Achieving cohesion in Suffolk
I attended the Forum of Faiths meeting on 5 July at Suffolk College. The purpose of the meeting was to offer local faith groups an opportunity to feed into the “creating a cohesive county” element of Suffolk Strategic Partnership’s “Shaping the Future of Suffolk” community strategy. Our aim was to ensure the humanist perspective was reflected in the dialogue. The discussion centred on Suffolk in 20 years time. What are the issues that will face the county? What evidence is there that these issues (will) exist? What can we do to solve them?
The most striking element of the session was how irrelevant religion was to the whole discussion. This meant that a general consensus was reached on a variety of non-religious issues, particularly Suffolk’s ageing population, housing and the built environment, and the role technology will play in changing how society organises and communicates. Religion was barely mentioned.
While it is noteworthy that religion should be playing such a small part in these discussions, the failure to look at the impact of religion on community cohesion was concerning. My suggestion that problems associated with religious division or segregation would become more serious with the growth of religious extremism was ignored. Although there was general agreement that promoting inter-faith understanding was a good thing, nobody seemed willing to discuss the possibility that the fruits of the current severe and very frightening divisions between religious groups across the world will impact on all parts of our society, regardless of faith or lack of it. The world grows ever smaller and Britain's involvement in political and military ventures overseas is already affecting us as creeping surveillance of the individual to monitor growing terrorist activity and the ever present security threat demonstrate. Suffolk will not be immune to what I fear is currently perceived as an "international" problem.
Humanists can play an important role in promoting cohesion within our county. We must celebrate Britain’s secular outlook and ensure that our message goes out to the local community that secularism benefits everyone because it does not allow one belief system to dominate another. This message must be a guiding principle in the development of a cohesive county over the coming decades.