Lord Singh – ‘Religion is an Important Ethical Sat-Nav’
A debate on religion and belief in British public life was held in the House of Lords last week.
The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth, formerly the Bishop of Oxford called for the debate in which many members of the Lords spoke, including Baroness Falkner, Baroness Massey, Lord Ahmed, Lord Singh and Lord Warner.
Lord Singh the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO), said religion including beliefs such as humanism provide a commonsense guidance of how to lead ‘a responsible and meaningful life.’
Lord Singh’s full speech can be found below:
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for securing this important debate. As a Sikh, I see religion—I include beliefs such as humanism—as commonsense guidance on how to meet the many challenges of trying to lead a responsible and meaningful life.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees religion in that way. A year ago in a debate in this Chamber, religion was blamed as being “out of step” with society. To me, that is a bit like someone complaining that his sat-nav was not following his directions. The argument for banishing religions to the margins of society would carry some weight if secular society was seen to be leading to a fairer and more contented and peaceful society. But all the evidence is that it is not.
Every day in this House, we have Oral Questions on the lines of, “What are the Government doing about this or that concern?” The general response, couched in elegant terms, is, “We are doing a lot more than the previous lot when they were in power”. This is not a criticism of government. The truth is that Governments can, at best, only put legal boundaries around unacceptable behaviour; they cannot make us better people.
I will give some examples. Monday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The need to have a day to remind us that women often suffer violence and gross abuse itself shows that all is not well with society. It was also mentioned that 77 women in the UK had been killed in domestic violence. There was reference to a Troubled Families programme—another reminder that all is not well. A report in the Times this week revealed that a staggering 230,000 people in England and Wales are going through divorce each year, with a devastating effect on children.
Two-thirds of children whose parents separate, often in acrimonious circumstances, are driven to drugs and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and poor performance in schools. Our current obsession with “me, my rights and my happiness” can have a devastating effect on those around us in this and other areas.
Religious teachings are essentially preventive. Without such teachings we tend to look to sticking-plaster solutions. Today, the response to domestic violence is to build more refuges. The response to drunken and loutish behaviour is, “Let’s extend licensing hours”; to rising drugs problems, “Let’s legalise the use of drugs”; and, to an increasing number of people in prisons, “Let’s build more prisons”. Let us extend this line of thinking to the behaviour of little junior who greets visitors to the house by kicking them in the shins. Solution: issue said visitors with shin pads as they enter the front door.
Whenever I am asked to do a “do-it-yourself assembly”, I throw the instructions to one side and quickly put the pieces together with nuts and bolts to spare. I then stand back to admire my handiwork and see it all skewed and ready to fall apart. Then, and only then, I turn to the book of instructions. We have become a bit of a do-it-yourself society in the way in which we have thrown our religious instructions to one side in constructing remedies to social problems that ignore deeper issues of right, wrong and responsibility—the essence of religious teachings. Jesus Christ taught that, “Man does not live by bread alone”. Bread, the material side of life is important, but there is much more to living than mere material existence.
The Sikh Gurus taught that we must live in three dimensions at the same time: reflecting on and living core ethical teachings; earning by our own honest effort; and, thirdly and most importantly, that we have a responsibility to look to the needs of those around us and the well-being of wider society. That putting of others before self is something that we need constantly to be reminded about, rather than living our current obsession with “me, my rights and my happiness”. Yes, religion is an important ethical sat-nav, but we must remember to keep it switched on and to follow its sometimes demanding directions towards a fairer and more peaceful society.