Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Divine McMandate?

Answering an objection against "globalization," the following was posted in the discussion to which I've been drawing attention:
As a matter of fact, Catholicism is in no way opposed to globalization. Consider Christ’s mandate to the Apostles, which closes out the Markan Gospel: Go, make disciples of all nations. And, to be sure, the grand projects of evangelization and mission work which spread across much of the New World were the first exercises in globalization. After all, the word "Catholic" is another word for globalization—it means, "universal."
Catholic does indeed translate as "universal," but does that mean globalization?

Here we have our first example I'd like to deal with of people debating with different definitions and different categories. First, let's talk about this word "Catholic." The usage in the early Church was not necessarily meant to say that Catholicism or the Church had indeed spread everywhere so as to be ubiquitous. Indeed, the missionizing of the Empire had been impressive by the time of the first instances of this term in writing, but Christians were still not a majority in most places. The "universality" of the Church was attributed to the fact that where the Church was, She was recognizable and the same. She did not get taken over by the culture, but remained true universally while still taking on a unique "localism" in each of Her manifestations. And as the understanding of the Church's universality developed, it came to include the idea that the Church contained a "fullness" - that She embraced all that was true, all that was good, all that was holy. And she also embraced all peoples, and each contributed to the characteristics of the local Church while not changing the essentials of the whole Church.

Now, to me, this conjures a very different image than what normally comes to mind when we speak of a global marketplace or the global economy. (As a matter of fact, trying to conflate the two images in the way the commenter does rather makes one feel that the moneychangers have entered the Temple, so to speak.) For one thing, the work of evangelization, to use John Paul II's famous phrase, is about "proposing" and not "imposing." The spread of the Gospel to the four corners of the globe is about planting seeds. But the local soil and the local weather have a lot to do with what the crop ends up being like, and the Church adapts Herself wonderfully in order to accomodate diversity within unity. But "globalization" and the spread of Western corporations to the Third World have often been impositions and done little to accomodate the local flavors. In fact, it is often one of the gloating points of Capitalist cheerleaders that a McDonalds in any given country is the same thing - and often they celebrate this with a propagandist statistic that no two countries with McDonalds have ever fought an all-out war.

The audacity of this comparison comes through most poignantly when someone like Michael Novak compares - as he does in more than one place - the "American global market" to the "Mystical Body of Christ." The analogy is alluring - members each performing a function, each contributing for the good of the whole of the organism, and if one part fails the rest suffers. I do not deny the aptness of comparing America's world interests to an organic body. It's that it is said to be like Christ's that rubs me the wrong way. The reason for this comparison is that supposedly such interests breed peace and harmony and promote the common good. It would be easy to point to exigencies such as the Iraqi conflict or the squalor of the slums in India as failures of this, but such exceptions admittedly would not disprove a rule.

So, let's see if there's a deeper level on which the "universality" of the Church and of the global American-style economy differ, why one is more aptly called the Body of Christ and the other better compared simply to a body. This deeper level of consideration gets to the level of philosophy and the way we approach the question, - that is, that level which I have been proposing for discussion all along.

A nice formula by which I should like to draw the distinction between "evangelization" and "globalization" is this: one fails and other succeeds. This difference cannot be understated. The whole motivation, the whole ethic of the two enterprises, is radically different. And if the ethic, the philosophy, of the former (evangelization) really were adopted by the latter (economic globalization), the picture would radically change.

The Body of Christ of Christ given up on the Cross for others is the same Body glorified in Heaven and mystically present in the Church. And the mechanism of growth is still the same as it was at that foundational moment: the members give themselves up, offer themselves out of love and service, and the Body is continually renewed from Her immolation and raised in glory. The blood of the martyrs is ever the seed of the Church. Every remarkable evangelical mission in the history of the Church (Saint Paul, Saint Maximillian Kolbe, Saint Isaac Jogues, Father Walter Chiszek) has ended in appalling failure! Heads cut off, poisons injected, fingernails ripped out and skin shorn off: and from such suffering and pain new life begins. Through spectacles of failure comes spectacular success.

Now, it would take a very flippant person to suggest that this is a manifestation of the Capitalist virtue of risk-taking. But many people have done just that. In fact, this virtue is totally other than "risk-taking." The courage of the martyrs is infused by love and utter lack of self-interest, and is sure of ultimate victory; if this courage becomes the courage of the Capitalist... well, then that Capitalist becomes a sort other than the type with whom I am here concerned. The ones with whom I'm concerned here operate by the ethic of success. They look for the march of "progress" accross the globe. Every Golden Arch raised above a stinking city becomes a gold star up on their walls. They pat themselves on the backs for the fewer who die in the indignities of war, but pay never a mind to the many more who die in the indignities of their stale "peace": the overdosed stars and suicidal moguls.

The ethic of progress and success aptly fits the analogy of a body other than Our Lord's, and I am sure that those who compare globalization with evangelization really have that kind of comparison in mind. Admittedly, the thing spreads, it grows, it consumes and takes into itself and becomes stronger in the process - very organic. But this sort of bodily structure is not operating with the same ethic as the Body of Christ. It is not motivated by the placement of others' interests above self or the willingness to suffer for the sake of others.

Now, I would just point out in closing that the ethic of success is also the ethic of Communism and State Socialism, so I should by no means be mistaken as supporting that kind of economic outlook in favor over Capitalism. I am uncertain how I might analagously apply the ethic of Communism to the image of a body in order to demonstrate what a monstrosity that would be. Suffice to say that whereas at least Capitalism, for all its omnivorous obsession with growth and success, does actually achieve a great degree of bodily health, Communism creates a half-starved but super-strong wraith, something like a skelatal zombie with the energy to bend iron but not the strength to bend its own knees.

So, the Church's mission of evangelization operates on a different ethic than America's mission of expanding the free market. One seeks only to propose, the other seeks to impose (albeit "for their own good"). But, - the objection may arise - certainly doesn't the Church's social mission of helping the poor and improving their condition also look for success? I would answer yes and no. Yes, success is hoped for; but then, success is not the ultimate goal. The ethic here is consistent. I would argue that the Church's social teaching would be implimented in practice if and when people began focusing more on their own solidarity with the least in society and less on their own success. Again, I cannot here see an analogy on the economically liberal side, because the approach woud have an inconsistent ethic. To claim solidarity with the poor while struggling every waking breath to get richer, only hoping so that something might "trickle down"... well, that course does not sit well on top of the terrain of philosophy I have tried to illustrate. Working side by side with ones brother in solidarity so that his successes are yours and so also his failures: this is the Distributist way.

UPDATE - 07/07/09 @ 0100 hrs.

In my reading over the past 24 hours, the following popped up, which seemed apropos to append here:
The ethical implications [of globalization] can be positive or negative. There is an economic globalization which brings some positive consequences, such as efficiency and increased production and which, with the development of economic links between the different countries, can help to bring greater unity among peoples and make possible a better service to the human family. However, if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative. These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between rich and poor, unfair competition which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority. While acknowledging the positive values which come with globalization, the Church considers with concern the negative aspects which follow in its wake.
- John Paul II, Ecclesia in America 20
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