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Making Room for God in Today's World

1/16/2005 - 7:00 AM PST

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Tentative Signs That Society Is More Attuned to the Transcendent

LONDON, JAN. 16, 2005 (Zenit) - 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 ...

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