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Creating an ethical context for globalization: catholic perspectives in an interreligious context.

"Globalization" is a term that generates great passion nearly everywhere today. Whether people support or strongly oppose the reality of globalization, they very often express their viewpoint with great gusto. I tend to believe the process has a considerable number of positive features, but I also recognize the profound dislocation and misery it has brought to many. My perspective is based in part on the recognition that globalization, in one form or another, has, in fact, been taking place for most of human history, as people have continued to move out of very confined geographic and cultural settings into ones of increasing diversity. The worlds of Rome and Greece represented an early form of globalization, in my view. The missionary activity of Christianity, often linked to colonial expansion, represented another period of intense globalization, with all the ambiguities that are evident in the present form of globalization. I could cite many later examples. Some view the expansion of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the beginning of the modern form of globalization, while still others point to the British industrial revolution, to the emergence of the digital revolution, or to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This presentation will focus primarily on the impact of the Bretton Woods agreement.

To the extent that the globalization process enables us to break down cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers and brings us into increased human understanding and solidarity, it is a good thing. Insofar as it becomes a generator of cultural and economic hegemony by rich and powerful nations over other peoples, it deserves strong condemnation. As I look at the process of globalization today, I think it is, in fact, doing both. The challenge before us is how to erase its shadow side.

It is not possible in this presentation to provide a detailed analysis of the current reality of globalization. So I would like to limit my focus to a consideration of the potential contribution of religion to the humanizing of the globalizing process that engulfs us at the present moment. Let me begin with a few words about the origins of our current form of globalization.

During World War II, at the 1944 economic conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, representatives from forty-five nations established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both based in Washington, D.C., which have served as primary engines of globalization. These new entities were meant to encourage extensive free trade when the war had ended, in the belief that, by breaking down economic barriers that had in the past alienated peoples and separated nations from one another, future wars could be prevented. Contemporary globalization is deeply rooted in the systems put into place by the Bretton Woods Conference.

The Bretton Woods form of globalization has generated the largely unfettered flow of capital across continents and often the rise to dominance of giant transnational corporations. The late, prophetic Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, Dom Helder Camara, once addressed this reality in a major speech in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1960's. Asked to describe the economic and social problems facing his native country, Camara responded, to the shock of his audience, that the biggest problem facing Brazil was, in fact, the Swiss banking system that allowed for the outflow of vital capital resources from his country. A number of Swiss government officials suggested the next day that Dom Helder should be jailed for violating the Swiss law against criticism of the country by a foreigner! This issue of capital outflow was also directly addressed by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum Progressio, by far the most radical statement on social responsibility issued by any pope. For years, Catholic neoconservatives attempted to persuade Pope John Paul II and the Vatican to distance themselves from Paul VI's views on this question. Fortunately, he did not.

For many years, globalization's champions, especially in North America and Western Europe, were vocal cheerleaders for this cause. They continually claimed that globalization would achieve worldwide prosperity and create peaceful international cooperation within the family of nations. "Make money, not war" became their mantra, something we have continued to hear from the political leaders of the West, as well as in many parts of Asia, for the past several decades.

In most cases, globalization also has resulted in the penetration and expansion into all parts of the world of Western food, films, clothing, music, sports, media, and many other forms of popular culture. Personal benefits promised by globalization include a significant rise in the standard of living on a mass scale and the accumulation of goods, combined with rapid transportation and communication. Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong with such optimistic assurances. Even people directly connected with the globalization process on the economic level have now spoken to its failures. The 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, in his much-discussed book Globalization and Its Discontents, (1) has severely criticized the Bretton Woods system from within. The utopian promises proclaimed at the creation of the present global economic system have not, on the whole, been realized. Hence, for many throughout the world, including many deeply involved with the religious community, "globalization" has become an expletive. These critics view globalization as a monster that devours traditional cultures and religious beliefs, while condemning millions of people on the globe to a permanent prison of economic depression and political anger. That anger, which is charged with considerable justification, fuels anti-Western terrorist groups and destabilizes fragile regimes. One hears similar critique in the annual meetings of the World Social Forum.

Today, millions of people in the West are bewildered and even stunned by the vociferous rejection of globalization and its rich promises of a new world order. Facing this reality, I would like to reflect on ways in which religions can enter the increasingly strident debate about globalization in a constructive way.

One starting point might be the recent volume by the award-winning journalist Ira Rifkin. In his Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheavel, Rifkin provides a concise analysis of how eight major world religions relate to globalization. He does so not merely on the basis of religious texts but by probing as well the hearts of representatives of these religious traditions. He vividly tells their gripping stories as they struggle to remain faithful to their classical spiritualities in the face of the relentless and powerful forces of contemporary globalization. While some evangelical Christians, according to Rifkin, regard globalization as nothing less than a sign of the imminent arrival of the Antichrist, most of the people interviewed by Rivkin come across as seeking to balance globalization's claims and real achievements with a sense of justice and respect for cultural traditions and time-tested religious values. (2)

Rifkin addresses a provocative question to the religions in this era of intensifying globalization--whether it is possible to combine local values with globalization. What particularly unnerves many people when confronted with globalization is the threat it seems to pose to those values that have grounded fundamental human meaning in various cultures. I would add here, in response to Rifkin's question, that, in fact, religions have a new challenge before them in this regard, for they are almost the only global organizations that function at both an international and a local level. In my view, religions have the potential to become critical bridge-builders in this period of globalization. They have unique links to all shareholders in global society.

I would lay a second major responsibility on religions. Globalization forces us to expand our universe of moral obligation. One of the most insightful comments made about the Christian churches' attitude toward Jews during the Holocaust is that they became "unfortunate expendables," to use the term coined by Nora Levin, (3) in the churches' struggle for self-preservation against the demonic forces of Nazism. If religions are to face up to the challenge of globalization, they need to expand their sphere of moral obligation so as to include all peoples of the globe. Not to undertake such an expansion will endanger every religion. Members of all religions must now recognize that the survival of all persons is integral to their own authentic survival. Jews, Poles, the Roma, gays, and the disabled should not have been viewed as unfortunate expendables during the Nazi period--and there is no place for any similar classification today. Speaking as a Christian, I would assert that there is no way for the church--or for any other religious tradition--to survive meaningfully if it allows the death or suffering of other people to become a byproduct of its efforts at self-preservation. Hence, the desire to preserve our own distinctive religious heritages against the ravages of globalization cannot be pursued within an insular religious framework.

One vital part of this process is the recognition of how religions have often been involved in dehumanizing others in the past, including people in other religious traditions, and even participating in their actual destruction. (4) The era of missionary expansion by Christianity certainly involved violence against indigenous people, even if we view evangelization as an integral component of Christian self-understanding. Certainly, John Paul II recognized this dark reality and he expressed contrition for the Catholic Church's involvement in colonialism, including such practices as the slave trade, during the moving liturgy of reconciliation that he celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent in 2000, as part of Catholicism's millennium observance. The same holds true for the long history of Christian Antisemitism for which John Paul II also apologized both in that same ceremony and subsequently during his historic visit to Jerusalem. We are quite aware of how religion in many cases sustained the vicious apartheid system in South Africa and how the churches' missionary effort, intentionally or not, was instrumental in establishing a social order in Rwanda, the most Catholic country in Africa, in which the seeds of eventual genocide were planted. If religious folk fail to cleanse their language and practice of religious violence toward the other, they will eliminate themselves as effective agents of humanization and solidarity in the global era. Hans Kung's often-quoted dictum that there cannot be peace in the world without peace among religions remains as true as ever.

Violent religious language can greatly contribute to softening up a society for genocide. Religion remains a powerful force in most present-day societies. If religious language in a given society continues to demean people who do not share the dominant faith system, and even denies them full rights of citizenship, it certainly opens the door for physical assaults on such groups in times of social tension. In contrast, positive religious language about the "religious other" can serve as a barrier against such assaults. It is especially needed in the complex national societies that globalization has produced.

Religion also has a role to play in insuring that groups in a society are not "neutralized" in terms of their fundamental humanity. Holocaust scholar Henry Friedlander showed some years ago how the neutral language used in reporting daily death counts in the Nazi extermination camps paralleled the language used by the United States military in reporting Vietnamese casualties during the Vietnam War. (5) Religion must always fight against such neutralization, even of an enemy, for, if neutralization of particular groups in society is allowed a foothold, it exposes these groups to the possibility of more violent attacks that in times of social crisis can again turn into genocidal or near-genocidal actions against them.

For Catholics, the Document on Religious Liberty from Vatican II, inspired by Pope John XXIII, can serve as a foundational resource. It argued for the basic divinity of every human person, expressed in freedom of conscience, even to the point of protecting the right not to believe in human dignity. Human dignity, not right belief, became the fundamental cornerstone of any just society. All other identities, though important, became secondary. They may be used as the basis for a massive assault on human life.

On the Catholic side, but with global impact, John XXIII certainly began the process of removing violence from the Church's expression. He did this both by text and gesture. In face of a century of attack against the notion of human rights and religious freedom within the European Catholic community in particular, John XXIII asserted human rights and religious freedom as integral to the Catholic faith perspective in the Charter of Human Rights in his encyclical Pacem in Terris. In so doing he settled the dispute taking place at Vatican II regarding the proposed document on religious liberty. A religious institution that does not model the concern for human rights, both within its internal operations and as a fundamental global concern, cannot be a legitimate actor in the current struggle to humanize globalization.

John XXIII also contributed significantly to the eradication of violence in Christian expression through gesture and language. He greeted with an outstretched hand those who, a few years before, had been labeled heretics and systematics, or unbelievers, or Communists. Even if he continued to have profound disagreements with them, he never failed to acknowledge their basic humanity. He demonstrated a keen sensitivity toward the impact of negative language by the religious community. His approach to the Jews is a prime example. He changed liturgical language that he considered to be dehumanizing. He initiated a fundamental change of perspective on Jews and Judaism, which his successors have enhanced in both text and gesture. He thus began one of the most profound turnabouts in interreligious understanding, one that I am convinced can serve as support and model for other historically antagonistic interreligious relations.

Following the example of John XXIII, an essential challenge for religions in the face of globalization is to continue to bring to the global community an example of the centrality of affirmation of the religious and secular "other" at a time when media, and even an increasing number of voices among the religions, are adopting an attack mentality, an "in your face" approach to national and religious identity. This affirmation of the other must be done through text, language, and gesture, as modeled by John XXIII.

I will now turn to what I regard as one of the central challenges to all religious traditions today: ecology. In many ways ecology is the most global issue of all. No one will survive if we do not attend to it. It neither knows nor respects national borders. The destruction of the rain forests, the depletion of the protective ozone layer, the rise in ocean levels as a result of global warming (which already threatens the existence of more than forty island countries), and the destructive effect of acid rain are not problems of a single nation. They engulf all of us in their web. There simply is no way to address the growing reality of ecological destruction except on a global basis. Religious traditions must respond to this challenge by developing a spirituality in which ecological preservation is central. In the Christian community, Protestants have tended to be ahead of Catholics in confronting this issue, though there is growing awareness of ecology within Catholicism of late. However, there is also evidence of growing opposition, even ultraconservative criticism of John Paul II for his relatively modest statements on ecological responsibility, rooted in a claim that an emphasis on ecology will transform Christianity into a "naturalist" religion.

There is also the challenge posed for Christians in terms of their biblical tradition. The historian Lynn White, often regarded as one of founders of the ecological movement, attacked Genesis as a source of religiously motivated ecological destruction over the centuries, (6) thus bringing Jews into the picture as well. For Christians there is a need to deal with the apocalyptic tradition of the Christian Scriptures that some have used to view ecological destruction as central to the coming of the final reign of God. We once had a U.S. Secretary of the Interior who testified in Congress, arguing from his Christian faith, that there was no real urgency about protecting forests because their destruction as part of the endtime was not all that distant. (7) While we may legitimately argue that eco-proponents such as Lynn White have misread the Genesis text, just as many Christians have also misinterpreted the book of Revelation, there is no question that both have been employed by religious believers in an ecologically irresponsible way. Thus, one of the first tasks for religions will be to ensure that their biblical texts support rather than undercut ecological responsibility.

Back in the early 1970's, two futurists introduced us to a fundamentally new reality with which religious ethics has not yet adequately grappled: Victor Ferkiss, a political scientist out of the Catholic tradition, (8) and Hans Jonas, a social philosopher of Jewish background, (9) served warning that humankind had reached a new era in its evolutionary journey. Humanity was now standing on a threshold between utopia and oblivion, as Buckminster Fuller has put it. (10) The human community now faces a situation whose potential for destruction equals its capacity for reaching new levels of creativity and human dignity. What path humanity will follow is a decision that rests with the next several generations. Neither direct divine intervention nor the arbitrary forces of nature will determine the ultimate outcome. Given the growing reality of ecological destruction, human choice is now more critical than ever for the survival of the created world. We must stop the spread of acid rain; we must prevent further deterioration of the protective ozone layer; we must stop global warming and its influence on the rise of ocean levels. Decisions made in the next several decades will have lasting impact, well beyond the life span of those who are destined to make them. These decisions will, in fact, determine what forms of life, if any, will live on.

Ferkiss put the contemporary challenge to humankind in these words: "Man has ... achieved virtually godlike powers over himself, his society, and his physical environment. As a result of his scientific and technological achievements, he has the power to alter or to destroy both the human race and its physical habitat." (11)

Hans Jonas, in a groundbreaking plenary speech in Los Angeles to the Congress of Learned Societies of Religion in September, 1972, and subsequently in published writings, (12) has conveyed essentially the same message as Ferkiss. Ours is the very first generation, Jonas insists, to have to face the question of basic creational survival. In the past, there was no human destructive behavior from which nature could not recover through its in-built recuperative powers. Today we have reached the point through technological development where this principle no longer holds. Humankind now seems increasingly capable of actions that inflict terminal damage on the whole of creation and raise serious questions about the future of humanity itself.

Leaders of all religions must respond to this ecological challenge by generating a spirituality of ecological responsibility, though they may not fully agree as to the directions this spirituality should take. The co-creational responsibility now incumbent upon humanity--as laid out in various Catholic documents, including John Paul II's encyclical Laborem Exercens--is one possible way to go, in my judgment, even though some ethicists such as Stanley Hauer was are quite critical of it. (13) Whatever the route taken by the various religions, they must make ecological responsibility an integral part of their religious vision. This would certainly constitute one of their major contributions to a globalized world.

Another area of concern in our increasingly globalized society is the realm of economics. Religion cannot provide a blueprint for a just and humanizing economic system, but it can contribute greatly to the overall framework of global economics through dialogue with economists and people in business. Some of this is beginning to happen at the annual World Economic Forum, where religious leaders such as Archbishop George Carey and Rabbi David Rosen are working to establish an in-depth dialogue between religious and economic leaders. As one who participated in the meetings in New York in 2002 and in Davos in 2005, I know how difficult such a goal remains. The final verdict is still out on this process, but I do know that further progress is being made toward the integration of the religious perspective at all levels of the World Economic Forum.

Leaders of all religions can join leading economists and business leaders, such as Paul Krugman and George Soros, in insisting that the forces of the market cannot by themselves generate a just and humane economic system. In a May, 2003, address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, John Paul II called for "guidelines that will place globalization firmly at the service of human development." The pope insisted that globalization itself was not the problem. "Rather," he said, "difficulties arise from the lack of effective mechanisms for giving it proper direction. Globalization needs to be inserted into the larger context of a political and economic program that seeks the authentic progress of all [hu]mankind." (14)

In my judgment, religions, most of which have a transnational reach, can-at least in the interim--fill the void that exists because of the lack of truly international structures that parallel national structures. In an age of globalization, national structures, while remaining crucial, cannot handle many of the major challenges generated by this globalization process, especially the economic and ecological challenges.

Another area where religious institutions can play a significant role within the global economic order is grassroots development. A document prepared by the Birmingham-based World Faith's Development Dialogue (which works with the World Bank) for the 2004 World Development Report, which is issued annually by the bank--a report to which I contributed--makes this point quite well. The relevant section follows:
 ... the extremely close relationship of faith-based
 organisations to poor communities suggests that their role in
 development should not be overlooked. Faith groups do not have the
 ultimate solutions to poverty, but structures of belief, practice
 and institutional organisation that exist in the name of religion
 are perhaps some of the least appreciated variables in the
 development process.

 As well as giving practical advice based on their nearness to the
 lives of the poor, faith-based organizations can positively
 influence the substance of development. For instance, a faith-based
 approach towards the provision of social services can emphasise a
 view of human dignity which points in the direction of policies and
 practices that involve compassion, solidarity, participation and
 self-confidence. For faith communities development must essentially
 include the spiritual and social dimensions of life as well as the
 material and economic. (15)


The point being made is that faith communities often have entree at the grassroots level and have acquired a measure of trust among the people that international agencies can never duplicate. Hence, a partnership between faith communities and international agencies represents the only effective road to humanized economic development. A panel of representatives from various aid agencies connected with the United Nations made this point quite strongly to us during a session at the 2000 Millennium Peace Conference held at the U.N. Recently, the Vatican's U.N. Mission has made a strong plea for the inclusion of all relevant shareholders, including the poor, in international discussions on development.

The final issue I would like to raise is the role of religions in international peacemaking and reconciliation, an area that is rapidly becoming a central activity of religions. As mentioned earlier, they cannot enter the effort at peacemaking and reconciliation successfully and with integrity unless they first confront the violence they have often promoted in language and action. Having done this, I believe religions can have a significant impact on peacemaking and reconciliation. First, they have the grassroots connections. Second, many current conflicts involve conflicting religious beliefs, at least in part. We have seen religion-based communities operate with considerable success through such organizations as the World Conference of Religions for Peace and the San Egidio community. A number of organizations tied to Asian religions have also made important contributions in this regard. Caritas International, a Catholic-based organization with ties to the Vatican, has worked extensively on reconciliation and has produced a comprehensive handbook on reconciliation by my colleague at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Robert Schreiter. (16)

As with ecology, there may be significant differences within religions on the interpretations of peacemaking and reconciliation. While some see absolutely no role for the military in this process, others believe force, whether by an official army or a revolutionary military, can constitute a legitimate response to gross injustice. Nelson Mandela, often honored today as a champion of peace in post-apartheid South Africa, endorsed the violent activities of the African National Congress, which found religious support in the Kairos Declaration endorsed by many prominent Christian leaders in the country. While there is need to acknowledge as well strains of nonviolence in African social thought, and while the Kairos Declaration has not assumed much of a continuing role in contemporary African theology, this declaration has had an important role in generating religious support for the military activities of the African National Congress. (17) Some would argue the perspective of the International Criminal Court that any authentic reconciliation must include the trial and punishment of those responsible for gross violations of human rights. In the Christian-Jewish dialogue, I notice a growing disparity of viewpoints on peacemaking and reconciliation, especially with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. Nonetheless, despite the obstacles, I remain convinced that religions can make a major contribution on a global level to peacemaking and reconciliation.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that religion today stands at a decisive mining point in this age of ever-increasing globalization. Faith groups can withdraw into an isolated spirituality that cares little about what goes on beyond their self-defined borders. They can continue to be, as they have so often been in the past, sources of social tension rather than forces for social healing. But, if religions follow such a path, they will squander their most precious gift--the power to transform hatred into love, the power to turn indifference into concern that is at the heart of the Torah and Talmud, the Christian gospel, the Qur'an, and the teachings of the other great world religions. What will energize our enhanced technological capacity in directions that lead to social harmony rather than oblivion? Religion, I remain convinced, is very central to the answer to that question. It has the potential to penetrate hardened hearts in ways that secular ideology and mere technical competence cannot. It can combine commitment and knowledge in ways that will overpower the forces of exploitation and destruction. We have seen outstanding examples of that power in the lives of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John XXIII, Nelson Mandela, and Elie Wiesel.

However, religion will not make its fullest contribution to global society unless it draws from the depths of its spiritual tradition, a tradition that is continually reenergized and refined in light of developing human understanding. Engagement with the world around us cannot become a substitute for a spirituality rooted in tradition. Rather, such engagement must always be the fruit of our spiritual tradition, and, above all, it must be concretely embodied in the people of that tradition. Tradition does not reside first and foremost in texts and sacred books, as important as these are. Rather, we are the carriers of our respective tradition. We learn it in the classroom and in the library. It becomes the very fiber of our being in prayer and worship. We express it in our active concern and commitment to human dignity. These elements of authentic religion can never be separated without religion's suffering the loss of its very soul. One must convince oneself that, until the tradition is embodied in oneself, it remains text rather than a force for human transformation.

I close with a question that is raised by a powerful film, partially based on the Holocaust, that I viewed at the Slovak Pavilion at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany. The film's title asked a question that remains our question in this challenging time of globalization: Quo Vadis Humanity?

(1) Joseph E. Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2002).

(2) Ira Rifkin, Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths, 2003).

(3) Nora Levin, The Holocaust (New York: Schocken Books, 1973), p. 49.

(4) Cf. Oliver McTernan, Violence in God's Name (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2003).

(5) Henry Friedlander, "The Manipulation of Language," in Henry Friedlander and Sybil Milton, eds., The Holocaust: Ideology, Bureaucracy, and Genocide (Millwood, NY: Kraus International Publications, 1980), pp. 103-113.

(6) Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," Science 155 (April 17, 1967): 1203-1207.

(7) James Watt was Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, 1981-83.

(8) See Victor Ferkiss, The Future of Technological Civilization (New York: George Braziller, 1974).

(9) See Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

(10) See R. Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion: The Prospects for Humanity (Toronto and New York: Bantam Books, 1969).

(11) Ferkiss, Future of Technological Civilization, p. 88.

(12) See, e.g., Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

(13) See Stanley Hauerwas, "Work as Co-Creation: A Remarkably Bad Idea," This World, vol. 3 (1982), pp 89-102.

(14) Pope John Paul II, "Effective Mechanisms for Giving Globalization Proper Direction," Origins 33 (May 22, 2003): 29.

(15) "The Provision of Services for Poor People: A Contribution to WDR 2004," a report by the World Faiths Development Dialogue, Birmingham, U.K.

(16) Robert Schreiter, Working for Reconciliation: A Caritas Handbook (Vatican City: Caritas International, 1999).

(17) Nelson Mandela acknowledged the critical role of the religious institutions in the struggle against apartheid in his plenary address to the Parliament of the World's Religions in December, 2004.
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Author:Pawlikowski, John T.
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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