WHAT I BELIEVE
Sunday 04 January 1998
"Sikhism is not a missionary religion. It is a religion which teaches that there are many paths to God, and that we are small fry in the universe.
It is often difficult to be a Sikh, particularly for children; they think `If I didn't have a turban I would be better accepted'. My good fortune is that I was brought up with parents who didn't press their religion on us. They simply lived it.
As a Sikh, you can be told at job interviews that `We would love to have you, but our workforce might not'. I started off as a mining engineer, and I was told by the National Coal Board that I shouldn't go into management because I would find difficulties there with the men. I know my faith doesn't help in many ways in the employment scene, but if you are true to your ideals and beliefs it gives you a sense of balance. I have always found tremendous respect for being true to my beliefs.
Our gurus define God in a way that is in tune with much of modern thinking. God is not watching our every move. We have tended to give him a human image, but it is not God trying to give us messages. Through prayer and meditation, we can be in tune with godly ideals."
Robbi Robson, chair of British Humanist Association and Assistant Director of the Royal College of Nursing's Policy Department
"I came from a broadly speaking Anglican background, and went to a Methodist boarding school, which meant sitting in chapel for large quantities of time, but I don't think becoming a humanist was a rebellion. It was about five years ago that I realised I was a humanist; I think there are quite a few people who would label themselves as humanists if they only knew the label existed. It encompasses people who don't believe there is a God or an ultimate being who is responsible for everything.
One thing that irritates me is the notion that religion and ethics are bound up together, and if you don't have a religion you're not ethical. Human beings are social animals and we have basic human values, do's and don't's, that are necessary to live together.
I came to humanism when I wanted to get married for a second time. I was more conscious about what I was promising and discovered I couldn't legally get married in the way I wanted. That was when I discovered that the BHA married people, and it was only when I read their literature that I realised I was already a humanist."
Mary Sutherland, founder, The Safe Project for the Homeless
"I set up The Safe five years ago because I had seen such an extraordinary need for people to be on the receiving end of love and friendship. It was partly what God put in my heart. I became a Christian when I was 17, and I had been through a bit of a rough time. Becoming a Christian was the last thing on my agenda; it was desperation, and a series of miraculous events.
A project for the homeless seemed completely ridiculous. I was only 17, and I didn't have any qualifications. If it hadn't been for God, it wouldn't have got anywhere. I was a member of a church in Pimlico, and had done stuff with the homeless since I was nine, so I already knew guys on the street. I organised a Christmas meal, and at the end of that, I knew I couldn't leave it.
I put together a simple proposal and said to the vicar `How would you feel if we did a meal once a month?' Now, we are running craft workshops and three of the guys have just been baptised.
I think the church doesn't do enough in terms of living out the simplicity of the gospel. The first call for us as Christians is to live out the values of what we think Heaven might be. Obviously, it's hideously difficult.
The guys that use The Safe are considered by the average person to be quite chaotic, but they have been stripped bare and don't have anything to hide. If I wasn't a Christian, I would have cracked up ages ago."
Reverend George Hargreaves, record producer, songwriter (author of Sinitta's 1986 hit "So Macho") and pastor of Black Pentecostal Hephzibah Christian Centre in Hackney, which has an Internet cafe
"I was exposed to the Pentecostal movement as a child, but the greatest impact I had was from our school chaplain, who was an ex-commando. He had an assault course at the rectory and one of the ways of getting us out there was to challenge us to take on his course. We got all muddy and dirty and afterwards heard the gospel over a cream tea. He had a deep faith and it was infectious, so I received Christ at that time.
Later, I went through a spiritual wilderness. I looked at the contradictory messages in the songs I was writing, and decided to go to Bible college. I believe in God being involved in the affairs of man, and I think the church should reflect that. It should be in the thick of things, whether it's the Internet or entertainment. With the cyber-cafe, we are meeting people where they are. But I believe in the principle of salt and light: just by our mere presence as Christians, we can begin to witness through the way we behave."
Nick Williams, founder of Alternatives New Age Workshops, covering everything from mystics to Shamanism, at St James' Church in Piccadilly, London
"For hundreds of years, we have been told about God and we have been chasing these external ideas. Throughout that, there have been mystics who have shown us the way, and who said God is inside. Most of us believe that God is angry with us. But there is no distance between us and God, and all we need to do is change our view of ourselves. A friend gave me a prayer which said `Dear God, please help me accept the truth about myself, however wonderful that may be'.
I believe that there was a man called Jesus who was the encapsulation of `faith consciousness', which some people would call Christ. My understanding is that this consciousness is who we all are. If there is such a thing as a second coming, it will be our own knowledge of ourselves as children of God.
For me, the crucial thing is forgiveness of myself and people that piss me off. There are evil people and terrible acts, but I trust that there is a realm of looking at things where I can see they aren't evil people. I pray to the wisest being that I understand exists, saying `Please help me see the truth'. I don't know that a church is any holier than any other place; I admire St James' but many Christ-ians would consider it to be a hell-hole."
Steve Calam, senior area leader of The Jesus Army, living in one of its communities in Acton
"I've always been a bit of a spiritual searcher; in my twenties [he's now in his forties] I met some Christians and there was something about their lives that really spoke to me. I was a bit of a hippy, but there was something that captivated me. I began to say `Well God, if you're there, who are you?' It was shortly after I made that kind of cry that these people took me along to an evangelistic meeting at the Royal Albert Hall and someone said, `If you want to find Jesus stand up'. That was it for me.
I was introduced to the Jesus Army and went to visit them, and I was very impressed with their radical lifestyle. Here were people who were living what they believed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The community aspect grabbed my attention. They believed that Jesus takes our purse strings as well as everything else in life. I don't think the public view us with great suspicion; I think there is a hunger in the nation, and we are praying there will be a revival and that people's hearts will turn to God. We want to take the church outside the building. We take our buses into towns and find people to share the Christian gospel with."
Elizabeth Stewart, lecturer in theology at Glamorgan University, author, and Roman Catholic member of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
"I have never experienced a crisis of faith around my sexuality. I was very lucky in that while I was growing up, the Roman Catholic church was going through massive reform, and during that time, what I was being taught in my Catholic school was overwhelmingly that God was love. I suppose I could articulate it [that I was a lesbian] when I was about 15, but one has a sense of being different earlier than that. We were taught that the church consisted of more than the Pope - that we were the church - and that gave a tremendous sense of belonging.
The reason why I stayed Catholic is that the Catholic church has a vast tradition behind it which it takes very seriously, and within that tradition it doesn't take a lot of excavation to discover that there have always been people asking questions of the church, radicals and people who don't fit in. Often these people get made saints.
The Catholic church is not as hung up on scripture as some Anglicans are. God is not confined to the past but is continuing to reveal herself. I am happy using `him' or `her' to describe God, but the problem with using one pronoun for God is that you end up believing that God is that gender."
Iqbal Sacranie, chair of Muslim Aid, joint convenor of the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs and a founder of the Muslim Council of Great Britain
"It doesn't matter if you have wealth, education or a big family, but if you are sincere, honest, hard-working and a believer in the existence of God, that helps you to go through the obstacles and hurdles in life.
My father was stranded in Mozambique as a small boy, when his father died; he said to the hotel manager where he was staying `Please take me to a mosque'. He prayed to God, and people came and help was given.
Muslims and Christians share many similar beliefs and values; we recognise the supremacy of God, that God is there to give us protection, to overwhelm our whole livelihood and fulfil our needs.
The major challenge facing men is the dominance of the secular and materialistic ideologies, which have not only set their own goals but which have attempted to shape religions according to their own views and purposes.
I had a very serious illness many years ago and the chances of me being cured were very, very minute, but I think my work in helping fellow human beings was influential; you are rewarded not only in the next world, but in this world, too."
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