So, there I am, at the door to the event and I am thinking, no backpackers who have been living off-grid in a tent near the Arctic Circle…? (My previous blog) Well no. But actually the event did attract nearly 50 people from several different faiths, did involve four excellent speakers on the theme Religion and the Media, and did generate some lively discussion.
Hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with special thanks to Douglas Yates, the audience was given a warm welcome by Jon Herd of Ayrshire Interfaith Forum. Each of the four speakers, Svend Kamming, Howard Bartlem, Shahbaz Mirza and Jon Herd, then took to the lectern to deliver their talk on the night’s theme. In truth, a mammoth subject : Religion and the Media, with many off-ramps from the motorway of life, and slip-roads leading to many, many existential highways – metaphorically speaking, of course. Yet, each speaker navigated the topic with some sure-footedness, some eloquence and, at times, some passion.
It was Bahai representative, Svend Kamming who opened on the subject, taking an interesting route by looking at the topic from a purely Bahai perspective. The Danish-born speaker informed us about the faith’s history, adherence to the idea of oneness and of the ideas of love, unity and humanity the Bahai promotes. Howard Bartlem from the Religious Society of Friends, otherwise known as The Quakers, presented a lively, thoughtful meditation on Quaker stillness, in an increasingly ‘loud’ social media world. Providing statistics he told the audience Facebook had 1.5 billion users worldwide, and that we lived in a society where 9000 tweets are typed up every second. He wondered if it added to a growing sense of atomisation and isolation? Concluding by asking a teasing question to those assembled : ‘Can you live without the internet?’ Personally, I sadly doubt it, but I wondered what others in the audience were thinking. No? Yes? Gladly?
With that thought hanging delicately in the air, third speaker Shahbaz Mirza of Ayrshire Central Mosque delivered a talk which was equally contemporaneous. But, Shahbaz, was a bit more positive about social media. He did refer to social media as : ‘a lot more noise’, but he also recognised it could be harnessed to spread messages and to help innovate and bring modernity to his faith. As he put it, “…bringing it into the 21st century”. He asked how Islam could have a more structured response to negative media portrayals? With a media presence, himself – he has appeared in several media including print and broadcast – and an active interest in the narrative his faith presents to the world, Shahbaz Mirza finished on a positive note. He said his faith must ask why Islam is being negatively portrayed, and then, is it being negatively portrayed? Finally he asked, what is Islam doing to change the rhetoric?
The quartet of speakers was completed by Jon Herd, from the Church of Scotland tradition with a novel approach to the subject. He wanted to stand the question on its head, so, instead of asking how is religion portrayed by the media, he asked : what does faith have to say about the media? “The Bible,” he told his audience. “Might shape attitudes to the media.” On three fronts, he reminded his audience, the Bible lets us know about how we should conduct ourselves. It speaks of the prohibition of any image or icon, the prohibition of abusing God’s name or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and of its opposition to sexual immorality and acts of idolatry.
Enthralled by four excellent speakers wrestling with the fascinating subject of Religion and the Media, the assembly was then treated to a musical interlude. Robert Yates, on piano, playing ‘I am Trying To Be Like Jesus’, from the Children’s Hymn Book. The attendees then retired to the church hall where the hosts had graciously provided food and drink, a lively hive of buzzing discussion taking place at each table.
Stuart Lang, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints described it as an “Excellent evening” and “ Very thought provoking,” while ruminating on how the different faiths actually had much in common. Roy and Jackie Dalley, also from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, agreed, it had been an interesting and engaging event and were keen to tell me a bit more about their own faith.
I also met and chatted with ward historian Elizabeth McInnes, from the host church. She had said how much she had enjoyed the evening, we exchanged email addresses and I took the opportunity to tell her about the Ayrshire Interfaith Forum.
Everyone agreed it had been a very enjoyable, thought-provoking evening and it was over before any of us knew or had time to realise. All the preparation the speakers put in, the efforts of the host church in respect of providing excellent facilities and catering for those attending, the evening ran smoothly and entertainingly to a close.
Of course, the off-grid backpacker living near the Arctic Circle didn’t arrive, but he certainly would have been made welcome if he had. Maybe next year?
IFS Ambassador Sergio George Burns