Thursday, 20 June 2013

Religion, Class & Nationality

“The sort of families who are involved in Guiding and have the money to do it are Christian anyway, and those families with no money and on benefits don’t give a shit about Guiding anyway!”

“We need to stop pandering to people with other religions, they need to show respect for our religion and culture. They need to learn to live here, or go back home. And Guiding is such an English thing, why would they be interested anyway?”

These are the views of my Unit Leader, who is well known in our area for her strong opinions and rather blunt phrasing. Most of us have learnt just to shrug our shoulders and let her get on with it, but I’ve noticed that this is actually a more common attitude amongst Leaders than I originally thought.

You see, it all seems to centre on the idea that religion is based upon class and nationality. It isn’t.

M tried to argue that only the well off can afford to give up their Sunday for church, and do so for social status rather than a love of God. This may happen in some areas, but I would argue that this is not the core group of Christians. In all the churches I have been part of, the congregations have been full of vibrant, enthusiastic individuals searching for fellowship and support in their journey with God.

God has never been picky about wealth. After all, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (something so important and fundamental to teaching that it is reported in the gospel according to Luke, Matthew and Mark. Three times!). Those with wealth are often too focused on their Earthly goods, and not on the riches of heaven (and so are many of us less rich people too, I must admit!). And is Christianity really about attendance at church, or is it about leading life as a follower of Christ, with your Lord at the centre?

Are all atheists living in abject poverty, as M suggested? I doubt Richard Dawkins is that badly off, though my lovely teacher friend would probably agree that she could do with a little more money! And what about those who follow Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism or Judaism?

Spiritual belief is a personal journey. Some religions, due to the values that they practice and develop, will lead their followers to certain jobs or to do those jobs in certain ways. Those that think outside the self are more inclined to vocational work, for example. But vocational professions are not necessarily well paid, nor badly paid – it depends entirely on which is being discussed.

An interesting survey in 2009 found that, in fact, the majority of theists came from “lower socio-economic grades” whereas the majority of atheists were from wealthier backgrounds. I am dubious to accept this without looking at the raw data, but find it interesting that the opposite of the national stereotype appears to be true.

As for nationality and religion being intrinsically linked, exposure to a religion in culture does affect one’s beliefs, but this is not the sole cause of spiritual belief, nor is it right to assume that all people of non-Christian belief come from other countries.

A survey by Faith Matters, for example, estimates that approximately 5000 people in Britain convert to Islam each year and the 2011 census records 1.2 million muslims born in the UK. The new British Sikh report shows that 50% of Sikhs in Britain consider themselves to be “British Sikhs” and a further 15.6% and 2% to be English and Scottish Sikhs respectively.

Interestingly, the religion that has had the biggest “boost” due to migration is Christianity, rather than any of the others, and the least “ethnically diverse” group was those who answered “no religion” in the census!
Of course, there is a third issue in M’s quote, which (knowing the demographic of those reading) probably doesn’t need addressing, but I will for the sake of clarity.

Girlguiding welcomes girls and young women from all backgrounds. Not just all religions, but regardless of financial circumstances. Despite what some Leaders will tell you, Guiding wear is not a requirement for membership and we would rather have girls in our units than put off by an expense. Despite what some Leaders will tell you, if there are difficult circumstances, we have access to grants both within the organisation and in the local community. Guiding is not about money, it’s about access to new experiences and opportunities and the development of the individual.

I’ve heard several Leaders threatening to quit and close their units whilst spouting this sort of hatred. As much as I would hate to see girls lose out as a result of this, and despise seeing units close, I think that the Leaders in question DO need to re-assess what Girlguiding is, what it means to them and whether they really are capable of delivering the sort of equality and development that has always been expected of them.


  1. Agree!

    I've had, over the course of my Guiding career, Brownies with no money, Brownies with millionaire parents, Brownies who are Christian, Bahai, Wiccan, and of no faith at all, republicans and monarchists, and everything in between.

    In the end, they're all girls, just trying to figure out who they are in the world.

  2. Thanks for the response. I just hope the current disgruntled leaders have the maturity to realise this truth about the universality of being a girl!