Globalization, Spiritual Style

Article excerpt

Globalization, Spiritual Style

* Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization: Making Sense of Economic and Cultural Upheaval by Ira Rifkin. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2003.

Globalization is the wrenching, transformational process by which international capitalism has rendered national borders and governments almost obsolete while undermining traditional cultures with a tsunami of commercialism and Western monoculture. No wonder it is widely seen, even by many of its staunchest advocates, as a soulless, spiritually vapid phenomenon.

It is the strength of Ira Rifkin's new book, Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization, that he doesn't see things so simplistically.

True, Rifkin readily acknowledges that globalization is uprooting cultures, threatening languages, and ruthlessly destroying the domestic economies of developing nations. In that sense, globalization has indeed created a huge spiritual vacuum. But, at the same time, Rifkin notes that the world's religions, great and small, are being spread by the same mechanism that has produced global cars and the Internet.

Rifkin, a veteran newspaper journalist and former news producer of Beliefnet.com, a multi-faith Web-based magazine, is clearly a critic of globalization's destructive effects and of its elevation of wealth creation and consumerism above all other values. Yet, in Spiritual Perspectives on Globalization, he offers up the hope that many, if not most, of the world's religions can help to humanize the process. Indeed, he challenges religions to step up to the task, explaining how each religion contains within its own teachings the ideas and tools needed for the job.

Take Judaism. Rifkin observes that Judaism, which began as a tribal religion in one small corner of the world, became not just a globalized religion but a driving force behind globalization itself. Forced to survive as outsiders in foreign lands and cultures, Jews, says Rifkin, developed links with far-flung Jewish communities, and developed the concept of credit to allow for transglobal business transactions before the age of wired money. (Rifkin also attributes the development of Jewish law or Halachah to this early need to globalize-he writes, "by ensuring loyalty to an ethical standard ... Halachah bred the trust that enabled Jews to engage in commerce with each other over long distances in an era before civic law could be counted upon.")

Rifkin observes that organized Judaism has not been very active in the anti-globalization movement that has sprung up over the past few years-largely, he says, because the anti-globalization movement is strongly identified with support for Palestinian nationhood, and because some of its activists equate the State of Israel with globalist imperialism. …