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Globalization and Human Solidarity by Tissa Balasuriya

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya from Sri Lanka is a leading spokesperson of Third World Theologies. He is the Director of the Centre of Society and Religion in Sri Lanka. He is the author of numerous books, including Eucharist and Human Liberation, Planetory Theology, and Mary and the Human Liberation. Published by Christiava Sahitya Samithy, Tiruvalla 689 101, Kerala, S. India, November 2000. Used by permission of the publisher. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter 5: Religions And Globalization

Population as a Resource

An increasing population leads to a general optimism in and concerning a society. It means an increase in contributors to the common good and in demand and production. Persons imply minds and bodies. Asia, Africa and Latin America are still growing and youthful. These are the nations of the future century, increasing in numbers and to some extent in power. They are the markets of the future. Hence the great effort of the TNCs to enter them and secure their markets. The poor peoples can be conscious of this and use their demand power to develop their own economies.

The West is declining and ageing in population. Some in the West may have a fear of the expansion of the peoples of the South and the East, and may be inclined to take steps to stifle their growth and advancement. The Western countries of Europe, North America and Oceania all have a growing percentage of peoples from Asia and Africa and Latin America that is changing their population composition and cultural mix.

Over recent decades the poor people of several countries have become conscious of their power as consumers, suppliers of capital through small savings accumulated collectively, (as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh), and cooperative producers using labour intensive technologies. There is more concern for socially useful and ecologically sound productivity. Consumer associations mobilize consumer power tocounteract TNCs that capture local markets with high powered advertisements e.g. McDonalds, linking producers and consumers as the Banana farmers in the Philippines and Japanese Consumer Cooperatives. In the future people’s will deal with such issues on a much wider scale. Women’s power is a significant force in the future people’s will to deal with such issues on a much wider scale. Women’s power is a significant force in the future to build the alternative society on sound principles.

Producers and consumers groups can cooperate locally and internationally to reduce dependence on the TNCs for production and trade. This requires a networking of groups and inter-relation of actions much more than in previous periods when the problems of one country could be dealt with within a country and through the use of state power. Now local issues have global relevance and vice versa. National coalitions can lead to transnational alliances for the alternative economy and society.

The cultures of the people of the poor countries bear values of sharing, participation, community life and religiosity that can inspire the alternatives to globalization.

In the coming decades, humanity has to chart its way towards a more wholesome future in which the goals desired, the positive values and direction are known, but the paths and means are not yet clear. People would have to discern and make the way while journeying towards the goals, struggling against evils, and resisting the mammonic forces of legalized greed. In the process it is necessary to discern who and what are the allies and enemies of this great human cause. Alternatives will have to be worked out, evaluated and shared as there are no blue prints for success.

Action at all Levels will be required to meet this challenge. The counter action has to be locally based at the grassroots to be authentic and credible. But we need to be aware of the inadequacy of merely being local, as the local problems have

wider roots and implications. The alternative society has to be built at the district, national, regional, and international levels. This may seem far-fetched, but the nature of globalization requires a global response. This means that the effort must include an attempt to reform the UNO, the IMF/ WB/WTO, and their programmes such as TRIPS and TRIMS. These, in so far as they continue, must be democratized to serve and be accountable to the whole of humanity and not merely the powerful and the rich. MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments) has to be critically analyzed and opposed in so far as it is harmful to peoples interests and till nations control their resources. Pro-people policies such as of UNCTAD need to be supported. Different levels of action can be complementary and not competitive.

The reform of international institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, the democratization of the UNO and its Security Council and the strengthening of the powers of the UN General Assembly are also needed for dealing with these problems. The whole unjust world order, built up by 500 years of Western colonization, must be reformed to have world justice.

Methods of active non-violent social pressure need to be elaborated. This requires a type of training quite different from the traditional formation in the established mainline religions. The movements for human liberation inspired by secular ideals can also contribute to this common cause and religious forces can link with them for their mutual purification and benefit. They can together launch consciousness raising programmes starting from the local situation and proceeding to the macro and global levels and objectives. A counter-culture that truly respects humans and nature needs to be fostered by the people’s movements and alternative mass media.

All these are extremely difficult tasks and will take much of the effort of the coming generation of those working for a better humanity. The hope for the future lies in the success of such approaches based on moral values.

The spirituality of integrating liberation struggles to build strength together with conviction and power will involve:

-     overcoming the narrowness of groups-of personality and identity clashes

-     accepting one another as all have common problems: local and global

-     coming to agreements on goals, priorities, limiting targets in the short term strategically, while keeping all the groups and issues on board as long term objectives

-     making for accountability, information sharing, transparency and authenticity


In this new context, each group has to rethink its goals, priorities, means and methods. The former options made decades or centuries earlier may be inadequate to meet present challenges. Some of them may even be counter productive, as being within the overall system, while advocating piecemeal changes. e.g. religious congregations founded in the 19th century may have orientation inadequate for the 21st century world. Even NGOs begun in the 1970s may have to rethink their objectives and alliances in the late 1990s. Earlier the NGOs were more middle class and elitist with methods based on influencing the political leadership through personal contacts and media intervention. In the coming century the leadership is likely to pass to people’s mass movements around popularly felt issues.

These orientations require spirituality of the leaders and of the groups to be self-critical, respectful of others efforts, and mutually supportive in campaigns, along with common evaluation of efforts. This is a difficult process due to human short-comings, divisions, distances, conflicting interests and even the policy of ‘divide and rule” that the new global powers may adopt, as did their colonial predecessors.

Leadership of credible service and personal sacrifice as shown in the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther Kingand Nelson Mandela has been most fruitful for the causes they espoused.

Religions and Globalization

Religions endeavour to communicate a meaning and purpose to human life and relationships. Religions present a core teaching on how human life can lead to fulfillment and lasting happiness; they indicate a path of salvation or liberation in this life and in the hereafter. All the i≤lajor world religions advocate a basic detachment from ephemeral realities and a loving concern for all humans and for nature.

Globalization has a positive and negative impact on religions. Positively the world religions come to know each other much better with rapid communication. Capitalistic globalization, however, has no pretensions to resolve the deeper philosophical problem of the meaning of human life, here on earth and much less hereafter. This globalization is concerned with economic growth, profits, wealth and power. Its means are science and technology, information, organization, communication and speedy global networking. The issues of justice, peace, sharing, love and compassion are not priorities in the perspectives of the “free market’, the invisible god of the system, visibly controlled by the super­powers and their TNCs.

Capitalism, globalized or otherwise, does not give adequate and satisfactory responses to the questions of the value and goals of human life. Many specially youth in the Western countries are dissatisfied with the way of life into which they are born and m which they grow up. They see the immense disparities in the world, the waste in their own countries and the inability to change the situation. They do not have the sense of optimism and belief in progress that their parents and grandparents had during the course of the earlier decades. The future seems pessimistic for humanity as a whole even though the elites in the rich countries are prosperous.

The institutional and ritualistic aspects of Christianity respond adequately to the questions raised by modern life. Hence many in the West are estranged from the practice of the Christian religion in terms of attending church services and seeking directives from the institutional church sources. In that sense they are deChristianized or unchurched. Many persons in the economically advanced and developed countries, however, seek answers to the more serious questions of the meaning of life from other religion related sources such as the New Age phenomenon, the meditative approach of Eastern religions and Christian fundamentalist or pentecostal groups.

The challenge of being in contact with other agencies, both religious and secular, may lead the religions to close in on themselves, affirming their identity and distinctiveness. The pressures due to globalization may lead to religious conflicts if the religious groups behave primarily as sociological.

Communities get concerned with their material and social self-interest, rather than according to the core inspirations of their faiths. This is likely to emerge as chauvinistic ethno-religious conflicts in the poor countries, or as xenophobic and racist approaches in the Western countries reacting against immigration from the South or from their former colonies. The religion will be a divisive force in the future too. In a situation of social pressure due to economic shortages and unemployment, there may be the tendency for social forces to raise issues of religion and target as in India against the Muslims and in Indonesia this year against the ethnic Chinese, many of whom were Christians and considered allied to the Suharto establishment.

Such inter-religious conflicts may partly be based ideologically and culturally on secondary issues such as the claims of universality and exclusivity of the message or power of the religions. The self-interest of the leaders of the communities may also motivate such conflicts. In the wider geo-political field, there have been governmental policies, as of the United States under President Reagan, against Liberation Theology and its social commitment in favour of the oppressed against capitalistic exploitation, particularly in Latin America.

Globalization m the context of secularization and of world apartheid poses significant challenges to Christianity, the religion still acknowledged as the spiritual inspiration of the Western peoples. Christianity in its better insights can motivate its adherents to live according to the core values proposed by Jesus Christ and the Bible. The sharing of the earth’s resources justly among all humans is a primary obligation of all disciples of Jesus. It is also the core teaching of the other world faiths, or the implication of their basic values.

If the religious communities would act together in the present situation, they can contribute towards the better use of the benefits of science and technology and limit somewhat the ill effects of capitalistic globalization. The religions can be the spiritual motivation for a more just and peaceful world. They can undergird the networks of those who seek such a reordering of their economies and societies locally and even at the world level.

Christianity has a major potential and responsibility in this endeavour, being the religion that is the most widespread in the world, and the closest to the affluent of the globe. The Catholic Church with its near billion members, its global linkage and organization can be truly a multinational for human liberation of it orients its priorities in this direction. The Church can in this way try to make amend for its past collusion in building up this unjust world system. This would be a meaningful way of celebrating the Jubilee 2000 of the birth of Jesus. Naturally it will involve much rethinking, re­educating of the faithful and opposition from the powers that be. But that is the lesson of the cross, the path shown by Jesus for the liberation and salvation of humankind from the glorification of mammon.

The Teaching of the Religions and Capitalistic Globalization

In this context of increasing injustices in the world the religions could be a light to make us all aware of the false values of capitalistic globalization that cannot bring happiness and peace to persons or a lasting solution to our social and economic problems. The teaching of the world religions is diametrically opposed to the values of capitalistic globalization. The development of science and technology can improve human life, but the capitalistic values that inspire the social relationship are disastrous.

While the religions teach a detachment from search for material wealth and that all beings should be cared for and respected, maximization of private profit is the supreme goal of capitalism that has now reached a global dimension. The core values of the religions are:

-     against greed, accumulation, exploitation of persons and nature;

-     for sharing, tolerance, respect for all persons and nature. The religions advocate that society ensures that each person is cared for as a human being with rights to life and the means to contented living. All the religions stress the spirit of sharing of material resources among all humans.


The effort to bring food to the hungry, houses to the roofless, work for the unemployed, freedom to captives, knowledge to the ignorant is a primary call of all the major religions of the world. This is a demand of sisterhood and brotherhood that all religions stress. It is also the way to honour the Supreme Being or Transcendent Dhamma and spiritual values that all religions acknowledge. This requires a change in human relationships and social structures to accept all persons as equal in dignity and rights.

Develop a theology that is more evangelical and from our context of poverty, respects religious plurality and human rights. Based on solidarity Christianity should promote advocacy of global responsibility of those who have accumulated capital and resources for sharing and global transformation. O.T. and Gospel values to be rethought in context of globalization. The teaching of Jesus and the challenges of our situation could and should help to reform both society and Church.

A specific spiritual challenge for the present and coming generation everywhere and for religions is to make these values the guiding principles of day to day social life. In order to progress towards the ideal proposed by the religions the renunciation of selfishness by individuals at personal level should lead to a social concern for a positive loving caring for all, especially the many in dire need in our globalized society. This needs a collective rejection of the mechanism of the mere ‘free market’ as the guide of social policy. The inspiration of the life and teaching of their founders and seers and sages can lead people towards a movement for decent living and human dignity of all and peace among all communities. The festivities and liturgical celebrations of the religions could be the means of fostering a deeper personal and societal reflection on their deeper spiritual message.

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