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30 December, 2010

A LOOK AT THE ROLE OF RELIGION AND FAITH IN INCREASING GLOBALIZATION

Globalisation (or globalization) describes the process by which regional economies, societies, and cultures have become integrated through a global network of political ideas through communication, transportation, and trade. The term is most closely associated with economic globalization: the integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, the spread of technology, and military presence. However, globalization is usually recognized as being driven by a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural, political, and biological factors. The term can also refer to the transnational circulation of ideas, languages, or popular culture through acculturation. An aspect of the world which has gone through the process can be said to be "globalised". --Wikipedia

News Flash:  While demographics are changing, religion is not dying.  In an era of the aforedefined "globalization", the world is in fact more reliant than ever on the reason, compassion and progress represented in its various faith communities.

It is interesting to note that the number of people proclaiming their faith worldwide is growing, particularly in the Islamic world where the population is expected to double in future decades.  Religion's largest growth at present is in China and there is a huge evangelical movement in Brazil and Mexico.  In Canada and the United States, of course, faith remains a vital part of people's lives.  Even in Europe, the numbers confessing to a belief in God remain high and there are hundreds of millions of Hindus and still solid numbers of Sikhs and Jews.

Wonderful work is done around the world thanks to "faith" organizations active in combating poverty and disease.  In any developed nation, selfless care is being provided to the disabled, the dying, the destitute and disadvantaged.  Common to all great religions is love of neighbours and human equality.

Quite disturbingly, on the other hand, religion can be used as a negative motivational force.  It cannot be dismissed that religion has the potential for promotion of extremism and even terrorism.  Faith can be a badge of identity in opposition to those who do not share it -- a kind of spiritual nationalism, if you will, that can be dangerously explosive.  To a degree, this is a threat that has always existed and is not going away any time soon.

The pressure of globalization, however, offers a unique opportunity to push the world's population ever closer together as technology advances and shrinks the globe.  Growing up 50 or 60 years ago, children in North America would rarely meet someone of a different culture or faith background.  Today, our children and grandchildren are growing up in a myriad of different languages, faiths and colours, requiring  mutual respect and understanding.  Such a world upends traditions and challenges old thinking, literally forcing us to choose consciously to embrace it -- or not.

In the words of Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, "...and there is the rub:  For some this force is a threat that menaces deeply conservative societies.  For those for whom religion matters, globalization can sometimes be accompanied by an aggressive secularism or hedonism that makes many uneasy."

Blair, admirably, is demonstrating a commitment to making sense of how the world of faith interacts with the compulsive process of globalization.  Bothered by the "extremism" he sees in the world, he has created the Faith Foundation with the ambitious goal of promoting greater understanding between world faiths.  His reasoning is simple...Those advocating extremism in the name of religion are active, well resourced and whatever the reactionary nature of their thinking, brilliant at using modern communications and technology to the tune of billions of dollars a year to promote their view of religion.

Durham University in England is the leading hub of Blair's Faith and Globalization initiative.  The university program, designed to take religion out of the sole preserve of divinity schools and to start analyzing its role in the world today, is underway in nine countries.  Another program links high school students across the world through interactive technology to discuss their faith and what it means to them.  There is an action plan too, through which young people work with those of another faith to raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals, a United Nations-led program to combat world poverty.

In a period when former world leaders opt for writing profitable books and garnering outlandish fees for guest speaking appearances, I have deep respect for the Tony Blairs and Jimmy Carters (Habitat for Humanity) who after retirement from politics use their considerable weight and influence to promote world betterment.  

"We are just one organization, there are a number of others starting," Blair wrote in a recent article, Faith in a Globalized Age.  "But governments should start to take this far more seriously.  Religious leaders must also accept a new responsibility to stand up firmly and resolutely for respecting those of faiths different from their own."

Aggressive secularists and extremists feed off each other and together they do constitute a real challenge to people of faith.  Blair is totally accurate with his contention that we must demonstrate the loving nature of true faith; otherwise, religion will be defined by a battle in which extremists seize control of faith communities and secularists claim that such attitudes are intrinsic to religion. 

It is in this era of globalization that faith can truly represent reason and progress.  Heaven help us...the world needs faith, the tie that binds us all.

The role of religion in a globalized age is a complex subject, almost beyond the grasp of an ordinary mind.  So, what can you and I do from the insignificant little grain of sand that we occupy on this earth with our limited singular resources and minimal attachment?

Answer: We can support religious initiatives, pray for enlightenment -- and above all, have "faith"! 

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