Christian view can she light on globalization

  • November 3, 2006

Public protests against globalization — vociferous, often tumultuous affairs — gained momentum from the mid-1990s onward, peaking around the turn of the new millennium. Then, for reasons that are imperfectly understood, the potential Great Cause of a generation of young activists simply fizzled.

These days, the usual attitude toward globalization encountered in the marketplace of ideas is indifference, or resignation to this vast tendency as something inevitable.

Such passive acceptance is one "mistake," among several, catalogued in a new, short book out of the Vatican entitled Globalizzazione: Una prospettiva cristiana (Globalization: A Christian Perspective). Its author is Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Because I do not read Italian, I have not read Bishop Crepaldi's work — though what I've heard about it makes me eager for an English translation.

According to Zenit, a Rome-based Catholic news service, the author criticizes, along with indifference, the simple-minded view that all the social ills and upheavals in the world are due to the complex international flows of capital and information that characterize contemporary global capitalism. This is certainly a familiar complaint from critics on the left end of the political spectrum.

Yet another error: "thinking that by now all is globalized" — that all the economies and nations on earth, without exceptions or holdouts, are knit together in one vast conglomerate. Not so, says the bishop. "(H)and in hand with globalization there has been an increased emphasis on local and regional identities."

But Bishop Crepaldi's book is apparently not just a list of admonitions to Christians to take globalization more seriously and understand it more thoroughly. The work also offers a brief introduction to the complicated phenomenon itself, and a consideration of its most controversial aspects. "For example, are economic inequalities between various countries and regions caused by globalization, or are they due to the poorer nations not entering sufficiently into the globalized world?" I will be interested to learn how the bishop answers this knotty, politically charged question.

Summarizing the book's recommendations, Zenit says: "Discernment is needed in order to avoid accepting a vision of globalization that sees itself as part of a postmodern process in which liberty is given an absolute value and a place for tradition and religion is denied. For its part the church proposes a culture based on a Christian anthropological vision that has as its objective the construction of a new humanity."

I hope that English-speaking Catholics are not too blasé to pay attention to this interesting book, when it does come out in translation. We need instruction on this difficult matter, if only because there is little agreement in the world of ideas about how globalization works and influences our lives, or even about what, exactly, it is. So far, neither the Pope nor any other official teachers of the Catholic Church, to the best of my knowledge, have published specific guidelines for Christians seeking to engage globalization. Bishop Crepaldi's essay could be a valuable intellectual tool and a good contribution to our understanding of the vast forces shaping contemporary civilization.

But while the book's economic and social analysis of globalization may be new and useful, its basic understanding of "the construction of a new humanity" will probably seem familiar to Catholics who keep up to speed on their Catholic reading. The outline of "Christian anthropological vision," after all, is plainly laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and has been usefully and beautifully elaborated in Pope John Paul II's 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus. (This document is readily available at the Vatican web site, www.vatican.va.)

Published to mark the centenary of Leo XIII's famous Rerum novarum, on the ills and dangers that came with Europe's 19th-century industrialization, Centesimus annus is deeply shadowed by John Paul's personal experience of 20th-century socialist totalitarianism. Though the communist regimes in Europe had all collapsed by 1991, the pope seems haunted by the fear that, somehow, communism might spring back to life again and inflict yet more hardships. Despite his preoccupation with the past, however, John Paul also glimpses the future promised by dawning global capitalism and the threats of both affluence and poverty to the Christian ideal of "new humanity." The Christian response to these threats involves the fullest development of human and natural resources, in ways guided by love and justice. "It is not only a question of raising all peoples to the level currently enjoyed by the richest countries," writes John Paul, "but rather of building up a more decent life through united labour, of concretely enhancing every individual's dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God's call."

You'll be hearing more on this subject once I have an English version of Bishop Crepaldi's book — or once I've mastered the wonderful Italian language, which I really ought to get around to doing.

(Mays is a Toronto writer and journalist.)