Globalization and Religion: Some Reflections
It was religion that first espoused the idea of the oneness of humankind. As globalization drives humankind towards some sort of interdependent world the voice and vision of religion has all but faded into oblivion.
The religious vision of the unity of humanity has little to do with globalization. The motives and goals of globalization, however, are based on the process by which capital, goods, services and sometimes labor crosses national borders acquiring a transnational character. A flow of ideas, tastes and values accompany them helping to reshape the image of the world to a world that will eventually be one global system and one global unity.
Globalization involves complete economic liberalization i.e., opening doors to big businesses. Transnational corporations are at the forefront. Governments create an environment that is as conducive as possible to its growth of business. Regional groupings like APEC, GATT and WTO are totally committed to the same goal.
The nexus between big business, governments and regional and international institutions to create an environment for globalization is not an accident. It has historic roots in colonization, hence why the dominant forces are based in the West.
Nonetheless, it would be wrong to describe globalization today as a replica of the Western colonial experience. This is because one of the centers of power is based in Japan. Other centers of control in Northeast and Southeast Asia are emerging.
In other words, globalization is not a process of capital, goods and tastes flowing from certain centers to the rest of the world. While there are certain centers of control in the West, there is a reverse flow, as well as other flows at different levels.
It is this complex process we should evaluate from a religious perspective.
Positive aspects of globalization
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has helped to reduce poverty by creating jobs and improving incomes.
The expansion of trade and foreign investment has accelerated social mobility and strengthened the middle class.
New communications and information technology have helped disseminate knowledge in many fields of study and disciplines.
Communication is cheaper and easier. Costs of telephone calls as well as travel have fallen.
This makes it easier to understand one another. Communities although heterogeneous, can be more cooperative now that are more means of understanding each other.
Globalization makes it possible for humanity to have compassion for each other when calamities – natural or man-made – affect others.
Issues such as human rights and public accountability are brought to the fore.
The rights of women are highlighted and the problems many women face are now addressed.
All of these are conducive to religious teachings.
Negative aspects of globalization
Environmental degradation due to unrestrained logging activities of transnational corporations whose sole aim is to multiply profits.
Although poverty has been reduced to a certain extent, new economic disparities have been created. There are stark regional disparities in poverty.
Basic necessities in life are set aside in favor of profits. Many countries in the South have been occupied with facilitating foreign investment in industries that are lucrative to foreign markets and forsaking the most fundamental needs of the people.
Globalization aids the removal of national controls over cross-border financial flows. Dramatic outflows of capital from one country to another have caused havoc in some currencies, particularly in Southeast Asia.
Advances in technology aggravated by the outflow of capital to low cost production sites in the South has caused growing unemployment in the North, which is an affront to human dignity.
Globalization has popularized the consumer culture. Consumerism has given birth to materialism where people are more interested in what they have rather than the essential aspects of humanity.
Global consumerism is now forming a homogeneous global culture where indigenous cultures of the South are being replaced by Western cultures.
The global entertainment industry is propagating a superficial American pop culture, which titillates the senses and deadens the spirit.
Formal education systems are emphasizing technical and managerial skills responding to market demands and leaving aside traditional academic subjects. This means that education is nothing more than acquiring specific skills and techniques and less emphasis on moral education.
Although the IT boom has given rise to an expanse of information there is a lot of information that is useless and meaningless causing people to be pre-occupied with trivia.
Double standards are present in the human rights aspect of the present world where they are used as part of Western governments’ foreign policy but only when it suits them.
Globalization has internationalized crime of all kinds.
Like crime, disease is more rampant throughout the world making the spread difficult to control.
In reflecting on the credit and debit sides of globalization we find that whatever good has come out of it is actually a by-product. The very motive – maximizing profit – is responsible for its ills. Globalization may well be one of the most serious challenges ever to the integrity of human civilization.
How does one deal with this challenge?
Since religion and culture hold some positive aspects it is important that it is not completely rejected. Ethics and moral standards should be injected into some economic activities as a short-term and medium-term strategy. The market should be regulated by ethical principles.
The challenge for Islamic thinkers and thinkers of other religions is to devise ethical economically-sound policies built into the globalization process that are in keeping with religion.
The economic dimensions of globalization are not the only factors that need reconsidering.
Culture should be guided by moral universal values whereby a strong ethic of restraint is within one culture is applied to prevent the dominance of another culture.
The internationalization of the ethical values within the consciousness of the individual and the community is the only real hope for humanity. It is almost impossible to effectively censor all information through the Internet, satellite, etc. The individual who derives his/her value-system from religion will be guided by time-honored principles of what is right and wrong.
To decide on the basis of Divine ethics one must be deeply conscious of his/her relationship with God. A God-conscious society would act against injustices and do so out of a deep sense of awareness of their position as God’s representatives on earth. Such individuals are the real antidotes to the ill effects of globalization.
For such individuals and societies to emerge, there must be a real transformation. It should be a long-term struggle but beginning with our own religion. Justice, love and compassion that are part of all religions should propel goodness rather than form, ritual and symbol.
To the benefit of religion certain aspects of globalization have made it easier to transfer the all-embracing message of religion. For the first time in history we have the opportunity to convey to humankind as a whole the universal essence of each of our religions. Instead of allowing narrow-minded bigots to monopolize the airwaves, why shouldn’t men and women with a universal outlook state their case through the global media infrastructure?
Societies are becoming less exclusive and more multi-religious. It is as if the social reality is forcing us to get rid of our exclusive attitudes and develop a universal orientation that is more accommodating to the other.
Perhaps this is the path that nations must take for a universal community founded upon a common humanity. It is a community that globalization will never be able to achieve. Perhaps this we will understand what the illustrious mystic, Jallaluddin Ar-Rumi, meant when he wrote, “The lamps are different but the light is the same.”
Originally published on Islam Online at http://www.islamonline.net/english/Contemporary/2002/06/Article3.shtml and reprinted with permission of the author.