Friday, November 13, 2009

Dialogue on Religion and Business

I have just participated in a discussion on the subject, as part of the agenda at one of the more important business fora in the world. At the session, moderated by the Chairman of Lazard International, Ken Costa, there were representatives of Protestant, Roman, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jain traditions (not all apeaking only on their own behalf).

While the others said nice things, the most useful contributions for the business audience came from the Buddhist, Robert Thurman, who pointed out that leaders "are always in danger of being misled about the real situation in their firms by their own subordinates" and by the Protestant, Rick Warren, who argued persuasively that we need to think not only of the "two-legged stool" of Public-Private Partnerships but rather of the "three-legged stool" of Public, Private and Faith-based partnerships: the power of faith-based institutions to contribute to the elimination or amelioration of social evils is hugely underestimated or ignored.

He also spoke stirringly of the Five Global Goliaths in today's world: Conflict (spiritual, perpersonal, inter-generational...), Corruption or unethical leadership, Extreme Poverty, Pandemics and Illiteracy.

Altogether, the speakers offered a paean of praise for religion that seemed to me perhaps justified in view of the brief time dedicated to the subject. However, it did seem to me open to the charge of being unduly uncritical of religion.

Religion has, and continues to be, itself a source of corruption in most parts of the world, it continues to justify and participate in economic and social exploitation, and it is too closely allied to and often itself becomes a base for power. At least that is my viewpoint as a disciple of someone who was so anti-religious that the religious-political establishment decided that the best way to deal with his criticisms was to eliminate him. The establishment, having found this to be an ineffective strategy, then proceeded to try and co-opt his followers into the power structures - a challenge with which his followers still struggle.

Anyway, from my point of view, the discussion would have been much more useful if there had been, on the part of the religious leaders on the podium, a little less self-congratulation, and a little more engagement with the ethical mess in which business is today. The topics slated for discussion were: "Has global business lost its moral context? If so, has this loss contributed to the global downturn? Can belief systems help us generate the co-operation that is needed to renew growth?" - excellent topics that were wholly ignored by the speakers, who went on far beyond their allotted time (as is, I think cynically, surely an occupational hazard for them), leaving then little time even for the participants to pick up the slack. Sphere: Related Content

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