November 30, 2010 / Theology
This essay is neither for nor against Glenn Beck. The philosopher Michel Foucault warns us …
April 4, 2005
The many different interactions between globalization and religion can be approached from a variety of theological perspectives and ethical practices. The World Council of Churches (WCC) marks one such model. The WCC constitutes the largest transnational institutional manifestation of diverse communities of Christian faith. It encompasses the denominations of Protestantism (e.g., Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, Baptist, etc.), structural dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, a strong presence of and leadership by Eastern Orthodox Churches, and an assortment of new syncretized or indigenized forms of Christian religions located throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For the WCC, it takes seriously the Christian imperative to make all people followers of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. In this regard, Christianity perceives its domain as a form of discipleship on a global stage where, by way of the preached word, theological instruction, sacramental ritualization, iconographic representation, and a persistent witness of love, justice, and reconciliation, the message of Jesus the Christ will truly become the embodied vision of a new and ultimate future for all.
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, in contrast, pursues the multilateral engagement of diverse communities of faith — from African indigenous religions, the great religions of Asia, Islam, Judaism, Protestantism, and Catholicism, to any forms of faith expressions, on the global scale, which agree to civil conversation through mutual encounter. Whereas the WCC might have an evangelistic prescriptive dimension, the Parliament pursues conversations across national borders which are guided by enlightened dialogue shared by each religion offering its unique gifts to the universal human community regardless of any particular doctrinal demands and tradition’s commands. Moreover, again contrasting the WCC, the Parliament refrains from any explicit involvement in political problematics. Its primary “ought” manifests in its broadening of the tent of interlocutors so that changes in the human condition follow logically from more and more people getting to know one another. The metaphor and reality of a parliament mean respectful interchange and exchange of the broadest possible distribution and differentiation of faith communities throughout the world. The wider the contact and knowledge of the other, the increased possibilities of living together in harmony.
A third paradigm of religion and globalization contact appears in the Pluralism Project. Here, the revelation of globalization is implosion. Instead of seeking a variety of ways of unifying religious communities outside of the United States of America, the Project examines the multiplying reality of a rapid heterogeneity of religions within the U.S.A. This study of the increased religious diversity in the United States focuses especially on the growing multi-dimensional nature of religions brought by immigrant groups. In a word, the analysis does not follow lines of investigation from the powerful colonial center to its intertwinement with religions in the colonies or geographic peripheries of the world. Quite the opposite, instead of ascertaining the dominant religions’ missionary explosion outward all over the earth—especially Christian world evangelization from North America to the Third World—the Pluralism Project study reverses the angle of vision. It observes implosion: how is it that non-Christian religions from the rest of the world, particularly from the Third World, are undergoing a process of potential long-term saturation in the American domestic Christian landscape? It seeks to discern how Americans of all faiths are crafting a positive pluralism.
This chapter pursues an alternative claim. The argument is that globalization of monopoly finance capitalist culture itself is a religion. Such a religion feeds on the most vulnerable peoples in the world theater. Consequently, a theology of liberation is one necessary response to the rapacious appetite of globalization qua religion. The Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) signifies this response. The majority of this chapter defines the contours of globalization as a religion. At the end, I examine the schematic theological position of EATWOT.
Globalization as a Religious System
Religion is a system of beliefs and practices comprised of a god (which is the object of one’s faith), a faith (which is a belief in a desired power greater than oneself), a religious leadership (which determines the path of belief), religious institutions (which facilitate the ongoing organization of the religion). Religion also has a theological anthropology (which defines what it means to be human), values (which set the standards to which the religion subscribes), a theology (which is the theoretical justification of the faith), and revelation (which is the diverse ways that the god manifests itself in and to the world).
God, more specifically, is the ultimate concern of a community of believers. This god is the final desire and aim which surpasses and circumscribes all other secondary realities, dreams, wants, and actions. It controls all things and motivates its believers to gear their entire lives in pursuit of and in obedience to this god. It subordinates the believers and all of creation to the power of itself. It possesses the believers and compels them to pursue it because it has the ability to never be totally fulfilled, and it possesses the power to never be finally contained and controlled by its followers. This ultimate concern, moreover, is the ground of being for its believers. The foundation of their essence and identity rests on this god. Their very being in the world is determined by god. In a word, this god is the highest life and death concern.
The god of the religion of globalization is the concentration of monopoly finance capitalist wealth. The god of globalization, in this sense, is not merely a belief in the accumulation of capital for private possession by owners operating inside of one country; a signification of the lower stage in the development of capitalism. On the contrary, the god of globalization embodies the ultimate concern or ground of being where there is a fierce belief in the intense concentration, in a few hands, of monopoly finance capitalist wealth on the world stage. It is an extreme form of the private ownership and control of capital in various forms of wealth spurred on by the rapid movement of finance and capital on a global scale. Monopoly finance capitalist wealth, as god in the religion of globalization, is a power in its own right that makes its adherents bow down to it and pursue any means necessary to obtain it. All who believe in it are possessed by it; it is the final goal above all else.
Furthermore, it is transcendent; it has no allegiances to individuals, institutions, or boundaries. “Far more wealth than ever before is stateless, circulating wherever in the world the owner can find the highest return. Thus, spending by investors in industrialized countries on overseas stocks increased 197-fold between 1970 and 1997, and each nation’s capital market is beginning to merge into a global capital market.”This god of monopoly finance capitalist wealth is not confined or defined by anything except its own internal drive for increased concentration of more wealth. Like the traits of a supernatural phenomenon, it does manifest in the tangible (hence its immanence). At the same time, the tangible does not exhaust its power (hence its transcendence). Ultimately, the telos—a religious term denoting the final providence of a god—is to reproduce itself by making the entire world of humanity and the ecology constituted by the intense concentration of monopoly finance capital. Instead of characterizing itself as love, liberation, justice, or reconciliation, this god is Mammon.
The sectors of the world, located mainly in the United States, who represent those with the most faith in this object of concern (i.e., Mammon) are the small groups of families who comprise the religious leadership in the religion of globalization. They are a select group set aside like priests who maintain knowledge of the laws of this god and the demands it requires of its followers. Their knowledge signifies a certain type of gnosis — insider information, networking among each other, direct access to the power and benefits of their god, the larger parameters and long term vision, setting the pace in the pursuit of this god, defining what it means to be a true believer, confidence to determine the lives of their followers, influencing public opinion, and the decision-making power over who and who will not enter the priesthood. For instance, the United Nations Development Program’s “Human Development Report of 1992″ defined this priesthood by way of income distribution. “The richest 20% of the world’s population receives 82.7% of the total world income, while the poorest 20% receives only 1.4%. The gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow.”The richest 225 individuals in the world constitute a combined wealth over $1 trillion. This is equal to the annual income of the poorest 47% of the world’s population. And the 3 richest people on earth own assets surpassing the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries. The priests are the minute group of families who privately own, control, and distribute wealth and the means of production.
The religious-like institutions which facilitate the transcendent flow of monopoly finance capitalist wealth or the god in globalization are numerous. However, three in particular comprise what can be termed a Trinity. They are the World Trade Organization (WTO), international banks (including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), and monopoly capitalist corporations. The WTO exists to monitor and enhance international trade. Its name connotes, prima facie, that it is an objective world body adjudicating and massaging global trade for the world’s peoples, perhaps by pursuing a scientific neutral line of interaction. Yet, de facto, it functions in the interest of the god of monopoly finance capitalist wealth. Determined to a great extent by American interests, among others, the WTO is that part of the Trinity maintaining an asymmetrical balance of trade mainly by advocating and practicing free trade so that the god in the religion of globalization can have unimpeded free access to the developed world and the Third World (e.g., Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands). It pushes for an increased consumer market for finance capitalist investment. Moreover, it is influenced by and weighted toward that small group of priests of globalization’s religion.
The second person of the Trinity (that is, international banks along with the IMF and the World Bank) serves to set conditions of loans, particularly to the Third World, so that underdeveloped countries become converted to global religion. Third World countries receive financial loan packages which demand that these countries reshift resource focus away from domestic priorities in order to repay international loans. Indeed, the deeper the debt, the more loans are required to continue the repayment process on earlier acquired loans. Once the initial initiation rite of loan procurement is accomplished, Third World countries become full members (that is, dependent members) of this global religion. In this sense, international banks are akin to missionaries who travel the world seeking new converts into the system. And similar to the history of Christianity, the indigenous resources or ways of being in the world or faith of a people are replaced, wiped out, or syncretized with the arrival of this foreign religion. Monopoly capitalist corporations (e.g., MNC), the third person of the Trinity, are the direct institutional instruments of the priests of this religion. The MNC signifies an interlocking ownership and control of wealth and finances. It can interlock wealth across industries and within industries; and it can have headquarters in one country with subsidiary “missionary” outposts in other nations. For instance, U.S. soft drink companies can also have part ownership in concentrated fruit products, newspapers, the media, airlines, television stations, Hollywood studios, clothing manufacturing, fast food lines, and automobile companies. Such a concentration of wealth or the god of globalization enables MNC to shift wealth and investments throughout the globe in order to undercut, under price, and buy off an entire range of companies in the Third World, thereby “proselytizing” more members and areas of the earth into the religion.
Like all religions, the religion of globalization advances a theological anthropology. Theological anthropology defines and regulates what it means to be a human being in the system of a religion. What does a god require of human beings in order to be human? For the priests of the religion of globalization, the god of globalization calls on them to act out an ontology (e.g., the very being of who they are) in the quest for the epitome of the ideal person. Such a human being is one who has the most concentrated financial wealth accumulation on a global scale. Ideally, since religions have a proclivity for utopia, a small group would control the world’s capital. Here capital includes both the majority of the human population—real people—and the ecology—the earth’s natural and human-made resources. Theological anthropology is, moreover, a realized eschatology where the final eschaton (e.g., the end time) finds “a new heaven and a new earth” signifying the absolute social relations among human beings as defined by the god of concentrated wealth. In other words, to be a human being in the eschatological utopia is to have the extreme asymmetrical social relations with the smallest group possible endowed with the highest concentration of monopolized financial wealth.
In contrast, theological anthropology for the majority of the world suggests another reality of what it means to be human in the religion of globalization. Prior to globalization, especially in Third World indigenous communities, human beings were valued for who they were as members of the human race created by some divine power. Now globalization re-baptizes them into a new man and woman. The measure of worth becomes what one consumes. Globalization’s religion forges new tastes and sensibilities throughout the world while it attempts to manufacture one transcendent culture — the culture of market consumption. A true human being becomes one who actually possesses commodities or one whose orientation in life is to possess commodities. Though the vast majority of Third World peoples are poor, the religion of globalization attempts to transform them into adherents of the faith by inducing a desire to perceive themselves as owning the products from the American and the developed capitalist world. This touches the core issue. The new religion wants people to not only purchase products. It also desires for people to re-conceive of themselves as people. To change into something new, people must, in addition to redirecting their purchasing habits, re-feel who they are in the present and re-envision their possibilities differently in the future. People are baptized into a lifestyle to fulfil the desire for commodities and to follow further the commodification of desires.
Globalization pursues relentlessly this refashioning of the new man and woman throughout the globe. It seeks a homogenized, mono-culture of the market to bring about the transformation of people from being valued in themselves to people being determined by their dependency on commodities. A world culture producing one type of definition of humanity is predicated on serving the market. The market of monopoly finance capitalism benefits the small group of priests in the religion of globalization. In contrast, most of the world’s people are left out. “The pragmatic [and positive] analysis of economists and financiers are based on the principle of exclusion. Growing poverty and exclusion have [be]come a dominant social and political development of our era. Inequality and exclusion are not distortions of the system. They are a systematic requisite for growth and permanence.” Restated, the majority of the world which operates within the religion of globalization experiences a theological anthropology of exclusion from the earth’s resources, victimization at the hands of extreme social polarization, and a truncated humanity.
The spreading of different values is closely linked to theological anthropology. As one redefines oneself, by accepting the new religion’s reconfiguring of the human person, one internalizes values appropriate to the new man or woman. At least the point of the religion of globalization is to craft new values to accompany the new person. First is the value of individualism. If monopoly finance capital is to succeed as the new god throughout the earth, it has to de-couple the idea, particularly in Third World indigenous cultures, that the individual is linked to, defined by, accountable to, and responsible for his or her family and extended family. A sense of communalism and sacrifice of individual gain for the sake of a larger community stands in stark contradiction to the new religion of globalization. Once an individual converts to the new religion and re-orients his or her self-worth and feeling of worthiness to a mode of individual gain, regardless of the well-being of those around him or her, this person has successfully undergone the rite of confirmation into the new religion and an acceptance of faith in the new god as a personal lord and savior. The value of individualism (e.g., individual gain by any means necessary) centers the god of monopoly finance capitalism.
Individualism opens up the additional value of accumulation of things for the individual’s primary benefit. In other words, gaining and amassing personal possession as a means of acquiring more personal possessions flows from a focus on the self for the self. Accenting such a worth in life manifests in diverse manners. It downplays sharing. It weakens the art of negotiation and compromise. It blinds a vision of mutuality. And it fosters a utilitarian way of being in the world where people, places, and things become tools for and stepping stones toward increased personal profit. On the political level, such a value breeds a type of “monopoly capitalist democracy” constituted by subordination of the many for the few. This form of democracy employs the many to attain more resources for the few. As a political value, such a democracy equates the common good and the larger civic welfare with pragmatic results for the elite. In the economic sphere, it is a feeling internal to the individual which prompts the pursuance of profit to facilitate more personal profit. It privileges the importance of commodities. A commodity, in this sense, means valuing economic wealth as one of the highest virtues in the definition of the new human being. Akin to an addiction (when left to mature), it motivates, gnaws at, and compels the new converted person toward the determination of life and death issues based on whether or not one has enough wealth. The ownership of wealth commodities and/or the hunger for this ownership controls the perception of life’s and death’s worth.
A positive world view of individualism and the thirst for commodities lead more easily to valuing the United States and other developed finance capitalist countries. These centers epitomize a culture and perfection of individualism and commodification. Therefore, when one’s values accept and imitate the attributes of globalization, they have an inclination to gravitate toward the geographical and imaginative locations where those values have advanced more fully. The “West” becomes a place, like a utopia, of meaning to fulfill one’s theological anthropology. For the sectors of Third World countries that are able to migrate toward these valued centers, the worth of being human is brought closer to a realized individualism and commodification. For the elite who remain in developing countries, energies, and resources are deployed, metaphorically or literally, to purchase or imitate the latest thought forms, things, and lifestyles from New York, Paris, or London. For the overwhelming majority, the values of globalization breed the conditions for the possibility of desiring those things from the West. The religion of the new human being moves one’s senses through space, time, and imagination to the “altars” of the monopoly finance capitalist god of concentrated wealth. Lacking god’s material gifts, one values and feeds on the desire for materiality.
And this god has a theology. Theology denotes a rational understanding, justification, and meaning making of a god. Theology derives from two root words —theos and logos. Theos means god and logos means interpreting, questioning, understanding, explaining, or reasoning about something or someone. Thus theos plus logos renders a rational understanding or reasoning about god. In religious discourse, moreover, theology takes on an added sense of justification of one’s faith to the public. What rationale does one give to account for one’s faith in the public domain of competing and conflictual faith claims? What system of views, theoretical argumentation, and coherent conclusions does one advance in the common conversation? Theology makes sense of faith in god. If the god is concentrated monopoly finance capitalist wealth, then how does one imagine and explain faith in this god? In a word, theology clarifies the attributes and ethics of a god. A primary elaboration and justification of concentrated monopoly finance capitalist wealth is the theology of neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism, as the theological justification for the god of the religion of globalization, has three prominent dogmatics or doctrines. First is the emphasis on free markets — a movement to open up global markets especially in the Third World. Actually the market is not free for all countries because as transnational corporations enter or deepen their hold in developing countries’ domestic economy, corporations are free to repatriate their profit from loans and investment at the expense of the welfare of the poor and the market share of local businesses. The criterion upon entry is to adhere to and pursue concentrated monopoly finance capitalist wealth. However, some form of freedom does occur for developing countries. They enjoy the freedom to restructure domestic growth based on linkages to export industries. Yet, these exports are intertwined with serving the needs of the developed finance capitalist countries; a process which disrupts the economic planning for domestic well-being. Export orientation, furthermore, is driven by the quest for diverse forms of foreign currency. Thus, free markets provide favorable terms for transnational monopoly corporations to enter developing countries and they provide unfavorable terms for developing countries’ efforts at exporting. Free markets translate into unrestricted entry of the god of globalization.
Privatization, the second theological justification, is a condition imposed on Third World countries by transnational corporations. If a developing country opens its market borders, it has to agree to refocus domestic resources of the state government away from providing health, education, welfare, jobs, and other safety nets for its citizens. Instead, accumulated resources of the state go into repayment of debt on loans invested by monopoly finance capitalists and they create whatever conditions these corporations require to enhance their other types of investment in the developing country. Consequently, neoliberalism theology promotes, as one condition for various investments, the practice of privatization of social services for the vast majority of the people; for the Third World, this means the poor. Not only do domestic private businesses seek to substitute for the previous role of the government, but transnational corporations also enter the arena of profiting from private services provided to the public, at least to those who can afford the costs. However, exceptions to the transformed function of Third World states do occur. Local governments, as additional conditions for foreign investments, undergird the environment of monopoly financial corporate presence by way of tax breaks, transfer payments, an increased military, and a burgeoning prison network; the latter being geared to the unemployed, opposition forces, and criminal sectors.
The third theological justification is deregulation. The religion of globalization offers a “common sense” explanation for this final justification. It seems to “make sense” that a government enmeshed in regulations implies a heavy state bureaucracy consuming scarce resources, time, and personnel which could be deployed more efficiently elsewhere in the domestic economy. Thus, if Third World countries are to enjoy the benefits (e.g., “grace”) of the god of monopolized capitalist wealth, the theology of neoliberalism calls for stripping governments of their historic role of regulating the harmful effects of business practices imposed on people and the ecology. If transnational corporations invest, they require unimpeded access to natural resources despite inherent deleterious impacts on the earth. Similarly, statutes prohibiting the pollution of nature’s waters are weakened, if not abolished, in some instances. Upsetting the natural cycles and regenerating processes of nature kills the environment. Because the eco-system is interconnected, human beings’ physical relation to and aesthetic appreciation of the plant, animal, water, and air dimension of creation are impaired. In a word, the destruction of nature leads to increased morbidity and mortality of the human population.
Deregulation, in addition, fosters an environment of a free market which directly impacts workers’ jobs, income, and family security; all for the interest of monopolized businesses. One of the reasons U.S. monopolies transfer operations to Third World countries is to enjoy a situation of weak trade union organization. In certain cases, trade unions do not function or are impractical. Without a viable opposition from the workers who produce the profits, the profits are relatively guaranteed to flow directly to the owners of transnational monopolies. Furthermore, without bargaining power or protection for the profits they make, rural and urban workers suffer the threat of job loss, real declining income, and instability in their families. Lack of adequate income connects with health deregulation. Specifically, the Third World government relaxes food quality restrictions, control on the standards of medicines, monitoring of toxicity levels in drinking water, and any mandatory physical examinations for the populace, particularly pertaining to infants and children. Without sufficient income, working people are incapable of satisfying health needs which are now catered to by the business sector because of privatization.
Moreover, deregulation undercuts the function of the state. A transnational monopoly business from the U.S. enters a developing country and provides inequitable conditions for investment. Investment will come if the state will loosen tax codes. These codes were originally established to do at least three things. One was to protect local businesses from being totally undercut by foreign investors. If these investors paid taxes, then that would, to a degree, cut away from some resources which could be used by foreign businesses to underprice local goods. Secondly, taxes were initially put into place to prevent monopoly capitalists from repatriating 100% of their investments, thus leaving the local citizens with no real benefits from the profits which the local government had permitted the foreign company to extract. And three, lack of tax income severs the local political machinery from a role of providing welfare benefits for the indigenous population. Actually, this function of the state became moot with neoliberalism’s doctrine of privatization. In sum, deregulation in neoliberalism theology promotes a theological justification which supports the abolition of diverse forms of government regulation of the market and capital ownership and distribution.
Third World leaders who oppose the theology of neoliberalism’s three-prong approach of free market, privatization, and deregulation pinpoint the particular harm experienced by developing countries. Most of the geography and people’s residences are in the rural areas and, therefore, agriculture proves key to any hope and vision of achieving sustainable development. Yet, here is where profound undermining of Third World potential growth occurs. For instance, in Asia, forests and agricultural lands are being depleted and destroyed. “Steel bars and iron poles for factories are replacing trees; golf courses and plush residential areas are taking the place of rice fields, and other forms of technologies employed in newly-built industries prove to be destructive to all forms of life.” Even if developing countries reach for the promise of finance capital, they would have to rely heavily on the agricultural sphere. But in this sector is where the gospel of globalization realizes the underdevelopment of agricultural possibilities.
The doctrine of neoliberalism is the explanatory arm of the god of concentrated monopoly finance wealth. It says that one partakes of the grace of this god by offering unhindered access to further wealth concentration. Then, Third World peoples will experience a “trickle down” effect from the good works of transnational monopolies.
The Revelation of God in Globalization
All religions posit some god, a force greater than any one human being. God surpasses the ability of one person, place, or thing to contain it. The potency of god compels its disciples to have faith that this god will be with them and that this god will help them to enjoy the benefits which god’s grace offers. Even after devotees of the religion die, the god continues to live. In this sense, god is absolute transcendence. At the same time, this god reveals itself through concrete manifestations to its believers and followers. Revelation enables the adherents to know that this god is real, has power, and yields results. The priests in globalization (e.g., the small group of families with disproportionate private ownership and distribution power of the world’s wealth) and those who accept the leadership of this “clergy” authority act as if concentrated monopoly finance capitalist wealth is a god. And its revelation appears in definite economic, political, and cultural unveilings which disclose and award further opportunities for a concentration of monopolized finance wealth. The transcendent god reveals itself in immanent processes.
Globalization is a religious system of finance capitalist wealth concentration on a global scale, rapidly pursuing its object of faith — an indefinite increased concentration. The religion of globalization is constituted by a god, a faith, religious leadership, a trinity of religious institutions, a theological anthropology, values, and a theology. As a system, it makes no distinction between a sacred or secular sphere; it is all-pervasive.
Regarding its economic revelation, globalization pursues the integration of all markets throughout the world. One of its chief ethical practices is to lock developing countries into a dependent state by advancing loans and making these countries go into debt. Once linked into this system, countries undergo an endless spiral of more debt and capital drain. In order to repay the interest on original debt (not including the principal), developing countries take out more loans from mainly U.S. monopoly financial capitalist corporations. Likewise, they take out additional loans and, thereby, undergo deeper loan and debt consumption to meet the repayment schedule of the interest on the second loan which was acquired to meet the debt repayment schedule of the first loan. As mentioned previously, loan advancements from transnational monopoly businesses come with specific strings attached. The primary requirement is a free market — the ability of finance capital to penetrate the domestic economy of the debtor nation. This quick influx of investment can (after accumulating profit) just as easily exit a country and thus disrupt the local financial arrangements and currency values. As a result, gross unemployment and mega-downsizing occur.
Debt repayment imbalances and the volatility of investments structurally adjust domestic Third World economies in an adverse manner. Developments in the agricultural sector do not benefit the majority of the country — working people in the rural areas. In fact, the external demands of foreign monopolies force agricultural products to serve the export needs. Investment and saving strategies follow multinational businesses immediate and long-range projections. Local business markets, consumption habits, and production goals mirror the profit desires of the world’s major corporate giants. Developing countries gear their domestic resources toward the export needs of the U.S.A. These countries shift from production for domestic consumption to cash crops for export. Thus the majority of the populace suffer under-nutrition, malnutrition, and, in extreme cases, starvation.
Moreover, an unequal exchange exists in the export industries. Another requirement of loan advancement is that not only are local resources geared to the international market, these export products cannot receive any subsidies from local governments. Goods, therefore, enter the global market and have to compete with similar products produced by multinational monopolies capable of realizing underpricing strategies. Contrasting the free market conditions set by global monopoly business for developing countries, America and other developed capitalist governments establish exclusive markets — a wall of protection against select Third World products. Protective legislation includes tariffs, quotas, and most favored nation status. A globalized free market means a carte blanche for the flow of monopoly finance capital into Third World arenas and restricted freedom of export to monopoly financial centers from Third World countries.
An additional feature of globalization is the “new pattern of global division of labor with different countries specializing in the production of components of a single product like the motor car. This resulted in the increased movement of goods from one country to another, but within units of the same” monopoly capitalist institution. This slows down or makes impossible effective trade union organizing for the rights of local workers. Workers do not see the assembled finished product produced by their labor, thus adding to worker disinterest in their jobs and in the process of production. Lack of interest can impact the desire to resist economic injustices. And, because parts of a car, for example, are manufactured throughout different locations of the Third World, it is pretty much impossible to call for a worldwide strike against a globalized automobile industry. Using various countries as part of the international production division of labor throws off balance employees’ attempts at raising wages, thus leading to increased economic hardship.
Moreover, globalization brings on the ritual sequence of forced devaluation of local currencies which gives rise to the printing of more monies to pay for debt interests and other needs of foreign investors. The printing of money induces hyperinflation. Hyperinflation exacerbates workers’ and other citizens’ purchasing power which leads to increased dependency on jobs provided by foreign industries. In austere situations, purchasing power is further compromised when international lending institutions demand placing caps on wages as another pre-condition for financial and capital investment. From both the pricing and income sides, the ritual of the religion of globalization positions workers in a defensive economic posture.
The intensification of worldwide finance capital mobility creates an unprecedented movement of people across geographic boundaries. The phenomenon of worker migration has become a permanent feature of the earth. The relocation of transnational firms in rural areas tends to displace peasants, rural labor, and small farmers who, in turn, travel to cities and quasi-urban areas.
The intense pressures of a tight and unfavorable job market in cities push urban workers to cross national borders into neighboring and distant Third World countries. Those who can secure the means or are fortunate enough to be contracted by international monopolies travel to the United States and other job sites in the developed capitalist centers. The system of globalization offers a push and pull dynamic which feeds the poor’s and working poor’s economic hardships as well as dreams of a better life for heads of households and their children.
Finally, the economic revelation of the religion of globalization is enhanced greatly by the notion of distanciation or time/space compression brought about by computer technological and telecommunication advances. Distanciation or time/space compression allows instantaneous international activity of concentrated monopoly finance capitalist wealth. This god travels the world (thus is transcendent) with a literal press of a computer button. It never sleeps as the priests and their representatives of the religion trade and invest twenty four hours a day (again, another mark of transcendence). The reality of time/space means that the literal time normally prescribed by the distance between geographies no longer holds. In prior times, capital and business transactions took place within a small town or village. People walked, rode horses, and later drove their cars to a bank or an investment center. Human beings actually met face to face, especially in terms of physically examining investment possibilities prior to decision making.
Now with the advent of cyberspace and computer technology, monopoly finance capitalist wealth moves at the “speed of light” and compresses the former travel distance required by separate geographies. The god of the religion of globalization defies all parameters. Commodity exchange, investment activities, and profit mobility occur instantaneously everywhere and anywhere. Within an instant via computer, email, the Web, or cell phone, the priests of globalization can conduct business in Cape Town, Tenerife, Rio, Sri Lanka, and Honolulu. If “people in Tokyo can experience the same thing at the same time as others in Helsinki, say a business transaction or a media event, then they in effect live in the same place, space has been annihilated by time compression.” The annihilation of space indicates the further supernatural strength of the god of the religion of globalization because it cannot be restrained by various confines of the natural, material reality.
Politics, a second revelation in the system of the religion of globalization, concerns how the god of increased monopoly finance capitalist wealth weakens the sovereignty and decision making powers of local states, particularly in Third World nations. Globalization redefines the state. As indicated previously, as part of the initiation into the global dynamic, developing countries’ governments make policy not for the benefit of labor, the environment, the domestic economy, or the marginalized sectors of society, but in the interest of what will facilitate intensified wealth concentration.
On the world stage, corporate financial institutions make national borders illegitimate. The classic definition of a nation state, which arose with the birth of European capitalism from the 16th to the 18th centuries, has become obsolete. Admission into globalization requires governments in developing countries to surrender most pretenses of serving as a safety net for the local public’s welfare. And to facilitate political stability among their own citizens, the state bureaucracy of developing countries acts to squash any anti-foreign organizations, leaders, and progressive sentiments.
The state does not become obsolete. It reconfigures its past functions—that were geared to the well-being of its own citizens—into a quasi-standing committee or outpost rendering services for transnational corporations. The state abdicates its former obligations to the common public good, in areas such as health, welfare, and education. Privatization, including multinational businesses, becomes the deliverer of social services for a price.
In addition, the state, deploying its political clout, works as leverage for corporate accumulation of wealth. It can allow transnationals the privilege of paying no or small real estate taxes. It permits these businesses freedom from sales taxes and income taxes for a set period of time. Municipal authorities, in various instances, provide free water and sewer lines and then give discounts on utility bills. Similarly, they gratuitously offer free landscaping of buildings and factories. The state, moreover, grants businesses the “right” to not pay taxes on investment income. Therefore, the state functions as a welfare agency for corporate wealth accumulation.
Thus, as a result of the system of the religion of globalization, new goals and content emerge for the state. The concept of an independent, free standing nation-state, negotiating the considerations of contained national interests of its citizenry, becomes moot. The state apparatus is pulled by and into the exigencies of globalization. In this sense, it lacks power. On the other hand, it still commands the reins of discipline and punishment for any recalcitrant citizens daring to cause an unstable environment for transnational investments. The state accepts the task of making, monitoring, and managing its own people as outlaws.
The political implications of globalization not only reveal themselves in the transformed politics of Third World states, a new type of politics likewise impacts the definition of place, location, and geography within other regions and nations. More exactly, the power dynamics and administrative resources begin to play out differently in the physicality of major cities that house concentrated business transactions. Just as nation-states are no longer what they used to be, so the major metropolises of the earth have become global cities.
National and global markets as well as globally integrated operations require central places where the work of globalization gets done. Further, information industries require a vast physical infrastructure containing strategic nodes with hyperconcentrations of facilities. Finally, even the most advanced information industries have a work process — that is, a complex of workers, machines, and buildings that are more place-bound than the imagery of an information economy suggests…. Global cities are centers for the servicing and financing of international trade, investment, and headquarter operations.
Finally, the politics of democracy on a world stage are made in the image of the god of globalization. Everything that this god touches has the potential of becoming its disciple for the furtherance of intensified monopoly finance capitalist wealth. To date, globalization is the highest form of capitalist democracy, a top-down democracy imposed against the profit of the majority. Democracy, in the discourse of American civil society, suggests the right of all citizens to make decisions by exercising the franchise. And, in the common sense of American civic responsibility, because the United States has the highest form of democracy, such a political system of social relations among citizens needs to be exported over the entire earth. Yet, the politics of real American democracy, as evidenced in its imposition throughout the world, include a power differential. Governments “elected” by their own people receive the benefits of being the friend of the free market as long as they serve the religion of globalization. In this scenario, leaders of the state appear to be elected by the majority vote of its populace, but in effect powerful “votes” of global finance capital sway domestic policy-making priorities. For, governments exist at the decision and pleasure of transnational deliberations. “In other words, decisions came to be made on a transnational basis — a transfer of political power from the ‘debtor’ nation states to international agencies.” This new form of democracy inverts true democracy; people’s power is replaced by elite finance capitalist power. And this latter unveiling of power does not even trickle down to the people. In fact, the structure of power has been transformed by capitalist liberal democracy and the freedom of the market.
In addition to offering an economical and political disclosure of itself, the god of concentrated monopoly finance capitalist wealth reveals itself by creating a recognizable culture in the world arena. It attempts to forge a popular cultural consensus and a popular lifestyle. Television serves as a major pioneer in developing a common way of being and world view. It is not unusual, for instance, to discover destitute black South Africans in local townships addicted to daily showings of day time, semi-pornographic soap operas from the United States. Crowded into one small room, the many viewers could be more conversant in the politics, economics, families, personalities, and dreams of these fictional characters than they are of the complexities of their own real country. Such visual pop art for mass international consumption not only creates an illusion about what American societies are actually like, it moreover stimulates the imagination of the Third World voyeur into what he or she or the ideal should be. The vision of what the real and the ideal, hopes and failures, can often be more powerful in molding a popular opinion than massaging aspirations to become something a viewer knows he or she will never be. A rural, semi-rural, or urban slum dweller in the Third World might be stimulated to desire a trip to the United States or to imitate all that is seen on the television screen. Yet, one’s real circumstances testify to the unlikelihood of becoming an American. However, television soap operas and evening TV series spark the thinking toward ways of imitating and incorporating the visual lessons from fictional people into the cultural trappings of the viewers. The latter might use their own native dress but wear it like their favorite daytime TV star, for example. One does not have to live in America to be American; one can indigenize America and become a hybrid international “citizen” at home.
Global cultural beachheads also manifest in the great television trio of MTV, CNN, and ESPN. If one is an American who travels throughout the world from hotel to hotel and from one home to another home (in both the Third World and the Second [European] World), one can literally feel a sense of knowing and experience a degree of familiarity by hearing MTV videos, observing the up-to-the-minute news of CNN, and catching the latest American sports tournaments within 24 hours on ESPN. These three media convey a desired reality on several levels. Music entertainment markets aesthetics to diverse age groups within a country. It differentiates lifestyles for focused groups. However, the impact of MTV does not cease once the viewer leaves the television area of one’s home or hotel. On the contrary, MTV operates as a public relations link in a chain of the entertainment market. What is seen on MTV can be purchased for listening pleasure from the local record shop. Similarly, MTV megastars are constantly on global concert tours. Via their private airplanes, they descend from the heavens and are already equipped with pre-fabricated road shows which do not have to be dovetailed to local environments. And tee shirts, cups, balloons, written literature, and related paraphernalia blanket the global concert venue like natural precipitation.
CNN presents the norms for worldwide crime, government, health, business, beauty, and other forms of human titillation and arousal. Whether broadcast from Atlanta or New York, CNN gives watchers in developing countries the notions of what is worthy and humanly normal material to be reported on. The monopoly capitalist owners of CNN allow and portray only certain types of crimes and human interest news items. What the globe perceives might not be what the globe approves of. But because everyone is seeing the same types of news items, then those items become normal. And more and more, news persons adopt the visage of movie stars, and anchor people look more and more like male and female models. Furthermore, they no longer present news in a straight forward manner (a la the Walter Cronkite era). Now inter-personal banter ensues in between hard news reportage. Similarly, some news reporters become super stars themselves. Viewers follow them regularly as they cover the volatile hot spots all over the globe. Usually, backgrounded by streaming heat seeking missiles in the night time air or lodged amidst a sea of bone thin hungry children, the elite globe trotters and mega-stars of CNN function like human interest stories within the news foci which they are covering.
ESPN offers the ultimate sports entertainment panorama. It exoticizes places with far away fishing junkets. It has the potential to instigate, aggravate, and manipulate relations between Third World countries, especially with nuanced portrayal of soccer matches. It legendizes America by the triumphant hoopla of U.S. basketball heroes. Similar to the role MTV plays for the world tours of entertainers, ESPN helps to market merchandise. During the heyday of the Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls era, team insignia could be found even in remote areas of Tibet.
Further intricate unfoldings of the cultural revelation of the religion of globalization appear with the McDonaldization of the world, closely pursued by KFC and Burger King. What these fast food monopoly capitalist corporations have in common with Pepsi and Coca Cola is the refined art of creating and altering the food tastes of the indigenous populations in developing countries. They effect a smooth strategy. U.S. soft drink monopolies undercut the prices of locally brewed soda pop, purchase a monopoly on the coin soda dispensing machines in a country, and flood the market with massive advertising linking their product with youth, sex, sports, and happy faces. With cigarettes, for example, transnationals often give away free samples for a certain period of time. Once a significant segment of the people become drug addicts on nicotine, acts of gratuity revert to the normal acts of sales and purchase.
Globalization has become the vehicle of cultural invasion. Technology is power. It becomes the carrier to those systems and ideologies (values and cultures) within which it has been nurtured. The tendency is to create a mono-culture. By mono-culture we mean the undermining of economic, cultural, and ecological diversity, the nearly universal acceptance of a technological culture as developed in the West and the adoption of its inherent values. The indigenous culture and its potential for human development are vastly ignored. The tendency is to accept efficiency with productivity without any concern for compassion or justice.
Culture is an industry inventing and spreading aesthetic sensibilities, fantasy imagination, pleasure pursuing, and compassion creation on a global scale. In addition to the financial institutions of culture cited so far, clothing, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood restaurant, pizza, pornography, alcohol, and Hollywood film industry monopolies aid the god of the religion of globalization to remake the world in its own image. In the cultural industry, mergers and recombinations of satellite, television, cable, software, and broadcasting companies serve to circulate this god throughout every possible nook and cranny in the world theater.
The Pluralism Project is located at Harvard University. The web site is: www.fas.harvard.edupluralism.
I am a member of the board of trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, chair of the international theological commission of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT), and was a delegate to the 8th assembly of the World Council of Churches held in Harare, Zimbabwe in December 1998. Documentation on the World Council of Churches and the Parliament can be obtained from the World Council of Churches, 150 Route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland and the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, P.O. Box 1630, Chicago, IL 60690 (Web site: www.cpwr.org). For a detailed sociological and theological genealogy of EATWOT, see my Introducing Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999); James H. Cone, For My People: Black Theology and the Black Church, Where Have We Been and Where are We Going? (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1984); and Theo Witvliet, A Place in the Sun: An Introduction to Liberation Theology in the Third World (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985).
Mary John Mananzan, a Philipina member of EATWOT, writes the following about globalization: “EATWOT theologians see Globalization as a new religion that has its dogma (profit), its ethical principles (laws of the market), its prophets and high priests (International Monetary Fund World Bank, Trans National Corporations), its temples (Megamalls), its rituals (stock market biddings), its altar (market), its victims for sacrifice (greater majority of excluded peoples).” See her “Five Hundred Years of Colonial History: A Theological Reflection on the Philippine Experience” in Voices From the Third World, v. 21, n. 1, June 1998, p. 242.
For definitions of religion, see Peter Beyer, Religion and Globalization (Thousand Oaks, CA.: Sage, 1994), p. 5; and Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, volume one (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951).
Nicholas D. Kristof with Edward Wyatt, “Who Sank, or Swam, in Choppy Currents of a World Cash Ocean,” in New York Times, February 15, 1999.
J.B. Banawiratma, “Religions in Indonesian Pluralistic Society in the Era of Globalization: a Christian Perspective” in Voices From the Third World, v. 22, n. 1, June 1999, p. 38.
See Forbes, October 12, 1998, p.4 and As The South Goes, v. 6, n. 1, Spring 1999, a publication of the Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, 9 Gammon Ave. S.W., Atlanta, GA. 30315.
Israel Batista, “Social Movements: A Personal Testimony,” in Social Movements, Globalization, Exclusion. Social Movements: Challenges and Perspectives. Israel Batista (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1967), p. 3.
Neoliberalism pursues its project just as aggressively in Europe, the former Eastern bloc, and the remaining socialist countries. I underscore the Third World primarily because it combines to include the largest human and ecological resources in the world.
Carmelita M. Usog, “Doing Theology: Contextualized Theology (God Talk, Women Speak)” in Voices from the Third World, volume 21, number 1, June 1998, p. 197.
C. T. Kurien, “Globalization — What is It About?,” in Voices from the Third World, volume 20, number 2, December 1997, p. 20.
See Zygmunt Bauman, “Introduction,” in his Globalization: The Human Consequences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998); and Malcolm Waters, Globalization (New York: Routledge, 1995), chapter 3.
Time, November 9, 1998, p. 36.
Saskia Sassen, Globalization and Its Discontents (New York: The New Press, 1998), pp. xxii xxiii.
Ana Maria Ezcurra, “Globalization, Neoliberalism and Civil Society,” in Social Movements, Globalization, Exclusion. Social Movements: Challenges and Perspectives, Israel Batista, ed. (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1997), p. 82.
K.C. Abraham, “Together in Mission and Unity: Beholding the Glory of God’s Kingdom,” in Voices from the Third World, volume 22, number 2, June 1999, p. 144.
Dwight N. Hopkins
Dwight N. Hopkins teaches theology at the University of Chicago, the Divinity School. In addition to publishing numerous books and articles, he is the senior editor of the Henry McNeil Turner/Sojourner Truth Series in Black Religion for Orbis Books.