CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES’ RESPONSE TO GLOBALIZATION
1. What do we mean by globalization? What do we mean by “globalization”? The term is used mainly in three distinct but interrelated senses. The first refers to economic globalization, with its global system of free markets, international regulatory structures, and worldwide network of financial interconnections. The second refers to the global “information revolution” and worldwide instant communication and networking made possible by the advent of internet and email. Thirdly is cultural globalization, the emergence of a “world culture,” with common attitudes, values, and ideals, fostered and disseminated by a globalized communications network and expressed in common forms of art, music, dress, and patterns of human relations. This world culture, which can be summed up in the term “modernity,” is truly global in the sense that it transcends nations, peoples, cultures, and religions both in its aims and its influence on people’s lives and the structures of society. It is this aspect of globalization on which I intend to focus in this talk. As I mentioned in my previous talk, “modernity” does not simply mean “new,” and it is not a valuefree term. It indicates not only new as opposed to old, but bears the implication of something better rather than inferior, advanced instead of backward, efficient, not ineffective, mature rather than primitive, successful as opposed to failed, and improved in place of outdated. It is important to recognize that these oppositions refer not only to material objects such as clothing and soap powder, but also to ways of looking at life, the world, human relations, and one’s own self. Modernity is based on a philosophical outlook that covers every aspect of life, As a comprehensive system of thought and a way of life, it is sometimes called “modernism.” Stemming from the reflections of the European thinkers of the 18th Century, modernism offers a way of understanding the human person, the universe, and society and proposes a system of values which seeks to replace traditional religious outlooks with a humanistic understanding of the individual, society, and the world. It thus puts forth a new anthropology and a new ethic. Modernism indicates that set of values promoted and spread globally by the Western - especially American - governments, the communication, entertainment, and advertising industries, and international agencies such as the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, and many agencies of the United Nations. The values promoted by modernism are strongly rejected by religious fundamentalists, and the resulting tension between modernism and fundamentalism might be called the great ideological debate of our day. As religious believers, we must ask ourselves where we stand on the issues raised in this ongoing debate. 2. Characteristics of modernism To begin, I will review some of the characteristic concerns of a modernist approach to human life in society. Then we will try to see how religious fundamentalists oppose their own concerns to those of the modernists, and finally I will try to offer a humanist religious response that takes a critical approach to modernism and fundamentalism, while integrating what is positive in each. Modernists often see themselves as replacing traditional religious outlooks with a scientific approach to life. Their main theses may be summarized as follows: 1. Religious relativism. Metaphysics, theology and ritual are not able to arrive at truth; what religion can offer to modern people is only an ethical system.
2. Human reason, rather than divine revelation, is the true path to arrive at truth. 3. Religion is a characteristic of primitive man, an obstacle to human growth. In a modern (i.e. mature) society, religion is a hindrance to progress that must be overcome and superceded. If some weak and insecure individuals still need the consolation of religion, that is their own private affair, but religion must have no place in public life. The social, economic and political spheres must remain autonomous and not influenced by religion. 4. The ideal is thus secular society. Religion is strictly a private matter. 5. A scientific, rational approach to life is characterized by objectivity and indifference to the consequences of truth. 6. Science does not raise ultimate questions. Scientific research must limit itself to solving measurable problems, but cannot treat questions of absolute truth. 7. Individualism. The individual is more important than the society. Selffulfillment is the goal of human achievement. Thus, human rights are a preeminent concern. 8. The social values of the French Revolution (liberty, fraternity, equality). 9. Historical optimism. An evolutionary view of history, a conviction that reason, progress, freedom are destined to overcome superstition, slavery, obscurantism. 10. Advanced nations (i.e., nations that are farther along in promoting modern values and attitudes) have a civilizing mission to bring modern values to every corner of the world. As evidence of how deeply rooted and pervasive modernist principles have become, one need only refer to the ten characteristics of Western society proposed by Samuel Huntington [which I cited on Monday]: individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, rule of law, democracy, free markets, separation of church and state. All of these derive directly from the abovementioned principles of the 18th Century European Enlightenment. 3. Characteristics of religious fundamentalism Religious fundamentalism is a strong, even extreme, reaction to modernity, and must be understood in the context of modernism. The term fundamentalism is not very precise, since it stems from a specific movement in early 20th Century American Protestant Christianity and is applied today by vague and approximate analogy to indicate all extreme and violent reactions to modernism, as when people speak of “Hindu fundamentalists” or “Muslim fundamentalists.” But it seems that there is no turning back; the term is with us, but we must use it with caution. Fundamentalists are not opposed to technological advances in technology, health, and education. Christian fundamentalists are among the most progressive and skilled in the use of media television, rock music, internet - to promote and disseminate their message. Recent events have shown the skill in advanced communications systems which the Al-Qa’ida network has employed to further their goals. It is not technology which the fundamentalists reject, but rather the philosophical underpinnings of modernism and the consequences for life in society that flow from modernist principles. Moreover, fundamentalists are angry because, from the way they see things, modernists occupy the centers of power and influence in today’s world. They see government ministries, the United Nations, universities, research centers, family planning and development programs, the arts and communications media all promoting modern values. They speak of a modernist hegemony, from which they and their views are excluded. Their contrasting vision of the world is quite different from that of the modernists. They propose: 1. One God who governs the universe and every aspect of human life.
2. God has a moral will according to which humans should live. 3. Truth has been revealed in the Scriptures; it is not founded on human reason. 4. Scripture offers a clear, comprehensive, incontrovertible guide by which societies and individuals can arrange their lives according to God’s will. 5. They have an image of a pure past when religious values were lived in the whole society. 6. They reject the presumed cultural superiority of the West, which they see as presenting itself as the unique font of truth, liberty, and progress. 7. Western progress has been achieved at the cost of religious and moral values and results in dehumanization, breakdown of families, and promiscuity. 8. Western nations, led by the U.S.A., want to extent their ideological hegemony throughout the world. 9. Modern society values quantity more than quality, pragmatism more than truth, efficiency more than beauty. 10. Modernist philosophy of history divides humanity into winners and losers. Those who can’t compete deserve to be ignored. Critics point out the weak points in this vision. Firstly, fundamentalists idealize or romanticize some past era as the “age of faith” and do not face up to the contradictions and cruelties of every period of human history. Secondly, fundamentalists employ a selective reading of Scripture; not all Scripture is equally cited and meditated upon. Thirdly, fundamentalists have yet to convince others that the rights and status of minorities and dissenters will be fully respected in societies established according to their vision. There is no doubt that fundamentalism is flourishing at the moment. One could point to the political and economic power of American evangelicals. It is estimated that 80% of the Christian missionaries in the world today are from evangelical groups. Evangelical Christianity is the fastestgrowing form of Christianity, making rapid advances in traditionally Catholic areas such as Latin America and the Philippines and among mainline Protestant Churches. In the Anglican Church, evangelicals have moved into positions of influence in Church structures. One can point to the success of Jewish fundamentalists in imposing Jewish religious regulations in Israel. Muslim fundamentalists are active in almost all Islamic communities, whether in countries of Muslim majority or minority. Hindu supremacists bring a strong anti-Muslim and anti-Christian bias to their ideology of Hindutva. 4. A clash of ideologies Before 1989, the great ideological divide in the world was that between capitalist and communist systems, a debate not only between the concepts of centrally controlled economies and free markets, but also between ideas of single-party and multi-party government, and class-conscious or classless societies. Religion did not directly enter into the debate, since in many ways the two contending parties - capitalism and communism - were in agreement. Communism generally saw religion as an obstacle to progress and sought to control religious communities, limit religious practice to the status of private belief and persecute those who struggled for a more visible and active role of religion in society. Capitalism, while not oppressing religious believers, also sought to exclude religious convictions from having any influence in decision-making in the political, economic, or social spheres. Christians and other religious believers found themselves unwilling to commit themselves to one camp or another, since they saw ethical strengths and weaknesses on both sides. Under the post-1989 “New World Order” with the single remaining superpower promoting neoliberal economic policies and a modern, secular global culture, the fault lines of the new ideological divide have been redrawn. The great debate of the past decade has been between the secular modernist hegemony and an angry fundamentalist opposition. It is a conflict between an
anthropocentric world view that exalts human rights but tends, if left unchecked by ethical and spiritual principles, toward a self-destructive consumerist hedonism, and a theocentric world view that exalts divine prerogatives but which, if unchecked by humanist principles of tolerant acceptance of differences, devolves into a dictatorship of the majority. Calvinist Geneva, Puritan New England, Counter-Reformation Rome, modern Indian Hindutva, and Taleban Afghanistan have many similarities in that they represent societies that proclaim and seek to defend divine rights and duties, but which fail to recognize the place of legitimate theological dissent and diversity in necessarily plural populations of today’s world. In the debate, the secular modernists hold the seats of power and are able to express their views through the news and entertainment media which they control and to impose their views through their influence in educational systems, government ministries and international development agencies. The fundamentalists play the role of the aggressive outsiders who seek to overthrow the liberal hegemony either by gaining control of government structures through the political process, as in the case of the religious Right in America, the Hindu B.J.P. in India, or various Islamist movements in the Muslim world. In the Cold War era before 1989, religious communities found themselves caught between capitalist and communist systems, each of which promoted certain positive values but which contained inbuilt structural weaknesses and injustices. So also today, most Christians, Muslims and other religious believers find themselves unable to adhere wholeheartedly either to the militantly secular and materialist world view promoted by Western (particularly, American) ideologists, or to a religious fundamentalism that would trample on human rights in the name of divine authority. If there is an international clash today that cuts across nations, religions and cultures, it is not one of civilizations but of ideologies. On the one hand, secular humanists are using the considerable economic, political and communications instruments at their disposal to make liberal values permeate every aspect of a globalized human society. On the other, fundamentalists are expressing an angry refusal to accept these values, which they variously express as the work of Satan, the Antichrist, the Dajjal, maya, the powers of darkness, or godlessness. Modernists and fundamentalists are each convinced of the rightness of their cause, find no common ground for dialogue, and have no desire for compromise. They know the enemy and are determined to defeat them. Facing this clash of ideologies, the vast majority of religious believers find themselves in an uncomfortable position. As committed religious believers, they find themselves appalled at the crass materialism and consumerism, the pragmatic Realpolitik, and the deadening superficiality promoted by the purveyors of globalized modernist culture. At the same time, they see in the fundamentalists’ angry and sometimes violent rejection of modernism an absolutism which they do not share and a program for society which denies basic human rights and dignity. They have serious religious grounds on which to criticize the globalizing elites, but see in fundamentalism a divisive, selfrighteous, and ultimately destructive view of life in modern societies. This brings us to the main theme of our talk, the Christian communities’ response to globalization. As I hope will become clear as I proceed, I am more interested in offering a response of religious believers to globalization than in any exclusively Christian response. From my many encounters with believing, practicing Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus, I find a much greater common ground of values than I do with either globalizing modernizers or with fundamentalists of any religion. I believe that it is only by working together that religious believers can offer today’s world a credible alternative to the mirror-image pitfalls of modernism and fundamentalism.
5. A critique of modernism Modern society begins with a skepticism about truth, a skepticism that is both an effect and a driving force behind cultural globalization. In previous ages, when most of the people that one lived, worked, and studied with shared a basic world view, it was much easier to imagine that one’s understanding of life, ethical norms, and faith perception of the beyond was absolute. It was comprehensive and had been elaborated successively by teachers, thinkers, and saints down through the centuries. If one believed what one was taught and did what was commonly held to be good, one would blessed with prosperity, long life, and children, and eventually be rewarded with what was variously conceived as heaven, the Garden, moksha, or nirvana. The harsh realities of life proved that it did not always work out that way, but there were answers for that too, in terms of trials and testing, karma and reincarnation. In most societies, there were those who believed differently from the majority - Jews in Europe, the People of the Book in Muslim societies, and many others in the traditionally more pluralist Asian societies. In normal times, when one’s religious and social group (usually there was no distinction between the two) did not feel threatened by others, people could live with the diversity of belief, which did not touch the certainty one felt in regard to one’s inherited faith. We must not romanticize the past, since history is replete with religious wars, oppression, and intolerance. History, like the daily news in our own time, is oriented toward the dramatic and remembers best the tragic exception, but in all societies the norm has always been a certain level of living together in peace, with each group unshakeably convinced of their hold on truth. How different is the situation of modern life. The ease and rapidity of transportation allows a previously unimaginable degree of human mobility. From being a privilege of the wealthy, today we find ordinary people traveling and migrating for work, study, family occasions and simply pleasure. It has been estimated that in 1600, the vast majority of people lived their entire lives within 20 miles of the spot where they were born. Today, as a result of the possibilities of travel, almost every society is of a plural nature. We find millions of Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim Asians living in Saudi Arabia and countries of the Persian Gulf, and millions of Muslims and Hindus living in Europe and North America. It can no longer be said that everyone one knows, works and lives with has the same view of reality. The information revolution has vastly increased the availability of other ways of thinking, other approaches to truth, other religious convictions. Using any one of the standard search machines, a person can in less than five minutes be in direct contact with information supplied by the world’s major religions, as well as spiritism, Satanism, various forms of atheism, and even those who claim to have received messages from other galaxies. All this leads people to approach truth as something that every group has a part of, but no group owns as their exclusive possession. This tends to support the view of modernists that when anyone speaks of religion and faith, truth is relative. What can be known and held by all people, of all cultures and religions, is science. Science deals with the measurable, the quantifiable, and proceeds inexorably from observable data by means of logic and experimentation, to arrive at new and verifiable conclusions. The results are on the table to be challenged. If others can find a flaw in the scientific data, methodology, or instruments, they are invited to present their findings to the rest of the scientific community who should judge the objections on their merits. The exactitude claimed by science cannot be achieved in the realm of faith and religion. Polemicists might try to prove “by scientific methods” that their religion is true and others are in error, but few religious believers are convinced by such arguments. Where the polemical proofs fail is their
inability to account for personal experience. A person who has encountered God’s message in a sacred Book, who finds God in ritual and worship, who enters into prayerful or mystical communion with the divine in the recesses of one’s heart has attained a knowledge of the Transcendent that cannot be achieved by scientific study. It is on this basis of the intuitive knowledge of the Divine obtained through religious experience that believers can challenge both humanist relativism and fundamentalist absolutism, and it is here, I am convinced, that religious believers can make a needed contribution to modern societies caught up in the clash of ideologies. 6. Can religious faith save modern society? Modern life, through the advances made in education, health, agriculture, and communications, has made life longer, more comfortable, and more rewarding for many people. The social services provided by governments, when they function properly, extend the benefits of technology to a greater number of people. Everyone, of every civilization or religious background will agree that life is better when we have enough to eat, adequate housing, and opportunities for our children to learn, grow, and develop, when we can raise families free from fear of hunger, discrimination, or oppression. This is the strength of the modernists’ argument, what they seek to provide for all. This vision, while praiseworthy, has definite limits. If society’s efforts are directed solely toward the task of providing for material needs and are not open to anything beyond that, the result is human life that is indistinguishable from that of well-fed, well-housed, well-treated animals. We humans have other needs that cannot be met by material comfort. Unless those other needs are addressed, we suffer, we feel confused and lost, we come to hate and want to destroy ourselves. This is confirmed by the statistics on suicide, nervous breakdowns, unhappy family life, and selfdestructive practices like alcoholism, drug addiction, and promiscuity in wealthy and advanced societies like those of North America, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. There is a law of physics, called the second law of thermodynamics, that states that any closed system, left to itself, inevitably tends to disintegrate and will eventually self-destruct. This is obvious when we consider material objects around us. To keep running properly, a car needs not only continual replenishment of fuel, but also regular oil changes, replacement of broken or worn out parts, and cleaning of lines and connections. “Left to itself” the car runs worse and worse and eventually stops running. It is the same with the human body. Not only does it need constant external infusions of food and drink, but also periodic repair and replacement of deteriorating parts in the form of hernia operations, eyeglasses or laser scans, medicine to control high blood pressure, angioplasty and cardiac bypasses, kidney replacements etc. I believe that modern secular society operates very much like a closed system. Built upon a positivist approach to truth, it relies on the scientific method to resolve problems as they arise within the system. Both the materials and the conceptual tools are laid out in front of us, and we must put them together to the best of our knowledge. But where do we go when the system no longer functions properly? When teenagers run amok in high schools shooting everyone in sight, when the divorce rate reaches 80% in some prosperous, highly developed societies, when the prison population of both Russia and U.S.A. is approaching 2 million persons, we have strong indications that the social system is breaking down. When modern secular society closes the door on the possibility that God or experiential awareness of the transcendent might have something to say about politics, economics, or social relations, it is acting like the stubborn person who refuses to take medicine or change the oil in the car. Modern society is in need - desperate need, in my opinion - of the fresh contribution that can only be made by religious belief. Without a spiritual element, it cannot achieve the very goals it sets for itself -
self-fulfillment, freedom, peace, equality. To attain these goals, it must look outside its closed circle of ideas. Unless continually informed by the transcendent perspective that religion brings, the basic concepts that are necessary for truly humane societies get overlooked or reduced to expedient stopgaps. “Peace” becomes an enforced coexistence, a temporary cessation of hostilities, to be imposed and monitored by armed force. This is what we see today in Bosnia and Kosovo and what is often proposed for Israel and Palestine. The concepts of “pardon” and “forgiveness,” which transcend logic, are ignored, but it is only through such concepts that the seriously wounded human relations can be allowed to heal. Without the constant input of spiritual values, material well-being devolves into consumerism, with ever sillier and more useless products being created solely in order to be sold and purchased. The amount spent on cosmetics in some industrialized countries exceeds the total budget for health and education of many African nations. Pet hotels, animal cemeteries, and dog candy proliferate in a world where, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization, an estimated 174 million children under the age of five in the developing world are malnourished, and 230 million are stunted. We clearly need a new source of values if we are going to correct the failures of modernity. It is to their credit that many Muslims are consciously and strenuously resisting the pressures to adopt modern values. Christians need to become more critical, especially when they see what globalizing modernity has done to their religion. 14 February, the feast of St. Valentine, a holy martyr from the 2nd Century, was marketed this year on Microsoft’s MSN internet network as Sex Day, a day on which to buy red silk underwear for your sexual partner. A month later, 17 March, the feast of the holy bishop St. Patrick was similarly marketed on the same network as the Day to Get Drunk, with indications on where one might find the “liveliest” drinking holes. The process, which began with marketing Christmas as a Mid-Winter Buying Spree, has now been extended to other Christian feasts like Carnival (clothes, food, partying) and Easter (chocolate, flowers). I could go on and on with examples, but you get the idea. Religious believers are too often on the defensive, spending their time trying to argue against oftrepeated bromides like “Religion is the cause of all the conflict in the world.” However, it was not religion that produced the Nazi holocaust, Stalin’s gulags, or an average of 20,000 homicides a year in the United States alone. Religious believers must move out of their defensive posture to show modern secularists that they will not solve the problems of a globalized world unless they take seriously transcendent perspectives. Humanity simply cannot survive on reason and the scientific method alone. It’s not working and there’s no reason to hope things will improve. 7. The alternative of dialogue If modernism self-destructs without the transcendent control provided by religion, the angry reaction offered by fundamentalists is even more destructive to humane and divine values. Carried to its logical extreme, it results in the kind of well planned but ruthless terror perpetrated by those who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to destroy those of others. As the alternative to the evils of modernity, religious fundamentalists propose societies in which those who do not agree with their beliefs or views are either marginalized, suppressed, or encouraged to leave. What is needed today is a third alternative, based on a genuine spirituality and humane values, to both modernism and fundamentalism. It is an approach to modern life that presumes that pluralism is the norm, that every religion and system of belief has something to contribute to human welfare, and that the central task of every religion is to establish peace: peace with God or the Transcendent
Absolute, peace in human societies, and interior peace within each individual. This approach seeks to discover the points of common agreement among the religions and to overcome prejudices, misunderstandings, and to heal longstanding resentments. With the modernists, this religious approach rejects exclusivity and absolutism, and affirms plurality, respect for others, and the universal nature of human dignity, rights, and responsibilities. With the fundamentalists, this approach affirms the centrality of God and God’s will in all aspects of human life, but unlike the fundamentalists, it holds that truth is not the possession of any one group and that believers are called to establish harmony with all persons of good will. This approach to living one’s own beliefs in full respect for and communication with people of other faiths can be summarized in the term “interreligious dialogue.” It offers, in my opinion, the most comprehensive response of religious believers to the challenges of globalization and best hope for the future by affirming simultaneously the ultimate sovereignty of God and the essential brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.