On Saturday, Bishop Nick took part in two sessons on the opening day of the year-long Belief and Beyond Belief Festival at London’s Southbank Centre.
The first session was ambitiously titled, “What’s it all about? The search for the meaning of life”.
In a panel chaired by broadcaster Abdul Rehman Malik, Bishop Nick was joined by Mona Siddiqui, Richard Holloway (former Bishop of Edinburgh) and psychiatrist Dr Chetna Kang to discuss "the ways humanity has sought to understand the mysteries of existence and live a good life".
Bishop Nick said a Christian understanding of the meaning of life starts with Genesis 1-11 where order is brought out of chaos, and he said that all Christian ethics start from the belief that humans are made in the image of God – that’s why we have inherent meaning.
In answer to the question, ‘Has religion become ossified?’ he said, “Certainty isn’t the preserve of those who have faith. But while we do have certain fixed points, they shouldn’t constrain us. Everyone has a world view, an understanding of the meaning of life that needs to expand and keep being reshaped – if we don’t change we stagnate.”
He said faith shouldn’t be compartmentalised; it does relate to the world. We need to have the courage to explore and engage with all aspects of life, including politics.
But, using the analogy of jazz music, he said that that exploration still happens within parameters: “Jazz appears free and random, but it isn’t, you need to know the choral framework and who’s leading - it doesn’t just happen”.
Asked about faith in the context of Western capitalism, Bishop Nick said, “I have said to economists, 'when we’ve finished measuring everything, then what? So what?' We need to run counter to an individualistic, materialistic society which sees people merely as commodities.
"At the heart of Christianity is the teaching that you find yourself by giving yourself away.”
The panellists were also asked about their belief about the end of life.
Mona Siddiqui said, “We may have to come to terms with the fact that there are no answers.But I’ve learnt that you don’t experience meaning in life without loss, and that the only thing that really matters in life is relationships. The only thing you leave behind you when you die is not what you said or what you did, but how you made people feel.
“I also gain appeasement from practising gratitude, which doesn’t come naturally, but I think should be practised as a faith discipline".
Richard Holloway (left) said he didn’t know if there was any ultimate meaning, but one of the advantages of faith systems is the notion of confession and self examination. He said, “One of the real tragedies of life is to die without self-knowledge; without really knowing who you are”.
Bishop Nick said, “Judgement is fundamentally about justice: if we’re not accountable, why does anything ultimately matter?”