Issue 90 / November - December 2012
The Four Bs of Religion
Some people assert that all religions are much the same, for better or for worse. Others will insist that their religion is unique, or that their religion is the only way to God.
In 1989, in his classic book The World's Religions, the late Scots writer and teacher Ninian Smart gave us a landmark framework to help us compare and contrast the world's great religious beliefs. Smart identified what he called the 'seven dimensions' of religion:
1. The practical and ritual dimension
2. The experiential and emotional dimension
3. The narrative or mythic dimension
5. The ethical and legal dimension
6. The social and institutional dimension
7. The material dimension.
This framework has helped two generations of scholars and believers to identify what their beliefs have in common with other belief traditions and what the significant differences are.
In countries like Australia, where religious groups and institutions enjoy tax exemptions in relation to property and works of charity, courts have been asked to rule on what is or is not a 'religion'. So, in Australia, the High Court determined in 1983 that to be considered as a 'religion' rather than a 'philosophy' a group must pass a twofold test:
- belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and
- acceptance and observance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief.(154 CLR 120 at 132, 137)
(A strict application of the first principle would rule out Buddhism as a religion, yet results from successive Australian censuses show Buddhism to be the fastest-growing religion in Australia. It is hard to be consistent! )
Some scholars looking for another, and perhaps simpler, way of comparing and contrasting religious movements, institutions and traditions may find help in the pioneer work of the English sociologist Grace Davie.
In 1994, Davie launched the study of religion into a new dimension with her challenging book, Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging. The study was based on interviews with several thousand people outside shopping centres in various parts of Britain. She posed her conclusions in a series of questions. The first is:
Believing without Belonging
Why is it, for example, that the majority of British people – in common with many other Europeans – persist in believing (if only in an ordinary God), but see no need to participate with even minimal regularity in their religious institutions? Indeed most people in this country – whatever their denominational allegiance – express their religious sentiments by staying away from, rather than going to, their places of worship. On the other hand, relatively few British people have opted out of religion altogether: out-and-out atheists are rare. ( Davie, p2)
Five years after Davie's significant book was published, another English sociologist, Robin Gill, added a third B, Behaving, although he did tend to equate 'behaving' with churchgoing, arguing that it is churchgoing which fosters and sustains a distinctive culture of beliefs and values (p. 64).
In the same year, Grace Davie published another of her many books; this one based on a study of religion in Europe. This led her to conclude that Europe is what she calls 'the exceptional case' - many Europeans, particularly in the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe, belong to the majority national church without any belief in their teachings, or even in the existence of a god. She is now preparing revised editions of both her books.
The three Bs have become almost a clich├ę – so, just two of many examples, the Anglican bishop Tom Frame uses the three Bs to frame part of his critique of the Anglican church in Australia and Richard Rice uses them to combat 'the ideology of individualism' and construct a theology of the church for Seventh Day Adventists in the United States.
Grace Davie herself has recently moved on from examining the state of Christianity in Britain and Europe to consider issues arising from Muslim migration to the West, and what she calls the shift from religious obligation to religious consumption.
Now some scholars are talking about a fourth Becoming. Most religious traditions teach that believing religious truth, and belonging to a religious community, should not only modify your behaviour, for the better, of course, but should change your nature, so that you become a new and better person. King's College London has become a centre of transformation theology, Transformation is a well-established international journal of holistic mission studies and the United Methodist Church of the United States includes 'becoming' in the title of a new manual to help congregations incorporate new members.
In the great eastern religions, 'becoming' is a key part of their anthropology, with rebirth or reincarnation being the reward or the punishment in the next life for the quality of behaving in this life.
So we now have the 'four Bs' of religion, Believing, Belonging, Behaving and Becoming. At a time when the patterns of religious adherence in Australia are changing, due both to immigration and conversion, it is more important than ever for us to understand what other Australians believe. The Four Bs give us a new formal structure for discussing religious belief and practice intelligently, just as there are formal structures which help us make sense of physics or chemistry or biology or economics or sociology, or any of the natural or social sciences.
It may even result in a new and simpler way of comparing and contrasting established religions, on the basis of what the adherents of a particular religion believe and do, alongside Ninian Smart's 'seven dimensions' of religion. So we can consider such issues as:
1. Which of the four Bs is most important to a particular religion?
2. What are the key beliefs of the major world religions represented in Australia?
3. How are the four Bs linked, in the Scriptures and the teachings of each faith?
4. Do all people of faith believe in the same God? If not, is there more than one God?
5. Is belonging about belonging to God or to the community of faith, or both?
6. How do these faith traditions expect their believers to behave - what is commanded, what is allowed and what is forbidden? and
7. How do believers become changed people, spiritually and even bodily? What is at the heart of the anthropology of each faith? What do they teach about the body and the soul, about resurrection and reincarnation?
In a sense it is all about the one big B, believing; what does a particular faith community believe about believing, about belonging, about behaving and about becoming? Over the past few months, I have recorded interviews with leaders and scholars of the five major religions represented in Australia and studied the books and pamphlets which they recommended. All of them claimed that their basic beliefs were based on their Scriptures, but the statements of faith which emerged suggested that some of them had put their Scriptures through a blender, as it were, to come up with statements which summarise the beliefs and practices and understandings which are common to most of the denominations or sects within each faith community.
So the first article of the Jewish faith is the shema, the message given by Moses, or in the name of Moses:
Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. - Deuteronomy 6.4
Yet the Jewish Scriptures record the growth of an understanding of God from the anthropomorphism of the book of Genesis through transcendentalism and panentheism, henotheism and particularism to true monotheism, belief in the one God who is the one true God of all peoples, even of those who do not accept him.
The second article of faith relates to humankind, which is said to have been created in the image of God, and is bound to God in a covenant relationship. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of a number of signs of the covenant, including the gift of the Sabbath at the time of creation, the rainbow after the great flood, and, most important, the circumcision of all males on the eighth day after birth, as part of the Abrahamic covenant.
This covenant is stated in chapter 12 of the book of Genesis, restated in Chapter 15 and sealed in Chapter 17, when Abraham agrees that the sign of the covenant will appear on the bodies of all his male descendants through circumcision.
The covenant with Abraham
Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing ...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'
- Genesis 12.1-3
God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. - - Genesis 17.9-11
Many Jews call the ceremony of circumcision berit, which means 'covenant'. The covenant was reaffirmed in the so-called Mosaic covenant at Mt Sinai, which the whole people of Israel are said to have confirmed, answering Moses as one, Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do. (Exodus 19.8)
The third article of faith is that the Torah is divinely-inspired. 'Torah' can mean the totality of the law of Moses, or all the law on a particular subject, or the first five books of the Scriptures, the Pentateuch, as distinct from the Prophets and the Writings.
Two other significant beliefs, which are seen differently by different Jewish communities, relate to the Messiah and to the land of Israel.
Belief in the Messiah developed after the Second Temple period, giving new meaning to the Messianic oracles in the writings of the prophets. The rabbis taught that the Messiah would be a descendent of David, and thus his coming would bring about the climax of human history and the direct rule of God on earth.
The land of Israel, Eretz Israel, was part of the Abrahamic covenant, but not all Jewish believers accept the modern state of Israel, because it was a secular foundation, not established by YHWH. Some Orthodox Jews say that the true Israel will be established only with the coming of the Messiah.
Most Australian Muslims will tell you that belief comes first, without the core beliefs there is no Islam. But the word Islam means submission, so some Muslims believe that behaving comes first, to be a Muslim one must submit absolutely and completely to the will of God. Many men and women were Muslims before the time of the Prophet. Two verses in the Qur'an are almost identical in proclaiming this:
Submission to God
Surely, those who believe,
whether they are Jews or Christians, or those of some other faith;
anyone who believes in GOD, and
believes in the Last Day, and leads a righteous life,
will receive their recompense from their Lord;
they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve. – Qur'an 2:62, 5:69
The core Islamic belief is belief in the one, unique, incomparable God, the God who has no son or partner; none has the right to be worshipped but Him alone. Al'lah is the true God, and every other deity is false. He has the most magnificent names and sublime perfect attributes. No one shares His divinity, nor His attributes. The shahada, the confession of faith, the so-called first pillar of Islam La ilaha illa'Llah, 'there is no god but God' begins with a negative, to deny the false notions of God in the polytheism of Muhammad's time and in the beliefs of the Jews and Christians whom Muhammad had encountered.
All other key beliefs in Islam relate to this core belief
– the angels are heavenly beings who worship God alone, obey Him, and act only by His command
- the Revealed Books have been revealed by God to his messengers as proof of His existence and as a guide to their belief and behaviour . The latest and greatest of these books is the Quran, which God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad , and guaranteed to protect it from any corruption or distortion.
- the Prophets and Messengers of God, from Adam to Muhammad, and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus were all sent to reveal the same message, but God's final message to humankind, the supreme reconfirmation of the eternal message, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. God has made prophecy the central reality of history, the Qur'an says that God has sent a messenger to every people in every age (Q. 10.48) – one of the ahadith says a total of 124 000 prophets in all.
- the Day of Judgment, the Day of Reckoning, the Day of Resurrection, is the day when God will resurrect, reward and punish every one for their beliefs and deeds. Some scholars have counted more than 115 references in the Qur'an to the Day of Judgment, more than on any other topic in the Qur'an, except Al'lah, and that number does not include verses with graphic details of the after-life, of heaven and hell. Surah No 81, which is said to date from the early years of Islam, before Muhammad left Mecca for Medina,
The Day of Judgment
When the sun is folded up,
when the stars fall, losing their lustre;
when the mountains vanish (like a mirage);
When the she-camels, ten months with young, are left unattended;
when the wild beasts are herded together;
When the oceans boil over with a swell;
When the souls are sorted out (joined like with like);
When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned for what crime she was killed;
When the Scrolls are laid open;
when the world on high is unveiled;
when the Blazing Fire(of hell) is kindled to fierce heat,
and when the Garden (of Bliss) is brought near -
Then shall each soul know its Destiny.- Qur'an 81. 1.14
In the early centuries of Christianity, when its beliefs were being defined, the central issue in the debates was the nature of the person and work of Jesus which later grew into distinct areas of theology, Christology and soteriology: What is the relation between Jesus and God?
Christians maintain that God was clearly acting and speaking in and through Jesus; the writer of the Gospel according to John could quote Jesus as saying, the Father and I are One (John 10.30) yet Jesus is recorded, in the same gospel and elsewhere, as praying to God and speaking of God as a separate person. As well, God is shown as being present at key points in the life of Jesus, at his birth, and his baptism, and key moments during his mission, in ways traditionally associated with the spirit, or the breath, of God.
The outcome was a Christian redefinition of the inner nature of the Godhead, as a mystical union of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit - distinct, yet co-equal and co-eternal. Today, some Christians see these terms as anthropological and prefer to speak of the persons of the Trinity in terms of their roles or activities, as Creator, Redeemer and Spirit.
So the historic creeds have more to say about Jesus than of the other persons of the Trinity. The so-called Nicene Creed speaks of Jesus as the one who lived and died and rose again 'for our salvation', but does not say how and from what, So a spectrum of different accounts or theories has emerged – from the legalistic substitutionary theory, that Christ took the place of each and every person on the cross, to the moral or exemplary theory, that the death of Christ revealed the extent of the love of God which Christians are called to emulate. Generally, the theories coalesce around the idea that Jesus' death dealt with the reality of sin in a way which humanity could not have done for itself.
For many Christians the death of Christ was the seal of a new covenant between believers and God, replacing the old covenant with the Jewish people. The unknown writer of the Letter to the Hebrews elaborates the doctrine at length in typological fashion, stressing that the new covenant secures the perfect forgiveness of sins for all believers.
The new covenant
For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! - Hebrews 9.13-14
The creeds also include belief in the church, the return of Christ in glory, and the promise of the resurrection of the dead, or of the body. The Nicene Creed also speaks of the sacrament of baptism, but not of the eucharist, or of any other sacrament of the church. The debates on these came later.
From the first generation, many Christians have believed that the Holy Spirit would empower them with special gifts, as described in a letter of Paul to the church in Corinth:
The gifts of the Spirit
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. - 1 Corinthians 12.7-10
These gifts were seen as theirs as disciples of Christ and sharers in his gifts. But few mainstream Christians would claim these gifts today. Many Christian traditions maintain a healing ministry but no longer claim, as Augustine did, that all diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to demons and that these can be driven out with prayer and fasting.
The traditions of Indian religion which most people collectively call 'Hinduism' have evolved over many centuries, without a single founder or a single collection of scripture. They include many and varied beliefs, so that believing is not as significant as belonging or behaving or becoming.
Many Hinduisms have largely merged into one. Ninian Smart says, like the trunk of a single tree which rises from a tangle of the most divergent roots. Most of these traditions have become monotheistic, but in a variety of ways – for some believers the 330 million or so deities in the pantheon are manifestations or expressions of the one divinity, as in some passages of the Rig Veda. For others, one god, Shiva or Vishnu, is the supreme god, and other gods are lesser gods or demigods.
Other groups recognise a trinity: Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Together they represent the forces which are evident in the natural world and in human beings at all times. To indicate that these three processes are one and the same the three gods may be combined in the one form of Lord Dattatreya, who has the faces of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
In the pre-classical period, dominant beliefs were expressed in or developed from the four Vedas. The Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, was composed about 1500 BCE and redacted about 600 B.C. The Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda came later. All contain hymns, incantations, and rituals by which man can relate to the gods. The chief gods of the Veda are Indra, the great warrior; Varuna, the lord of the heaven, and Agni, the god of fire.
Sometime around 500 BCE, new traditions developed, including belief in samsara, the cycle of rebirth, and karma, the impact of past actions on the present and the future. The earlier traditions were focused on the priestly class, the Brahmans; now they came to include all classes, so Brahman came to mean the holy power which informs and animates the whole of reality. Sometimes Brahman is identified with Atman, the inner essence of the human being
The new traditions are expressed in the 200 or so Upanishads, the texts which are said to complete the message of the Vedas. In the Upanishads, ritual action and self-control converge in the search for personal liberation from samsara through unity with the Holy One or at least close communion with the holy.
The Upanishads express the unity of all things in many ways, as in these verses from the Isha Upanishad:
The Divine unity
When a man sees all beings
within his very self,
and his self within all beings.
it will not seek to hide from him.
- Isha Upanishad 4.6
In classical Hinduism, which emerged in the second and third centuries BCE, the community of the local temple became more significant, with its fervent sharing in the life of the chosen manifestation of the divine, known as bhakti . Bhakti is the essence of the epic poem the Bhagavad-gita , which was composed around 300BCE to 200 BCE and became the major work of Hindu Scripture, largely supplanting the Vedas and the Upanishads.
In the Bhagavad-Gita the Lord KRSNA presents the mature Hindu understanding of the one God:
The nature of God
My nature is divided eight-fold ...
my higher nature know:
It is the Life (soul), great-armed one,
by which this world is maintained. ...
Of the whole world I am
the origin and the dissolution too.
- Bhagavad-gita, chapter
The diversity of Hindu beliefs is also seen in the growth of devotion to the Goddess, under various names, such as Durga, Kali and Parvati, each of whom represent different aspects of the goddess – Durga is the unapproachable; Kali the ferocious devourer of time; Parvati the beautiful, the benign, the wife of Siva, whose devoted service to her husband is the model of how man should serve his god.
Belief is not as important in Buddhism as in other faiths; Buddhist teachers say that Buddhism is not a religion but a a way of life; Buddhism is pragmatic ... as it moves from its heartland it assimilates beliefs and practices from local cultures. So right believing is not as important as right becoming, securing a good rebirth, or escaping from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth by reaching Nirvana, or even as belonging, living as a member of the Buddhist community.
However, to be a Buddhist means believing that Buddha actually lived, and that his teachings are true wisdom; and that all things are impermanent and interdependent. The Buddha's teachings are known collectively as dharma. They speak of
A. The Four Noble Truths
B. The Triple Jewels
C. The Four Reliances and
D. The Four States of Mind for Studying the Dharma
Buddhist teaching aims to enlighten us about ourselves, to respect ourselves and to affirm ourselves. It is humanistic, not theistic - Buddhist teaching speaks of devas or gods, as well as maras or evil spirits, which are evil influences which stand in the way of Buddhist practice and ultimate liberation. The devas inhabit the heavens above the human realm, but are still unenlightened, bound to samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death. Mainstream Buddhism has no concept of the creation of the world, or of a divine Creator. Like all things, the world is subject to the cycle of birth and death.
Religious teachings on belonging, behaving and becoming all stem from the basic beliefs and the Scriptures of each faith.
Judaism sees belonging in at least three ways – firstly, the people belong to God in a covenant relationship; but they also belong to each other on the grounds of race, the sense of a common ancestry, of belonging to a people with a common history, including centuries of communal suffering, and, thirdly, they belong in a local community in one of the varied streams of Judaism -Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Progressive, Reconstructionist, Hasidim or Liberal.
Islam, submission, is a community obligation as well as an individual one. Believers form the one community, although they may be from many nations and tribes. Just as God sent prophets and messengers as witnesses to the Jews and the Christians and then to the Muslims, so the Muslim nation must witness to other nations.
The Greek kuriakios, from which Christians derive the word 'church', means 'belonging to the Lord', so 'belonging' means belonging in the church – the local congregation, and/or a particular denomination or tradition, and/or the 'one holy, catholic and apostolic church', as the Nicene Creed puts it. For the early Christians, the church was a spiritual society, the 'new Israel', which replaced the Jews as the people of God; all Christians were one in Christ, regardless of race, background or gender; the church was the repository of Christian truth; and nourished its members to enable them to grow in faith and holiness.
In the Hindu traditions 'belonging' relates primarily to one's place in Indian society – the words Hindu, India and the Indus are cognate words – essentially, Hindus are the people of the Indus valley. They belong to the community because they are born into it. Belonging is expressed through the family's association with a particular temple, or with a particular religious teacher; by their dress, their participation in religious ceremonies and festivals, and by their moral codes and behavioural expectations.
One of the three jewels of Buddhism is the sangha, the Buddhist community. In Chinese Buddhism the sangha is a community of monks and/or nuns, who are the exemplars of the faith. In other traditions the sangha may include lay men and/or women. Whether the sangha is monastic or lay, or a combination of both, belonging means accepting the principles of harmony in truth and harmony of action. The six principles of the sangha: doctrinal harmony, moral harmony, economic harmony, spiritual harmony, verbal harmony and physical harmony.
A large part of the Jewish Torah is taken up with instructions on how the people should behave towards one another, particularly towards the poorer members of the community, as in the holiness code in Leviticus chapter 19. Behaving is linked with belonging - You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (Lev. 19.1). The Torah records the commandments of the Covenant, including the 10 commandments, which are recorded twice, in slightly different forms, and the 613 mitzvot, the lesser commandments and ritual duties and good deeds which are scattered through the text.
For Muslims, 'behaving' means following the rules prescribed for the community. Belonging controls behaving. In turn, believing controls belonging. Right behaviour is modelled on the life of Muhammad and his Companions, in the sunnah, the early Muslim community, as recorded in the ahadith, the authentic traditions of Islam. The Qur'an regularly links believing and behaving, as in this passage about the outcome of the Day of Judgment: Surely for those who believe and do righteous deeds, their welcome is Gardens of the highest level of Paradise. Therein will they abide, without desiring any change therefrom. (Qur'an 18: 107-108)
Christians are expected to behave in accordance with their belief that Christ is 'the way, the truth and the life' (John 14.6). Christians need to study and model their own lives on what Georgia Harkness calls the way of life exemplified and taught by Jesus, applied to the manifold problems and decisions of human existence. (Christian Ethics, 1957 – from web). But Christians are also required to behave in accordance with their belonging, to behave in accordance with the teachings of their church. The issue of conscience versus command has been controversial throughout Christian history.
Many Hindus call their faith sanatana dharma, everlasting dharma. They see Hinduism as a personal map of appropriate behaviour -behaviour which will eliminate mental impurities like greed and egoism and achieve good karma , behaviour which corresponds to the cosmic order in which natural law is grounded. The basic Vedic virtues include truthfulness, nonviolence, austerity, self-control, tranquillity, study and teaching, sincere worship, universal brotherhood and wisdom. These apply to all human beings, but particular behaviours may be required of the five castes and at each of the four stages of life.
The precepts or rules of Buddhism are largely negative, urging restraint from the desires which lead to suffering. So Buddhist teaching on behaving focuses on training to avoid and overcome these desires. A mind that is trained avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse. The Buddhist text, the Perfection of Wisdom in 8,000 Lines lists 'the six perfections of a Bodhisattva' - the perfection of giving, the perfection of morality, the perfection of patience, the perfection of persistence, the perfection of concentration and the perfection of wisdom.
In traditional Judaism, 'becoming' is about becoming a better person in this life, not about the next life. The next life is best left in God's hands. The reward of good behaving is a longer and better life, rather than the promise of an after-life But, by the Rabbinic period, the resurrection of the dead had become central tenet of Judaism, even if, for many traditional Jews, personal transformation in this life through repentance and commitment to the will of God remained the foundation of the Jewish faith.
In Islam, believing, belonging and behaving become a transformational experience. The self is made fit for paradise, the ultimate reward for those who believe. Three key passages in the Qur'an outline the successive stages. The nafs, the self, which is naturally prone to evil (Q. 12.53), becomes self-accusing (Q. 75.2); in this second stage the self becomes conscious of evil and resists it, asks Al'lah for pardon and reaches for salvation. In the third stage, the soul asks no more than to be at rest in Al'lah (Q. 89.27).
Christians believe that, in some way, their belief in Christ and in his mission as the bearer of salvation transform them into a new person, in mind and spirit, if not in body. The key Scripture is in the Gospel according to John, which quotes Jesus as telling a Jewish teacher that the people of God are not identified by their race, but by their commitment to God - 'Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being reborn of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3.5-6)
In the traditions of Indian religion, rebirth after death is a fundamental teaching, and the desire to achieve a good rebirth, based on good karma in this life, is the reason for following the prescribed rituals and patterns of behaviour. So behaving determines becoming. Rebirth may be in many forms, including those of animals, and in many heavens and hells. Rebirth as a human is rare, and marks release from samsara, the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Two core teachings of Buddhism come together in its doctrine of rebirth – the reality of impermanence and the law of cause and effect. All human beings are caught up in samsara, transmigration, the continuous process of birth, death and rebirth. If they fail to practice the dharma in this life, on or after death they will be reborn in one of the six realms of existence – the realm of hell beings or the realm of hungry ghosts, or the realm of animals (the three unfortunate realms), or perhaps in the realm of human beings, the realm of the demigods or the realm of the gods.
The Four Bs does appear to provide a new framework for comparing and contrasting the main traditions of institutional religion, perhaps of all religious traditions. They appear to have major differences in two Bs, believing and becoming, but a good deal in common in belonging and behaving. The more I read and speak with teachers of the major faiths, the more the differences become significant. Yet the beliefs and behaviours of religious people generally are so different from dominant secular beliefs and values that people of faith might be seen as forming a sub-culture within globalising world culture. The Melbourne scholar Ken Gelder argues that
'subcultures are social, with their own shared conventions, values and rituals, but they can also seem "immersed" or self-absorbed; a feature that distinguishes them from countercultures'.
- Ken Gelder Subcultures: cultural histories and social practice 2007 p2.
Simply by believing in the numinous in any form, and belonging to a religious group, and behaving in accordance with religious teaching and becoming a better person as a result may make what believers have in common much more significant than anything that separates them. Already there are signs that religious believers, whatever their faith allegiance, are willing to stand together, both against the excesses of a dominantly secular society and the excesses of religious fundamentalism.
Dr Douglas Golding is a post-doctoral research scholar of the sociology of religion living in Sydney, Australia. He has taken part in many inter-faith discussions and given papers at a number of international conferences - in Oxford, Tokyo, Stockholm, Manila, Auckland and Tehran as well as in Sydney. He is currently teaching adult education classes in religion and history at two universities and working on his book on the 'Four Bs'.