Sunday, July 03, 2005

Spirituality, Atheism and Business

A publication in India wants to do an interview with me on this subject, and asked the following questions. I provide my answers as they may be of interest to a wider group:

Q. Many of us fail to distinguish between religion and spirituality. Is there a difference between the two? What according to you is the difference between religion and spirituality?

Answer: It is fashionable nowadays to try and make a distinction between "religion" as consisting in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and so on (that is, established and formal religions) and "spirituality" as consisting in attempts to relate to the Divine outside the established formalities of such religions.

In India, we have had a long tradition (since the first century before Christ) of a split between religion (as in temples) and spirituality (as in meditation, and so on).

However, in fact, there is no real distinction between "religion" and "spirituality" - or, if there is a distinction, it is a purely academic and theoretical one.

In actuality, all devotees of any religion are seeking to experience God and to be guided by Him. And everyone who is
"spiritual" is seeking exactly the same.

Q: What are the challenges faced by the world of business today? Can spirituality play a role in overcoming these challenges?

Answer: The main challenges faced by business are:
A. How to survive in a hyper-competitive world, and
B. How to deal with the increasing demands of regulation, corporate governance, ethics, corporate social responsibility, and so on.

Spirituality/ religion can indeed play a key part in this, in terms of motivation, fair play, and providing a means of understanding and relating not only to the world in general but also specifically to financial, economic, environmental, health and other challenges. This is too wide and complex a subject to go into in this brief space, but a Google search for my somewhat unusual name will indicate at least some materials with which to begin an exploration of some of these matters.

Q: Companies like ServiceMaster in the US states one of its company objectives as "To honor God in all we do", while Kyocera from Japan has its corporate motto as "Respect the Divine and Love People." Even leaders from Indian companies are speaking about application of spirituality in business. What is the reason behind this increasing interest in spirituality? Is it a fad?

Answer: It is a fad, but what is wrong with that? Fads can be good and useful as well as useless and even horrible! But at least some of the reasons for the fad are negative ones, in that the impact of evolution in the West tore many people away from their spiritual roots in Christianity and the Bible. Now the children and grandchildren of these people are discovering that atheism may be fine as a means of protest against hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty, but atheism provides no answers regarding how to live as an individual or family or how to conduct business or political life - so spirituality is coming back…..

Q. Are concepts like 'spirituality at workplace', 'organisation renewal' etc meant only for mature organisations which have financial and human resources to support such activities? What about start-ups/ small scale industries etc?

Answer: In my experience, it does not matter whether companies are mature or start-ups: some of both sorts of companies welcome and nurture spiritual interests. By contrast, other companies (mature or start-ups) are hostile or negligent of spirituality.

Q. Are there experiments/studies to show that tapping spirituality at work has resulted in a positive impact on business? Can you cite examples of companies boldly engaging in spiritual dialogues inside and outside the organisation? Any specific examples you would like to share...?

Answer: The evidence is solid. Read books such as Jesus C.E.O. or Moses on Leadership (if you would like a more extensive reading list, please contact me and I will happily send it to you).

Moreover, the evidence is growing greater and spreading wider each week. Read publications such as Faith in Business Quarterly or Sojourners magazine or Business Ethics.

Companies: you mention ServiceMaster above - a fine example. Others include, in the USA, Herman Miller, PepsiCola, FedEx, and so on. In the UK, companies such as Barclays Bank and Shell have had "christian fellowship" groups for decades.

Q. Your messages to a business leader who would like to tap spirituality at her/his workplace?

Answer: First, go yourself personally to a relatively "neutral" or "non-threatening" or "safe" meeting, such as those sponsored by The Trinity Forum in Europe. Then explore the subject in some minimum depth yourself, in order to understand the most common pitfalls and mistakes made in this field, so that you can steer around these. Spirituality is powerful - even Hitler was highly religious! So don't mess around naively. Study the subject, and decide the best way forward before moving in public on it.

Q. Any other thoughts you would like to share?

Spirituality is not only for our private or individual lives. Spirituality has also historically shaped things that we take for granted today, such as democracy and literacy and science and technology and economic progress and company law and monetary practice and banking and women's rights and children's rights and animal rights and environmental concern.

Spirituality also shapes families, communities, businesses, economics and politics.

Atheistic views have slaughtered more people in the twentieth century alone than all the religious wars throughout history. Moreover, atheists have contributed little of positive value to any area of life.

ENDS Sphere: Related Content

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