Growth of religion force for good or accident waiting to happen?

The explosion of hatred and intolerance that caused the deaths of 129 people in Paris on November 13 has wonderfully concentrated the business mind. A little publicised report from America warns politicians and multinational CEOs that the phenomenal growth of Hindu and Muslim affiliated populations could be a force for economic development, or a bomb about to hit the world around 2050 with the force—and aimlessness—of a religious tsunami.  For that reason, a small experiment in Interfaith Empowerment will be worth watching in London’s East End next year, says Trevor Grundy.

Early next year, a small team of interfaith volunteers—backed by a handful of ‘enlightened’ American and British companies—will attempt to bring awareness of The Divine into the lives of what the Algerian psychiatrist/philosopher and writer Frantz Fanon called ‘the wretched of the earth’.
Small teams of volunteers will talk to men, women and children who are presently without hope about the power of God to change their lives in what was once one of the most rundown parts of the United Kingdom, London’s East End.
The London borough was a 19th century haven for refugees from the Tsar’s Russia, for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s and for tens of thousands of Asians from Idi Amin’s Uganda in the early 1970s.
The planned meetings between those with strong religious faith and those who know little about organised religions but a great deal about poverty will be known as The Empowerment Project. The job of interfaith volunteers from Britain’s Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish communities will be to inject the hopeless with hope.
That’s the aim, anyhow.

"Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK," by Saied Reza Ameli and Arzu Merali. Photo courtesy of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

‘I believe that through interfaith collaboration, we will be able to help those experiencing a wide-range of socio-economic risks and problems, including displacement, unemployment, isolation, crime, addiction and extremism to do what we can to promote the UN’s newly adopted sustainable development goals,’ says Brian Grim, director of the Washington DC-based Religious Freedom and Business Foundation (RFBF).
He says a special empowerment curriculum has been composed, drawing on the teachings of the Jewish Bible and Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, Book of Mormon and various Hindu scriptures.
The job of interfaith volunteers will not be to teach trades but to encourage the unemployed to seek work that will be useful to society and, at the same time, fulfil them spiritually.
He says the planned Empowerment Scheme will be launched at Westminster Cathedral in London in February and that it has the backing of not only sections of big business in the US and UK but also the United Nations and Pope Francis in Rome.
‘This is what the Pope wants,’ Grim asserts. ‘He wants the international business community to commit itself to social progress. We have responded to this call and are working towards the alleviation of so many looming social problems—the East End of London first, other parts of the world next. We don’t have a slogan but if we did then I think it should be this—People before Profits. I believe that the days of big companies existing only to make profits is drawing to an end—not only in America but also in the UK and Europe and other parts of the world that include Africa and the Far East.’
Those without religious beliefs who are victims of poverty, discrimination, often drug abuse and crime tend to ignore the well-fed and well-housed telling them what to do and how to live their lives.
Whether the Empowerment Project lights a fire and spreads light and warmth, as Grim believes it will, from the East End to other parts of Britain, then Europe and other parts of the world, remains of course to be seen. No-one’s holding their breath. But acorns have been known to turn into oaks. And most people say they’re sick and tired of seeing thin people make fat profits for the world’s already stinking rich.
Grim’s visit to London coincided with the release in America of a report published by the foundation which Grim leads — a report called ‘Changing Religion — Changing Economies’.
Ignored in the UK, the report contains a wealth of statistics revealing the remarkable growth of religiously affiliated communities throughout the world.
It says that religious populations are projected to outgrow unaffiliated populations worldwide by a factor of 23 between 2010 and 2050. This will increase religious diversity and alter the distribution of wealth. The report, which draws on statistics issued by the UN and Pew Research Centre in the US, says: ‘This growing religious diversity can become an economic strength if national and business leaders promote interfaith understanding, protect minority groups’ human rights and advance freedom of religion or belief, thereby ensuring sustainable and peaceful development for all.’
Among the report’s findings is that the rising economic fortunes of Hindus and the rising numbers of Muslims will produce ‘a more economically and diverse planet, while the position of Christian populations will be weakened overall’.
At the same time, the growth of the global religiously unaffiliated populations is slowing at a much faster rate than global population growth, although their economic growth is expected to track global trends in the years ahead. Although population growth among Buddhists is expected to stagnate, economic growth is expected to be on par with global economic growth, largely due to the economic rise of China, where half of all Buddhists and two-thirds of all religiously unaffiliated people live.
Hindu populations are expected to experience the sharpest increase in economic strength of all major faith groups.
The economic gains for Hindu populations are largely driven by the rising fortunes of India. Yet Hindus in the US also contribute significantly to the global economic resources available to Hindus. The size of the Hindu American population has almost doubled since 2008 to more than two million and they are now among the wealthiest of all Americans.
The economic power of Hindus and other Indians was on display during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to California and his more recent visit to the UK, where he was acclaimed by many of the country’s 1.5 million Hindus at Wembley Stadium.
Globally, the report shows that economic growth among the Muslim population is expected to significantly outpace global economic growth because the number of Muslims in the world is expected to nearly double between 2010-2050. ‘Indeed, Muslims are expected to lead the world in population growth compared with other religious groups, despite global trends among the Muslim populations for lower fertility. For instance, in Iran today the total fertility rate has dropped below replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.’
The report underlines, if needs be once again, the now crying need for interfaith understanding.
It also points out that despite the growing ‘Hinduisation’ of India, it will by 2050 contain the world’s largest Muslim population, even surpassing Indonesia. ‘This will make Asia the Muslim world’s centre of economic power. The study finds that more than half of the economic influence associated with Muslim populations will come from the Asia-Pacific region in the decades ahead.’

Brian J. Grim: President of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation in Washington DC
Brian J. Grim: President of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation in Washington DC

Surprisingly to most people, only one of the world’s leading economies is projected to have a majority Christian population—the United States.
Christianity—so in decline in Britain and most parts of Europe—will continue to flourish in Africa, ‘which is projected to grow economically but not commensurate with the demographic growth. Half of the world’s demographic growth will occur in Africa but a significantly smaller share of the world’s economic growth will occur there’.
China is of particular interest to those watching world economic trends and the rise of religious fundamentalism.
The report says: ‘China’s religious landscape presents a clear picture of the importance of successfully navigating religious diversity. Aside from India, China has more religious believers than any other country—some 600 million. But today in China almost one in two people follow a faith, including 244 million separately following Buddhism (half of all on the planet), 68 million Christians (the world’s seventh largest) and approximately 25 million Muslims, who constitute the world’s 17th largest Muslim population, after Saudi Arabia and before Yemen.
And towards the end of the report come these chilling words: ‘The Globe’s growing religious diversity might be one of the 21st century’s most important developments, especially as it is backed by growing and shifting wealth. This could be very good for innovation and sustainable development—if accompanied by increases in human rights and interfaith understanding. If not, social hostilities involving religion ranging from discrimination and hate crimes to terrorism and conflict may continue to rise.’
The American report on the growth of religion and a 270-page Islamic Human rights Commission (IHRC) report ‘Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK’ make for grim reading.
The Paris attacks have forced France to face the ugly reality of life for so many young Muslims face in les banlieues, the housing estates surrounding Paris and other centres of wealth in France where education has broken down and anger is on the rise.
Experts have long since warned of the danger brewing in such run-down areas.
Mathieu Guidere, a professor of Islamist psychology at the University of Toulouse, told The Times (November 18, 2015) that these Muslim ghettoes were a perfect breeding ground for terrorists. He cited the explosive cocktail of strong immigration, social exclusion, a lot of unemployment, very little integration and the infiltration of religious radicals.
And Muslim anger is boiling not only in France and Belgium but also in Britain.
The IHRC report, released in November, says that Muslims in Britain now feel targeted by the media and political institutions ‘which in their understanding contribute heavily towards a deteriorating climate of fear, a rise in far-right groups and a rise of anti-Muslim racism per se. As a result they (Muslims) feel pressured to modify their behaviour and in some instances feel that this is the deliberate goal of government and the political classes’.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said that the report’s findings were ‘a serious reproach to our society’s most human ideals and values’.
A small but timely interfaith experiment in London’s East End could be something of value to Britain’s jihadist watchers, given they have the time and inclination to turn away for a moment or two from their computer screens.

 

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