What is Development?
Recent United Nations documents emphasize that human development includes all aspects of individuals’ well-being, from their health status to their economic and political freedom. According to the Human Development Report 1996, published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), notes that “human development is the end—economic growth a means”. Furthermore, the UNDP Report1990 argues that “People are the real wealth of a nation. The basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy and creative lives. This may appear to be a simple truth. But it is often forgotten in the immediate concern with the accumulation of commodities and financial wealth”.
In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, pointed out that development is sustainable if it “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Thus, only development that manages to balance economic, social, and environmental aspects, can be sustained for long. Conversely, ignoring one of the aspects can threaten economic growth as well as the entire development process. Later, we will see that these words often correspond to the concern of the Church.
What is humanism?
First of all, we need to note that there are different kinds of humanism: Literary Humanism, Philosophical Humanism, Humanistic psychology, Modern Humanism, Secular Humanism, and also religious humanism. In General, humanism can be defined as a system of thought or action that focuses on humans and their interests, values, capacities, and dignity or on the qualities that make us human and thereby enable us to reach the full human capacity. Humanism is an approach to life that is found throughout the human history and across the world in many different cultures. Ecclesia in Asia, the document of Pope John Paul II summarizing the ideas and conclusions of the Special Asian Synod held in Rome from April 18 to May 14, 1998, notes “The most striking feature of the continent is the variety of its peoples who are "heirs to ancient cultures, religions and traditions” (EA n.6).
Cultural and Religious Context of Asia
Asia is also the cradle of the world's major religions and spiritual traditions - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Sikhism Shintoism and traditional or tribal religions. The Church has the deepest respect for these traditions and seeks to engage in sincere dialogue with their followers” ( Cfr. EA n.6). The Asian civilizations and cultures manifested themselves in forms of religion, philosophy, arts, rituals, literature, oral tradition (proverbs, songs, narratives, myths, poetry), architecture etc. have shaped the lives of billions of people over thousands of years. In Asia, religion is the foundation of culture, and for that reason there is often no separation of religion from culture or philosophy from religion. Philosophy of Asia has a religious vision, and the religion of Asia has a philosophy of life. They are two sides of the same coin. Ecclesia in Asia notes that “Asian peoples are known for their spirit of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence” (EA n. 6). Thus, Asian humanism is best discovered and affirmed not in a spirit of confrontation and opposition, but with a spirit of complementarity and harmony. The humanism of Asia is an inclusive humanism that fosters harmony.
Asia Today: Globalization and Its Pathologies
We live in an era of globalization. Even though, globalization has brought huge benefits to Asia, how it operates now causes massive problems. It was once believed that the primary mission of globalization was to integrate the parts into whole. But, today, the parts are losing their socio-cultural, economic, and political identity. Instead of integration, globalization has brought about disintegration. The global village, once a symbol of integration, unification, and harmony, now denotes difference, differentiation, demarcation, discrimination, and dissonance. “In terms of disparity, we remain parts rather than wholes. In terms of a single humanity, we are divided. In terms of possessions, we are either rich or we are destitute. […] [I] n the inner space of the earth, we see the tragic division of humanity into hostile groups. Terrorism, sectarianism, bigotry, fundamentalism, and its horrible descendants, fanaticism, have possessed this beautiful planet.” For many, globalization has not brought the promised integral development. Therefore, in unison with the voice of Pope Francis, “We must say we want a just system we don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!” Men and women must be at the centre as God desires, and not money!” (Meeting with workers during the Pastoral Visit in Cagliari, 22 September 2013) and “Today we also have to say “thou shalt not kill” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills” (Evangelii Gaudium n.53).
Besides, with the rise of religious fundamentalism and violence, the multicultural and multi-religious image of Asia, with the capacity for accommodation, openness, and peaceful co-existence, is fading way. In recent years, especially minorities have undergone severe discrimination and persecution. The birth of fundamentalism is a reactionary gesture to the disorder in the world. “Globalization has been accused of helping to spark new religious wars by favouring conditions for the birth of quasi-religious movements, and the rebirth of fundamentalism.” Perhaps, one could say that fundamentalism is the opposite pole of globalization. The proponents of globalization predicted that the “global village” would bring an end to parochialism and nationalism. But, on the contrary, fundamentalism and nationalism are on the rise.
Another pathology of globalization is what Pope Francis has called a globalization of indifference. “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 54). Globalization also reduces the person to one of his/her needs alone, namely, consumption. Pope Francis notes that “Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started a throw-away culture” (To The New Non-Resident Ambassadors To The Holy See:Kyrgyzstan, Antigua And Barbuda, Luxembourg And Botswana, 16 May 2013).Therefore, globalization today needs reforms since it continues to produce a host of evil. Pope Benedict XVI voiced that “Certainly, the structural causes linked to the system of government of the world economy, leading the major part of the world resources of the planet to a minority of people, need to be eliminated. […] It is necessary largely to ‘convert’ the global model of development. It is required today not only because of the scandal of hunger but also because of the environmental and energy crisis.”
New Humanism through Triple Dialogue
Today’s world needs profound changes in lifestyle, models of production and consumption. Christian Humanism comes into being with the experience that human person is loved by God. Being made new by the love of God, men and women seek to change their relationships, transforming even social structures. Since it is the attitudes of human person that is an obstacle to integral development, the world will not change unless human person himself changes. The Church has the mission of promoting for a new humanism that is both fully Christian and fully Asian. The Asian Church seeks to fulfil this mission through triple dialogue – dialogue with cultures, with religions and the people especially the poor - in other words, through intercultural and interreligious dialogue and liberation. The triple dialogue deepens our vision of the “other” and thereby inspires Christians to foster an integral and shared humanism through joint acceptance of responsibility.
Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences affirms that even though all religions are not the same, they are partners and collaborators in bringing about a new humanism. Thus, as co-pilgrims the common mission is to accompany the people of Asia towards an integral development. Catholic social teaching proposes the solidarity of humankind as a solution since the human person has a natural vocation to community. “God did not create man as a solitary. […] For by their innermost nature human beings are social, and unless they relate themselves to one another they can neither live nor develop their gifts” (GS n.12). Sunni Muslims and Catholic leaders, in a statement issued after a meeting, observed that dialogue is not enough to combat religious extremism but integral development must also be promoted.
The solidarity of human family can contribute to overcome the “local and global structural evils. The Vatican Council II affirms it thus: “at a deeper level, economic, political, and social problems come from selfishness and pride (cfr. GS n. 25)”. Thus, structural sin is identified as originating from personal sin. Pope Paul VI, in Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN) dealt with the notion of personal reform and structural change as follows “ […] the best structures and the most idealized systems soon become inhuman if the inhuman inclinations of the human heart are not made wholesome, if those who live in these structures or who rule them do not undergo a conversion of heart and of outlook» (EN n.36).
As Christians, we believe that each of us has a specific vocation and a mission to fulfil. In this light, solidarity of humankind against all exploitative and oppressive structures and false values signify doing our part to bring about the kingdom of Christ in human society. “Building a just and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew” (Deus Caritas Est n.28). The other religions are also opposed to these egoistic and exploitive structures. Yet, collaboration has become difficult today because of the dehumanization of the other which is manifested in religious fundamentalism and cultural conflicts in Asia. Axial Age is characterized by a radical change in the world's political, philosophical, and religious systems. Likewise the religions of today need to become involved in a critical reflection on themselves and on the world.
The thesis of this paper is that conflicts in Asia emerge as a result of socio-political, cultural and economic instability. Hence, religious leaders have a great duty to collaborate to eradicate the causes which give birth to these social ills. “This inter-religious collaboration must also be concerned with the struggle to eliminate hunger, poverty, ignorance, persecution, discrimination, and every form of enslavement of the human spirit.” Besides, globalization creates new opportunities and a new need to cooperate in the service of humanity: to help the poor, the weak, and the needy, to promote development, to strive for justice and to work for peace in the world. Thus, human development becomes not merely an economic or social issue, rather a fundamental moral question. Human person created into the likeness and image of God suffers due to exploitation, manipulation, discrimination and exclusion by local and global factors and actors. As a community witnessing to the Crucified Lord, the Church must stand on the side of the victims, the discontents and the excluded of globalization. “It is only when one can recognize Jesus as the victim, as the crucified subaltern who is raised by God, that meaning and salvation become possible.” Accordingly, the Church shows a preferential love of the poor and the voiceless, because the Lord has identified himself with them in a special way. The solidarity with the poor leads to the collaboration among the various religions and people of good will since integral development is a common concern of the universal human family. Finally, the fruit of true dialogue leads to union between people and union of people with the Ultimate reality. This dialogue must be extended to promoting and defending common ideals in social spheres of development, religious liberty, human brotherhood and sisterhood, education, culture, social welfare, and civic order. Otherwise, as Cardinal de Lubac has mentioned: “Man can organise the earth without God. But, without God, in the final analysis, he can only organise it to run counter to man”.