This year’s annual ‘multi-faith’ event at New City College* provided some fascinating insights, as usual.
First the panel: An orthodox Rabbi, an evangelical Christian, a Scientologist and a Humanist. Unlike previous years there was no Muslim rep. The most likely explanation for their absence is the introduction of strict new criteria for speakers, a sad and retrogade step. (The Buddhist rep was unable to attend due to illness).
The 80 strong audience consisted largely of 16-18 year olds from a Muslim or Christian background. It was apparent from their questions and comments, following introductory speeches, that many were entering adulthood with little if any understanding of the important and valid contribution the non-religious can make towards issues like social cohesion and knife crime, key topics for the forum.
It was largely a good-natured and constructive event. The Humanist point was made that all panel members were united in calling for more kindness and condemning violence, and that these values can be held and argued for irrespective of a person’s religion or lack of religious belief. It was also pointed out that the College is a great example of diversity, and how outrageous it would be if pupils were excluded on the grounds that their parent’s were of the wrong religion. Some panel members struggled when challenged to explain how their views on social cohesion squared with their support for the religious school system.
Speaking to students about Humanism is invariably a positive experience. One of the good things about speaking to this age group is that they were asked to provide feedback. One student’s comment helps show why it was so worthwhile:
“I’ve never heard of Humanism before today and looking at the world from an alternative perspective was so refreshing. It taught me that seeing the world differently is equally valid as all the other religious views.”
- The multi-faith forum was held on the Hackney Campus of New City College. New City College comprises the former Hackney Community College, Tower Hamlets College, Epping Forest College and Redbridge College.