Christian Witness In a Global Age

The term "globalization" has acquired emotive force. Some see it as a process that is beneficial and essential for the future development of the world's economies. Others view it with fear and apprehension and see it as a threat to the sovereignty of nations, a process which undermines the dignity of the human person, and a hindrance to social progress.

Simply put, globalization is the free movement of goods and services on a worldwide scale. It seeks to create one world dynamic market place of a uniform character. It promotes free capital flows, the privatization of economies, reduced government interventions, less taxes and trade restrictions and it encourages the consumption of consumer products.

John Paul says the "prime characteristics" of globalization "are the increasing elimination of barriers of movement of people, capital and goods. It enshrines a kind of triumph of the market and its logic." Globalization is fuelled by technology. It is based on a laissez - faire policy that is market driven and its motives are driven by the profit margin. Phambili Ka Ntloko of the Church of God and Saints in Christ, in South Africa says "Globalization is a strategy of international capital to create more markets for itself and to restructure the relationships of production."

Some people see globalization as providing opportunities for world development. Global markets promote efficiency through competition and the division of labour, the specialization that allows people and economies to focus on what they do best. Globalization makes it possible for persons to tap into larger markets around the world. Ideally, it means that persons have access to more capital flows, the availability of technology, the chance to purchase cheaper goods and access to large export markets. The world stands to benefit culturally, politically and economically from globalization.

Anglican Archbishop Walter Makhulu of Botswana suggests that we make a distinction between what he calls "human" and divine globalization. He says human globalization "insists on privatization, currency devaluation, reduction of government subsidies and trade deregulation." Divine globalization, in contrast is characterised by "community, generosity, sharing and mutual caring." Kwasi Abaagye Mensah, the General Secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana sees globalization as "a linking of people of the world together in a kind of global village where we will become very much interconnected both in fulfillment of our needs and sharing of the world's resources." He continues, "I see globalization as one of the many ways in which God is seeking to bring all nations together in Christ through the enabling presence of the Holy Spirit. Globalization as interconnectedness has positive results for the world.

Rightly understood, globalization must be seen as an experience, which allows us to overcome narrow nationalistic barriers, or it will become "an occasion to ensure the advantage of the stronger economic forces." Many people see globalization as a new form of colonialism.

Technology and liberalism have greatly contributed to this interconnectness . The technological revolution has made communication easier. The computer and internet have made it possible for people to store and move large amounts of information with unprecedented speed, efficiency and economy. The phenomenon of transportation makes it possible for people, capital and goods to move around the world with ease. Time and space are no longer barriers to travel and communication.

Liberalism asserts the freedom of the individual and promotes the idea that persons should be free from constraints imposed by individuals on the state, that hinder their freedom. Economic liberalism says the real wealth of nations is greatest in an economy characterized by private property and a free market. Political liberation argues for the rights of the individual and sees the state as having a duty to protect these rights.

What are the difficulties with economic globalization? The negative effects of the economic expressions of globalization are unacceptable. These 'negatives' are: increased poverty instead of economic growth, exclusion and hardship, decision in the hands of fewer people, and these decisions push more and more to the edge of the society.

Globalization says that all nations and people have equal opportunities to participate in world trade. This is the idea, but in reality it is not true. Poor nations do not have the human and material resources that will allow them to compete with the big and wealthy nations. The competition is one sided and there is no real equality. As a result of the size and economic power, the rich nations establish the values and rules of the new order. Generally the terms are in there favour. To say that Haiti has the same opportunity for growth and development as the United States is to make nonsense of the argument. The ability of rich firms and states to dictate the terms of trade gives rise to the possibility of the abuse of power.

Globalization allows multinational corporations to establish their businesses the world over. Multinational corporations compete with local industries resulting in negative consequences for the local people. Local firms are forced out of business resulting in unemployment, which create problems for families and the society. These enterprises are propelled by the profit thinking and there is concern that they are not interested in the interests and well being of the people who work for them, use there services or buy their products. These companies set up business in locations that provide cheap labour and engage in exploitation practices. They have little or no concern for the environment and exploit the resources of their hosts. Large corporations are quick to relocate to other countries that can supply a cheaper labour market. The fact that breadwinners will be put out of work is not their concern. In globalization people come a poor second to profits. As it advances economic freedom and individual liberty, globalization brings new risks that people will be treated as objects or instruments.

A consequence of globalization is "down sizing" undertaken in the name of efficiency and competition. Companies are told that in order to survive they must be efficient and cut cost of production. Companies are told that they must be internationally competitive, so they 'downsize. To survive, companies retrench their workers and many employers work under stress because employers are unable to employ more workers.

Given the imbalance that exists, the rich will become richer and the poor will become poorer. It allows persons to attain excessive forms of wealth while pushing some people over the brink of a decent form of life. Globalization is survival of the fittest. It is run on the engines of greed and selfishness and is not in the interest of humanity. As it entrenches itself, one sees a lack of concern for peoples' rights and the environment. People are being sacrificed for the sake of the system.

One of globalization's greatest threats lies in the area of culture. It can make a positive contribution to the development of people but in many cases it has impacted negatively on people and their culture. The process of globalization, which seeks only its own interests, has destroyed traditions, customs, and accepted forms of living. Driven by profit and material gain, globalization disregards the culture of places and enforces a way of life that is detrimental to nations and people. This has led to disrespect for members of the human family. By pushing a un- bridled consumerism it has developed a culture of consumption. Economic globalization threatens the diversity of cultures.

The age of globalization has not solved the social and economic problems affecting the vast majority of people. Today, there are 100 million more people living in poverty than a decade ago. 880million people lack access to adequate health care. In developing countries 1 child in 10 dies before its fifth birthday.

Ø 830 million people go hungry every day. Every day in the world 30 thousand children die from preventable diseases. Malnutrition is associated with over half of those deaths.

Ø In the last fifty years 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation. In 1998 in developing countries, 130 million children out of a total of 625 million children did not attend primary school. 73 million of those children are girls.

Ø The wealthiest fifth of the world's people consume 86% of all goods and services. While the poorest fifth consumes 1 %.

Ø Approximately 1.3 billion people survive or fail to survive on $1.00 per day. Three billion people survive or fail to survive on $2.00 per day.

As we examine globalization issues we need to look at some of the questions that have been asked:

Ø Why for instance should the process of economics and 'globalization' perhaps the most demanding factors of all be accepted as just an unavoidable development for which no alternative exists?

Ø Why must there be winners and losers?

Ø Why must competition be the preferred engine to prosperity rather than cooperation?

Ø Why must domination be the characteristic of the world economy and not solidarity?

Ø Why is there such seeming indifference to the fate of the poor instead of compassion for them?

Ø How did this race begin and where will it drive us?

In the light of these questions and other concerns that have been raised from time to time, the Church is being challenged to provide a ministry and offer a witness that will arrest the negatives of globalization.

First and foremost, the Church must witness to the dignity of the human person. Fundamental to our understanding of humanity is the biblical teaching that human beings are made in the image of God. This principle implies that people are persons of value and worth possessing certain rights that make them special. The value and dignity of people must always be respected. Archbishop Ndungane of South Africa writes, "There is a Rabbinic saying that "Before every human being these walks an angel proclaiming 'make way, make way for the image of God" This unique feature of our humanity implies that we ought not to treat fellow human beings arbitrarily and in an exploitative manner. What it does affirm is that human beings hold the future in their hands and that they should act with an enormous degree of ethical and moral standards based on mutual care and respect for one another and for the whole created order."

Our high regard for human persons is essential for safeguarding the rights of individual and preserving this unique dignity. If we fail to emphasise the dignity of people, persons will be seen as 'things' to be used, exploited and discarded. Globalization's insistence on profitability fails to recognize and value the dignity of the individuals. It sees humans as individuals rather than persons in community, human beings as competitive rather than cooperative, it sees people as materialist and fails to recognize the spiritual aspect of persons.

The Church is obliged to teach the Paramountcy of the individual over any economic system. Pope John Paul 11 writes about the centrality of man of each individual man and woman in any political or economic process. If man is not at the centre he will be seen as an object to be used, a means to an end, in commercial product. People can never be the means to an end. Pope John Paul makes the point that "the law of profit alone cannot be applied to that which is essential for the fight against hunger, disease and poverty."

As the Church proclaims the Good News it needs to promote a community approach to living. Globalization promotes individuality, which undermines the community aspect of living. By so doing it breeds greed, selfishness and insularity. As members of a community we share and care for each other. The community will share equitably the world's resources that God has given for the common good. Within the spirit of the community we live out the principle that we are our brother's keeper. We are called to live together as a koinonia, as a serving community in which we help each other to meet their material needs. In his address at the last Lambeth Conference Mr.Tony Blaire British Prime Minister said, " and that, after all is the basic principle of community. It is the philosophy that informs my life, the ideal that we owe obligations to one another as well as to ourselves, but more than that, that in part we fulfil our own talent and potential through what we do with others."

The present ' global civilisation' has been described "as the first civilization that is basically atheistic". The spiritual element of man has been lost and man is just seen as a material animal. Profitability is the 'god' of the age and we see " a cult of material gain as the highest value to which everything else has to yield." The witness of the Church has to address this concept as it contributes to the devaluation of the individual as a person. Materialism is one of the biggest challenges posed by the age of globalization.

Given the level of poverty in the world and the number of persons who are disadvantaged the Church's witness must have a preferential option for the poor. Our option for the poor is to facilitate their liberation and restore their dignity. This option does not exclude anyone but signifies the Church's preference for the poor and to be in solidarity with them.

Witnessing in this age challenges the Church to become the voice of the voiceless. To represent all persons who cannot defend themselves or articulate their ideas and concerns. The Church must be a sign of hope to the hopeless, a sign of Christ's saving presence in broken and dispirited lives. Given the tensions, conflicts and divisions, which result from globalization, the Church's witness must promote a ministry of reconciliation. The Church must inculcate in its members the teachings of St. Paul that God has given to the Church the ministry of reconciliation. The church seeks to transform the political, economic and social structures that have been tarnished by sin. The Revelation to John captures this vision "Behold, I make all things new." In its teaching and witness the Church must present the life and example of Jesus as that which will liberate people from their sins and allow them to live and enjoy a full life.

I conclude with a statement by Pope John Paul, "globalization is neither good or bad. It will be what people make of it. No system is an end in itself, and it is necessary to insist that globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good."

Wayne E. Isaacs (Canon)

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