Humanism Now

17. Jeremy Rodell on the Art of Interfaith Dialogue

February 18, 2024 Humanise Live Season 1 Episode 17
17. Jeremy Rodell on the Art of Interfaith Dialogue
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Humanism Now
17. Jeremy Rodell on the Art of Interfaith Dialogue
Feb 18, 2024 Season 1 Episode 17
Humanise Live

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Welcome back to Humanism Now. This we learn practical tips for engaging in good faith dialogues with people of different beliefs with expert insight from Jeremy Rodell, Director of Humanist UK's Dialogue Network and our regular panellists Lola & Nicole.

Episode references:
Humanists UK: Exploring Common Ground, Dialogue with others
Humanists UK: Dialogue Training Application

About Jeremy Rodell:
🎀 Humanists UK Interview
🐦 @jeremyr1
πŸ“Œ South West London Humanists

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CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Welcome back to Humanism Now. This we learn practical tips for engaging in good faith dialogues with people of different beliefs with expert insight from Jeremy Rodell, Director of Humanist UK's Dialogue Network and our regular panellists Lola & Nicole.

Episode references:
Humanists UK: Exploring Common Ground, Dialogue with others
Humanists UK: Dialogue Training Application

About Jeremy Rodell:
🎀 Humanists UK Interview
🐦 @jeremyr1
πŸ“Œ South West London Humanists

Support the Show.

Support us on Patreon

Click here to submit questions, nominate guest & topics or sponsor the show.

Follow Humanism Now @HumanismNowPod
X (Twitter)
YouTube
Instagram
TikTok

Follow Central London Humanists @LondonHumanists
Centrallondonhumanists.org.uk
Meetup
Facebook
X (Twitter)
YouTube

CLH are an official partner group of Humanists UK and an associate member of Humanists International

James Hodgson:

Hello and welcome back to Humanism. Now the podcast from the Central London Humanists. I'm your host, james. This week we're delighted to be joined by Jeremy Rodel, who is the coordinator for Humanist UK's Dialogue Network, and to preview that interview. We're going to be talking all about what is interfaith dialogue with some of our regular guests here on the podcast. So I'm delighted to welcome back, lola. Good to see you again. Hi, james, good to see you. And from Lester Humanists, nicole.

Nicole Shasha:

Hello, lovely to be here again.

James Hodgson:

Thank you both for joining us Now. We did have a prepared icebreaker question, but we're going to have to shelve that one this week because we were interrupted by Nicole's cat who delayed the recording today's episode. So we thought we'd ask what was the name of your first pet growing up, nicole? Why don't you introduce us to the cat that's joining us for the recording and also any other pets that you had growing up?

Nicole Shasha:

Yes, so my current cat is called Hanji and she's a delight she's gone over there but she might make an appearance later on the video. But she's great. But my first pets were also a pair of cats called Tuli and Shah. Mostly being a joke, that they're both different variations of just the word cat in different languages, which you know when you're a child, is very amusing.

James Hodgson:

That's very creative, and Hanji is quite a unique name as well. Can you talk us through that one?

Nicole Shasha:

That is actually I'm going to out myself as a nerd. It's a reference to Attack on Titan, which is a really good anime that's just ended. I would really recommend it. If anyone says too much about it, it's just one of the best shows I've ever seen, and I won't spoil why she's called that name, but I think it works well. It just sounds nice as well, even for those who aren't a big nerds Fantastic.

James Hodgson:

I think just by appearing on this podcast, you've been outed as a nerd already. And Lola, how about yourself? Do you have any pets currently? And then, what were your first pets growing up?

Lola Tinubu:

No, I don't have it currently, but when I was growing up we had all sorts of animals. We had goats, gander, we had goats, we had dogs and then we had cats. Like Nicole, my favorite was the cat and my favorite cat we had I can't remember about six, seven cats, but my favorite of them all Her name was Express, because my dad found him on the Express on the road and we had it for a long time. My sister, my younger sister, you know, back at home we carried babies on the back, so my sister would carry it on the back and it was the baby of the family. Yes, I love, I'm a huge fan of cats. I just love them.

James Hodgson:

Oh, that's so sweet that they were carried around like that as well. Well, thank you both, and for me I, the family, had a dog until quite recently, but growing up first pet that we had was actually a tortoise, which was quite unique growing up in rural Cambridge here and they are more effort than you think to look after them, transitions between hibernation and also their annoying ability to tunnel under the fences as well. So that was interesting as a pet growing up.

Nicole Shasha:

Being really jealous of all the kids that got exotic pets when I was a kid. So I would have been very envious of your tortoise when.

James Hodgson:

I was a child. Yeah, I don't know how exotic they were. To be honest, I mean, what did you sort of you know get used to these are? They're pretty boring, but you know, it was nice, as always, to have pets around. Thank you once again for joining us this week. Now, the reason for inviting you both on this week's episode is I know you've both been involved in some format in formal, structured interfaith dialogue, which is what we're here to talk about today, and, as mentioned, we're going to hear from Jeremy Rodel, who leads Humanist UK's efforts on that. So I think, before we start, it might just be useful to provide a bit of a definition of what we mean by interfaith dialogue. Nicole, I know you've been working with Jeremy on some of the programs, so how would you define dialogue to someone who's coming to it for the first time?

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, so I'd say. I mean it can take many forms, but in its kind of most, the one that would reply to all things is any sort of structured activity that has two or more faiths and beliefs and when you're having some sort of engagement with the things that you might both agree with and the things you might disagree with Quite different to a debate. I think that's what a lot of people think it might end up being, Whereas, as Good humanist, realize that people are allowed to have a different opinion and we shouldn't. The aim shouldn't be winning or like it's an argument. It should be an interesting exploration of your similarities and differences.

James Hodgson:

Yes, so very good points there. And, lola, when we are, or when you've been, engaged in these interfaith events in the past, what are the typical Areas and topics that might be covered when we're getting these the different groups together?

Lola Tinubu:

Usually we will have maybe specific issues. It could be, for example, on abortion we didn't shy from serious Talking about in a confronting in our serious issues, so it could be about abortion, it could be about even things like life after death and then, as as Nicole Said, it's not about debating, it's about understanding. You know what do people believe and Also we. I think what is left out sometimes out of discussion on religion is culture. So, like with then different religion, you have Different cultures and different approach. You know within the same religion, so we will talk about this. You know cultural differences and how different cultures affect how different religions are applied, or practice.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, I think that cultural point is is really important and again, that really speaks to how we can better Understand each other by understanding and respecting culture for sure. So I wanted, in your experience, what have been the significant benefits that can be achieved when we're getting groups of religious groups with Non-religious people together for these interfaith dialogue, dialogue Events. Nicole, what, what have you found to be the most beneficial Elements for you personally and for others in the group?

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, I think that one big thing and it's not necessarily that I needed a reminder of this, but it's always nice to have a living one is and I think it's certainly for other people is the, the realization that we're not all that different. We might have a really different belief on the nature of the world and on spirituality and our lives might be very different. You know, if someone is and their religious and they're always going to their Place of worship and kind of their life revolves around that, we might Jump to think that our lives are incredibly different and that we're just incredibly different people and of course we might be in some ways. But the reminder that we're all human beings and that we all like Mostly the same things and we all kind of want the same things Somebody who's very religious might come at it from a very different way from me as a humanist, but they might end up doing quite similar things with their lives and it's just really nice to have that living Reminder that what we have in common is there's far more that we have in common and that's much more important than the things that we disagree with.

Nicole Shasha:

And also the realization that you can. You can disagree with someone Politely and then completely get on with them in every other manner. I think that, especially with you know the polarization of Things in the last decade or two, and with the internet with as this idea, that's like no someone has to agree with you 100% or you shouldn't interact with them, and it's course. Of course you still might have some lines that you like. I don't really want to engage with this person in, but I think it's a big, big reminder, for even things that aren't into faith is like we are allowed to politely disagree with the people that we like and get on with, and it's fine, it's nice to have different opinions.

James Hodgson:

I Couldn't agree more. Well, I probably should, after what you've said, that I probably should find something to disagree on. Unfortunately, I do agree with that point 100%. Yeah, it's, it's really yeah, understanding that you can have different alliances agree on some points, disagree in other areas, and, and you know that that is an antidote to tribalism, isn't it really so? Yeah, and and in your experience, lola, what have you found to be most beneficial?

Lola Tinubu:

I think one thing I learned when I came to the UK. One of the things that you, you know, you hear is, you know, british people are very polite, therefore they don't like to talk about politics and really done those two things. And Then it becomes a very sensitive thing and then it becomes, you know, a no-go area and it puts barrier between people. I've I'm very much British in whatever, whatever that means. You know how I feel. You know I feel British enough and Nigerian enough and the Nigerian, you know, part of me pushes, pushes that, you know, pushes me to Want to go into that you know no go area that you know it's not that sensitive. The reason why is the part I come from in Nigeria, the southwest and part where Not nearly it's not, I think, 55 Muslims, 45% Christian. So in one family you will have, you know, your grandmother been Muslim, the married to a Christian and then a traditionally, so you have everybody in the same family and then we will celebrate each other's, you know, a religious festival. So I grew up with that, so it's a very comfort. So I didn't understand that sensitivity and you know it's been a pleasure like, through the central London, human being involved in, you know, interface, dialogue and then confronting that sensitivity, and when you, what to try?

Lola Tinubu:

The question is Religious religion or, you know, if you're not religious, whatever you believe defines you a lot. So, and we are living together in one country, in one, you know, in one community. How are we not going to talk about what defines us? Because what defines us influence? You know Our policies, you know how we think about policies of our different think about Different issues. We live together, we work together and thankfully, you know we are even. You know we are in relationship, romantic, family relationship with each other. You know we live together. How are we not going to talk about these things? And that is the beauty of interface, you know, talking about it doesn't mean that, you know, and, as Nicole says, it's not about the people that are in the same community, it's not about the bed. It's about understanding each other, is it about sharing with each other and sometimes in dialogues, you know, you can confront difficult issues and see, you know, how do we find common ways of moving on.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, that's a really fascinating point. It almost, by making these topics to boo to talk about, makes them more difficult in the long run, and we need to lean into, just as you say, being able to at least address our differences. Talk about them doesn't have to engage in debate, but we have to create the forums where we can respectfully engage and disagree in order to learn and to live together. So thank you for that and I'm wondering, based on that, with your personal experience being involved in interpath dialogue, is there anything that stood out for you as potentially Some of this either particularly challenging or an area where you really took away a great deal of learning and maybe challenged your assumptions? Let's put it that way, lola, is there anything for you from being involved in the London Humanist Group where you felt like you were able to gain a new insight?

Lola Tinubu:

Okay, in terms of insight, that one is a difficult thing, because the reason why is I still, you know, even though I'm no longer religious, I'm so very much interested in religion, learning about religion. So I still read about religion, I still listen to discussions around religion, lessons about religion, because I still want to understand, you know, I want to understand humanity, how we think. So you know, but I'm just going to talk about one experience that I had when we were doing the dialogue with Muslims. You know, it was between central and London, humanist members and Muslims, and we went to this place in North London, to this beautiful mosque in North London, and we had to get that. We spent the whole day there and they knew who we are, you know who we were, that we were non-believers and it was just. It was almost like I was in a pre-remade of a kind. You know, the building was beautiful. You know the architecture and then the art there and everything it was. So, you know, it's been over 10 years, I can't remember exactly when it happened, but I still remember it and sometimes, when I'm in the bus passing by, you know, it brings me, you know, lovely memories, and what that means is when we talk, we connect on an emotional level as well, and that does something to us in terms of, you know we're always talking about unity. You know we're always talking which also connects with you know, over time, you know peaceful, you know engagement with each other, tolerance, and you know and if I can use the word, love, yes, what you taught on.

Lola Tinubu:

You mentioned challenge, and that is the one I also want to talk about, and the challenge is, I think one has to be. I need to make a confession here because if somebody is listening to what I'm saying now, it may not represent what I've been in the past and some of the things that I've said in the past. I've been on a journey when I left religion. I've gone through different and I keep evolving. It's a journey and I think the journey continues.

Lola Tinubu:

I think where I am growing into now is this conversation with everyone in terms of religious beliefs. Even the political belief is still difficult, or even that to just be able to listen. The challenge listening is very challenging. It's not that easy.

Lola Tinubu:

Sometimes people will say things that you disagree with fundamentally and you will have that urge to start, and then you know one has to go into dialogue knowing that nobody believes something, nobody holds a view, and we'll talk about it if they don't really think it is true. So you start with that, and then it is not, and then they urge not to want to convert somebody to your view. I think, as Bimanis, one of the things that we promote is reasoning over emotions, and beliefs can be emotional. You know what we believe, sometimes we hold, you know, so close to our heart. So when we are going into dialogue, you have to manage your emotions and feelings and not to allow the urge to take over and you want to just say actually, you know, it's very, very tempting, it is still a struggle, I'm not going to lie. It is still a struggle, but I think I'm maturing on that journey and I'm, you know it's something that I will always be mindful of.

James Hodgson:

Thank you, so much wisdom in there as well. Yeah, I think there's always more to learn and there's always something that can be gained by these conversations, and we're all on a journey, whether we like to acknowledge it or not. Nicole, for you, what's anything that stands out as either particularly challenging or an insight that you've gleaned?

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, I think that the main thing that I've well, there's actually so many, I think of it one big thing is that when you meet someone of a specific religion or faith, it's very easy to assume that their beliefs are monolithic with other Christians or Muslims or wherever it is that you might have met, and even within that, within different religious sects or things like that and denominations. But it's a realisation that that's not really true and some people might have some beliefs within that that I would have thought would clash with their main religion or their main belief, but they clearly well, at least they've interpreted it as a not, or they might directly say like, oh no, I don't believe in this thing that all Christians or whatever it is, believe, and I think that's been a really interesting thing to how people make kind of religion their own and what they do genuinely believe. And it's a good lesson when you're not even doing interfaith dialogue than from that is just not. Someone might say I'm a blah or I believe blah. Don't assume what that all means. You can ask them and find out like, okay, what do you mean by that? And then that can also help from extending from that dismantling quite like harmful and horrible ideas not related to interfaith.

Nicole Shasha:

But if someone says, oh, I'm this, then you like, if you really get to grips and understand where they're coming from and why they believe that and what they actually believe, then you can start talking to them about it, whereas if you just assume something, then you won't have any meaningful engagement.

Nicole Shasha:

And I suppose that leads me on to we were talking about kind of challenges and things that are difficult In some scenarios. It is quite difficult if you do come across someone who does say something that is a bit unpleasant. You know, in any scenario you might have someone that has a very different opinion to you in something that we fundamentally disagree with. But I think, like Lola was saying, kind of trying to take the emotion out of it and trying to be trying really understand where they've got there and what it means to them. And then you know, maybe sometimes it won't be that productive, but we can. We can only work on ourselves and what we believe in, how we react to that, rather than immediately jumping to absolute anger if someone says something that we very emotionally disagree with.

James Hodgson:

Really try to go with, without any assumptions of what someone might believe, and also defining your terms, making sure that if someone is using a term, that you both have a shared understanding of what is meant, because that's often how we end up talking past each other. Yes, and finally, avoiding an emotive response, and it comes back to what Lola was saying really truly listening to where the person is coming from, listening to the points and encountering the points, rather than perhaps responding to the emotional reaction that that point might make. And I guess, just finally, before we move on to the interview with Jeremy, what tips would you have to anyone looking to start or structure a dialogue, really on any topic doesn't have to be into faith. Perhaps it could be on politics or another sensitive issue. If you wanted to structure a positive, good faith dialogue, anything you would recommend for structuring good faith dialogue?

Lola Tinubu:

I think, before the dialogue itself happens, I think, some groundwork. So if whichever group you want to engage with, or maybe if it's multi, I think it's a good idea to have a meeting and then discuss what do other people want to get out of it, why are they doing it? Just start with what do they want to get out of it and then to have a kind of it may be formal or informal, it depends on. If you want to have an ongoing forum, you may want to agree on certain, you know, maybe conduct. So a lot of things have to be agreed upon before you start. And then to have a moderator, someone who will be sensitive and anyone who will be involved should agree to.

Lola Tinubu:

I can be pulled over, you know, because we're all human beings.

Lola Tinubu:

You know we have certain tendencies, you know our emotions are still, you know, very much part of us, so that if someone is going beyond what we've agreed to or it's behaving in any particular way to, just so that we have a moderator. So it's different things put in place. Moderator. Also, you know if we are going to have an event to discuss ahead, you know, to be specific, what do we want to discuss so that everybody you know they think about, you know what they are going to talk about, and then you may have a moderator that will also organize, that will have a feel of what people are going to talk about ahead until the group. So if it's, for example, if you are going to have a forum that will be ongoing until the group you know, gets to each other and they know each other's character, they know each other's temperament, so, yes, so a lot of background work to be done before it starts and you know somebody that will be moderating it and managing managing everyone, I think.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, no very good point, I think again that's that's possibly something that's lost in the modern way in which we go about engaging in these debates is that people kind of lunge in to respond to something they've seen online. But doing that groundwork, but also being aware of your boundaries, I think is really important so that you can go in, you know, not concerned that one of those lines is going to be crossed, or at least knowing that someone will step in if they are. Nicole, anything you dad.

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, I mean, everything Lola said was absolutely great.

Nicole Shasha:

And I think I'd add that and it kind of fits in with the groundwork that you were talking about is the realization that some of the best conversations or elements of things you might get out of it are kind of in the unofficial bit.

Nicole Shasha:

Let's say, you've got some structured discussion or whatever it is, but then what you might find is that you know, and you're just having a cup of tea with someone before or after that, in that casual chat you kind of get a lot more, because it's a lot more relaxed and the pressure's off in a way and people are a lot more. They're just you know, they're being a person, and then you can find out really interesting things about people and and what like, how they are just as a person, outside of their religion or their belief. Obviously it all, like you know, feeds in together, because that is it, but the air just that, every part is important. It's not that, oh, this is the formal bit and then I'm just going to leave. So no, it's all part of it and how we all get to properly know each other and properly have those meaningful discussions.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, absolutely. I think I think there is a safety tapping that structure, there's a security that's provided to everyone. But also, I think what you're talking about there is is rapport. You know that's that's not just engage. Right, this is our set time to talk about this very emotive topic. Let's actually build some rapport around the topic as well. Well, Lola Nicole, thank you so much for your insights on that. There will be some training on interfaith dialogue, which is being organized by Humanist UK, and I'm delighted to say that our interview this week is with the coordinator for the dialogue network, Jeremy Rodel. So here is our interview with Jeremy, talking all about how to get involved with the dialogue network.

James Hodgson:

Jeremy Rodel is a volunteer who leads the Humanist UK's dialogue network. The dialogue network brings people together from different humanist communities so they can facilitate better conversations with those of religious faith from different and diverse backgrounds and hope to find common ground. This work builds bridges, develops mutual understanding and promotes tolerance and good relationships throughout our communities. Jeremy, thank you very much for joining us on humanism now. Pleased to be here. So, as mentioned, I know you work as a volunteer with Humanist UK and you switched from a distinguished career in business, so what made you want to join Humanist UK and lead the dialogue network and become the well, become Humanist UK's dialogue officer. Well, thank you for joining us, Jeremy. I know you previously had a business career and currently working in this, as you mentioned, in a volunteer role with Humanist UK as a dialogue officer. I would be interested to know why you chose to make that transition and what is the responsibilities of the dialogue officer.

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, it wasn't really a transition. I got involved in humanism while I was before I retired, a long time ago, and after I had humanist wedding, by the way, which I didn't know anything about humanism until after that point Anyway. And I got involved and then started the South West London Humanist South. So it was a gradual transition and basically it wasn't a transition from work. It was basically removing work just gave me more time to do other stuff and this is one of the things I was doing.

Jeremy Rodell:

And at the time I got involved in humanism and when we started the local group up, which was in 2007, it was at the height of the Richard Dawkins God Delusion, you know new atheism movement and though that had a lot of positive things about it, it raised the profile of other things and obviously I agree with the you know arguments deployed in the God delusion, although some of them are a little bit questionable.

Jeremy Rodell:

What I didn't feel comfortable was was these very aggressive and anti-religiosity of the New Atheists. I thought that they were that wasn't necessarily behaving in a humanistic type of way. So that's what really started me going and started getting an interest in in this, this area. And then, a number of years later, you know, and we'd have there had been an up. There always have been some dialogue activities and I was very interested in it. And then Andrew Cops and then the chief executive of humanist UK was then BHA said well, why don't you take on the dialogue officer role? There was somebody doing it before me who was stopped doing it. So I sort of added it to my portfolio voluntary things that I'm doing. So that's how it, how it all worked.

James Hodgson:

That's great, yeah, and I definitely think a highlighting the more aggressive tone of the, the New Atheist movement is often one of the criticisms and one of the reluctancies that people have with coming to humanism. So I think it's it's some people like that and other others see it as unnecessarily antagonistic. So I think it's. It's definitely a positive contribution to the movement. So how do you differentiate between dialogue and debate, especially when it comes to facilitating conversations between people of different beliefs and different backgrounds?

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, I think this is an important distinction, but it's not a difficult one really. So when we think of debate, we tend to think of, you know, a classical. You know debating society at school or the Oxford union or something which is you have two sides and they state their case and they're trying to win and you're listening to the other side in order to find a chink in their armor and you can get your killer point in, you know, and sway the audience. In practice, of course, is not often anyone is swayed in the audience, but anyway, that's that's the idea of a classical debate. Dialogue isn't like that. So dialogue doesn't have a winner or a loser.

Jeremy Rodell:

The idea of dialogue is you're there to understand the other person, to to help them understand where you're coming from, and often you can disagree. Disagreement, of course, is fine. In fact, you can argue that if you don't disagree, then you're. You know you're missing something in the discussion, but it's a two-word discussion and you're not aiming to win. You're not aiming to enter a discussion with a Muslim and for them to leave the room having seen the light and becoming becoming humanists. That isn't going to happen, nor is it the other way around. So that's the idea Dialogue not debate. Actually, that phrase dialogue not debate was something we stole from an organization called the Faith and Belief Forum, which does a lot of work in this. The series doesn't mean to say that debate isn't important and useful, and sometimes, of course, things which are builders. Debates can be conducted in a sort of a dialogue manner and term. Debate is good for getting people in the room in the first place, but the distinction when we say dialogue not debate is about adversarial versus non adversarial.

James Hodgson:

Yes, that makes makes a lot of sense, thank you, and thank you for the distinction. So would it be fair to say, then, that there's different objectives and successes, defined differently with where you're seeking to change minds? Here, it's about seeking greater understanding for everybody involved.

Jeremy Rodell:

Yeah Well, you, of course, are seeking to change minds, in that you're hoping to change the person's mind in their understanding about you, about your humanism and your. Maybe you hopefully leave having learned something yourself, so, but you're not aiming to change people's fundamental worldviews, I suppose that's. That's the thing. You're not, you're not intending to do that. In fact, that is an issue, because if you're coming from a background where you think you know your aim is to convert people for an evangelical, proselytizing background, as some people in Christianity do, some Muslims do, some humanists do actually Then obviously that's a bit of a problem, because a sort of unwritten big rule in this area is you don't do that. You're not there to convert anybody. You know it's very bad form to try and do that. So you're asking those people to sort of switch off something where they think I'm going to save you by bringing you to Jesus. Well, sorry, that's not part of the game here. You know you're not expecting them to do it.

James Hodgson:

Yes, I imagine it's very important to set those ground rules early on, that everybody enters with an understanding of what we're aiming to achieve and and I guess some some shared common boundaries and areas of respect.

Jeremy Rodell:

Yeah, yeah, and it's not difficult. Most people have that understanding anyway. You know it's not a difficult thing, but you know it can be important to state that, and I remember hearing somebody actually I reformed Jewish speakers, or she was a rabbi, and she said that you know, one of the things that makes a lot of Jewish people very cautious about dialogue is because, throughout history, most of the time other people talk to them is in order to try and convert them to Christianity. Yeah, that's been the agenda, and so you know you understand a little bit cautious about it. So so you got to be careful about. The sad thing about that, though, is it means that some people choose not to engage because they'll say, well, if I can't share my profound view that you really want to come to Jesus, then you know what's the point in getting involved.

James Hodgson:

So, yeah, that's another issue. So encouraging dialogue and people to be more open to it is very important as well. Yes, so I'm wondering are there any particular examples of particular successes that you've encountered, or a very challenging situation which turned into a success in your life, in your experience?

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, yeah, I think when you say that it's very obviously, the difficulty in this area is measurement. You can't measure success, really, because this is quite a sort of soft thing, but I think that you can. I mean, I think actually of an example which is something that Central London Humanists did a number of years ago now, and some of your colleagues will remember, which was a series of meetings with some Muslim group and which took place in various places. So I think the first one was in Room and Conway Hall and another one was in the boardroom at Central London Mosque in Regent Park and that was interesting because we did some, because you get to know people over a series of meetings and you've eaten with them, but that was one of the things that came out about. Food is very important in building your relationship. You could get under the surface of things and understand people, and I thought that was obviously. We disagreed on the fundamentals, but that was a successful thing. I think.

Jeremy Rodell:

Where things are difficult, I always find saying no very difficult, and we have had to say no a few times because sometimes you've got to be a little bit careful that people don't try and exploit you.

Jeremy Rodell:

You can have had a couple of cases where people have invited humanists to the UK to be involved in dialogue work where, when you look at their background, it was quite clear that they were extremely hardline and were not in the business of listening to anybody at all.

Jeremy Rodell:

That would have benefited from the fact that, oh yeah, we are actually really very open people and that we've even had these humanists on one of our panels. And you've got to be a bit cautious about that. Sincerity is very important in this area and if you think somebody's in sincere, then that's a red line, I think, and you also. Sometimes there are. It's quite rare, but, as we've implied in this conversation, there's a spectrum of views among humanists in this area. Some people are very anti-theist and often for very good personal reasons. That we have a spectrum, same as the faith scripts too, and sometimes it hasn't happened often, but we have one or two cases where people have sought to get involved in dialogue and join a network because they wanted to tell religious people where they were wrong and they had that motivation, which obviously is fine to have it, but dialogue isn't the place for it.

James Hodgson:

So it's not helpful and it's not particularly productive.

Jeremy Rodell:

So we have to say no to those people, but they're very, very important.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, that makes sense. And I can also bring it back to your point earlier on about the new atheists. I mean, it is always the people who are sort of most famous for their atheism, that kind of people, you know, those who don't understand humanists and she said the range of views that people might hold. They'll just see those who are most outspoken or most infamous for their non-theistic views and go, well, that's potentially the atheist or the humanist view. So yes, again, another reason for more open dialogue.

Jeremy Rodell:

Exactly, yes, yes, I mean the number of you know. You do still encounter people who expect you say you're a humanist, they expect you to have a you know, expect you to be Richard Hawkins in different ways. Yes, it's important not to you know, to to emphasize this spectrum. There are, you know, a lot of people who do have that view, including Richard Hawkins, and you've got to respect that view and that's fine. I just don't share it, though I obviously agree with his arguments, that about the non-existence of a deity that's a different mind.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, and I think, in general, we've seen a lot more or I've certainly seen a lot more literature in the past few years around constructing or creating constructive conversations more broadly. That you know taking it out just talking about faith, I think you know the polarization that we've seen people having much stronger. You know identity views as well, and so I think it'd be interesting to understand or get some tips for you in terms of some of the strategies that you recommend to implement to facilitate constructive conversations where there may be quite a considerable difference of opinion.

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, I think the question is, where do you get involved in that in the first place?

Jeremy Rodell:

Of course, as I said before, if you've got, if you're somebody's wanting to engage with you for another, for an ulterior motive, then, you know, be very cautious.

Jeremy Rodell:

Most people are not like that and I think the you know we're humanists and the important thing here is engaging with people on a human level.

Jeremy Rodell:

And if you need to be cautious and I remember doing some dialogue with a local Catholic group here near where I live, which followed a big campaign about a Catholic school which I was very heavily involved in and was very controversial it was about the new school with 100% faith-based admissions policy, which we obviously didn't like and we agreed, after the dust has settled, to try and have a conversation and it was very successful. But the first thing we did with that was to have a conversation. We actually got an outside facility though I don't think we really needed it, but we did but it started off by people just talking about their personal lives, you know, about their family or what they did, and it was to humanize, you know, the people in the room before we started talking about the sort of significant issues. So I think that's the way is not to go sort of smack into the controversial area but to talk about your shared humanity in some way. You're posting it.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, that's such a good point and again, I've seen a lot, again, a lot of the literature on this recently build rapport. Find those commonalities that you know humans always all talk about relationships with families, with friends. You know there's going to be so many. We're going to have so many more things in common before you start talking about where we differ.

Jeremy Rodell:

Exactly right. Yeah, yes, and I think.

Jeremy Rodell:

one thing which, when we talk about this, though, comes up and I find a very useful sort of thing to have in the back of my mind is this thing, about values and a couple of years ago there was a professor, linda Woodhead did a series of talks during COVID, so it was all online and her thesis was done for Birmingham University and you can get, just Google them and it's called values of the new religion. So she's a professor of sociology of religion. She's now King's College, aren't she? And this was her thesis. And it wasn't just that point. She was saying what was being replaced by. But essentially what she was saying was that there is, to quite a large degree in our country, a broad set of generally shared liberal with a small L values, and that's actually often the basis. In an unconscious way, you're engaging with other people.

Jeremy Rodell:

Now it doesn't mean say everybody shares those values and obviously around the fringe is often some big differences. But that makes it a lot easier to have those conversations, that often you're finding the people you're talking to. Actually a lot of time you don't have common ground only because of your shared humanity, but also because you have a high percentage of shared values, solid X being one Absolutely, and I guess that provides then a framework from within which you can start to construct.

James Hodgson:

Here's my argument, here's my point of view. This is why I value, or why I would advocate for this model, as opposed to this rule over here based within the framework, whereas I guess, if you had a completely different framework of values that you're operating in, it's gonna be really hard to even engage on a topic.

Jeremy Rodell:

Yes it is yes.

Jeremy Rodell:

So I mean example being. So mostly the people you engage with in this dialogue, they would all agree that freedom of religion or belief is an important thing and obviously it's even the style would very strongly advocate that. But I have had conversations with people who just reject the whole concept of human rights. But I think human rights is not, because the human rights is a human created thing as a concept, actually flow primarily from the post-Second World War, holocaust and all of that and they say, well, why do you need? You don't need that, these are man-made things where we've got a book here which tells us all we need to know. So you know it's quite hard to get past that.

James Hodgson:

Yes, yeah, is that one example where you would say that's probably a boundary with where dialogue would not necessarily be productive.

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, it was productive in the sense that I came away having a better understanding of where that person was coming, because they seemed a very intelligent, pleasant person. But obviously we have an area of profound disagreement and it's quite hard to get past that, yeah.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, is there anything that someone could come to you with and where you would think, actually, that this is kind of not even something, that it's not even worth entertaining? Is there any kind of I guess, that set of values or a viewpoint? That would be just really shut dialogue down straight away.

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, I think you know there are quite a few of those on that. I mean, I think if somebody was advocating, you know, violence or hatred, you know, then I think that's you know, they are your enemy, and so, yeah, I think that is. There's definitely red lines, there are red lines and we shouldn't be merely nerves about that. Sure.

James Hodgson:

Do you think there's any value in trying to, you know, shift someone who holds those types of, you know, very prejudiced views? At least shift them towards away from that, towards a more liberal understanding.

Jeremy Rodell:

I think that's very, very difficult to do. It's rather like people who believe in conspiracy theories. You know you wouldn't, if you just try well, confront them with counterfactuals. All that does is drive them more deeply into the whole. I think all you can do in those cases is to engage at a human level and just say, well, you know, let's not. Can you tell me about your family or what you do for a living? Or you know what you like to go on holiday or something like that, and really just say, well, okay, perhaps you both leave having thought, well, okay, we have a profound disagreement with it, but I recognize that person as a fellow human being and they may, you know, in that sense not be a horrible person. They may just have views I profoundly disagree with.

Jeremy Rodell:

So that's about as far as you can get.

James Hodgson:

Yeah, and for them you hope it's maybe the first crack in quite a hard you know, hard line belief set that may eventually lead to a long-term change of mind. Exactly.

Jeremy Rodell:

Because it's much easier to sustain a hatred or a view that leads to hatred by dehumanizing the other person. Yes, you know the view, yes, and that's very hard to deny when you are confronted with a real person that you can see, all your human instincts are telling you well, this person is not an unreasonable person and they're not trying to kill me, you know. So. I think that's why I think contacts, you know, and the phenology research is so important, you know that can break. Just talking to people, it doesn't really matter what you talk about. In a way that on its own particularly, you know, in difficult times like obviously we're in a period where there's a lot of tension at the moment is really, really important and that can go a long way just because we're human.

James Hodgson:

Absolutely. It does seem to be the bedrock of breaking down, as you say, hatreds. You know, dehumanizing is really the same thing, and if you can force someone to humanize their enemy, yeah, that then becomes very difficult to rationalize that the hatred going forward. So, yeah, it's certainly the bedrock.

Jeremy Rodell:

Obviously sorry. You can't be naive about that. If that person is an enemy and they are trying to destroy everything you value, you know, then you have to fight that. I think we shouldn't be naive about that. But there's also that question about how you fight, and there are a lot of people doing good work in this area, even in conflict areas. You know, just this morning I saw a tweet from you know, a Palestinian Jewish group in Israel, palestine, who are trying to do that. You know, and yeah, you think, well, okay, those are very people, but even in that tough situation but of course I'm not the current situation nobody's listening to them.

James Hodgson:

But yeah, yeah, no, there are some very good examples. I saw as well two fathers from either side of the conflict who both lost children, who've connected and starting a support group in the same way, and I agree, I mean we need more voices like that, and like yours, of course, as well. They were building these bridges. Just before we wrap up, I wonder if there's anything that has surprised you through having these dialogue conversations, or what has surprised you the most through engaging in more interfaith dialogue.

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, I suppose I think one of the things is, once you start talking to them, you realize the huge diversity within every group, and we know about it.

Jeremy Rodell:

Within humanism, actually, it's not enormous. Within humanism, you know, we're quite coherent in terms of our values, except, I think you know we talk about the antithism. But when you start talking to Catholics or Muslims, you realize, gosh, there's a lot of diversity and particularly in the case of Islam, so complicated you know it's so complicated and then that's just the level of which groups people identify with. And then you know individuals within those groups and I found it's very that one of the dangers is thinking, as you said right at the beginning, that the loudest voices that you see online are actually representative of the average. There is no person who represents the average, particularly in Islam, because it's not organized. But even you know Catholicism, you think, well, the Pope represents Catholicism? No, he doesn't. So, yeah, that's the thing I think you've learned is the people. And the more, of course, we've been successful people with a liberal view been successful in educating people to think for themselves, the more diverse to there is 100%.

James Hodgson:

And speaking of education, I know you'll be hosting a couple of training sessions for anyone interested in joining our dialogue network. So what can our listeners expect if they were to sign up? What could they expect again from the training?

Jeremy Rodell:

Well, we do that in two stages. There's the first one, which is the ones I think you're referring to. I think the one 10th of April is one that's still got some spaces available. If you go on the website, that is really just an introduction to dialogue, so it covers some of the things that we've been talking about here. It's the idea behind dialogue. It is a little bit about the sort of techniques of dialogue. Then, for people who actually want to do it more seriously, get involved in it. I mean, dialogue is basically local activity because of what we said, it's that encounter and that happens locally.

Jeremy Rodell:

We do another one which goes into it in a bit more depth, into techniques, and encourages people, and we have a network of people who successfully complete those two parts, which we call the dialogue network. And what you found from the dialogue network how that's done differs enormously in different parts of the country, but we have a network of coincidentally we haven't done over 120 people in it now and we have an online meeting once a quarter and we sort of get together and talk about what's going on. So anyone's interested in this, you don't have to go that far For a lot of people. The thought, the thinking process behind dialogue, and some of the techniques are valuable in the other things they do, like people who are doing pastoral support work, school speakers and celebrants. All of these people are people who encounter people from faith backgrounds, quite often just in the other work they're doing, and therefore that's a useful bit of CPD, even if you don't want to go on to actually spend more time in it as dialogue as such.

James Hodgson:

Definitely, and I think we can all use training and coaching on how to have better and more constructive conversations and be more empathetic and consider it to those that we're discussing with. So thank you, and we will include the links to the upcoming sessions in the show notes. So thank you very much for everything that you do with the network, joey.

Jeremy Rodell:

No thanks, James.

James Hodgson:

Good to talk to you and, just before we go, our standard closing question what's something that you've changed your mind on recently?

Jeremy Rodell:

Audio books Audio books I was rather dismissive of audio books and then somebody encouraged me and said you should give it a go and I sort of signed up to audio book and it's been great and it means I've now read, heard all the books I thought I should do, but I can't get around to reading. Like some of the Victorian classic middle March, I listened to all whatever it was, 37 hours of middle and you think, bloody hell, this is actually a brilliant, brilliant book. Would I have sat down to read it? No, I wouldn't, but read by a really, really good reader. It was fantastic and I've done lots of books like that and highly recommend audio books, so that was a big change.

James Hodgson:

Fantastic, I couldn't agree more. Yeah, huge fan of audible as well, mainly nonfiction and typically, you know, science and philosophy books will be read by the author as well, which I think just adds a level of engagement. When they are, the author is reading it as well. I guess it's like a long form podcast as well, which is which is always nice.

Jeremy Rodell:

We do it yeah yeah, yeah, fantastic.

James Hodgson:

Well, jeremy, thank you so much for everything, and we'll also include links to Southwest London humanists for any of our local listeners that would like to join the local group.

Jeremy Rodell:

We're just a local group. We're quite an active. We have a meeting, you know, we do walks and have a book group and do other things, but we have a main meeting once a month which is now mainly face to face but it's also available online. So it's hybrid meeting, usually speaker, but not always. Our last speakers were on faith, were our friends from faith to faithless and they did a great job on that. But we had all sorts of people I hope we're going to hear next from somebody about humanists at risk and we have people from sparritons. We have a religious speaker once a year and the last one we had was a guy who I know from my local into faith work, who was a Mormon, which is quite interesting, quite challenging and yeah, so it's a very, very program and easily accessible. Just Google us.

James Hodgson:

Fantastic. Jeremy Rodell, thank you for joining us on Humanism Now. Thanks, joe, welcome back to Humanism Now, and thank you once again to Jeremy Rodell for that very insightful interview. Now we spoke there that there will be some upcoming training sessions with the dialogue network and I'm pleased to say one of our panel has previously joined a similar training session with Jeremy. So, nicole, a couple of questions. What are your thoughts there on the interview with Jeremy, but also in your experience working with him? What can people expect to gain most from the training?

Nicole Shasha:

Yeah, well, I think Jeremy said so many interesting things in that interview and I definitely agree with all of them, the challenges and the interest of it as well. Yeah, I think that the training I found it invaluable, it was so good and I'd, if anyone's thinking about doing it, even if they don't think they'll ever want to do any kind of formal interfaith, I think it's really interesting. So, personally for me, my journey to humanism. I never had a religious background, so I didn't come from a kind of family of like really deep faith and that sort of thing and I so I didn't really understand it and I didn't really understand kind of what it could mean to people outside of the pure like religion side. And I think that was something really eyeopening to me.

Nicole Shasha:

All of the because Jeremy was really good at using loads of kind of surveys done of different people of different faiths and what the religion actually means to them is kind of tying back to what I said earlier. It's like rather than assuming, oh, for this person it's all about Jesus and for this person it's all about blah, really finding out because there was a surprisingly high percentage of people who would call themselves Church of England members but then didn't actually believe in God, and to me, that was that I never would have thought that that would be a thing, but it's. Yeah, it was really eyeopening to me for, like all the many different reasons that people might call themselves a member of a certain religion that aren't just about the spiritual side. Yeah, and I think, and as well, just helping you to have those tools to how to engage with people that you disagree with and just thinking of ways in which to talk to people and how you, how to find common ground. I think it was absolutely great to do the training. It was really wonderful experience.

James Hodgson:

Oh, fantastic, yeah, and certainly that's a great example of not making assumptions about what someone might believe if they would call themselves a Christian but not not believe in God. I mean that's I've not heard of that before, but yeah, adding to the toolkit, I definitely think that's something we can all gain from. And, lola, you and I will both be joining Jeremy's next training session. What did you take away most from the interview and what are you most looking forward to gaining from joining the training session?

Lola Tinubu:

I think what I'm looking forward to and I hope maybe Nicole will say whether that happened when she had a training is that you know what is debate. You know and when do you go from conversation and bearing into debate. How do you know that blurry line? Because sometimes you want to just explain something but you don't know that you are not explaining your side, that you have moved on into start debating. So I'm hoping that you know. That's one key thing. And then how to? I think maybe the word is read the room how to? How to? I'm going to give an example, like when I was.

Lola Tinubu:

I was in Nigeria recently and I was with my. I stayed most of the time with my brother, who is a pastor, and I enjoyed having this conversations with him, and there was one particular you know conversation that we had and he kept quiet. He did not stop talking to me. It just it was about science, whether you know, he attended a convention about science and faith and I was saying to him that you know, and I thought I had been really great with having conversation.

Lola Tinubu:

I'm not going into debate, because that was what I wanted to achieve throughout my time with and we had such a lovely time, but then I said something and it didn't talk to me on that subject anymore that day. It just didn't say what and I regretted I don't, I can't remember. So I hope from the training that I can read the room and know you know when to not go from conversation into debate, asking the right questions there are no right questions sometimes, because it can be sensitive but to know how to manage that and to learn maybe as right as possible, as right as possible questions, because I don't think there are right questions sometimes, but I think there are wrong questions, there could be wrong questions, so I want to learn those things. So I'm really, really looking forward to this.

James Hodgson:

Oh, fantastic. Yeah, that point around sensitivity, I think, is really key in something perhaps we didn't touch on earlier, but you know it's it's. It's one thing to make a point, but it's another to make a point in a way which is sensitive and is going to be appeal to the other person's way of reasoning and way of thinking.

Lola Tinubu:

Just to bring in something quickly. What I want to be able to achieve when I'm talking with someone who is of a political, very different religious beliefs of political is to be able to have a conversation throughout and to be able to end it positively and understanding each other. I will not want my conversation to ever break down Because when I had that experience with my brother it really hurt me, so I will not want to explain with somebody else.

James Hodgson:

Thank you for sharing and I hope you were able to move past that and you know to have positive conversations.

Lola Tinubu:

We were able to have other conversations, even other difficult conversations, but not that one.

James Hodgson:

I think, as was mentioned earlier, it's that ability to move on and reengage, even if someone says something that might be offensive or we may have offended someone else, that we can still continue with rapport and with with a listening ear to engage. So I guess, on that that positive note, all that remains is to thank our regular panelists. Lola, thank you so much for joining us again. Is there anything you would like to mention that is upcoming with either Central London or Association of Black Humanists?

Lola Tinubu:

Yes, with our session of Black Humanists we have. We are reading a book, so we want to have a book club kind of meeting on this book. It's called. It's called this is Not America why Black Lives in Britain Matter. It's written by a guy called Tommy Wa O'Ola Day. It's such it's a great book. I basically is trying to talk about the difference between you know the politics in America. You know the difference between America and British black politics that they are not the same. And it's such a provocative book I have to say it's worth reading. So I hope you know people can read it and then those who come to join us. So I think we're going to meet in March last Saturday of March to discuss the book.

James Hodgson:

And Nicole, lovely to see you again. Is there anything you'd like to mention? If anyone would like to get involved with either young humanists or Lester humanists, what's the best way to get in touch?

Nicole Shasha:

Yes, so if anyone wants to get involved either with young humanists or with Lester humanists, they can email me and the email will be in the description of this podcast. But yeah, with Lester humanists everything's going very well. We're building up very nicely and the information should also be on the Humanist UK website for both of those branches as well. If anyone wants to get involved, contact me about that.

James Hodgson:

And again, we will include all of the links in the show notes. With the central London Humanist, we have a very busy calendar of events coming up. Next. Our next in person talk is going to be a workshop on automatic writing, and we then have an event focusing on dealing with or living with grief and loss for the non religious people, which, again, many of our members have been involved as humanist celebrants, so we hope to offer a range of views on that as well. And, of course, our online discussion group for our global audience. We have just announced the next event, which will be looking at humanists' response to counter populism around the world. So another lively topic where I think we could probably use a lot of the dialogue skills that we've been discussing here today. So thank you Lola, thank you Nicole, and thank you everyone for joining us on Humanism Now.