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 9: Human Solidarity in the Context of Globalization
Christian spirituality and life are influenced by the theology that prevails among a Christian community or church at a given time. The renewal of Christian theology in the past three decades has been very much through the development of contextual theologies and consequent liberative action in particular contexts. Given the global nature of the present challenges to life, contextual theologies alone, however well developed and essential for the context, are not adequate to inspire liberative action that has also to be global. Such a theology would be open to the positive values in the different religions and persuasions in the world. The early Christian thought considered these as inspirations of the Divine Word and Spirit that is present to all persons through human history. We can fruitfully return to such a universalistic approach to doing theology.
The genuinely universal dimensions of Christian theology may be said to be those elements of theology that have a bearing on all reality, or at least on the whole planet earth and all humanity of all time and space. Such universal dimensions would include:
- God, the Absolute
Partial Remedies Need Deeper Approaches
To meet the challenges of globalization doing Christian theology and rethinking spirituality has to begin with the experience of the poor especially in the poor countries. Social analysis is an essential raw material for such a theological reflection. In the absence of a systemic analysis persons of goodwill can be unwittingly used by the powers that be for their benefit. Thus they are persuaded to consider their task as to take care of the victims of the exploitative system, to ensure continuity of the power system, to legitimize the prevailing exploitative order and to prevent or contain dissent leading to revolt.
Social workers promoting these causes will be given an honourable place in society, and respected when they do not contest the greed and injustice of the dominant.
The social analysis has to be reflected on in the light of the teaching of Jesus, the Bible and the Christian tradition. In this way the method of new contextual theologies such as Third World theology is different from mere speculative theology that does not take the reality of the world as a source of and challenge for a relevant theology. Western Euro -- North American experience alone is not adequate for a genuine Christian theology, as it excludes, or rather often legitimizes the sad historical and present reality of the long-colonized oppressed peoples and continuing world apartheid.
In this connection we can appreciate the need and significance of economics, literacy, computer literacy, use of media so as not to be brainwashed by the systemic forces, and dominant orthodoxies. Since we are bombarded daily by the mass media with news and views on the economy and economic policies, it is necessary to be trained to demythologize the claimed orthodoxies of economists, academics, policy makers and media programmes, as it is necessary to be able to demythologize the stories of the scriptures. Otherwise we could be used for promoting capitalist globalization. Such training has generally not been part of the agenda of the schools of spiritual and theological formation.
From such a soul-searching analysis and reflection would follow an option for the values of the reign of righteousness, taught by Christianity and the world religions. This is termed a preferential option for the poor, or an option for the liberation of the oppressed. This option must include a vision of justice to all humanity and nature with alternative values, relationships and structures: at local, national, regional and international levels. This vision needs to be articulated regarding specific areas such as: food security, housing, health, education, transportation, land use and land distribution.
Some types of action and service are necessary, but by themselves they do not deal adequately with growing inequality and impoverishment. For example, charity to victims is not a solution for social injustice, social service is not a corrective for social injustice and local action is not a remedy for global problems. Prayer is not a proxy for needed social action. Each of these is however good in itself and must be done partly as a remedy to the immediate problem and as a useful and necessary part of the longer term solution.
However, piecemeal struggles can generate global movements such as those against nuclear weapons. The Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989 due to people power that gathered momentum over the years. The people’s movements changed the course of the WTO ministerial discussions at Seattle in November 1999. Likewise the impact of the world movements for women’s rights, care of the environment, childrens’ rights, the Grameen Bank and saving movements, Amnesty International, journalists unions, US civil rights consciousness of their rights, Aboriginals in Australia, Dalits in India. Such experiences need to the gathered and made known world wide to have an impact on the entire problem of finance and employment and economic growth through group cooperation as in marketing even globally. They need support and can be partners in more widespread changes, while struggling for their own rights.
Relevant action requires good information, data, knowledge and analysis. These must be made available to action groups. The communications revolution can be a resource and an ally for such causes. Peoples empowerment depends on conviction and commitment to ensure its continuity.
Transform persons: A New Type of Person
All concerned with the future of humanity must try to bring into being a new type of person, whose loyalty to humankind and to our global home is primary. Such a person would not neglect her or his own home, locality, or country, but rather so care for each as not to hurt others and the earth.
Christians can draw motivation to be this new type of persons from their faith, in which God is seen as caring for all, Jesus is a brother to all, the spirit is present universally, the earth our common mother, and society and history are where we can meet God in service to others. It is also a guarantee of personal fulfillment and happiness in living not for the possession of things but in service to others.
The core values of the other religions also lead us to a deep reflection on the transitoriness of material reality and that ultimate meaning and happiness in life cannot be obtained from material possessions and much less from their unjust accumulation.
The societal dimension of Christian spirituality must develop its own meaningful self-expression, scriptures, meditation, worship, inter-personal communion, music, dance and ritual. Christian catechesis and liturgy must convey this orientation and help change the mind-sets of the believers. Meditation should lead to such deep reflection on the call of God and a response of individual and community self-renunciation in the face of human need.
The world situation, which affects peoples locally too, could be the subject of deep reflection that motivates Christians to see what Jesus would require of them today. The Churches can be vehicles for fostering such meditation relevant to the causes, processes, effects and consequences of globalization. This meditation would reflect on the deeper meaning of life. Happiness and joy, as all world religions teach, are not to be found through mere material possession as such, though these are necessary, but in self-giving for a nobler cause. The shallowness of some of the values promoted by the globalized media, such as mere external show, privilege, power and prestige would have to be reflected in a manner relevant to modern situations.
These are traditional themes of religious meditation, but they were not thought of so much in terms of global social justice. This is a rather new agenda for the churches. The clergy and other church leadership would have to be specially trained for such spiritual exercises. This too would not be easy as it may go against their former training and practice, and may be against the social interests of some of the members of their parishes and other organizations. In this process a certain polarization is to be expected within the traditional Christian communities. Jesus foresaw this: “you cannot serve two masters, God and mammon”.
Church in history
A reflection on the history of Christian theology and spirituality would help us understand some of the problems that the Churches (would) have in taking up positions concerning the social problems caused by capitalistic globalization and world apartheid. The Roman Empire was a form of globalization within the limits of the technological evolution of the time. The values that Jesus taught and lived by were diametrically opposed to the exploitative values of the Roman empire. The Jewish religious leadership of the day was also compromised in their alliance with the Roman rulers of the colonized Jewish people.
Christianity was initially a counter-culture witnessing to the value which Jesus preached and for which he was killed by the combination of the Jewish high priests and the Roman imperial rulers of Palestine. Christians were at first a marginalized group, living almost underground. They refused to accept emperor-worship. For them Jesus was the Lord, and there was no God other than the God of Jesus Christ. The emperor was not God, the state was not supreme. They believed in sharing their resources and caring for one another so that there was no one in need (Acts 4:34). Their loyalty to the Empire was suspect, and hence during the first three centuries there were several brutal persecutions. Martyrdom was a fate that many Christians, especially Popes and bishops had to undergo.
Alliance with Empire
The conversion of the emperor Constantine made a very significant difference to the position of Christianity in social life and later in its teaching, organization and relationships. Christianity then became the official religion of the Empire. It acquired the privileges of being the established religion, receiving even the ownership of the ancient “Pagan” temples. It took over the forms of government of the Roman state. Church leaders became the religious counterpart of the leaders of secular society. Roman law influenced the formation of the Canon law of church. There was an alliance between the Church and the state, the Pope and the Emperor. From about that time churches as bodies have generally evolved their spirituality and theology within the framework of the dominant social order in Europe.
Christian Spirituality in Feudal Europe
With the fall of the Roman empire, due to its internal moral laxity and external attacks by “Barbarians” from the North and East, the Church became the single most powerful agency for the formation and social stability of the European peoples. In the process she accepted the social system of feudalism in which a person was born to a given social status. This was seen as divinely ordained. The power of rulers and nobles was claimed to be from God as was the authority of the clergy and of the Bishops and Popes. Eventually the Popes became rulers of their states. Slavery continued to be justified within this social order. Christian spirituality demanded that one accepts one’s position within this order. This social order was maintained basically unchanged for nearly a thousand years till the rise of mercantile capitalism in the middle ages.
The Church decided its teachings, mainly through its Councils, in terms of dogmatic definitions, expressed in the language of the accepted Greek philosophy of the times. The Council of Nicea, 325, convoked by the Emperor Constantine, defined the faith in God and Jesus Christ in the Nicene Creed, which is still recited at the Sunday Eucharistic service. For this reason, among others, the faith is presented as adherence to a set of formulations of doctrine rather than a following of the moral teaching of Jesus that God is love and calls us to love one another. There is a world of difference between such a formulation of belief and Jesus Sermon on the Mount which gives principles for moral living. Acceptance of the defined dogmatic formulations, rather than righteous moral living, became the criterion of Christian orthodoxy.
St. Augustine (356-430) was the great philosophical and theological genius who presented a new synthesis of Christianity for the succeeding thousand years. He consolidated the teaching on original sin and the fallen nature of the whole human race. Baptism was considered essential for salvation, and the Church was regarded as the unique means of salvation. The spiritual life was conceived of as very much related to the sacraments. He favoured the point of view that Christians could be compelled to be faithful to the official teaching of the Church. This was one of the sources of the Church’s intolerance of heretics and schismatics.
This alliance with empire was a far cry from the persecuted early Church, despite some Fathers of the Church, like John Chrysostom, being faithful to the prophetic message of the gospel. Some spiritual seekers like St. Benedict, unhappy with the indulgent life of Roman society, withdrew to form the monastic communities as at Subiaco. Monasticism, including the resort to the desert, was a form of protest seeking new ways of personal sanctification in a corrupt world.
The Church became the guardian of the learning and culture of the Greco-Roman world. The monasteries helped rebuild European villages and later the cities. The Church adapted herself to the feudal way of life, with the parish church and the monasteries as focal points of communal life. The lords of the manor and the bishops, abbots and priors in the monasteries were the leaders of medieval society. Spirituality was thought of as a form of holiness derived from the acceptance of one’s station in life and living in obedience to the civil and ecclesiastical powers. These were conceived of as ordained of God even when they led to divisions and wars.
The Great Schism and the Crusades
Two of the main trends m the second half of the first millennium were the Great Schism and the Crusades. Both related spirituality as viewed by the power holders in the churches and the intolerance of differing opinions. The Roman and the Greek Orthodox churches were estranged from each other and excommunicated each other in 1054 due to differences in their dogmatic formulations of the Christian faith. The political divisions and the cultural differences between Rome and Constantinople were partly responsible for this division.
A second trend was the rise of Islam beginning in Arabia in the 7th century and spreading to Asia Minor and North Africa. With this the Church diminished in numbers and influence in North Africa. Islam spread to Spain from North Africa and to Eastern Europe. The Crusades, undertaken for the liberation of Jerusalem from Muslims as well as for safeguarding the domains of the European powers, were a significant feature in political and church life. Due to the spread of Islam and the fall of Constantinople to the Muslims in 1453, Europe got cut off from Asia.
During the second half of the first millennium, the Church spread in Western Europe and among the Germanic Slav peoples of Eastern Europe. The monasteries were the seats of learning and of the evangelization of the peoples. Thus by the end of the first millennium, the Church was very much a European religion, though it had begun in West Asia. During much of the 9th and 10th centuries the papacy was involved in the rivalry and prevalent corruption of the leading Roman families and of ecclesiastical leaders.
Catholic Christianity in the second millennium, from 1001 to the present times, has been Europe-centered. Till the 16th century, Europeans were substantially cut off from the rest of the world due to the limitations of travel especially after the Islamic crescent restricted them. Catholic theology was generally based on the view that outside the church there is no salvation, though a gradual opening up towards others began after the “discovery” by Columbus of the New World in the Americas in 1492, and the opening of the route to the East after Vasco da Gama in 1498. This rigid theological position of “no salvation outside the Church” was maintained throughout the Churches for over a thousand years, even by the greatest of scholars and saints like St. Thomas Aquinas. It was underpinned by the view that all others were unbelievers and pagans, who were not destined for salvation. Hence the Inquisition and the burning of heretics.
In fact Christians were theoretically and sometimes even practically intolerant of other religions and cultures till the 1960s. Christians carrying the gospel message to the corners of the world, has also a westernizing influence. This had both desirable and not so desirable impacts. Till recent decades they were not attuned to appreciate the spiritual riches and values of the other faiths. They were too conscious of Western superiority and perceived themselves as the chosen people of God. They tended to think of colonialism as the providential design for the salvation of the world through the spread of the Church.
A definitive change in this position was accepted in the Catholic Church only at the Second Vatican Council 1962-1965. Yet even now there are debates within the Church as to how others can be saved: whether through Jesus Christ and in relation to the Church or not? Thus recently Pope John Paul II repeatedly stressed in his address to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the revelation of Christ is “definitive and complete” and that non-Christians live in “a deficient situation compared to those who have the fullness of salvific means in the church”. (The Tablet, 5 February 2000, London, p. 157).
Mission of Redemption
In this background the spread of the Church was regarded as the highest spiritual value as it communicated the means of salvation to persons who would otherwise be dammed eternally. The spirituality of the Church did not prioritize the universal love of and social justice to neighbour. In seeking this mission of spreading Christianity, means such as the overpowering and enslaving of peoples could be justified, or unjust exploitation of peoples overlooked and tolerated, or even welcomed, in view of the attendant greater good of the conversion of souls to Christianity and making available to them the fullness of means of salvation. Even spiritual associations such as religious orders and congregations were influenced by this perspective, though rare individuals stood up for the oppressed indigenous peoples and slaves as in Americas.
The quest for holiness within the religious families taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, was interpreted in terms of the paradigm of other-worldly salvation. This went along with the acceptance of the dominant social order, and hence favoured the socially unjust status quo. Union with God was not seen as requiring love of neighbour and justice to peoples of other faiths. On the contrary the weight of authority was often in favour of a spirituality that abstained from critical issues of social and public life as being alien to, or a distraction from the deeper spiritual quest of union with God. Thus during many centuries, good Christians, in spite of immense dedication to worthy causes such as education and social services, by and large, and perhaps unwittingly, helped build the unjust world system of colonialism.
Given this long history of Christian collusion with social injustice, today we must reflect on the lessons of the participation in the first phase of capitalist-led globalization from 1492/1498 onwards. We need to be careful of the unintended bad effects of our good intentions and dedication. To be merely conservative is to be de facto collusive with the destructive system. Even now are not most Christians generally neutral during this present phase of our re-colonization? If we are not active against it, we will be de facto used for it. Hence Christian formation must be adapted to meet today’s new challenges.
Transform the Churches
It is not enough for Christians and churches to be neutral, passive or concerned with only intra-church issues. The dominant system is going ahead spreading the values of the capitalist mammonic cult; economy, and power. The world order is deteriorating rapidly. The media are communicating mammonic values; world trade is transferring resources from the poor to the rich; nature is being attacked, degraded, depleted; people especially women and children are oppressed, neglected, and stunted.
In a sense globalization calls for, where necessary, a conversion of the whole church in its theological thinking, spirituality and pastoral priorities. There would have to be a paradigm shift from the church-centered theology and spirituality to one that is Jesus-centred, God, and human-centred. The love of God must be reflected on in terms of love of neighbour. Salvation would have to be interpreted in terms of the Jesus teaching of this-worldly love of neighbour, especially the outcastes and marginalized in the context of global apartheid.
While we are interested in bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus, our mission is not to recruit people from one religious institution or belief system for another; nor to give them new laws, dogmas and rituals; but rather to persuade all to change our lives and ways, and adopt a new way of seeing, doing and being. Our calling is to invite all to turn from gods which are even less than human, and from idols like power, profit, property, creed, class, caste, language, race, success, technocratic progress, managerial efficiency and the ego, and thus experience the fulfilling realization of God’s Reign which consists in justice, freedom and fellowship, tender love, universal compassion and equitable sharing of resources.
We need a mission theology and spirituality in which evangelization will mean announcing the radically challenging story of Jesus with its beauty and its tragedy, its rich humanity and undying hope; telling it by living it, and spelling it out in word and song.
The pastorate of the Church ministry was to ensure that conditions prevailed that would be conducive to the salvation of persons in the perspective of a Church-centred theology. The highest value on earth was, in this perception, the growth of the Church in membership and authority. She was the sure path to eternal salvation. Any obstacles to the building up of the Church could be removed, if necessary with recourse to the secular power. Hence for centuries the Church has not been attuned to defend human life and human rights other than in its own interests.
The activities of church personnel was concerned with building the parish community, the Christian education and social services. They were greatly dedicated to these cause and went to the ends of the earth in the fulfillment of this mission. However the preservation of human life and human rights of all and the care of nature were not among their priorities as such. The prevailing theology and spirituality contributed to blunting their conscience against the immense evils of Christian powers against other peoples. White racism, capitalist interests and patriarchy too were accepted, some what as providential, in this historical process.
Dilution of Christian Spirituality
Unfortunately spirituality itself has been elaborated within the later Christian tradition very much in an individualistic manner: seeking inner purification and saving one’s soul or advancing towards personal liberation, without an effort at a reform of the unjust social relationships and structures. Much of Christian spirituality and hagiography have been interpreted in relation to, and in function of, the later compromise of the Church with the Roman power, feudalism, capitalism and Western imperialism. This has down-played the justice dimension of spirituality and stressed only social service and ritual worship.
Mary, the mother of Jesus is central to Catholic piety, but throughout many centuries devotion to her did not carry the spiritual message of her life as expressed in her association with the radical Jesus and spelt out in the Magnificat. Mary was not seen as one who was deeply concerned with the rights of others and opposed to exploitation of all types. Marian spirituality had an effect of de-radicalizing the revolutionary message of the gospel.
Likewise in the spirituality associated with the lives of the saints. There was little attention to the necessary link between union with God and respect for the rights of others. Contemplation of God was not presented as something that demanded seeing God in the neighbour, not only in the sense of charity, but of social justice. The devotion to the saints, the shrines and places of pilgrimage do not often carry the message of good news to the poor in a socially liberative direction. The canonization of saints was also influenced by the dominant social policy of the Church. Thus almost all the saints were from Europe, and persons of holy life and charity. Hardly anyone was canonized for struggling against the social injustices for a radical transformation of society. Such persons, as Bartolomew de las Casas had difficulties and non-acceptance during much of their life time.
A Deficient Moral Theology
The Church claims to be the moral and spiritual guide of humanity, and to teach the truth concerning God and human salvation. Yet through many centuries she has been conditioned by the prevailing social ambience. Thus slavery was not discerned as an evil during most of her history. For centuries she lived with feudalism accepting its concepts of inborn inequalities. The attitudes towards the colonial enterprises of European powers also compromises the holiness and claim of moral guide of humanity.
The present situation in the world is one of very great inequality. Life is impossible and shortened for some while others go on accumulating more and more wealth. This is the reality under capitalistic globalization. This situation is not an issue of a short period, but the result of centuries of exploitation of peoples and nature by humans, particularly Christians.
In the history of the world the colonial adventure of the European (Christian) peoples constitutes one of the greatest robberies, genocides and abuse of power by a set of human beings and nations. The Church and Christians have been not only involved in this genocide, but have encouraged it and benefited from it. Thus some Popes encouraged and helped organize the Crusades, conferred indulgences on the Crusaders. They saw in the these “holy wars” a battle for the cause of Christ and of Western civilization. Some others blessed the colonial enterprise of Spain and Portugal.
In general the moral theology of the Church did not recognize the evil of colonialism, as wrong and as demanding reparation. European colonialism and its methods went diametrically against the basic right of other peoples to their life, lands, property and liberty. In that sense it was gravely sinful. The Church should have taught its members about this and taken steps to avoid such evils. Even the few, like Bartolomew de las Casas, who spoke of the rights of the oppressed indigenous peoples were not really heard, and were even silenced by the official Church.
If Christians recognized the sins of colonialism, such evils would not have been perpetrated by European peoples during several centuries. In the books of moral theology which were studied in seminaries over the past 50 or 60 years, there are chapters on justice, referring to property in general, but no evaluation of colonialism as such. There are no chapters on colonialism or even on the international land grab by the Western powers. There are many studies on justice and even on restitution and compensation, but not for the injustices of colonialism as such. If you take the books of moral theology: in Latin, English, Italian, French there is no evaluation of colonization from a critical evangelical point of view. So there is something basically inadequate in such moral theology.
Even after Vatican II is it not true to say that there is no developed moral theology on colonization in the seminaries, universities or even the papal encyclicals? Subject to correction, it would seem there is as yet no developed adequate moral theology about this greatest genocide in human history. Even Karl H. Peschke writing in 1979 with a revised edition in 1996 does not deal with the question of colonialism and its consequences on the world system and the global economy.
The present world order of nation states is largely the result of the unjust colonial expansion of Europe by force during the past five centuries. Hence the world order is itself unjust, though it is taken for granted in the prevailing international law. Most moral theologians today do not contest it, though it is a basis of the flagrant inequality in the incomes and resource distribution among peoples.
There is considerable discussion in some circles about the role of the Holy See with reference to Nazism and the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. Some civil authorities too still follow up offenders of that period even when these are in their eighties. But there is no inquiry into the continued impact of colonial exploitation as by the mining companies which are giant transnationals coming from the beginning of the 20th century.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by the Vatican in 1994, teaches:
“2412 In virtue of commutative justice, reparation for injustice committed requires the restitution of stolen goods to their owner: Jesus blesses Zacchaeus for his pledge: “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lk. 19:8). Those who, directly or indirectly, have taken possession of the goods of another, are obliged to make restitution of them, or to return the equivalent in kind or in money, if the goods have disappeared, as well as the profit or advantages their owner would have legitimately obtained from them. Likewise all who in some manner gave taken part in a theft or who have knowingly benefited from it-for example, those who ordered it, assisted in it or received the stolen goods-are obliged to make restitution in proportion to their responsibility and to their share of what was stolen.”
This passages deserves much more serious consideration than has been hitherto given to it in the teachings and practice of the churches. The Catechism itself does not seem to apply it to the colonial period of history 1492-1945.
Restitution and Compensation for colonial exploitation are perspectives that are not well developed explicitly in Christian moral theology. Can such a concept be developed m the ecumenical understanding of moral responsibility of peoples? How far do European action groups and researchers inquire into whether their own standard-of living is dependent on past exploitation and on the present transfer of funds from the poor to the rich countries and the unfair terms of trade?
Since no one is perfect, the Church is a communion of saints and sinners. But can it be a communion of willful unrepentant exploiters and the exploited? If it is so there is something basically inadequate in its spirituality and pastorate of the community. The gospel of Jesus is not taken seriously or is gravely distorted. The Church has insisted on doctrinal orthodoxy of its members, but not on moral rectitude to the extent of tolerating the greatest iniquities of communal holocaust in human history perpetrated by its members.
During the centuries when Christianity was allied to the powers of the world, the sacraments lost very much their deeper spiritual significance of transformation of persons to live the life of humble, loving service taught by Jesus. The church personnel gave much time and attention to externally administering the sacraments, partly believing in their quasi automatic impact: ex opere operato. Their societal significance in relation to loving service and the rights of others was largely lost sight of. On the contrary they often gave Christians a sense of spiritual superiority and a conviction that they could use even force to bring others to the Christian faith.
Thus baptism was very much ritualized to a mere external ceremony. Infant baptism was insisted on as a necessity for purification from an original sin said to be inherited at birth by all humans due to the sin of Adam and Eve. This interpretation of the scriptures and understanding of Christian anthropology gave Christian spirituality a view of God as a harsh judge who wanted the sacrifice of the life of Jesus as expiation and atonement for the sins of humanity. Such a spirituality neglected baptism as incorporation in the death-resurrection of Jesus and conversion of one’s life to the values of the gospel and hence to respect for the rights of those. The baptized considered themselves God’s privileged people who could consequently take whatever they wanted from others for their own well-being. That is the background in which the baptized Christians became history’s greatest plunderers and destroyers of human life especially after 1492.
Now many in the Western societies do not baptize their children. They imply that they are not worried about the former teaching that baptism was essential for salvation due to the consequences of original sin. Even these days there is not much acknowledgments that baptism is a call to accept the values of Jesus, of trying to overcome the barriers of differences and divisions such as of class, race, gender, nationality and caste. On the contrary the traditional approach was for the baptized to think of themselves as a privileged group favoured by God and having more access to the means of salvation. In the present situation of unprecedented inequality within countries and in the world, to be baptized as a Christian should be a call to a counterculture, to resistance to the grave evils of capitalistic globalization.
The mission of evangelization is not generally understood as a call to conversion of life towards social justice. To “evangelize the poor” is thought of in terms of conversion to the Church, but seldom includes the liberation of the oppressed and setting the captives free as Jesus proclaimed in Luke 4:18. This approach went on for centuries, and influenced the greatest and most sell-sacrificing of missionaries such as St. Francis Xavier.
The sacrament of penance is a means for self-correction of persons and groups. The penitent Christian confesses one’s sins to a priest or in community, regrets the evil, promises to sin no more, to avoid occasions of sin and make amends for the harm inflicted on others by the sins committed. Well understood this sacrament is an exceptional means for believers to advance in holiness and to help build the human community in love and sharing.
It also includes the duty of restitution. There would then be no situation in which the robbers and the robbed would be in the same church communion without reconciliation, as if there was no problem between them and in society. Whether Christians make their personal confession to a priest or not, the teaching of Jesus and the commandments of God require that justice prevails in a Christian community and in the relationship of Christians towards others.
Even in recent times it is difficult to even discuss the question of compensation and restitution for long term colonial exploitation of peoples by persons, companies and countries. Even the great Jubilee of 2000 hardly touches this aspect of return of lands and payment of debts. Slavery has been legally abolished. Strangely when this was done it was the slave owners who were entitled to compensation, apparently for the loss of their rights over slaves. When the Sri Lanka’s tea estates owned by the British companies were nationalized in the 1970s Sri Lanka had to pay compensation to these companies. Then adequate and speedy compensation was insisted on as pertaining to the law of international relations. The centuries of the practice of the sacrament of penance are not known to have brought about a demand for compensation by Christian exploiters to colonized peoples. On the contrary big time operators like Cecil Rhodes were and are honoured as social luminaries and benefactors of humanity.
Change the structures of evil
With capitalistic globalization the Eucharist would be still more of a challenge to the Christians to follow the teaching of Jesus for an egalitarian, free and just human community of disciples and all persons of good will. The Eucharist, even with the reduced numbers of the clergy, is an occasion for the Christians to come together weekly for the praise of God and the sharing of their concerns. The listening to the Scriptures and sharing the experiences of people can be an opportunity for recalling the values of the Jesus’ teaching and of a truly renewed humanity. The call to loving sharing and peace with justice can be reflected on together by the Christian communities all over the world.
Already in 1977 I had suggested alternative themes around which the Eucharist could be celebrated. Fortunately the global secular society is now moving towards such issues. The days and weeks of commemoration organized at the secular level by bodies such as the United Nations Organization and its related agencies can help orient the eucharistic communities also to issues such as children’s rights, women’s emancipation, the aged, foreign debt, peace, environment, food, employment, AIDS, drugs, crime, cancer... etc. People are much more conscious now of the harm to the environment due to the capitalistic pattern of development. We witness examples of such devastation in our countries such as through the use of chemical pesticides and even fertilizers, the deporting of our mineral wealth by mining transnational corporations, the exploitation of our workers, women and children and the ill-effects of drugs, arms sales and even of some types of tourism.
The local churches can arrange eucharistic celebrations on such themes. Then the relevant data can be gathered and distributed prior to these celebrations. The community social action groups can be developed by such prayerful reflection and community action. The Eucharist would then be much more meaningful in relation to the people’s social concerns also. They would understand better the spirituality of engagement in social action, thus linking personal spirituality and concern for the common good of the community.
The church being one sixth of humanity can be a very meaningful and effective community for global reflection and action on the needs of persons and groups today. There is hardly any other so well organized and so widespread a body as the Catholic Church in the whole world. In this sense the Churches can be multinationals for human liberation, and together they could be one of the world’s most potent networks for redemption from the greed, and violence of the present world disorder
The extraordinary development of the means of communication, including T.V., E-mail and Internet can be a means of contact among the peoples of the world. The church can develop its communion of service to the common human causes using such media, which can be regarded as part of the providential helps for building of God’s kingdom in the new century. The churches have immense potentialities for building consciousness and action among the peoples of the world, especially if the Sunday coming together includes a genuine effort at bearing witness to the Jesus call of effective love.
If and when Christians rethink and transform the eucharistic communities to participate in the ongoing human search for a more just and peaceful world, the Eucharist will be one of the greatest sources and agencies of human liberation. The liturgy would then be the centre and summit of Christian living and human solidarity. Christians would then participate even better in re-enacting the bequest of Jesus: “do this commemoration of me”. Those who suffer for such causes would understand better the cross of Jesus who contested the harmful and unjust values of the society of his day.
The preaching and catechesis in the churches would have to accentuate more the justice dimension of the message of Jesus. It would have to be related to the actual situation of peoples lives in a given locality. Such a presentation of the challenge of the gospel may lead to some persons contesting such an interpretation of the gospel. There will be accusations of the church or Christians becoming materialistic, politically involved or even communist. There may be divisions among the clergy and the rank and file of the Christians. Some sources of funds may dry up, the numbers of church goers may decrease or change. Such a presentation would change the priorities in the spirituality in parish life.
The content of the expressed prayers and hymns of the church services too would change in the process of such a conversion of mind and heart. Most of the prayers and hymns used in the churches over the centuries do not present the message of love leading to justice, but rather individualistic petitions to God, praise of God or sometimes a triumphalistic thanksgiving for being Christians.
Spirituality of Alliances for Liberation
The enemies of Justice for the poor peoples are linked together: networking, merging companies, developing technologies that reduce labour requirements, hence reduce employment and the power of organized workers. They are together for increasing their wealth, using the UN related institutions. They are being sponsored and protected by the WB/IMF, and WTO-TRIPS.
On the contrary the poor and marginalized continues to be fragmented. They conduct their struggles generally separate at least at the beginning;
- of different groups of workers,
Hence they are often divided and weak.
Networking is needed based on understanding common oppression of the poor and hence their interest, and need to build up viable alternatives.
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 piece meal changes. These require a 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 shortcomings, divisions, distances, conflicting interests and even the policy of “divide and rule” that the new global powers may adopt, as did their colonial predecessors.
For Religious Leadership this includes a very important approach of guidance and counseling of persons and groups: to educate their constituencies concerning globalization and the common cause of humanity, changing where necessary narrow mindsets that divide the oppressed on the basis of colour, caste, creed, gender and other interests. Religions have been one of the important causes of division of the poor peoples of countries and globally too.
A Struggle Required
This situation requires the articulation of a spirituality of societal combat to realize the rights of all persons and peoples. The rights of people cannot be ensured and fostered today without a struggle against the evil aspects of capitalistic globalization. A critical analysis of globalization, (within such global apartheid) and a reflection based on the religious and spiritual values of humanity would lead to an option for the genuine development and liberation of the people, especially the poor. Peoples can and need to struggle together, inspired by their religions and moral ideals to safeguard themselves and the world from such dangers and improve their quality of life according to the genuine values that can give hope and happiness to all. Much creativity is needed in the global situation as the leaders of capital use the most sophisticated and calculated means to increase their economic stranglehold on the poor peoples. A sustained struggle is required against the globally organized power of the TNCs, the rich countries, the WB, IMF, WTO and the collaborative local elites.
This struggle brings about personal suffering, in the giving up of luxuries for oneself for the common good and in facing the determined opposition of the organized forces of social injustice, often consciously or unconsciously backed by the religious establishments. We meet the cross of Jesus and the God of love in thus combat for human life. Those who take such steps will come under attack from the powers that be as Jesus had to face.
Socially analytical and critical training has generally not been part of the agenda of the schools of spiritual formation. This is an aspect that has not yet been adequately developed in our theological reflection and much less in our spirituality. We must learn how to interpret the Jesus command to love the neighbour as oneself in the context of the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer with globalization. Training for justice would have to be very much in actual action that contests the dominant system and builds a counter culture on the alternative values.
The counter power and strategies of action have to include alternative goals and means of realizing the vision both locally and at the world level. People need to be empowered by activities such as building local capital through savings, promotion of organic agriculture, agro-industries, appropriate technology, cooperative enterprises, local trading, foreign debt renunciation or cancellation. Producers and consumer 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.
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.
The people’s movements for human liberation and human rights organizations, should get the support of religious forces in this common cause. They realize that globalization of power and information presents a very difficult background today. They can together launch consciousness-raising programmes starting from the local situation and proceeding to the macro level and global level. With the data from particular items as the spread of dangerous pesticides, or from their impact on whole countries, awareness can be built on the sinfulness of WB-IMF WTO sponsored Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed on poor countries.
For a Just World Order
Due to this fundamental contradiction between the foundational teachings of Jesus (and of the core values of the world religions) and the values fostered by the capitalist globalization process. Christians and followers of other religions have to lead a counter movement for right relationships among all humans and a just world based on the
i) recognition of the value of each person acknowledging that the resources of the world are for the sustenance of all to ensure the basic essentials of life to every person without discrimination.
i) Care for our planet earth that it would be a suitable home for present and future humanity. We would thus respect the covenant of God with humanity in creation.
For the practical realization of a world order based on such objectives it is necessary that there be a change in the values by which human beings are inspired and motivated and structures by which they are governed. Such a world order demands respect for the human person and for all human persons regardless of sex, colour, creed, nationality, social function or age.
The noblest inspirations of the world’s great religions are in the direction of such a vision. Does not every spiritual tradition recognize that care for others is respect for the numinous in every person, as well as a manifestation of the divine within the one who cares? The best in the Western way of life is democratic and egalitarian, the excesses of capitalism being a deviation from the Western ideal of freedom and justice. The socialist vision of a classless, stateless society is also in the tradition of the apocalyptic vision of the prophets of Judaism. In the depths of every human heart there is an urge toward concern for others.
Transformation at Global Level
Bringing about a greater justice and equality in the standard of living within and among the countries of the world is now a much more difficult enterprise than even 50 years ago. Such an agenda requires a sustained struggle against the globally organized power of the TNCs, the rich countries, the WB, IMF, WTO and the collaborative local elites if these world forces are to be made to serve the interests of humanity, especially the poor and needy. They want to perpetuate their wealth, power and privileges, which are also generally racist favouring the whites.
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. An area that needs radical rethinking is the foreign debt of the poor countries to the former colonial powers.
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 lie in the success of such approaches based on moral values. The poor countries have to get together, once again, to press their claims against the dominant G8 nations for a reform of the international economic order. They should campaign for a new constituent assembly to set new structures for the world community: for a change of laws regarding migration of peoples. They should also campaign for an effective code of conduct for TNCs to control the present globalization process.
A more participatory democracy is part of the cause and effect of the attempt to evolve out of this process of unjust globalization. A world authority should be empowered to bring about a planned and peaceful reallocation of land to peoples. It is one way in which the creative growth of humanity can be related to the use and transformation of the earth. It need not increase pollution and waste, for Third World peoples have long traditions of care for the earth, unlike the present occupants of North America and Australia.
There is no reason why European expansionism from 1500 to 1950 should set the pattern of land distribution for the entire future of the human race. The main orientation of global policy should be that, with existing populations ensured their rights, persons without land should have planned access to land without persons. There should be settlement policies and programs for moving excess populations to scantily populated areas such as Canada, Australia, the West of the United States, areas of Latin America—in addition to migration within existing national borders. In this connection we can call these vast landmasses “underdeveloped” areas. For they support few inhabitants, even if they produce much food. The terms “developed” and “underdeveloped” are used today in terms of technological advance. They could also be understood in relation to the actual number of persons supported by a landmass. Thus Bangladesh, with 55,000 square miles, supports 128 million persons, whereas New Zealand supports only 3.8 million on 104,000 square miles. Which land is more developed?
Population resettlement is one way of compensation for the plundering of the resources of poor peoples by colonization and by the MNCs and for inequities in international trade. It could put an end to the non-planting or destruction of crops in order to keep prices high for U.S., European or Australian farmers. It could reduce malnutrition, which now affects over 500 million human beings. It could increase employment in the land-rich countries. In the final analysis, large-scale unemployment in the U.S.A., Canada, and Australia is not due to over population but to under population and a poor use of resources. A larger population would mean more children, and hence a greater demand for schools, teachers, books, transportation, and so forth. These are much better purposes for which to spend North American or Australian wealth than armaments. If there were a more open policy on resettling immigrants to the U.S.A., it would not have to spend billions of dollars on armaments. More inhabitants would mean more demand, more employment, more dynamism in the economy. These are much better purposes for which to spend North American or Australian wealth than armaments. This is one reason why the U.S.A. has grown much faster than Canada, though both were settled by whites at about the same time.
Planned resettlement of millions of persons per year in the under-developed areas of the world is a feasible proposal today; the question is whether we have the political will to carry it out. Hundred of millions cross national frontiers and the oceans each year as tourists. World refugees number in the tens of millions. In fact such resettlement might be politically easier than even sharing resources across nations. It would not mean reducing Australia, Canada or the U.S.A. in size, but increasing the number of Americans, Canadians and Australians at a much faster rate than at present. This would increase their national wealth, given the immense land base. The same would apply also to such countries as Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil.
The main barrier, however, would seem to be that these countries, in fact all countries, do not really consider all human beings equal in rights and dignity. No land-rich country will admit that racism is its basic objection to world population resettlement. All manner of other arguments are alleged, from the point of view of culture to the life-boat theory of triage and survival of the fittest. All these need to be discussed in detail.
The argument of cultural incompatibility is not without some practical validity. Persons of different cultures do not easily mingle as equals. They mingle as unequals, as when the United States and Brazil imported blacks as slaves, to the benefit of the stronger. Because culture is a problem, the process of the reallocation of lands and populations would have to include other provisions, for example, that all the whites in New Zealand to be settled by Bengalis, with just provision made for the Maoris living there. West Canadians could easily be settled in the West of U.S.A. and the area from Alaska to Vancouver and East to Winnipeg could absorb several tens of millions of Chinese, who would doubtless make better use of the land. Fair provisions would have to be made for the Amerindians in those regions. These are merely suggestions to foster imaginative approaches to this issue. The old paradigm of the world system built on nation-states to suit white peoples is inadequate to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Humanity must find peaceful and just means of adopting a new paradigm in which human beings are more important than the national frontiers. All these are far less costly, and far more profitable than space travel.
We are all called to transcend our narrow particularities in order to arrive at a higher, wider, and deeper level of sharing among all human beings. This demands a transformation of ourselves from within our innermost being, to accept all others as sisters and brothers. Our growth to a planetary dimension is an invitation to spiritual deepening, a purification from selfishness to a more universal communion in real life, to our own humanization. In so far as we do so, we shall become more truly civilized, approach the ideals of the best in all our religions and cultures, and pursue the deepest and best aspirations of every human heart and mind.