(Vatican Radio) God and data are the perfect mix for Brian Grim, a long time researcher into the track record of religious freedom of countries across the globe. A Catholic and member of the World Economic Forum’s council on the role of faith and an advisor for the religion & geopolitics project of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Grim established the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation to educate the business community about how religious freedom is good for business and how by promoting it, businesses can help make a better world.
Grim spoke to Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure ahead of a U.S. Embassy to the Holy See sponsored talk on the positive effects of religious freedom on society, business and the poor at Rome’s Pontifical Urbaniana University.
“Religious freedom is good for the economy, good for business… good for women, good for the poor,” says Grim. “Where you have religious freedom, religions are free to help people and (to) do good, and love people. What stronger argument for religious freedom is there than that? “
Explaining why he left his job as senior researcher at the Pew Research Center to become president of his new Foundation, Grim says, “Just as in my own life I try to follow God’s leading, there came a point where people I met, ranging from presidents and prime ministers to people in the United Nations [told me]: ‘this is the missing link. Nobody is making the connection between the good outcomes of religious freedom and how that is important for business.’ So I took the leap of faith and have not regretted it for a moment.”
Grim’s research has shown a statistical correlation between government restrictions on religious freedom and the extent of social hostilities in countries around the world.
“Usually governments think that the best way to lower religious hostilities is to increase restrictions on religion,” Grim affirms, “but actually the opposite is true.”
The more governments restrict religious freedom and thus the freedom of religion to do good in society, Grim continues, “then you are creating hostilities that are counter-productive. But more than that, you’re cutting off a major source of solving these problems: the good side of faith.”
“Of course people can use faith for bad ends, “ he admits and adds, “sometimes religious ideas can even themselves be detrimental such as certain aspects of Sharia law. But religious freedom tends to moderate that and provide an open sphere where these things can be discussed and worked out in the public sphere rather than the government trying to squelch religious discussion.”
The “Francis-fulfilment” of Benedict’s vision for Europe
Intelligence sources have recently reported that Islamic State militants have recruited 20,000 people from around the world, including more than 3,000 from Western countries. Asked what is drawing these young people to extremism, Grim responds, “money is no small thing. And the other (reason) is the lack of alternative visions for society and for life.”
Taking the example of Europeans who have left to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Grim points to what he calls “The Francis-fulfilment of Benedict’s vision for Europe” as a possible response. “What I mean by that is this: a concern to get out and be with people, make friends, love your neighbor… [and doing that while] bringing your faith fully with you to reach out to Muslims. Because one of the greatest factors that leads to radicalization is isolation and lack of integration. And whose fault is that? That’s not the visitor’s fault. That’s the fault of the locals so to speak. So that’s our task.”
Grim looks to the bible story of the Good Samaritan for inspiration. “He was a foreigner with a foreign religion. And he was the example of what Christians ought to do.”
Businesses, faiths, communities and governments, Grim affirms, need to address the physical, temporal and financial difficulties of people on the fringes. At risk people and communities, he says, need us to “reach out,” and offer a helping hand by offering advice, jobs and skills. “But more than that,” he adds, it’s all about “let’s be friends and let’s talk about faith.”