Making Room for God in Today's World

Tentative Signs That Society Is More Attuned to the Transcendent

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LONDON, JAN. 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The recent tragedy in Asia led many people to bring up once more the question of God and suffering. Responses ranged from those seeing in the loss of life an argument against God's existence, to those who saw in the disaster a call to intensify their faith.



"Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur," noted one commentary Dec. 28 in the Guardian newspaper.

Other recent events have also placed religion under the microscope. After the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh late last year, a Sunday Times opinion-writer, Minette Marrin, wrote Nov. 7 that events such as these, along with the rise of what some term "Christian fundamentalists," has given impetus to "secularist attempts to edit out Christian and post-Christian traditions, with bogus excuses about giving offence."

Following the U.S. elections in November, Marrin commented that "Sophisticated liberals felt rage and contempt and astonishment that their country could have been taken over by a bunch of redneck religious fundamentalists and moral majority bigots."

Marrin declared a preference for a more secular approach, affirming that "it is scientific thinking -- not science itself, but its provisional, evidence-based approach to knowledge -- that will set us free and keep us free."

Atheists and humanists are also determined to combat what they see as the negative influence of religion, Reuters reported in a story Jan. 4. "In the face of the religious onslaught on humanist values, we have to speak out and get our message over," affirmed Roy Brown, Swiss-based president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

To this end, a World Atheist Conference will be held at Vijayawada, India, this month, and in July the IHEU will hold its World Congress at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Bullish on spirituality

But not all see religion as a negative force. Business schools, for instance, are now offering courses on spirituality in the workplace. "What they want to teach students," the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, "is the importance of remaining true to their convictions -- whether rooted in organized religion or personal morality -- amid the conflicting demands and temptations they will likely confront during their careers."

"It was taboo for so many years to talk about workers' spirituality," Thierry Pauchant told the Journal. Pauchant, who holds the chair in ethical management at the HEC Montreal business school, added: "But people are suffering by not being able to address that part of themselves and lead a more integrated life."

One case cited by the article is the Instituto de Empresa business school in Madrid, Spain, where students' religious beliefs form part of an ethics class when they discuss the marketing of the abortion pill RU-486.

Efforts by another business school, Emory University's Goizueta Center in Atlanta, Georgia, were covered in a Dec. 20 report by London's Financial Times. The article explained that about 20 of the school's executive MBA graduates have undergone brain scans so that their actions can be analyzed in situations where they are asked to make ethical choices.

The idea behind this was explained by psychiatrist Roderick Gilkey. He argued that business leaders "have the potential to have a moral compass. It's just a question of activating it." According to Gilkey, scans show that managers who have practice in making decisions become more adept at it over time. The scans measure the degree of brain activity involved in arriving at a decision.

Well before the arrival of brain scans Aristotle could have probably said the same thing, based on an explanation of the role of good habits in ethical behavior. But at least modern technology may help a newer generation learn the same lessons.

The need for morality among university students in general was commented on by Steven Schwartz, vice chancellor of a British university, Brunel. In a report by London's Telegraph on Wednesday, he complained that universities are failing to equip their students with a basic sense of morality.

"How can we begin to expect them to analyze ethical issues such as stem cell research or nanotechnology or euthanasia or gay marriage when we cannot even get them to understand that they should be polite to others and that they should meet their obligations?" Schwartz asked.

He added that over the past century it has become nearly impossible for universities to provide "the prescriptive moral education of earlier centuries." Now, he continued, "I believe it is time for universities once again to articulate a moral vision of what they are trying to achieve, and then live up to it."

Culture and Christianity

Popular culture too may be opening its doors to religion. After last year's success of "The Passion of the Christ," a rap song that exalts Jesus was recognized in the recent Grammy awards.

An editorial Dec. 10 in the Los Angeles Times noted the apparent contradiction of rap music, often centered on exalting sex, money and drugs, taking a religious turn. But the song "Jesus Walks," by Kanye West, was one of the songs that had most success at the Grammys. Like Mel Gibson, West met with rejection by mainstream industry executives and had to spend his own money to produce and promote the song.

The editorial added that other rap artists are also producing songs with a religious message, even if the industry in general is still far from being G-rated. But, it acknowledged, "The popularity of 'Jesus Walks' may well reflect an unheralded, if unfocused, spirituality among the genre's fans."

More good news for religion came just prior to Christmas when news came out that a British philosopher long noted for his atheism had changed his views about God. Antony Flew now admits that "some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe," the Associated Press reported Dec. 9.

Flew described himself as a type of deist, but even this is a big change for someone who during decades of teaching at Oxford University proclaimed that there was no evidence for God's existence, noted the AP report.

A story of love

Religion's role in contemporary society was considered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica last Nov. 19. According to the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, God is often ignored by today's society.

In politics it can seem almost something "indecent" to talk of God, he noted. And only too often in both business and private life God remains on the outskirts, added the cardinal. What we need to do, he recommended, is to rediscover that the political and economic spheres of life need a moral responsibility that is born in the heart of a person who is familiar with God's presence.

Cardinal Ratzinger admitted that putting religion into words and concepts that can be understood by the modern world is not an easy task. One way to describe the essence of Christianity in modern language, he added, is to describe it as a story of love between God and mankind. Endearing advice for a society struggling to make room for God.