Yesterday, in a sombre response to last weeks riots, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of a slow motion moral collapse that Britain had suffered in recent decades. In a hard hitting speech he attacked society for ‘twisting and misrepresenting human rights’ to undermine personal responsibility. He went on to say policies on education, welfare, parenting and drug addiction would be examined to help mend a broken society. Opposition leader Ed Milliband, in a parallel speech, drew attention to what he saw as the effects of economic deprivation and lack of job opportunities.
Curiously, religion and the role of faith communities hardly figures in this comprehensive call for action, although religion addresses many of the issues involved: such the family, and the harm done to both the individual and society by greed and selfishness. It’s a reminder that religion, at one time recognised as the main determinant and arbiter of moral values, is now seen as largely irrelevant,
For me the riots were not only, what the Prime Minister described as, ‘a wake up call for the country’, but also one for our religious communities. The problem is that there has always been a disconnect between religious teaching, and living true to religious values. Living true to such values is not always easy as seen in the death of Jesus Christ, and the later martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadhur, whose anniversary of Guruship falls this week. Even when life is not threatened it’s not easy to stand up to the bully, or to look to the rights of others at the expense of benefits to your own.
The initiatives announced by the Prime Minister involving government departments are a welcome step in bringing sanity back to society. But religious communities also have a responsibility to translate lofty teachings on right, wrong and responsibility, to positive action to address underlying needs of society.
Today there are many initiatives by religious charities to tackle social deprivation. Sikhs have the institution of langar to feed the needy and the concept of seva or service to others. I believe there can be a huge multiplier effect if our different religions combine their individual efforts, in joint initiatives to bring respect, responsibility and cohesion back to all levels of society. In doing this we will simply be doing what the founders of our different faiths taught us to do.