Oxford Theology Society Lecture: Values to Make the World Great Again
- Kamran Mofid
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"Values to Make the World Great Again: Theology, Economics and Spirituality in Dialogue Again"
Prof. Kamran Mofid*
Oxford Theology Society
8 March 2017
Photo: Keble College
I would very much like to thank the Oxford Theology Society for inviting me to speak today, and for giving me the opportunity to share with you a bit of my life journey for the common good.
I would also very much wish to thank Gavin Felming, President, Oxford Theology Society and Shahriar Ashrafkhorasani, Organiser, Oxford Open Discussion Network for all their support and friendship, making this gathering possible.
Friends, I wish to set the scene by reading a short statement, giving you a brief background to my presentation, my abstract, if you will:
This presentation is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grand- children, who are the unfolding story of the decades ahead. May they rise to the challenge of leading our troubled world, with hope and wisdom in the interest of the common good to a better future
In honour of International Women’s Day, which falls on today 8 March, I wish to begin my talk by acknowledging the support of the GCGI for this important and significant day.
On this day, women as well as men the world over celebrate International Women's Day. It is a celebration of respect, appreciation and love toward women's achievements throughout history. GCGI joins in honouring women of every culture, tradition and nation for their steadfast courage, wisdom and compassionate contribution in creating a more balanced and sustainable world.
And now, reverting to my talk, this evening I want you to remember me as a storyteller, a messenger, drawing on the wisdom of the past to inform the work of the present and to create a vision of hope for the future.
As I have noted elsewhere:
‘We recognise that our socio-economic problems are a reflection of our attitude to life and to one another. Justice, peace and harmony will come about only when the connection between the spiritual and practical in life is valued by each one of us and in society at large. This is beautifully expressed in a Chinese proverb:
“If there be righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there be beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there be harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
When there is order in each nation, there will be peace in the world.”-Kamran Mofid
Given this, therefore, before saying anything else, allow me to read you a few quotes, precious gems, from some of our spiritual teachers, great sages, to focus our minds, enabling us to move forward more fruitfully; more rewardingly this evening:
“He that seeks the good of the many seeks in consequence his own good.” St. Thomas Aquinas
"What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good." Aristotle
“A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” Buddha
‘We have to build a better man before we can build a better society.’ Paul Tillich
“Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.” Albert Einstein
'The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion’-Thomas Paine
“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” T. S. Eliot
And finally a quote from a teacher that has greatly inspired and influenced my teaching style and values. Here I am most humbly inspired by Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China, considered the founder of Taoism. He said:
Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
You reconcile all beings in the world.
Having said all these, you might be wondering why I have chosen this title for my talk this evening. The answer for me is a simple one. Let me tell you why:
I want my talk to be positive and be driven by hope, something that so sadly is missing in this so-called modern, gadget-driven, fast- moving world.
“We Are Here for the Sake of One Another”
The world needs hope; every person, everywhere, needs hope. HOPE gives us life. HOPE connects us. HOPE fuels us. HOPE moves us. HOPE keeps us. HOPE grounds us. HOPE protects us. HOPE anchors us.
As far back as the 6th century BC, the Greek poet Theognis of Megara said: “Hope is the one good god remaining.” The poet Theo Dorgan reminds us that, hope is a profound act of imagination, the most important and the most neglected of the civic virtues. In the face of the present societal and global crises we can lie down in despair, or we can choose hope — which means placing all our faith in each other and in the boundless capacity of the imagination to reinvent circumstance, to establish new truths.
We are not mean people. We have hearts and minds, we care for each other still, we have our dreams, and in dreams, as the poet Delmore Schwartz once said, “In dreams begin responsibilities”.
Moreover, ‘Hope’- as many wise teachers have reminded us- is a driving force for transformation, innovation, economic growth and wellbeing. Hope, often articulated as an endorsed desire for a future which is uncertain, has a clear economic significance as do the unfortunate opposites such as anxiety and inertness. Hence, hope is more than just an emotion or an optimistic attitude. It is related to reason and prudence in the sense of one’s rational assessment of a difficult situation, possible solutions and the prediction of changes. Hope is as complex and ambiguous as the human person itself. For many centuries philosophers and theologians have reflected on the meaning of hope. More recently hope has drawn attention of the young discipline of positive psychology. Also in economics, attempts are made to define the concept and measure its effects, opening up the way for policy interventions.
Considering the multifaceted nature of the concept of hope, its study requires an interdisciplinary investigation. This is why I hope my presentation here tonight, will, however, brief, contribute to this investigation and then, to encourage dialogue, primarily between economics, theology and spirituality.
Moreover, the title represents me in a true and honest fashion. It depicts and guides the story of my life. Therefore, tonight I am going to share a series of stories with you, personal and professional, covering the period from 1973 to this evening in 2017, 44 years of travelling, engaging the world, different peoples, cultures, civilisations, learning from each, becoming aware of the beauty, wisdom and necessity of dialogue and friendship in the interest of the common good.
Stories are very important as a true form of communication, reflection, meditation and engagement. In my case, they are also significant in what I am going to share with you this evening. They have formed and guided what I am, who I am and why I am.
Let me quote you a passage from our GCGI Storytelling Project:
“Storytelling has the capacity to touch our deepest emotions and it can allow us to peer at beauty. We glance at our own creativity and breathe our own thoughts. But more than that: Storytelling is also a wonderful path to set ourselves free, by opening our hearts to others and letting them in; becoming one with one another.
Because, after all, as many have reminded us, the best way to know truth, wisdom or beauty is to try to express it and share it with others.”
I firmly believe that storytelling - opening our hearts to others - is instrumental in enhancing inclusion, social justice, cultural life, and improving physical and emotional health at the individual, local, national and international levels.
Moreover, storytelling nurtures both the young people and the older generation by providing a spiritual path to a meaningful and rewarding intergenerational dialogue, benefiting each group equally.
So now let me tell you a bit of my story: Let me open my heart to you.
There is so much that I can share with you. But in the interest of time, I need to fast track to November 1973, the day I visited the Coventry Cathedral for the first time.
To do this, the best I can do, is to quote a few passages from Coventry and I: The story of a boy from Iran who became a man in Coventry :
“Father, Forgive” - these two words which I discovered at the ruins of Coventry Cathedral in 1973 changed the course of my life.
This is the story I must tell: A Story of Suffering and Hope
“It is 42 years since I first visited Coventry Cathedral. It had a profound impact on me, hugely influencing and inspiring me to be who I am and what I now do.
It was, if I remember rightly, on an early morning in November 1973. A few months earlier, I had met a wonderful girl from Coventry in Oxford, where we were living and studying, a girl who later became my dear wife, Annie. In July 1974 we were married at the old, historical Saint Osburg’s in Coventry.
In November 1973 Annie had invited me to her home town of Coventry, so that she could introduce me to her parents. It was a memorable occasion for me, leading to a long and loving relationship between us, which I cherish dearly.
We visited the cathedral. I can recall it was a cold grey day. I was only 21 years old, and had arrived in England, only a couple of years earlier from Iran, as a student to further my studies. I did not know anything about Coventry, its bombed and destroyed Cathedral, its industrial heritage, and moreover, I did not know much about Christianity, except what I had heard about Jesus and Mary, which in Iran I knew as ”Hazrat-e Isa” and “Maryam-e Moghadas” (Prophet Jesus and Holy Mary).
To cut a long story short, Annie gave me a quick tour of the Cathedral, the old, destroyed one and then took me down the stairs to the new one.
For sure, I didn't understand every word Annie was telling me. Indeed, I suspect I was lost at times but, as I recall, I could not believe what I was seeing and hearing…”
Farther Forgive: It’s Impact on Me
“In short, looking back, I believe one experience of that day, has had a major impact on me. That was when Annie and I were at the ruins of the old cathedral. I saw the ruined altar, with a charred cross, a replica of the original, its burnt blackness in startling contrast to the clean polished wood of most church crosses I had seen in Oxford or London. Then on the wall behind the altar, I noticed two words that had been carved into the red sandstone, their letters a foot high: FATHER, FORGIVE.
I asked Annie: “Who is the Father?” and “Forgive who?” She tried to the best of her ability to answer me. But, I am sure she knew that I was not getting it:
Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, All in one! Forgiving the Germans, who had just destroyed the cathedral and the city! Wow! What next?!
Now, who would have guessed, who could have believed, one day, that young man inspired and fuelled by what he had seen in an early morning visit to Coventry Cathedral in 1973, would end up co-founding the Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Coventry University in 1996: This is the story, “My Coventry Story” which I am pleased to have shared a small bits of it with you.
To cut a very long story short, yes, I went on and founded the Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, with President Mary Robinson as its distinguished patron.
But now, there was another story in making, one that was not under my control: Life is so full of unpredictable beauty and strange surprises
As many people, wiser than me have noted, our lives and the world in which we all live, are so unpredictable. Things happen suddenly, unexpectedly. We want to feel we are in control of our own existence. In some ways we are, in some ways we're not ... Life, it can bring you so much joy and yet at the same time cause so much pain.
I was so devastated that after this wonderful journey, full of joy and happiness, achievements and success, due to some reasons beyond my control, I started to feel unwell, unhappy, depressed, not enjoying what I was doing and teaching, especially when I lost all confidence in the value of moral-free economics that I was teaching my students, and more.
In 1999 I voluntarily resigned from my post at CoventryUniversity. It goes without saying that, I was heartbroken and extremely hurt that I was unable to nurture and develop further what I had envisioned and built.
Looking back, reflecting on what has happened, I think, somehow, somebody, somewhere, had planned it so that I, too, should have a life, similar to the life of Coventry itself: fall and rise again, the story that I very much wish to continue sharing with you tonight.
Oh, my God, there is so much to tell, so much to share. But, one is very relevant to my talk tonight, and that is my return back to Oxford in 2001.
After leaving my post at Coventry University, I went through two years of hell, hardship and struggle with everything. I had to rediscover myself again. I had to find a new path to explain who I am, what I am, and why I am.
Thus, I came back to Oxford again. This time to a small Catholic adult education college there in Pullens Lane, Headington, called Plater College. After decades of being a university lecturer, I became student again, when I register for the Pastoral Theology course.
I enjoyed my time and studies at Plater very much. It was truly a path to my personal healing. There I also discovered the beauty of wisdom, ethics, morality, spirituality, solidarity, comradeship and more.
It was there that I also discovered that I must begin to work hard to ensure that these values must become the values of economics, business, education and globalisation too. I wrote a few books, booklets and articles about these new discoveries. Too much to mention now, but let me quote you a few selected passages, relevant to my discussion tonight:
“Why should we try to combine religion and economics? Because they have a common end: that all may live happily; it is just that they employ different methods in order to achieve this end. One uses the production and exchange of goods and services, the other selfless service, love and compassion.
Religions could – if they will speak with their original source of inspiration – greatly contribute towards restoring the balance between the material and the spiritual elements and thus show the way to live fully human lives in a peaceful, just and sustainable society. The ethical and spiritual teachings of all religions and their striving for the common good can provide us with a clear and focused model of moral behaviour in what we term ‘the marketplace’. An overall ethical orientation to the challenges of daily economic activity can be related to each of our faith traditions. In the Jewish tradition we see the effort to balance pragmatic considerations of economic efficiency with ideals of interpersonal equity and social justice. The key themes of Christian and Islamic thoughts are respectively a concern for human dignity and a concern for communal solidarity. These three themes are not separate: they overlap and interlock; and they are shared by all three traditions. Together they form an inspiring mosaic of Western religious ethics.
The traditions of the East have somewhat different themes from those of the Abrahamic religions; nonetheless, there is much that is similar. The importance of humility and patience characterises the Hindu view of economic life. In Buddhism, the theme that resonates most strongly is compassion; in Confucian thought it is reciprocity. These, also, are not separate themes, but overlapping and interlocked. The mosaic they form is not sharply distinct from that of the Western traditions. Related to the marketplace, it would inspire businessmen to exhibit mutual compassion, while individual achievement would not be at the expense of communal solidarity. Steady economic and moral improvement would be pursued with humility and patience. These must become the guiding principles, the vision behind the teachings of a new economics: the marketplace is not just an economic sphere, ‘it is a region of the human spirit’.
"Values to Make the World Great Again: Theology, Economics and Spirituality in Dialogue Again"
Whilst reflecting and preparing my lecture for this evening, I came across an article in the Guardian, which caught my eyes and my imagination. The article was about the opening address by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at the Church of England’s synod meeting last month in London.
I wish to quote a few short passages from his address, very relevant to my talk.
The Archbishop had noted that:
“There are a thousand ways to explain the Brexit vote, or the election of President Trump, or the strength in the polls in Holland of Geert Wilders or in France of Madame Le Pen and many other leaders in a nationalist, populist or even fascist tradition of politics.”
The Archbishop cited “the impact of globalisation economically, or marginalisation, politically, and of post-modernity culturally” as playing a role in the new political landscape.
He added that now was “a moment to reimagine Britain, a moment of potential opportunity, certainly combined with immensely hard work and heavy lifting”.
“It is a moment of challenge, but challenge that as a nation can be overcome with the right practices, values, culture and spirit. This could be a time of liberation, of seizing and defining the future, or it could be one in which the present problems seize our national future and define us.”
Wow! I could not have said it better myself! However, I am so happy that we, at the GCGI, have been championing very similar values and principles that the Archbishop has highlighted in this speech.
Let me explain a bit, whilst remembering the eloquent words of Justin Welby.
From 2002 when the GCGI was founded, we have been at the forefront of activities to encourage a way of working and forming a place where dialogical conversations can be encouraged, nurtured, developed and supported by bringing together a group of noted scholars, researchers, students and professionals from all contexts and backgrounds who share this vision and appreciate the exciting potential of having the chance to talk, and engage in a dialogue of ideas, visions and values with people from a broad array of backgrounds and disciplines.
We are committed to the view that inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary work is a very positive and credible way forward in a rapidly changing world. It is our firm belief that a dialogue of values, ideas, and visions, supported by a meaningful dialogue of interrelated academic disciplines, will be very positive for a successful and rewarding path to a better and more harmonious world.
Justin Welby had invited us to reimagine a better country, a better world. Let me share with you my reimagination:
Reimagining a Better World, a Better Life
“We do not need magic to transform the world. We carry all the power we need inside of us already. We have the power to imagine better.” J.K. Rowling
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.” Albert Einstein
This is how we have been imagining a better world at the GCGI
Imagine a political system that puts the public first. Imagine the economy and markets serving people rather than the other way round. Imagine us placing values of respect, fairness, interdependence, and mutuality at the heart of our economy. Imagine an economy that gives everyone their fair share, at least an appropriate living wage, and no zero-hour contracts. Imagine where jobs are accessible and fulfilling, producing useful things rather than games of speculation and casino capitalism. Imagine where wages support lives rather than an ever expanding divisions and separations between the top 1% and the rest. Imagine a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs, and which says no to greed. Imagine unrestricted access to an excellent education, healthcare, housing and social services. Imagine hunger being eliminated, no more food banks and soup kitchens. Imagine each person having a place he/she can call home. Imagine all senior citizens living a dignified and secure life. Imagine all the youth leading their lives with ever-present hope for a better world. Imagine a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come. Imagine no more wars, but dialogue, conversation and non-violent resolution of conflicts.
This is the world I wish to see and I believe we have the means to build it, if we take action in the interest of the common good.
We must begin to seriously think, ponder and reflect together on Life’s Big Questions, questions of meaning, values and purpose:
1. What does it mean to be human?
2. What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose?
3. What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world?
4. What does it mean to forge a more just society for the common good?
5- In what ways are we living our highest values?
6- How are we working to embody the changes we wish to see in the world?
7- What projects, models or initiatives give us the greatest sense of hope?
8- How can we do well in life by doing good?
By their very nature, these questions involve thought and discussion around spirituality, ethics, morals and values.
This means that our lives are connected not only to knowledge, power and money, but also to faith, love and wisdom. Unless the questions we ask encompass the full spectrum of these emotions and experiences, we’re unlikely to find the answers we are looking for, or to understand them in any depth, let alone solving problems and attaining goals.
In seeking to answer these and other pertinent questions, and to understand the world better, we need to discover the world not just as it is, but also how it ought to be. Indeed, the deepest and most difficult questions with which we wrestle are problems of value — right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, just and unjust, worthy or unworthy, dignified or abhorrent, love or hatred, cooperation or competition, selflessness or selfishness, prosperity or poverty, profit or loss.
Human beings have explored these many questions of value through religion, philosophy, the creation of art and literature, and more. Indeed, questions of value have inaugurated many disciplines within the humanities and continue to drive them today. Questions and conversations about values and valuing are fundamental to what it means to be human, but rarely become the subject of explicit public reflection.
I hope here tonight, we can come together and think more fully and constructively, finding possibilities of exploring how values-led action can be a resource for renewal.
This brings me to the second challenge the Archbishop has asked us to reflect upon: to set the values needed to build the better world that we are imagining.
To focus our minds, assisting us to see the big picture, I very much wish to offer for consideration and reflection the values of the GCGI, which we hold very dearly:
We value caring and kindness
We value passion and positive energy
We value service and volunteerism
We value simplicity and humility
We value trust, openness, and transparency
We value values-led education
We value harmony with nature
We value non-violent conflict resolution
We value interfaith, inter-civilisational and inter-generational dialogue
We value teamwork and collaboration
We value challenge and excellence
We value fun and play
We value curiosity and innovation
We value health and wellbeing
We value a sense of adventure
We value people, communities and cultures
We value friendship, cooperation and responsibility
Conclusion: Co-creating “The Future We Want” in the Interest of the Common Good
The future is indeed fraught with environmental, socio-economic, political, and security risks that could derail the progress towards the building of “The Future We Want”. However, although these serious challenges are confronting us, we can, if we are serious and sincere enough, overcome them by taking risks in the interest of the common good.
One thing is clear: the main problem we face today is not the absence of technical or economic solutions, but rather the presence of moral and spiritual crises. This requires us to build broad global consensus on a vision that places values such as love, generosity and caring for the common good into socio-political and economic practice, suggesting possibilities for healing and transforming our world. Let us seize it. Carpe Diem!
Thank you friends
*Prof. Kamran Mofid is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI- founded at an international conference in Oxford in 2002), Co-founder/Editor, GCGI Journal, which is hosted at Wilmington College, Ohio, USA, a Patron of the Human Values Foundation, a Founding member of World Dignity University, and a TFF Associate. Mofid received his BA and MA in economics from the University of Windsor, Canada in 1980 and 1982 respectively. In 1986 he was awarded his doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, UK. In 2001 he received a Certificate in Education in Pastoral Studies at Plater College, Oxford. Mofid's work is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on Economics, Business, Politics, International Relations, Theology, Culture, Ecology, Ethics and Spirituality. Mofid's writings have appeared in leading scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers. His books include Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic , The Economic Consequences of the Gulf war, Globalisation for the Common Good, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation for the Common Good , Promoting the Common Good (with Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, 2005), and A non-Violent Path to Conflict Resolution and Peace Building (Co-authored, 2008). Prof. Mofid was the instigator, Co-founder and the Associate Director (1996-1999) of the Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Coventry University.