Penny Faust,
Oxford Council of Faiths

THIS week is National Interfaith Week: focusing on inter-faith activities and bringing them to the attention of everyone.

We’re so lucky in the UK. There is a rich range of faith communities living and working together across the country.

They are all making contributions to their communities, their neighbourhoods and to wider society. For some reason beyond my comprehension it’s not very fashionable at the moment to celebrate diversity, but I think that’s what we should be doing.

Monoculture is boring; none of us would want to have to eat the same food, wear the same clothes, travel to the same places or even pray, if we do, in the same way. Living in a country where there is diversity of religion and faith traditions is much more exciting.

It is all about choice. Every religion has its own denominations, each varying from the other enough for people to be able to choose.

Taking Christianity as an example, we see Roman Catholics, Church of England, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Unitarians, Orthodox – both Russian and Greek – and many more.

MoToo often that’s seen as a weakness but I think it’s a strength, as long as no-one thinks they’ve got a monopoly on truth.

The most important aspect of interfaith activities is abandoning the idea of mission, which is motivated by the wish to make people leave their faith and join another.

Minimally there has to be open-mindedness about, and tolerance of, what others believe and do, as long as that does not harm anyone else.

But more than that, many people involved in interfaith work are pluralistic in their attitudes towards people of other faiths and those who have no faith. They understand that what someone else believes is as right and credible for them as their own faith is for themselves.

It’s not always easy; people engaged in long-term interfaith activity have to listen, learn, and treat each other with respect.

And that applies to people who don’t have a faith as well. It seems to me in our increasingly secular world, there is a calumny that dictates that it’s somehow more sophisticated and intelligent to be at least agnostic, at best atheist.

The Oxford Council of Faiths is marking National Interfaith Week with two events that are open to everyone.

The first, today[nov16], is a ‘speed dating’ faith exchange evening at the Oxford Jewish Centre.

People will have the opportunity to sit in twos and exchange information and ideas with people of other faiths about what they believe and what is most important to them. And everyone will have the chance to eat together too.

Then on Sunday, November 22, in the afternoon we’ll be planting trees together on Cumnor Hill, helping to create a new wood.