Globalization and the Autonomy of Moral Reasoning: An Essay in Fundamental Moral Theology

Article excerpt

IN A GROWING BODY of theological literature, globalization serves as a heuristic to structure and interpret the delicate balance between the experience of an increasingly interdependent world community and recognition of the radical differences among traditions and cultures. Meeting the exigencies of globalization has become the measure of the adequacy of contemporary theological reflection and education.(1) There are three possible responses to the issue of the globalization of theology: a renewed search for universalist criteria, a sophisticated but ultimately nihilistic contextualism, or the creation of a dialogic methodology which presupposes a solidarity upon which to reason about differences. In a global culture only the creation of a dialogical or hermeneutical methodology will be the adequate response if tyranny or chaos are to be avoided.(2)

How should the moral theological enterprise be carried out in a global context? The answer which this article proposes is that the experience of a global culture necessitates the creation of fundamental moral theology which draws on theoretical reflections in modern hermeneutical theory and theological hermeneutics.(3) In fact, the way in which the issue of globalization is treated will be one test of the adequacy of a hermeneutically oriented fundamental moral theology. Our approach here is to go beyond any single issue and to bring the formal structure of the moral knowledge and the moral agency of the Christian into the discussion of globalization.

In the background of the discussion is the conviction that every ethos must have a strategy to deal with the experience of the radically other.(4) Here is a characteristic of Christian ethics which points the direction for the following reflections: the strategy of Christian ethics is not to influence the behavior of another by threats or promises, but to motivate another through communicative interaction. Experience of the other becomes a dialogue with the other.(5)


The phenomenon of globalization or cultural polycentrism poses three methodological challenges to Christian ethics. The first challenge is to resist the drive to create a new uniformity out of the experience of interdependence by imposing on the other the standards of science or the standards of secularized Western culture. The radically other, then, would exist only as a projection of one ethos or tradition onto another; the other would be reduced to a caricature which would be demeaned, enslaved, or dismissed. A global perspective would mean nothing more than the triumph of one tradition over others, achieved by sacrificing the cultural and ethical diversity of a polycentric world to the tactics of power and domination. Dialogue with the other would be nothing more than a thin veil for a "second colonization," whose goal would be "conformity to the established social order and its standards," thereby obfuscating the pluarlity of interests, cultures, and histories which must be respected in a globalized context.(6)

Secondly, there is also the temptation to assume that Christianity can shed its Western cultural heritage like a mantle.(7) While it is true that a Christian ethic cannot be identified completely with its cultural expressions, it is equally true that no culturally preexistent ideal of the moral law exists. The moral law is not modeled on some Platonic idea to be applied to any culture whatsoever. There is no such thing as a culturally naked moral law.

Finally, the need for a hermeneutical culture must be acknowledged. To understand the radically other in a polycentric world, a culture like that described by Metz in alluding to Nietzsche is needed: "a culture of the acknowledgement of others in their otherness, a culture of togetherness ... freed ... from the will to power."(8) An interest in hermeneutics is legitimated by the experience of distanciation from the other in a polycentric world, or by the experience of pluralism in a world which is characterized as global and interdependent. …