As a combined celebration of IP Inclusive Week and Inter Faith Week, the UK IPO kindly hosted a panel discussion on 13 November about faith, beliefs and inclusivity. The aim of the event was to explore the unifying ideals by which all of us, whatever our faith, live and work together in a diverse society.
IP Inclusive’s Lead Executive Officer Andrea Brewster OBE took part and shared her thoughts about how, as an atheist, she nevertheless relies on certain moral principles to guide her life and work. Here’s an extract from what she said. And naturally, we welcome comments from people of other faiths and beliefs (whether or not associated with a specific religion) about the moral codes that guide them.
A random collection of molecules…
I feel a bit of a fraud here, really. Because I don’t have a faith, in the conventional sense. I have beliefs, yes – as anyone who knows me will be aware – but I guess I’m just too cynical to think that there’s a greater purpose to any of this, or that there’s somebody Up There looking out for me. I admire people who do have that kind of faith, but I just can’t buy into it myself.
So as far as I’m concerned, I’m afraid we really are just a random collection of molecules, running around trying to make the best of things. And as a chemistry graduate, I’m perfectly comfortable with that. Molecules are Good.
But I’m not so evil as to think society doesn’t need some kind of guiding principles, a moral code if you like, to allow us to live and work together. And I suppose that’s what my beliefs amount to: a kind of personal, non-secular moral code.
Equality, fairness, inclusivity
So when I was preparing for today, I was wondering how I’d articulate that moral code. And I think that at the most basic level, it boils down to three things:
- Firstly, that every one of us has equal value. So, everyone deserves to be heard; everyone should be respected; everyone should have equal opportunities in life. (We live in hope.)
- Secondly, we need to share what we have. I hope it doesn’t sound glib to paraphrase it like this, but I genuinely do believe that everyone should give what they can, so that everyone has what they need.
- And thirdly, we have to look out for one another. That means putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, so that we can properly understand them and give them the support they need. Even people who are nothing like us or nowhere near us. It’s that kind of inclusivity that I believe should shape everything we say and do.
So, three things then: equality, fairness, inclusivity. Those are the principles that guide me. And I like to think that from those three things, everything else follows – all the rules and commandments and moral compasses you’re ever likely to need. Although we do of course need to be careful, because moral compasses can very easily be swayed by other people, and that can be both good and bad.
Conversations at work
I was asked to think about whether I feel comfortable talking about my beliefs at work. I don’t always, no. I worry I might offend people who practise a proper religion. I worry people might see arrogance, egotism or disrespect – or at best a kind of flakiness – in the idea of a self-styled moral code. So I tend to keep my mouth shout. I don’t after all have to talk about it; it’s not as though my atheism affects my working arrangements or relationships, and in that I recognise I’m very lucky.
You’re all welcome
Still – it’s all I have. And what I do think is important about my beliefs is that whoever you are, whatever your faith (or lack of it), believer or cynic, so long as you’re made of molecules (and trust me, I’m a chemist: you’re made of molecules), you’re ALL welcome to be my friends.