Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi


January 24, 2000

Interesting how a different perspective can change the way things look. Globalization means one thing in the Western world, something else in most other parts of the globe. Recently I attended a Church conference on globalization in South Africa where a number of young African theologians made presentations. They do not view globalization nearly as positively as do most of us in the West.

In their view, globalization, as the word is generally used, is really the dissemination of Western forms of life to the rest of the world, a legitimatization of a new imperialism and colonialism by the West, an extension of Western life and culture. There is, in their view, a happy collusion between the West's interests and globalization. Simply put, the West, which is on the top of the power heap just now, stands to become not just the technological and military superpower in the world, but the cultural one as well.

In true globalization, cultures ought to interpenetrate each other. This is not happening. Rather a dominant one is imposing itself on the others and submerging the differences.

But this is not going down smoothly everywhere. Rather it is sparking a clash of cultures. There is a strong reaction to globalization in many parts of the world that is manifest both in a growing fundamentalism (not just of the Islamic variety) and in an intensification of identity to local cultures almost everywhere.

More and more voices are calling for fuller respect for local differences, minorities and the vernacular.

It was noted that Western ecclesial thinking differs decidedly from Western business thinking on this. Western theologians are warning that globalization should not make the same mistakes as did the former colonialism. They warned about the need to respect differences and cultures.

Unfortunately the business community does not manifest equal sensitivity. Its vision tends to be more one of homogenization, colonialism in the guise of the Internet. Moreover, globalization is essentially secular and as such has helped destabilize local identities. Local cultures now have to negotiate their identities in a globalized world, often before they are sufficiently prepared to do so.

So is globalization something negative in itself? Not necessarily. Globalization, this conference agreed, could be a good thing, but only when it more fully respects the cultures of everyone, when it accepts that no one culture alone is adequate but that it will take all the cultures and all languages of the world to give full expression to the creativity of humanity and to the whole Christ. The challenge is the timeless one of bringing together the one and the many.

Ultimately most people at this conference viewed globalization as negative, despite acknowledging that it has brought benefits. In their experience, it has increased the number of marginalized people and has widened the gap between humanity and nature, men and women, rich and poor, white and coloured, the West and the rest of the world.

The present form of globalization is based too much on power – historical privilege, money, guns, celebrity. For those speaking for Africa at this conference, globalization today is a sophisticated, pleasant-looking, law of the jungle, a survival of the fittest within which the West is re-conquering the poor.

They suggest that in the face of the present situation we emphasize the following aspects of our faith:

We should begin by highlighting that at the heart of our faith lies the belief that all people are equal and all people must be equally respected and given equal rights. Thus we should preach a jubilee theology, reminding the world that the earth belongs to everyone equally.

As well, we should emphasize the overwhelming richness of God's creativity, pointing out how it takes all cultures and languages to properly incarnate this richness. We must resist the elements of crass materialism, unhealthy individualism, subtle racism and laissez-faire relativism that globalization so often carries.

We do well to remind the world constantly of its dependence upon God, even as we to try to radiate more interiority (in a world that has lost much of its interior soul). As we do this, we must stand with the poor, refusing to praise technological progress without taking into account what it is doing to the marginalized.

Finally, all of this should not be a question of individual faith and private heroism, but the fruit of communal prayer, communal discernment and deliberate community action. Out of Africa comes a lesson.