Monday, July 27, 2009

Musings on Religion and Globalization

One of the perks of being a globally mobile employee of a multinational is to visit and observe evolution of cultures at across continents. This past weekend I spent some time at Houston’s Hindu temple, Meenakshi Devasthanam, at the suburb of Pearland in Texas. Architected in a typical South Indian style, replete with stone arches (Gopurams), the temple is well maintained giving visitors a sense of serenity.

I have been raised a Hindu, and though not deeply religious, I subscribe to the general Hindu philosophy and thinking, or at least my little understanding of it. This is not unique for South Asians, for many of whom the separation of religion, society and life is blurred. And I guess this is true of rest of mankind too.

Case in point is Pope Benedict's Encyclical Letter, issued earlier this month. This 144-page and over 30,000-word encyclical letter of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI to “all people of good will” is was supposedly more than two years in the making. Tyler Cowen, in a Wall Street Journal essay says

“full of critical comments about commerce, the profit motive, banks and businesses. . . . It is true that the encyclical registers many complaints about commercial society. It says that current economic arrangements create inequalities and injustices. It laments that people pursue self-interested goals without the broader community or the prospect of transcendence in mind. It says that "today's international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise." It warns against "lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country's international competitiveness." And it argues that "the continuing hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other."

Though I will not claim to understand the intricacies of Pope’s Encyclical Letter, the comments in the media and translations for laymen like me make us reflect on religion and globalization: is globalization making us less human? . . less sensitive to fellow humans?

One can flip around to other extremes of globalization: Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who personify wealth creation by globalization have in recent years shifted gears towards charities and issues impacting humans. If one takes their biographies as a blueprint: is it better for us to continue the path to globalization and AFTER we have reached the peak of Self actualization (ref: Maslow’s hierarchy_of_needs) reflect on bigger issues?