Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why Religion matters

After decades of secularism, the world has seen a surge of spirituality. The current surge is different, however, because it has assumed a global context. Spirituality is the living heart of all the great world religions. It is not a mere return to biblical and historical roots.

Some argue that religion is the cause of our worst divisions, and a threat to democracy and civilization. The truth is more broadly and deeply rooted in the human psyche and spirit. The great religious traditions have survived across millennia because they express insights that human beings have repeatedly found to be true. But they are containers for those insights—fashioned and carried forward by human beings, and therefore prone to every passion and fragility of the human condition. Religions become entangled with human identity, and there is nothing more intimate and volatile than that. Our sacred traditions should help us live more thoughtfully, generously, and hopefully with the tensions of our age. But to grasp that, we must look at the very nature of faith.

Huston Smith*, one of the most respected authorities on religion provides a reflection on the urgent need to restore the role of religion as the primary humanizing force for individuals and society. Bringing together insights from comparative religions, theology, philosophy, science, and history, along with examples drawn from current events and his own personal experience, Smith gives both a convincing historical and social critique and a profound expression of hope for the spiritual condition of humanity.

It is true that religious leaders seek to increase their influence over the course of action on the grounds of morality and ethics. How can religion and faith make a contribution to resolve our current problems?

All religions contain an idea of what is common good and offer some guiding principles to achieve it. In fact, the influence of religion in economic life is far from being irrelevant. In western societies, the catholic church has contributed in many ways to reducing the influence of the market and has shaped a third sector made of voluntary organizations, charities and so on. It provides a social safety net for many disadvantaged people, e.g. immigrants that regular social systems cannot assist directly. Islamic faith has also shaped many aspects of economic life, for instance with the zakat , which is a form of charity as every muslim has to give a small share of its wealth to the poor. Judaism is also based on righteousness and social justice.

All men, whether they believe in their faith have to live according to their moral and ethical principles. Develop a consciousness - Above all human rights are sacred and social justice - which is linked to common good- should prevail over the search for profit.

But we also need a dialogue and mutual understanding between the great religions. This dialogue should be revived with various initiatives led by courageous organizations like Sant'Egidio, despite of continuous tensions and misunderstandings, often the product of ignorance.

*Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief- paperback- January 2002

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