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8 Aug, 1999

When Will Global Religions Show More Tolerance and Less Parochialism?

Originally Published: Aug 8, 1999

As the turn of the millennium approaches, everyone is in the midst of conference-mania. At every street-corner hotel, there is a high turnout of big brains, egos, economists, futurists, and an assortment of techno-pundits, all with a solution to the world’s problems.

Each of them identifies a particular problem facing global society and hits it with a solution, drawing upon his or her own experience and expertise. In the Gordian knot of global problems, they are all bickering over which one to cut first.

As I pore through some of the conference papers, two things stand out: 1) All these illustrious ladies and gentlemen are treating the symptoms, not the cause; 2) All their vast knowledge only helps them evaluate problems in their own fields; their expertise typically ends where another subject begins.

These conferences abound with knowledge, techniques and processes. Very few display any wisdom, even though anyone with an ounce of wisdom is likely to outshine and almost certainly embarrass anyone with a ton of knowledge.

Contemporary corporate lingo abounds with fashionable whiz-bang jargon like “fundamentals”, “back to basics”, “core values”, “vision”, etc. These cliches unfortunately encompass only national economic productivity and its affiliate, corporate profitability.

They do not include just societies, communities and families, which are at the real core of life. If you are unhappy at home, there is an even chance that you are unhappy, period. If you can’t solve the problems in your own home or raise your families to decent standards, what qualifies you to foist hifalutin solutions on entire societies and national economies?

In all this focus on the future, the mistakes of the past are somewhat too conveniently side-stepped. It does not take much to see that every man-made social, economic and political system of this past century has failed and that in this century alone, the pendulum has swung from kingdoms to communism to capitalism.

Each of these man-made systems had a major flaw that caused it to self-destruct. At the risk of being simplistic, communism was dictatorial, atheistic and totally corrupt; fascism was militaristic and despotic; socialism was more working-class oriented but perhaps too much for the capitalists.

Today, as capitalism reigns, warnings are emanating that it is too unfair, unbalanced and dominating a system to survive and that the grotesque inequalities that led to the Russian and Chinese revolutions will simply be replicated on a global scale.

Post reader David Spillane sent me a copy of David Korten’s book “Life After Capitalism”, which makes the following poignant point, “We have created an economy that values money over all else, embraces inequality as if it were a virtue, and is ruthlessly destructive of life.

“The tragedy is that for most of us the values of global capitalism are not our values. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we find ourselves in psychological and social distress.

“We have fallen captive to stories that deny us meaning and institutions that demand we behave in ways at odds with our deepest psychological and spiritual pre-dispositions.”

If not communism, socialism, fascism, capitalism, then what?

Let’s turn back to these millennium conferences where, interestingly, very few organisers see it fit to invite religious leaders. Yet, religious values are leading to some new thinking that is far more down to earth and sustainable than the rabid pursuit of growth. The Mormons are often described as being Bible-thumping wackos, but their community spirit is next to none.

Many countries claim to be Buddhist or Islamic or Christian but in fact live by anything but the principles and fundamental core values of those mighty religions. Truly, I’d like to see some of these futuristic brains do a straightforward analysis of how a country that professes to have a high percentage of followers of a particular faith could have been better off if the basic principles of that faith were abided by.

Indeed, can political, economic and business leaders be persuaded to set examples by abiding by those principles, so that they may in turn be applied at the grassroots level?

Somewhere deep down, values and principles are better driven — if not totally driven — by leaders with a strong faith in and adherence to their religions. Thus, if leadership by example is to be one of the main buzzwords of the future, how many Asia-Pacific leaders are truly capable of leading?

Chuan Leekpai is perhaps one of the few Asian leaders who can claim unblemished personal and professional integrity, but that sadly cannot be said of many members of his unfortunate cabinet.

So, one awaits the day when religions set themselves right through greater tolerance and less parochialism. After all, they are the original policy planks for creating just, happy societies. Where they went wrong is in trying to foist their views on others and in turn themselves having a terrible intolerance of others views.

At the risk of joining the brigade of fatigued futurists, let me make my own forecast. At some stage in the 21st century, religions will exhaust themselves through failed attempts to convince each other of their righteousness and realise that they have no alternative but to learn to co-exist.

While the basic wisdom of religious values will be applied to treating the cause, the techniques and processes of global knowledge will be applied to treating the symptoms. And the entire process will have to be managed by people with unblemished personal characters and integrity, who may or may not necessarily be democratically-elected.

Here’s another quote from David Korten’s book, “I believe that the task ahead depends even more on our spiritual awakening than on our political awakening, for the simple reason that political resistance usually plays itself out through competition for the instruments of money’s creation and allocation.

“Political victory alone merely leads to a shuffling of the power holders and a change in the rules by which money’s power is distributed, but the new leaders remain largely figureheads in a world in which money — not life — is the real master.”

P.S., For those who consider themselves God’s chosen people, have they noticed that God also grants the prayers of those outside that chosen-people community?

Why, I wonder, does He do that?