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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

24 October 2018: Geoff Pilliner, Petersfield Quaker Meeting

Agreeing to disagree

Soon it will be Bonfire Night. Nothing to do with faith, I hear you say, but just an opportunity to see some fireworks, have some fun, and perhaps burn off some accumulated rubbish. And why not? Why not indeed.

Historically, Bonfire night did have religious significance. In Lewes in East Sussex it still does: a massive torchlight procession in the town precedes burning an effigy of the Pope on an enormous bonfire. It marks one of the clashes between Catholics and Protestants, when in 1605 Guy Fawkes and his Catholic confederates tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in the gunpowder plot. So Bonfire Night used to be a celebration of both religious and political intolerance. These days, Catholics and Protestants talk to one another, work with one another, recognise that they have a lot in common. Something has changed for the better.

But the religious intolerance, and the political intolerance, demonstrated on both sides by the gunpowder plot and many other conflicts of the Seventeenth Century, are still very much with us. Think of the Arab/Israeli differences. Think of the confrontations over foxhunting. Think of North Korea. Think of the fight for equality for women, or for Lesbian and Gay rights. Think of Brexit. Wherever polarisation of opinion into two camps occurs, intolerance flourishes. And intolerance in any form is not part of Christian faith, or any other true faith.

Christians are encouraged to love one another, to turn the other cheek, to be a good neighbour to those you would dislike. The Quaker booklet ‘Advices and Queries’ includes this sentence: ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’. You might not be mistaken, but recognising the possibility of being mistaken is the first step away from intolerance into dialogue and resolution of differences.


St Mary's, Buriton are holding the first of a series of Taize Services on Sunday 28 October at 6:00 pm - all are welcome.

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