Over the September mid-semester break, I went to the National Student Leadership Forum on faith and values. I was nominated by my college principal (and most flattered to be). I’m not entirely sure how I convinced my father to let me go, being that the whole “faith and values” stipulation, not to mention the fact that it is based on the idea of “servant leadership,” inspired by Jesus Christ, no less, made it sound like a bit of a Christian camp sponsored by the government, but the subsidy from the college probably helped. In any case, I’m extremely grateful I went – it was an incredible experience, and most rewarding.
The Forum consisted of keynote speakers at every meal, a variety of graces from different religions, much discussion about what it means to be a leader, our personal values, time in Parliament listening to speeches by K Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull (leader of the Opposition) about their own faith, community service, a Bollywood bling-themed party (complete with dancers trying to teach us how to shake them hips) and small, tight-knit groups, with whom we did, shared and ruminated everything. I was skeptical, I’ll admit, of the so-called “bond” we’d form , but we had so much fun (our community service was a “random act of kindness,” so we washed people’s windscreens for free at a service station) and I’ve kept in touch with almost all of them since, which is fantastic. The whole experience was invigorating; it made me remember what I want to do with my life: help people. Three speeches stand out in my mind. Two of them were by businessmen-made-charitable entrepreneurs, who espoused that it is OK to make money, because money is necessary in order to implement widespread and meaningful change. The third was a man called Dave Andrews, who devoted his life to changing other people’s. He opened up his house to the mentally ill and homeless; he moved to
One of the things it has made me think about, then and now, is my faith. If you’ve followed me even for a little while, you probably know that I’m a “raging atheist” (as Pepito puts it, so nicely.) But when it came my turn to share my story in our small group discussions I realised something. Just because I’m an atheist, doesn’t mean I’ve of “no faith,” as is the PC phrase. It just means my faith isn’t in some higher being; it’s in humanity. I still don’t whether I believe people are inherently good – I want to, but I don’t know if I can* – but I believe in the ability of people to make good, and that good will overcome. Which stems from or feeds my optimism that all will work out in the end. I resent the implication that I don’t believe in anything. Why does faith have to be religious?
I was talking this over with my friend K last week, and she raised an interesting point about religion (she, too, is an atheist, not that it makes a difference.) We were talking about religion, and whether the hope it provides, and the attempts at providing a guideline for morality justify it (in all its prejudice and discrimination) and she raised the question about morality for morality’s sake. That is, shouldn’t people want to do good because it is the right thing to do? Not for the sake of some afterlife, or greater power?
I was watching something the other day and I can’t remember what it was – it might have been John Safron, or it might have been a movie – and someone said “religion starts wars,” to which someone replied “no it doesn’t, it’s just an excuse, it’s not the cause.” Or something like that, I’m paraphrasing.
*Do people have a redeeming feature? I remember skimming through The Glass House, a thoroughly depressing but very engaging memoir. The young girl who writes and narrates the story asks how her mother can believe all people have good in them. What about Hitler, she says. Well, the mother answers, Hitler was good to his dogs.