Charity and truth needed in a globalized world

  • October 8, 2009
{mosimage}Understanding globalization, and how we should act in the face of it, are tasks every thinking Catholic must undertake. My experience of trying to sort out these matters suggests they are not easy topics to tackle.

In the first place, the word globalization is awkward, abstract and impersonal, and it comes burdened with the connotation of a vast force free of human agency — something too inexorable even to think about. Also, there’s the daunting complexity of the phenomenon and the fact that its worst manifestations seem to be coming at us all at once: the near-death of international banking and capital markets last year, the ongoing flight of manufacturing jobs from the old lands of the Industrial Revolution to emerging economies on the fringes of the West, social conflicts erupting as huge movements of people from the developing world into the traditional bastions of Western culture take place — the list goes on and on.

The difficulty of grasping globalization is one reason Catholics and all people of good will should welcome Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, released last summer. In this long, lucid letter, Benedict brings Catholicism’s rich heritage of social thought to bear on globalization in all its dimensions, from capital movement across international borders and business ethics to sex tourism and the environment.

But while its underlying analysis of globalization is deep and persuasive, the encyclical is not primarily an economic or social document. Rather, it is a splendid exposition of individual and cultural responsibility at the present moment — why we must take such responsibility seriously and act decisively, how we can do so and make a difference to the future.

In this column, I want to point out the Pope’s basic convictions and principles; I’ll be returning to his recommendations later.

Benedict begins, in his characteristically unequivocal way, by asserting the essential co-dependence of love and truth. “Without truth, without trust and love for what is true,” the Pope writes, “there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present.”

Doing one’s Christian duty is not, then, a kind of higher social work. But neither is it withdrawal into a private place of devotion. Benedict understands the practise of charity in truth to be the public advocacy of justice above all. “Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, ‘the minimum measure’ of it, an integral part of the love ‘in deed and in truth,’ to which St. John exhorts us.” It’s politics, in other words, a mode of action which the Pope says is “no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly.”

Benedict’s style of politics in a globalizing era will satisfy few on either the hard left or the hard right of the political spectrum. He declines to join in the left’s demonization of the global economy; and he equally declines to identify himself with right-wing cheerleaders of free trade as the solution for all our economic ills in a unipolar capitalist world. Instead, he continually cycles back to his themes of hope and warning.

“Love in truth — caritas in veritate — is a great challenge for the church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized,” he writes. “The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Only in ‘charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith’ is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value.”

At the root of the Pope’s thinking on this subject is the Holy Eucharist, not liberal social-democratic doctrine. “The ‘earthly city’ is promoted... by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion.” The altar teaches us everything, including what we should be strengthening by our action in the community, the church and the world.

Next time: Benedict’s guide for dealing with some practical impacts of globalization.

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