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A faith for every ‘none’? – Headmaster’s Blog -Wednesday 8th June 2016

June 8, 2016
Ballard School Speak Prepare Passion Boxing Muhammed Ali

A faith for every ‘none’?

The news this week of the death of Muhammed Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) at the age of 74 years will have touched many people. I remember him at the height of his boxing prowess in the 1960s and 1970s, not least the ‘rumble in the jungle’ and the ‘thriller in Manila’. Henry Cooper’s ‘near miss’ in having floored Ali but then failing to win the fight – along with Harry Carpenter’s commentary – will have stuck in the memory for many British sports’ fans. Ali’s stance over Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and his conversion to the Muslim faith have all given rise to many strong emotions. It’s the latter, his religious faith, which particularly struck me this week as it jarred with another report in the Press about the rise of the ‘nones’.


An editorial in the Guardian noted that Christianity was moving to the margins of British society – something that ‘could change the country profoundly’ – and asked the question as we face the challenges of this century: what will supply ‘a vision of humanity that transcends narrow self-interest’? Tim Stanley, writing in the Telegraph, lamented that ‘Christians have become their own worst enemy by killing faith with their silence’. Both articles were reflecting on recent Social Attitudes’ data which indicated those who write ‘none’ in surveys about religious belief now make up 48.5% of the population compared to 43.8% of us who respond with ‘Christian’ to the same question.

It seems that ours is an era in which strong belief is frowned upon. Brendan O’Neill, writing in a recent edition of The Big Issue, says: ‘Believe too firmly, whether in Allah or free speech, and you’re an extremist…Be too passionate about anything: football, Jesus, Justin Bieber – and you’ll be looked upon as shrill, odd’. O’Neill referred back to his schooling at the hands of nuns and concludes: ‘You know what? Even after my hairy schooldays I think I’d feel more comfortable hanging out with nuns, whose passions would at least clash with mine and stir up debate, than with nones’.

Muhammad Ali Tribute Ballard School

And so this brings me back to Muhammed Ali. It’s not so much the fact that he changed his Faith which caught my eye in the obituaries this week, but that he was prepared to stand up and speak out – on war, peace, civil liberties, faith, sport – whatever ‘the world’ or the Press thought. Ali said this: ‘It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself’. I might take issue with the final part of this quotation but I applaud the overall sentiment of having ‘the courage of his convictions’ and being prepared to speak up – with passion!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)


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