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Christianity and Globalization

Vatican Official Offers Guidelines

ROME, SEPT. 17, 2006 (Zenit) - A book published this summer offers a summary of the Church's view on globalization. In just over 100 pages Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, brings together some of the main points made by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on this complex theme, as well elements taken from other Church documents.

The book, published in Italian by Edizione Cantagalli, is entitled "Globalizzazione: Una prospettiva cristiana" (Globalization: A Christian Perspective). The text starts by noting that the Church has so far not published a systematic treatment of globalization. Instead, there are numerous speeches and documents that touch on the issue.

The lack of a Church document exclusively devoted to globalization does not mean, however, that the Church has neglected the subject. In the past the social encyclicals dealt with universal social principles regarding economic activity. In recent times the first explicit treatment of globalization is contained in John Paul II's 1991 encyclical, "Centesimus Annus."

Globalization affects our daily lives, but at the same time its dynamics often remain difficult to understand, comments Bishop Crepaldi in the book's opening chapter. For example, are economic inequalities between various countries and regions caused by globalization, or are they due to the poorer nations not entering sufficiently into the globalized world?

An understanding of globalization is rendered difficult in part because of our being caught up in a process that is still developing, and whose outcome is unclear. But a more serious underlying problem is that of deficiencies in our capacity to govern, due to a lack of an ethical vision to guide governments.

It is precisely this ethical perspective that the Church offers as its contribution to society. John Paul II commented that globalization in itself is neither good nor bad, but that its impact will depend on decisions made by us. Therefore, governing globalization calls for wisdom, not just empirical data, noted John Paul II.

A common ethical foundation to guide globalization would be based on our universal human nature. The anthropological foundation is important to recognize in order to avoid the error of cultural relativism regarding values. In the face of globalization the Church reminds the world of the globality of human nature and of the need for a universal solidarity between all peoples.

3 mistakes

Bishop Crepaldi then dedicates a chapter looking at three mistakes made in analyzing globalization. The first of these, a sort of economic determinism, consists in considering globalization as a sort of undeniable process that leaves us with no room to maneuver. We can feel impotent in the face of changes that come about far removed from our control. For this reason it is necessary that international organizations and the more powerful nations not impose on the poorer and weaker countries economic changes that do not take into account local needs and problems.

The Church also asks for respect for local traditions and cultures and not to impose a globalization based only on economic criteria. It is vital also that the human person be the main protagonist in the process of development. This requires full respect for human liberty and not reducing people to mere economic instruments.

In this way globalization is seen not as a technical question, but as a process to be guided by people. Economic and technical processes may well bring us closer, but not necessarily more united. And if they are made absolutes, they risk dividing, not uniting, humanity.

A second mistake is a reductionism that simply blames all problems and social changes on globalization without an adequate analysis of each situation. The impact of globalization on many aspects of our lives cannot be denied, admits Bishop Crepaldi, but it is wrong to simply blame all the world's ills as stemming from it.

Many countries have benefited from globalization and it is not necessarily the case that the economic advances of one nation result from impoverishing another. The problems of underdeveloped countries often stem from a complex series of factors, not all of them economic.

The third mistake is similar to the second, and consists in thinking that by now all is globalized. There are, nevertheless, sectors of economic activity that are not integrated globally. In addition, hand in hand with globalization there has been an increased emphasis on local and regional identities.

A new culture

To avoid these and other mistakes globalization requires a new culture that can orient the changes. This "new culture" was called for by John Paul II who explained that this consists both in discerning the positive cultural elements already in existence, and in proposing new cultural elements.

Discernment is needed in order to avoid accepting a vision of globalization that sees itself as part of a postmodern process in which liberty is given an absolute value and a place for tradition and religion is denied. For its part the Church proposes a culture based on a Christian anthropological vision that has as its objective the construction of a new humanity.

Globalization has also brought with it an increased attention to the fundamental principles of the Church's social teaching developed in past decades. Concepts such as the universal destiny of earthly goods and the common good have now acquired a new relevance and urgency in the face of debates regarding globalization.

The Church also proposes the concept of moral authority in dealing with globalization. The changes at a global level have brought to the forefront questions regarding progress and goods on a universal scale that need to be somehow reconciled according to a hierarchy of values. This in turn requires a correct understanding of human dignity and rights that is not possible, however, if we accept a system based on ethical relativism.

The universal moral principles derive from our common nature. Discerning the content of these principles is not an easy process. But if globalization is not guided by moral principles, then it will result in all sorts of injustices.


Another essential aspect of the Church's teaching on globalization is the promotion of solidarity. A global solidarity that will ensure all peoples can benefit from the economic changes taking place. Christian solidarity consists in making ourselves responsible for the welfare of others. It is more than compassion or sentiments, as it calls for a full reciprocity in human relationships.

The unity of humanity is evident from the moment of creation, when we read in Genesis that God created man and we thus have a common point of origin. Our common destiny is also evident in the incarnation, when Christ becomes man to save humanity.

Christ's message not only makes evident the unity between all people, but also our common brotherhood. In the final analysis human unity is founded on the Trinitarian unity. Seen in this perspective the increased interdependence resulting from globalization acquires a new dimension, which saves it from a merely technical or economic reductionism.

Along with solidarity the Church also teaches the importance of subsidiarity. This means avoiding an excessive concentration of power at higher levels, allowing institutions such as the family, local communities and ethnic groups sufficient autonomy to carry out their functions.

Globalization, therefore, needs to be a process guided by respect for human liberty. A globalization thus oriented by Christian principles will result in a harmonious unity of the human family.


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