Chapter 7: Some Ethical and Theological Reflections and Considerations, by Feliciano V. Carino

Globalization and Its Impact on Human Rights
by George Mathews Chunakara (ed.)

Chapter 7: Some Ethical and Theological Reflections and Considerations, by Feliciano V. Carino

Dr. Carino is General Secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, Hong Kong.



Some disclaimers and clarifications are appropriate at the outset. I have in fact tried to get myself out of the assignment of preparing this paper. Unfortunately for me, and perhaps for you, by the time I came about to doing this, it was too late to look for alternatives. Apart from the pressures on my time, which have been quite heavy as we prepared for the various events in the life of CCA, one of the reasons for this is the fact that there has been a tendency, perhaps even the assumption, that by virtue of my position in the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), what I say on any given topic indicates official position. This, of course, is not so, and I want to make it clear from the beginning, in this context. That what I say on this subject does not represent official position or even any sense of consensus in the CCA or m the ecumenical movement. It is important to note this because of the fact of the matter is that while there have been strong positions indicated by many about ‘globalization’, I do not think that there is yet either a consensus or agreed position about it, specially on the ethical and theological plane. On the contrary, ‘globalization is something that is yet unfolding in various ways and myriad forms so that I fund it both presumptuous and premature to be making final theological or ethical judgments about as a whole.

I underscore as a whole. I do not in fact like the term ‘globalization’. It is an abstraction, the frame of reference of which, I have noticed in reading some of the literature, changes depending on who uses it, what intellectual tendencies he or she represents, what academic discipline he or she comes from, and specially what political persuasion, inclination or group he or she belongs to. I note this with particular importance because one of the dangers, which, I hope, the ecumenical movement and the churches should avoid, is that of being “sucked” into the glib use of this word as part of the rhetoric of “political advocacy”, or as a euphemism for things we do not like or have been opposed to in the past. This, you will note that I put the word in quotation marks, although for the purpose of facilitating writing, I will withdraw the quotation marks from hereon.

What I present, in this light, are personal reflection and considerations; personal, although I do not think they are private. There are, I am certain, many who share some of what I have to say. It is important, however, to note that they hold no institutional, certainly no ecclesial, imprimatur. I present them as a “student” and as in interested observer and participant in the life of contemporary church and society. I myself do not give them ‘finality”. They are only “reflections” and “considerations”, contributions for our common endeavor in understanding ‘our” world, and what it means to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ in such a world. “Understanding our world” and “what it means to be a part of the Church of Jesus Christ”: these to me constitute what is involved in “ethical and theological” considerations so that I hope that as I try to “understand”, and to share the life of the Church I know and experience it, I am doing “ethical’ and “theological” considerations. Ethics and theology, in this sense, are not outside of analysis and understanding; they are within it. In understanding our world in whatever way we do it, we are engaging in the first, and, in my view, the most important, step of ethical and theological reflection. I will say some more on this at a later point of this paper.

Some basic considerations and observations from an ecumenical perspective I proceed then with what I consider to be some basic considerations and observations about globalization, which are gleaned from the ecumenical “perch” on which I stand.

Globalization has become one of the “in-words” of ecumenical discussion and concern in recent times. There are not very many ecumenical events that take place nowadays that do not touch, in some way, on this issue. Within the CCA, there have already been numerous references to this subject in activities of various Program Units. In the projections of “joint work” with the World Council of Churches (WCC) which has begun to be set up, another Consultation is scheduled, perhaps wider in participation and scope than this one, to be held in New Delhi in September, in connection with the celebration of the “jubilee” of the founding of the WCC. I know of so many other insinuations of all kinds of meetings and consultations on this subject that are being floated around in various ecumenical circles, specially those within the ambit of the work of the WCC. The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) held a Colloquium recently on “Being Church in the 21st Century” and placed this within “the context of globalization”. Whether these various events are saying particularly new or with any significant impact, or are only being redundant is a matter about which I withhold comment. It is nevertheless important to note the sudden burst of attention that is being given to this subject.

When used in the historical terms with which I prefer to use it, globalization in so many ways sums up the dominant and encompassing reality (note that I underscore this word) of the collective life of people and nations in our time, so potent and full of issues and questions for or against human development, so that it presses upon everyone who wants to make sense of the times in which we live, or who wants to be concerned about “keeping and making life more human”. It is in this sense that it is an issue of ethical and theological consideration and concern. It is also in this sense that I consider it the key and critical reality and component of the “turn” and transition to the 21st century and the new millennium that we need to approximate and deal with.

I am tempted to refer to it as “the great new fact of our time”, the words that, some of you might recall, William Temple used to refer to the birth of the WCC in 1948. I have demurred in doing so precisely because I really do not think it is “new” even when I think that it is indeed one of the dominant “facts” of our lives. Globalization is not new. It is not something that has come about only in the last few years, for examples, as if it came about only after the “end” of the so-called “Cold War”, or the so-called “collapse” of the Soviet Union and the other Eastern European socialist societies. It is in fact a process that has been doing one for centuries, a process I might add that involves the incessant unfolding, with all its creativity and contradictions, of the human spirit into the wider horizon of history. It is a process that has involved various levels of human invention, expressing itself mainly in the development of technology and various other fields of human knowledge and endeavor, and I should add emphatically the various stages of human hubris that has expressed itself in the oppression and conquest of peoples by other peoples. Thus, as Robert Heilroner has noted (see The Future as History), it is a process that has been involved in and accelerated by the expansion of the West and what has emerged as a result as “world history”.

All of these, as I have already noted, are ethical and theological in themselves. If particular theological consideration, however, is the fact that in this emergence of what Heilbroner refers to as “world history”. Christianity and the Christian Church, and in particular, Christian mission, have been a significant part. Christianity is inherently global”. The first “ecumenical council” that met in Jerusalem dealt as you might recall with what is known as the “Jewish question”. It decided categorically that Christianity is not a wing of the Jewish faith so that one has to be a “Jew” in order to be a Christian. Christianity is “universal”, it is about and for all people. It is not ethnic or nation-bound. Its disciples are to “go into all parts of the world” in order to “make disciples of all nations”. All the creeds of the Church are “global oriented”. They are about “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” faith. In the modern period, the pioneers of the modern ecumenical movement were part of the modern missionary movement that spoke of going to “all the regions beyond”. Nearly a hundred years ago, at the end of the 19th century, John R. Mott, one of the “fathers” of the modern ecumenical movement, looked at the world and of the coming 20th century and confidently spoke of the “evangelization of the world in the present generation”. Until now, the United Methodist Church in the USA has a “Board of Global Ministries” from which some of us receive money or apply for scholarships. The United Church of Canada has a “Division of World Outreach”. Until recently, the WCC had a ‘Commission on World Mission and Evangelism’. The CCA is a regional body that is part of the “one, worldwide ecumenical movement”. In short, Christianity and the ecumenical movement which is part of it are “global” in nature and scope and they are “global-bound” and “global-oriented”. I do not mean to “rub this in” too much, I have, however, been theologically amused and intrigued by those in the ecumenical movement who have so negatively and critically spoken of “globalization”, when all of the time they exude and embody all of the elements - intellectual, cultural, ideological, economic and religious - of a “global mentality’ and a “global outreach”. Both Christian ethics and Christian theology are “global bound” and, therefore, are neither strangers to nor should be intimidated by the process of globalization that is now part of the common life of the world. We have been part of the making of this world, and if globalization, after all, is something which should not be going on, then our first theological act is that of “metanoia”, of “turning around” what we ourselves helped to create or “turning around” what we have in fact already become and which many of us, I think, enjoy.

Globalization strikes us now so strongly as we come to the end of the century and the millennium, not because it is new, or something that suddenly crept on us in some sinister way (like some people in the United States used to speak of “creeping socialism”!). Many of us are now jumpy, if not panicky, because of the astounding and dramatic form and pace in which it has accelerated and come upon us in the last few decades, and because of the manner in which it has taken place under auspices other than ourselves and outside our political, ideological, and religious control. It has startled us in so many ways, and while some of us are quick to make moral and other judgments, I suspect that above all it is something that frustrates and overwhelms because it seems to go on no matter what we say or do, and because of the overpowering and almost inexorable way it has already swept and will continue to sweep over various parts of our lives. How do we live in a world where neither our faith nor our visions control the things that go on? As I see it, this question is one of the key theological considerations we have to face in this context.

It is in this context that I have said before and I say again that globalization has become irreversible. In fact, it is not only irreversible; its pace of acceleration is astounding. Its technology is now in place and has settled in; it is developing very fast, much faster than we can both image and use, and in a manner that has been both amazing and perhaps unprecedented, it has become so accessible in a way that in so short a time it is in the hands of so many people in so many places. This is specially true in its technology of communication and instruction. People now communicate and convey information globally, and there is a generation of people who will soon assume responsibilities in a world that to them has always been global, people in short who have known no other world than this new world of global outreach. Thus, its institutions are growing everyday as well. The geography of mind and life has simply expanded beyond our anticipation, and control. In short, globalization is reality; it is fact. Like industrialization, once it has began to settle in, it moves and becomes “fact of life”. As Msgr. Darmuid Martin of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has rightly put it, the emergency of worldwide webs of rapid and inexpensive communication in its various forms is as “revolutionary” and definitive in its impact as the emergence in the past of the proverbial “wheel” or what used to be the astounding steam engine. Once it is discovered, invented and put in play, that is that. Beyond its use, it brings consequences in the way we live, the way we think, and the way we work. A new outlook begins to develop and form a new phase” in the life of the world. It is in this sense that I consider globalization as one of the major parts of the reality of our lives and of the common context m which we journey together towards the new century and millennium. There is no question in my mind that this reality and this process will grow and intensify at a pace even faster than we have already seen as we move further into the next century.

That it is irreversible does not mean that it is simple or can be dealt with simplistically, or that it is unambiguously creative and positive in its manifestations. Like any new and significant development in the life of the world, globalization is a process that brings in its trail equally unprecedented and new dimensions of human suffering. There is much in current ecumenical thinking that has pointed rightly to its dangers and negative consequences. Some, for example, have noted that far from being inclusive, globalization has in fact instituted new and firmer lines of exclusion, marginalization and differentiation. Many in this context have pointed very strongly to the “growing gap between the rich and the poor that has ensued whether this is experienced locally, nationally or internationally, and how the “open and borderless world of economics” that has emerged has destroyed local and national economies and created conditions for the untold new sufferings of people. Others have noted that globalization has underscored and strengthened global control by old and new centers of power, economically, politically or even culturally and religiously. Still others have noted the impact of globalization on the environment and have raised in more pointed ways issues related to sustainability and ecological health. Many also have raised in more pointed ways issues related to sustainability and ecological health. Many also have raised questions about the impact of globalization on the condition of women, on gender issues, on questions of migration, and as we are going to be discussing in this Consultation on the situation of human rights. The issues are familiar, I am certain, to all of us. I do not mean to exhaustively list them here or even to try to deal with them in substance. Suffice it here for me to indicate that these provide further ingredients to what clearly is an overwhelming but certainly not a simple historical reality.

Some ethical and theological considerations and reflections

What ethical and theological considerations may be offered in this context and in the light of this reality which we call globalization?

I start with what I do not want to do and what I think must be avoided. In so many instances and in so many places in which I have been involved or shared in the discussions of globalization, I have noted that globalization has been converted by some into some kind of a “morality play”. Here, we are dealing with what is “good” and “evil” and the question we need to answer is whether or not globalization is “good” or “bad”, something that people or the churches should be for or against. There are no ambiguities, no gray areas, only either categorical expressions of its goodness or direct allusions to its sinfulness, and the actions that must follow from either. There is a suspicion, or maybe an ideological hangover on the part of some that like many other phenomena in the past, globalization is a sinister effort of ensuring that the rich stay rich, or indeed get richer, and the poor stay poor or poorer, and therefore to maintain the present centers of hegemonic interests. That there is something of this going on may be true, in the same way that this has been a factor in the development of human history and societies in all of history and in all societies. Some have suggested as a result that Christians must “evangelize” globalization, or stop and dismantle it, or organize a “revolution” to counter it. I should say at the outset that I am averse to these perceptions, and to use the words of one of the Encyclicals, I consider these as futile efforts. In my ethical and theological perspective, futility like hubris is ethically and theologically unacceptable.

I start from another point of enquiry. What I have been suggesting in what I have said so far is that far from being a simple or simplistic “moral” or “ideological” play, globalization is a very complex and still rapidly evolving historical process and reality. Like any such significant new historical reality that has come into motion now and in the past, globalization embodies and confronts us with benefits, opportunities, challenges, risks, dangers and oppressions not just for some but for all sides involved. Globalization in fact has unleashed a social revolution the significance and impact of which is at least as much as those that the Industrial Revolution which took place in the last century brought about. It is affecting not just economies and nations, but also lives and human relationships. It is changing and will change the nature of work and leisure. It will have its winners and losers. It will bring integration and marginalization. It could make the world a village, it could bring every village into the world. Some will, of course, suffer more than others, or benefit more than others, but all will be affected in some way. Much in fact will depend on how it will evolve and how it will be channeled, although there is also a sense that globalization will take a course if its own, following as it were its own rules.

It is for this reason that I consider it the first and primal act of ethical and theological consideration what the well-known theologian of the “phenomenon of man”, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, refers to as the responsibility of “seeing”, of being able to “understand” the “phenomenon” and the “facts” of history and human development that are taking place within the wider spectrum of the movement of the human spirit to move beyond where it currently stands into a different and perhaps higher level of its manifestation. This is what I was referring to earlier when I noted that “understanding” is at the heart of ethical and theological consideration. It is not moral prescription or advice, but what Teilhard notes as the “elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos (and world) in which there is always something more to be seen”. This “elaboration of more perfect eyes” include in Teilhard’s view a sense of spatial immensity, of depth, of “number” and of proportion, of quality, of movement, and lastly of linkage and solidarity. These take on such significance in a world where we are overwhelmed by an incredulous array of new knowledge and discoveries, of new comforts but also of new misery and suffering, and where we are confronted by incalculable demands upon our commitment and goodwill. Here, I think, the ecumenical movement has much to undertake and to do. In my assessment of the ecumenical agenda which I presented in Bangkok in 1996, I already alluded to the need of deepening and increasing “analytical capability”’ as one of the primordial necessities of social witness in our time, and how this is so important at a time when ecumenical social thought seems to have reached a “dry spell”, where it has become in fact thin and redundant, and therefore a point where it has lost much respect.

The issues upon which this “elaboration of seeing” needs to be focused are vast, challenging and crucial. They include the challenges of modernization and tradition, of political community and plurality and the nation-state, of markets, wealth and human development, of religion and society, of technology and science, of the economy in a borderless world”, of the instruments of international justice and governance, of war and peace of human dignity and human relations, of economic growth and sustainability, and many more - some new, some with new nuances, and some that are holdovers from our common past. What in fact do we expect to happen as a result of our involvement and participation in economic, social and political life? What new dimensions of economic, social and political thinking are we contributing or are we stuck with the old prescriptions and formulations that may have become moribund and stale? Are there in fact adequate ethical, theological or Biblical resources that can give “light” to the critical issues that face us?

All of these pose to us something that for quite some time in the ecumenical spectrum we have not talked about, namely, what one of the prominent theologians and social analysts of our time refer to as ‘the ironies of history’. As I have noted above, what does it mean for us to live as a community of faith in a world that is not within our control, and in a history that is not of our making? The fact of the matter is history is not in our hands, certainly not entirely or primarily in our hands. It is made elsewhere often by multifarious forces and agents that may be hostile to us, alien to our concerns or even contrary to the directions where we want to go. “The road to hell”, as the saying goes, “is paved with good intentions”. And we know too well that history is not always the result of “good people” exercising “goodwill” but often of “evil people” producing deeds of good results. What does it mean for us to witness to the realities of our faith, to the universality of our fellowship and of the human family in such a context of historical ambiguity? I consider this important because as a religious community we are not now, and I doubt very much, specially as we move to the next century, that we will ever be a major actor in the emerging major streams of historical development. Here, as it has been at many other major “turning points” of history, we need that “openness” and humility of heart and mind this is capable of discovering and recognizing “Divine presence” in forms and guises we have not expected, and in places we have not anticipated and foreseen. Whether we agree with it or not, we need to hear, I think, once more the words of a prayer uttered by one of the outstanding Christian social thinkers of our time, “O Lord, give me the courage to change the things that can be changed; the serenity of heart to accept the things that cannot be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other”. Our tasks should be understood more humbly, and more as servants rather than as ideological taskmasters of a presumed misoriented world.

This leads to a corollary point that is often equally difficult for us to assume. Globalization as a historical process and reality pose in very strong terms the challenge of mobility and plurality. First, globalization expands the horizons and ingredients of choice. It increases the pace and broadens the areas of human knowledge, know-how and capability by making available a wider variety of human experiences whether social, technological or religious. Globalization breaks parochialism. Second, globalization requires a greater degree of adaptability to the larger variety of human possibilities and capabilities that is made available. Third, globalization increases the pressures which the impact of this broadening of choice brings upon the institutions of any given economic, social or political order. Such pressures are patently part of our contemporary world, for examples, the pressure for innovation, for mobility and adaptability, for accessibility and communicability, and for a greater pace of decision-making. Plurality, not singularity, whether of perspective, of products, or of methodologies of performance, is its hallmark. It is for this reason that globalization is socially, culturally, religiously threatening and has engendered what one sociologist calls “ethnic and cultural protectionism”.

Having all of these, I end with what I consider to be the central and decisive word that must be said theologically about globalization. It is to me one of the basic affirmations of our faith, namely, the universal and global character of the human family that is created by God. Again, as Msgr. Martin has noted rightly. “the fundamental global reality is the human family”; the reality of men and women around the world, beyond national, confessional, ideological, racial and religious boundaries who we believe are created in the image of God, redeemed by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and to whom the task of making and keeping the harmony of all creation has been entrusted. From this decisive affirmation, we can receive some of its positive ingredients as a new possibility for human improvement, without romanticizing it as the apex of all good. From this affirmation, also, we can note its debilitating effects and inequities without demonizing it, as if it was the new expression of “satanic” intentions. It is neither the paragon of economic development and human progress nor the epitome of evil. As I have already noted, there is, to me, a sense in which the Gospel is “globalization oriented” and the Church is a natural actor and native resident in the global theatre. Indeed, by its own affirmations, the Church is sign and symbol, seal and sacrament of the unity of all humankind, in each place and in every place. It is for this reason that in the Church’s teachings and highest traditions we find that I consider to be our meaningful contribution to the emergence and foundation of a global community: the dignity of the human, the unity and universality of the human family, and the common human responsibility for all of creation.