At our July Service Kath Forder reminded us powerfully of the importance of thinking for ourselves, quoting the Buddha’s saying that we should only believe what we ourselves think is true. She used two stories concerning Daniel, he of the lions’ den, who on two occasions used his clear logical thinking to expose deceits. At this confusing time we felt the Service was very appropriate, and we enjoyed the selection of music and hymns provided by David and by Kath and husband Peter.
Miles Howarth’s Reflection on sharing opened our Swindon meeting on July 16th. David Taylor then introduced a discussion on the new Charity Commission, CC, guidance on the advancement of religion for public benefit. What we discovered was that while the CC recognised many ways in which religions could be advanced there were concerns about harm that could arise to members as a result of how this was done. Other points made by the CC included the fact that religion could provide cohesion and a positive, beneficial ethic, and that it did not have to focus on God or a supreme being. Buddhism is “a realised, not a revealed, religion”. Advancing religion is a proper activity, so proselytising is acceptable to the CC, but using improper pressure or inducements, or risking harm by insensitively antagonising people is not. Raising awareness of the teaching of religion is acceptable, but not if it is done for a political purpose. Religions may campaign for a change in the law, or for existing laws to be upheld, provided these campaigns are of limited duration and in line with the religion’s charitable aims. Otherwise political campaigning is not acceptable. Trustees should ensure that campaigning does not usurp the proper charitable aims of the charity.
With this background we looked at the Unitarian Objects and GA resolutions, and at the attempt by the International Association for Religious Freedom to introduce a code of practice to limit physical, mental and financial harm to members of religion. One remark was that “one person’s God given truth is another person’s toxic belief system”. We asked whether the demands and benefits of charitable status distorted the behaviour of organised religions? Could a body like the CC possibly cope with the challenging contradictions we saw in the subject, more complex now with so many religions? We wondered whether religions should be charities at all? Some thought definitely not, but that religions could set up charities for purposes that were more objectively beneficial. On the other hand, humans universally explore the great issues of existence, life and death, and to do so in company with those of like mind is beneficial. A final insight, then, was that religion was bottom up, not top down.