-controversial (unless you are an outsider and are used to something else.) I dare say there is perhaps a measure of religious privilege going on here.

That said, what I really enjoy about Anglican clergy is that they get this, and many would gladly trade religious privilege for more visceral faith in their congregations!


I think the site needs a joke section.

An actor colleague of mine is comedian. He’s Iranian by birth and his four grandparents were all different faiths: one Christian, one Muslim, one Jewish, and of course one Zoroastrian.  When you turn 18 in his community you would have a year to choose to commit to a faith, but you would need to observe and practice your options for that year.

So for an entire  year it was prayers on Friday and then lamb with the Muslim cousins. Shul on Saturdays and then lamb with his Jewish kin. Church on Sunday morning and then had lamb with his Christian relations. And he went to the fire temple with his Zoroastrian folks as their calendar required, and they ate barbecued lamb.

So on his 19th birthday he gathered his family around and told them that God wanted him to become a Buddhist.