Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Good Life

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

The Good Life

Article excerpt

Can globalization exist without marginalization? For theologian Miroslav Volf, part of the answer lies in understanding the difference between happiness and joy.

What does it mean to live well? Is it to have a comfortable life, with the latest iPhone and a weeklong vacation every year? Or is it to live a life of faith, working to create justice in the world? And are these two worldviews necessarily opposed to each other?

These are the questions that theologian Miroslav Volf asks in his latest book, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World (Yale University Press). "I have always been motivated by the idea that Christian faith is somehow not just intellectually plausible," Volf explains, "But also, to use a strange word, believable and attractive as a way of life."

Volf's approach to theology stems in part from growing up in former Yugoslavia. He says, "I grew up in what was then, obviously, a Christian country, at least broadly construed. But Christian faith was suppressed and did not have space in public life. I always had the sense that Christian faith, if allowed, could be a powerful force in the public life of our society." This is what Flourishing explores: the idea that religious faith both affects and is affected by other economic, social, and religious forces.

Volf's book also examines how we must come to terms with globalization and the way of life it promotes. Religions do not--and cannot--live in a vacuum. But Volf also notes that human beings do not live by bread alone. There is more to life than material possessions, and it is our responsibility as people of faith to drive globalization toward justice and global solidarity.

What exactly is globalization?

I understand globalization to be this long historical process that has made our world increasingly interconnected and interdependent. We live in a world where information, goods, and services flow more and more freely. Today, we understand the world not as separate nations or states, but as one unified whole, made up of diverse cultures and religions.

Everyone's destinies are intertwined. If you rock the boat of this world in one spot, you're going to feel the rocking in the other spots as well. In large part, this is the case because our economic system is global in proportion.

Take the iPhone for example. The iPhone is a signature modern gadget that we all possess. It is recognized anywhere you go and shipped all over the world. Obviously, the iPhone was dreamed up somewhere in Northern California. But when it comes to the design and the production, its existence is dependent on people who work in all parts of the world.

And it's not just the production and distribution that's global. What happens when that iPhone is in someone's hands? They're suddenly in touch with the rest of the world; they can call people, browse, stream, etc. We have access to the entire world through this one little gadget.

That is a singular experience for citizens of today, compared to most of human history.

Is globalization always a positive thing for the world?

I don't think there is such a thing as positive globalization. I don't think there are purely positive human realities. Any great possibilities that open for us are also possibilities for harm. It's our responsibility both to work on our individual selves and to work on a global scale.

Interconnectivity and interdependence have positive sides, but they also have profoundly negative sides. It's interconnectivity that makes global terrorism possible. It's interdependence that makes world economic crises possible. It is the functioning of globalized markets that make it possible for us to benefit from sweatshops around the world.

Changing globalization processes is extremely complicated, very difficult, and very frustrating. And yet we need to limit the potential for any of these negative effects. …

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