Catholic Archbishop, India
I.Religion and Globalization
A) Phenomenon of Globalization-:
Anthony Giddens defines ‘globalization’ as “the intensification of worldwide relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice- versa”. We experience world as becoming more and more “a single place”, “a global village”.
On the one hand, globalization can offer immense possibilities for the welfare of people and peace in the world; on the other hand, it can also offer possibilities to destroy or adversely affect the religious, moral, social, economic, political and ecological situation in the world. In other words, the phenomenon of globalization is not a neutral process. Globalization, as we experience it today, has become a self- imposing, powerful and inevitable system; it has become almost an ideology. For the Church in India who is committed to the poor and the marginalized in the society, experience shows that globalization tends to favor the powerful at the cost of the weaker strata of the society.
All countries in Asia are affected by the process of globalization. Seizing the opportunities availed by globalization, many countries in Asia have made remarkable economic progress. However, as Asian economy is gaining strength on the world scene, inequality also keeps increasing within Asian society. This gives rise to tensions between classes and communities and threatens stability within the region. It must also be taken into account that “economic situations on the Asian continent are very diverse, defying any simple classification as some countries are highly developed, others are developing through effective economic policies, and others still find themselves in abject poverty, indeed among the poorest nations on earth. In the process of development, materialism and secularism are gaining ground, especially in urban areas” (Ecclesia in Asia, n.7).
Presenting globalization as the only alternative, whereby the weaker section of the society is forced to submit itself to this phenomenon, undermines traditional, social and religious values; it threatens Asia’s cultures with incalculable damage. Some sociologists strongly criticize the strong influence of globalization in Asia, calling it a form of neo- colonialism.
B) The Role of Religion:
Religion is marginalized in modern societies which themselves are affected by globalization. Religions like Christianity are more and more perceived to be something unnecessary or other worldly. Where it is advantageous because it is followed by great masses, there Religion is instrumentalized and abused by politicians and by those in business. Believers tend to become diffident in the face of the powerful. When believers are marginalized they live on the peripheral level of society, forming little ghettos as it were. Such a tendency easily gives rise to fundamentalism and religious revivalism. Globalization thus is a real challenge to religions in Asia.
II. Challenge to Asian Societies
A) Religion is the soul of Asia-:
Asia is rightly described as the continent of many religions and much poverty. The two characteristics of Asia are not mutually exclusive; they go together. Asian concerns today are not only about poverty and threat to the environment, but also the danger that a vision of human realities grounded on Religious Faith is being eroded in these fast changing times. One must not forget that today’s Asia is the result of ancient religious traditions and civilizations, profound philosophies and their wisdom. Blessed John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio the following words about the Asian continent: “… the lands of the East, so rich in religious and philosophical traditions of great antiquity”; and he singles out India saying that it has a “special place” because, “a great spiritual impulse leads Indian thought to seek an experience which would liberate the spirit from the shackles of time and space and would therefore acquires absolute value. The dynamics of this quest for liberation provides the context for great metaphysical systems” (ch.VI).
Asian religions have played a positive and constructive role in the world-wide religiosity and, as a result of which, they have played a significant role in shaping the human being, ordering cosmic life and enhancing the search for truth. But it must be emphatically stated that Freedom of Religion is one of the basic human rights that calls for special attention in the context of Asia; because, Asian countries are generally structured by populations which are divided into “majority-minority religious blocks” and, as it happens, sadly those in the minority block suffer the most when the fundamental right to Religious Freedom is ignored or interpreted to favor the majority blocks by the respective States.
In the Asian ethos the role of religion is perceived primarily as salvific/ liberational. In Asia the human person is an active subject and not a passive consumer of religion. Asian Religions strive to attain ‘liberation’ of the ‘whole person’. However, selfishness, greed and consumerism in the globalized society has enslaved people to mere mundane and worldly values. The mass migration of workers to urban centres within a country or to other economically more advanced countries in search of jobs is destabilizing families and communities in Asia. In addition, human trafficking, especially of women and children, raises innumerable social and communal problems. Believers of different religions must find ways of being of assistance to individuals, families and communities that are left behind and to workers who are exploited or whose rights are being violated.
Another dehumanizing factor is the rampant corruption in many Asian societies. It is a serious cause for deep concern. Believers must join hands, tapping the spiritual resources of their faith and strengthening the values of good governance and the mechanism of efficient administration, to root out this evil from society. Religious believers ought to act as a moral force in society.
However, one cannot ignore the dangers which threaten Asian Societies: first among them are efforts on the part of some to minimize or relativise the eternal truth. Globalization has been instrumental in bringing secular and post-modern forms of atheism, agnosticism, materialism and indifferentism; religion no longer remains a point of reference which provides ultimate sense for the life of the human person.
B) Religion claims Ultimate Good of the Human Person:
Religion is at the service of the human persons and their essential needs, namely, peace, love, justice, truth, etc. Religions teach essential human values: the right to life from its conception – through every stage of its development – until its natural death, the right of every person to be respected, the right to the material goods necessary for living, the right to work and the right to fair distribution of the earth’s fruits for a well – ordered and harmonious coexistence of all people.
C) Dialogue and Collaboration Among Religions:
Dialogue among the world’s religions is not only useful but necessary. The pluri–religious situation of our world does not simply ask us to be passively tolerant of others but demands of us that there is mutual respect and friendly collaboration among all, for the good of our society and for peace in the world at large.
Dialogue among religions presupposes, above all, an uncompromising adhesion to one’s own religious belief while at the same time, it requires efforts at understanding towards the truth claimed by the others’ religions. It is also through the spirit of dialogue that people, whatever their religious affiliation, will be able to get rid of hypocrisy and self-righteousness which can lead to justifying violence and bloodshed in the name of religion.
It is especially through interreligious dialogue that one discovers common values in order to live in peace and harmony. “The people of Asia take pride in their religious and cultural values, such as love of silence and contemplation, simplicity, harmony, detachment, non- violence, the spirit of hard work, discipline, frugal living, the thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry. They hold dear the values of respect for life, compassion for all beings, closeness to nature, filial piety towards parents, elders and ancestors, and a highly developed sense of community. In particular, they hold the family to be vital source of strength, a closely knit community with a powerful sense of solidarity. Asian people are known for their spirit of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence” (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 6).
Interreligious contacts promote a clearer awareness of each believer’s considerable responsibilities with regard to the true good of humanity as a whole. It is when believers of all religions come together in a spirit of dialogue that they can firmly determine not to allow themselves to be used by particularistic interests or instrumentalised for political aims. Religions should become an active force in the process of globalization and thus they should inspire a sure hope to humanity. In a number of instances, it has become evident that their activity would have proved more effective had it been carried out in the spirit of interreligious dialogue and in a coordinated manner. Such a way of working among believers of different religions can have a decisive effect in fostering peace among peoples and overcoming the still existing divisions between “zones” (North- South, East- West, etc.) and “worlds “ (First, second, third, etc.).
Globalization has, paradoxically, distanced believers one from the other (within a particular religion and among different religions). The coming together of believers (interreligious gatherings) must always have the common good as its primary aim. In other words, the study of other’s religious traditions must not be undertaken to prove one’s superiority over the other or for the purpose of pure speculative recreation. Interreligious dialogue should not become an argumentation debate session. The spirit of dialogue is listening, growing in mutual respect, building bridges across religious boundaries by cultivating friendly relations; dialogue with such spirit is even more urgent and necessary today, in order to prevent fundamentalism and fanaticism which pave the way to hatred, violence and killings.
Religion is the soul of Asian society. Globalization in Asia poses a great challenge to religions. Evaluating critically and resisting every negative and destructive effect of globalization believers in Asia must collaborate to preserve and promote authentic characteristic of the Asian ethos. Dialogue of collaboration, above all, is necessary to foster culture of harmony and peace in the Asian continent which is still poverty-stricken. Religion, as a common Asian denominator, can unite Asian societies and create a joint front to face the challenge of globalization.