Creating an Ethical Context for Globalization: Catholic Perspectives in an Interreligious Context

Article excerpt

"Globalization" is a term that generates great passion nearly everywhere today. Whether people support or strongly oppose the reality of globalization, they very often express their viewpoint with great gusto. I tend to believe the process has a considerable number of positive features, but I also recognize the profound dislocation and misery it has brought to many. My perspective is based in part on the recognition that globalization, in one form or another, has, in fact, been taking place for most of human history, as people have continued to move out of very confined geographic and cultural settings into ones of increasing diversity. The worlds of Rome and Greece represented an early form of globalization, in my view. The missionary activity of Christianity, often linked to colonial expansion, represented another period of intense globalization, with all the ambiguities that are evident in the present form of globalization. I could cite many later examples. Some view the expansion of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the beginning of the modern form of globalization, while still others point to the British industrial revolution, to the emergence of the digital revolution, or to the collapse of the Soviet Union. This presentation will focus primarily on the impact of the Bretton Woods agreement.

To the extent that the globalization process enables us to break down cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers and brings us into increased human understanding and solidarity, it is a good thing. Insofar as it becomes a generator of cultural and economic hegemony by rich and powerful nations over other peoples, it deserves strong condemnation. As I look at the process of globalization today, I think it is, in fact, doing both. The challenge before us is how to erase its shadow side.

It is not possible in this presentation to provide a detailed analysis of the current reality of globalization. So I would like to limit my focus to a consideration of the potential contribution of religion to the humanizing of the globalizing process that engulfs us at the present moment. Let me begin with a few words about the origins of our current form of globalization.

During World War II, at the 1944 economic conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, representatives from forty-five nations established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, both based in Washington, D.C., which have served as primary engines of globalization. These new entities were meant to encourage extensive free trade when the war had ended, in the belief that, by breaking down economic barriers that had in the past alienated peoples and separated nations from one another, future wars could be prevented. Contemporary globalization is deeply rooted in the systems put into place by the Bretton Woods Conference.

The Bretton Woods form of globalization has generated the largely unfettered flow of capital across continents and often the rise to dominance of giant transnational corporations. The late, prophetic Archbishop of Recife, Brazil, Dom Helder Camara, once addressed this reality in a major speech in Geneva, Switzerland, in the 1960's. Asked to describe the economic and social problems facing his native country, Camara responded, to the shock of his audience, that the biggest problem facing Brazil was, in fact, the Swiss banking system that allowed for the outflow of vital capital resources from his country. A number of Swiss government officials suggested the next day that Dom Helder should be jailed for violating the Swiss law against criticism of the country by a foreigner! This issue of capital outflow was also directly addressed by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum Progressio, by far the most radical statement on social responsibility issued by any pope. For years, Catholic neoconservatives attempted to persuade Pope John Paul II and the Vatican to distance themselves from Paul VI's views on this question. …

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