and Ethical Impacts of Globalization
by Hon. David Kilgour Member of Parliament
for Edmonton Southeast and Secretary of
State (Latin America and Africa) for Forum
2000 conference "Education, Culture
and Spiritual Values in the Age of Globalization"
Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic October
reason to worry about values as a result
of the ongoing globalization? Thomas Friedman
seems to think so. In his recent book, The
Lexus and the Olive Tree, he dramatizes
the conflict of "the Lexus and the
olive tree" -- the tension between
the globalization system and ancient forces
of culture, geography, tradition, and community.
around the world, including not a few in,
Canada fear that globalization brings the
decay of social values. Canada is a multicultural,
spiritually diverse country, very much engaged
in the global economy and a country where
globalization is much more than a concept;
it is the reality of our everyday lives.
This paper contains some thoughts on globalization
in the spiritual and ethical domains.
The Era of
In the early 1900s, the American President
William McKinley stated: "The world's
products are exchanged as never before,
and with increasing transportation comes
increasing knowledge and larger trade. We
travel greater distances in a shorter space
of time, and with more ease, than was ever
dreamed of. The same important news is read,
though in different languages, the same
day, in all the world. Isolation is no longer
possible. No nation can longer be indifferent
to any other."
At that time,
he was not using the term "globalization",
though he might have; he pretty well defined
the phenomenon. Some scholars go much further
back. "Globalization is a process that
has been going on for the past 5000 years,
but it has significantly accelerated since
the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991",
says Majid Tehraniani. Jerry Bentleyii even
suggested a periodization, identifying some
notable turning points in the history of
globalization, including: the migration
of 'Homo erectus' from Africa 500,000 to
1,000,000 years ago; the domestication of
horses and the invention of stout watercraft
about 4000 B.C.; the invention of the wheel
about 3500 B.C.; the domestication of camels
after 3000 B.C.; the establishment of well
travelled sea lanes in the Indian Ocean
after 500 B.C..; the opening of the silk
roads about 200 B.C.; the spread of epidemic
diseases throughout the eastern hemisphere
after 200 AD; the establishment of permanent
contacts between the eastern hemisphere,
the Western hemisphere, and Oceania after
1492; the founding of global trading companies
after 1600; the development of modern transportation
and communication technologies after industrialization;
and the emergence of transnational corporations
and an integrated global economy in the
We are not
involved here with a long-term historical
perspective on globalization. Rather are
we interested in the culmination of the
process reached towards the end of the 20th
century, when our world-system has become
truly universal. In earlier times our world-system
was parochial: local or regional. It became
"planetary in the 16th century, but
it has become densely interactive only since
the age of electronics and the development
of the Internet"vv. Only now have we
reached the stage that Marshal McLuhan of
Canada called "the global village"
and some United Nations documents now refer
to as "the global neighbourhood".
What is meant
The word "globalization" is now
used to designate a world order born around
1990: the "globalization era",
also called digital age. As Thomas Friedman
puts itv: "Today's era of globalization,
which replaced the Cold War, is a similar
international system, with its own unique
attributes". He goes on:
Cold War system, globalization has its own
dominant culture, which is why it tends
to be homogenizing. In previous eras this
sort of cultural homogenization happened
on a regional scale -- the Hellenization
of the Near East and the Mediterranean world
under the Greeks, the Turkification of Central
Asia, North Africa, Europe and the Middle
East by the Ottomans, or the Russification
of Eastern and Central Europe and parts
of Eurasia under the Soviets. Culturally
speaking, globalization is largely, though
not entirely, the spread of Americanization
-- from Big Macs to imacs to Mickey Mouse
-- on a global scale.
He thus underscores
what he sees as the American position of
cultural hegemony all over the world. I
believe globalization cannot be understood
as merely Americanization. It is best described
in my view as a world-scale condition of
interdependence, integration and homogenization
due to the speed of technological development,
travel and communications.
implies that no nation can be indifferent
to any other. A run on the dollar on Wall
Street has repercussions in Tokyo and in
Paris. A group of terrorists in Asia may
cause a bomb to explode in New York. The
germ that has caused an epidemic in Central
Africa may be present on the plane landing
is intended the planetary free-market of
finance and the flow of information across
national borders. Cable television is clearly
a significant element of it. So is the Word
Wide Web and the information highway. Information
has replaced territoriality as the primary
basis for social interaction; the virtual
inter-activeness of computer technology
with its e-mail and chat-rooms is substituting
for face-to-face contact.
the process of globalization has several
dimensions. The economic aspect (money markets,
multi-national corporations) and the field
of communications (the mass media, the internet)
come immediately to mind. We might also
refer to the ecological aspect - the recent
awareness that global warming and pollution
are universal phenomena that respect no
boundaries - and to the political dimension
- international organizations, world government.
But in this session of Forum 2000, we are
to concentrate on social or cultural aspects
of globalization, in particular its impact
on ethics, spirituality and religion.
impact of globalization
If we focus on the cultural consequences
of "globalization", we see positive
and negative effects. I consider as positive
the fact that the interaction of different
faiths normally generates respect for each
other and even the feeling that to some
extent they pursue the same goals. This
relativization of one's own creed is in
sharp contrast to the prejudices and the
intolerance some of them used to maintain
while they could remain isolated from each
some feel globalization also entails a negative
impact: a deterioration of moral standards,
a decline of religious scruples, a cultural
breakdown. Does it really involve spiritual
impoverishment and moral decay?
what most concerns us here is the "cultural
homogenization" that globalization
can generate. Our community and our identity,
our culture and our traditions are challenged
in this digital age. Some even feel that
globalization will turn people into spiritless
try to answer three questions in this regard:
1. is globalization
a challenge to spirituality and, if so,
what spiritual nourishment is to be offered
to the population of a globalizing world?
2. is globalization
a challenge to world religious traditions?
ethical foundation is to be offered to the
population of a globalizing world?
The first question is whether globalization
is to be considered a challenge to spirituality.
remark seems in order here. Spirituality
and religion are not the same thing. We
all know the great religious traditions
of the world: Zoroastrism in Persia, Taoism
and Confucianism in China, Hinduism, Sikhism
and Buddhism in India, Judaism, Christianity
and Islam in the West, and this is obviously
not an exhaustive list.
is often contrasted to organized religion.
Wendy Kaminer wrote: "it is simply
religion deinstitutionalized and shorn of
exclusionary doctrines"ii. This says
what spirituality is not. Trying to come
up with a definition of what it is may be
more difficult. Reconnecting with one's
inner self? or getting in touch with the
mystery of the universe? or partaking in
the divine? I have my own definition: spirituality
is the experience of and/or the communication
with the sacred, the supernatural or the
than definitions, let's offer examples.
Prayer and meditation are spiritual activities.
They involve conversations with the divinity
or union with the higher self through relaxation
and concentration, recitation of a mantraiii
- sacred syllable or verse considered to
have mystical or spiritual efficacy, or
claim to have had experiences that have
transformed their lives by bringing them
into contact with supernatural beings, whether
their experience is merely religious or
experience means sensing the presence of
a Being, distinct from oneself, with divine
attributes, or hearing a voice which one
believes to be God's, or seeing a vision
of a religious figure, such as that of Jesus
Christ. A 'mystical occurrence' is an experience
that must be entered into rather than viewed.
It is both unified (one is not faced with
an object), and timeless (one is not aware
of the passage of time). It is usually the
result of a long process of fasting or meditation.
activities and experiences are deeply personal,
strictly private: not only voices and visions
but also prayers and meditation. Hence,
it is difficult to see how globalization
would influence them one way or another.
for world religious traditions?
Is globalization a challenge to religious
As a preliminary
remark, let me observe that the term "religion"
covers institutions that are rather diverse.
A distinction is generally made between
three principal forms of religion.
(1) In Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, "religion"
means faith in a Supreme Being, assumption
of a divinely created order of the universe,
acceptance of a creed, obedience to a moral
code as set down in sacred Scriptures, and
participation in worship of the Almighty.
primitive religions have no religious doctrine
or abstract concepts. But the entire natural
world produces a sensation of awe and mystery
as well as one of intense beauty and peace.
Oriental systems of belief and practice
- Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism - are
considered as "ways of liberation",
focusing on a quest for spiritual sense
rather than worship of a Supreme Being.
- or insufficient knowledge - of these Oriental
systems has led some to condemn them as
deceptive works of the devil. The more the
experience of Christians has expanded in
the modern world, the more many have come
to appreciate people of other faiths. Indeed,
there is a certain degree of convergence
between the great religious traditions.
George Bernard Shawiiii even understood
there to be "only one religion, though
there are a hundred versions of it."
will no doubt have an impact on religious
diversity: the number of versions may well
decrease. The reason is that religion is
very much community-based. Let me quote
Al Seckelxx: "With very few exceptions,
the religion which a man accepts is that
of the community in which he lives, which
makes it obvious that the influence of the
environment is what has led him to accept
the religion in question."
apart from the environment, missionaries
also play a role: they are sent out to foreign
countries in order to convert, and this
proselytism is deliberate. This is called
"evangelization" in the case of
Christianity. Globalization will result
in a mixing of creeds that is spontaneous.
Antonio Gualtierix of Ottawa explains the
current religious diversity as follows:
the diverse great religious traditions function
among various peoples to mediate essentially
the same relation with the divine. A religious
tradition exists within a broader cultural
context of which it is often the motivating
dynamic and ethos. Anticipating the emergence
of some sort of global culture, Gualtieri
contends globalization should be matched
by a new world religious tradition. Opposing
both civilizational imperialism and relapse
into cultural insularity, he sees this new
tradition as syncretic - a synthesis of
traditional items and an original emergent
at the same timeii.
if as some say, globalization is essentially
the American cultural hegemony all over
the world, faithiii should not feel threatened.
In the United States, religious beliefs
are not only diverse but very strong and
pervasive in people's lives. Fully half
of the American people today evidently belong
to a church, mosque or synagogue. No doubt
separation of church and state is a principle
of governance. But the credo "in God
we trust" is on the U.S. dollar-bill.
"One nation under God" is the
official motto. And most State of the Nation
addresses and other official speeches are
concluded with the words "God bless
America", which is also the title of
the alternative national anthem.
therefore be my conclusion that globalization
is not a challenge for the world religious
traditions. I would even argue that globalization
holds substantial benefits for them.
event as Forum 2000 would be unthinkable
were it not that we are living in this era
of globalization. Progress in transportation
allows people of different regions of the
world to meet and discuss and understand
that in spite of their different labels
the devotees of various faiths are very
close to each other; certainly we need not
demonize and confront and slaughter each
other as has often been the case when we
lived in isolation.
Which ethical foundation is to be offered
to the populations of this globalizing world?
In this particular
gathering, it is probably accepted that
religion plays a role either as a foundation
of ethical values or, at least, as an influential
backing for them. The values that determine
human behaviour are most often either explicitly
prescribed by religious doctrines or strongly
advocated by them.
even in a disconnected world, the study
of a single religion in the classroom is
deemed improper, the separation of church
and state being a well established principle
of government. Like governments, public
schools do not want to be seen as offending
atheists, agnostics or followers of other
creeds. But what about the study of the
great world religions, especially if this
study could be permeated by fairness towards
all creeds and objectivity towards one's
ago, the Canadian writer Robertson Daviesiiii
made an appeal for "sensible religious
and ethical instruction". He wrote:
Court of Appeal has declared that the study
of a single religion is unconstitutional
and contrary to the rights of pupils who
are supposedly adherents of other faiths.
The court has said, however, that the study
of religions in the plural is legal. I go
further and say that it is eminently desirable.
What is unthinkable
is that our schools should wholly reject
religion, which is an inextricable element
in our thought and history.
He went on,
asking: "Do we want religious and ethical
that people of different backgrounds and
different faiths are able to meet and to
discuss these problems together is sufficient
proof that various creeds can overcome their
not come as a surprise ... Let me give just
a few examples.
the most characteristic and best known saying
of the New Testament is the 'love your enemies'
phrase. But the Buddha has stated: 'Hostility
is never conquered by hostility in this
world. Hostility is conquered by love. That
is the Eternal Law (Dharmapada 1:5). Are
both maxims not very similar?
and the Buddha reach approximately the same
conclusion. Buddha: [by not hating, doing
good and speaking what is true] you will
come close to the gods (Gandhari Dharmapada
280-281). Jesus: [if you] love your enemies,
do good, and lend without expecting anything
in return, you will be children of God.
3) Both the
Buddha and Jesus call for the correct spiritual
attitude associated with right actions.
someone has heard much but does not follow
the moral law, he is not a good listener
since he holds the law in contempt' (Udanavarga
22:6) and 'Just as rain penetrates a badly-covered
house, so passion enters a dispersed mind.
Just as rain does not penetrate a well-covered
house, so too does passion not enter a well-developed
mind (Dharmapada 1:13-14)
who hears these words and acts upon them
is a wise man who built his house upon the
rock. The rain descended, and the floods
came, and the winds blew and burst against
that house; and yet it did not fall, for
it had been founded upon the rock .
who does not act upon my words will be like
a foolish man who built his house upon the
Similar conclusions can be reached in the
ethical area. But let me first make clear
that I am a devout Christian, this entails
faith in one God and trust in Jesus Christ
as my saviour. It also encompasses respect
for the Ten Commandments. When Christians
think of ethics, we generally refer to respect
for the Ten Commandments.
might remind ourselves, however, of the
way in which, in his Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus summed up the whole of the law in
two commandments: love God and love your
neighbour, insisting that the whole law
of the Old Testament could be contained
in a single phrase: "You shall love
your neighbour as yourself." (Matthew
22:35-40). This way the whole social code
contained in the Decalogue was reduced to
the Golden Rule.
of this rule can be found in other great
religions as well as in ethical approaches
that are purely secular. The so-called Golden
Rule is the one guideline that is common
to most creeds and appropriate to all communities.
The golden rule was widespread throughout
ancient ethics and religions. It was known
in Hindu literature: 'Do not do to others
what is unpleasant to yourself' (Mahabarata
5,1517). It appears in Confucianism: 'Tzu-kung
asked saying, Is there any single saying
that one can act upon all day and every
day? The Master said, Perhaps the
saying about consideration: Never do to
others what you would not like them to do
to you' (Confucius, Analects, 15.23). In
Judaïsm: 'You shall love your neighbour
as yourself' (Leviticus 19:18); in Islam:
'No one is a true believer unless he desireth
for his brother that which he desireth for
himself' (Hadis 13 - An-Nawawi).
goes beyond the Golden Rule when Jesus said:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You
shall love your neighbour, and hate your
enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you."
(Mat. 5:43-44)vv. Even for this teaching
a parallel can be found in the doctrine
of Taoism: 'To all who are good (to me)
I am good; and to those who are not good
(to me), I am also good; this way all will
end up being good' (Tau The Tjing, 2,49,2).
of course, that the different religious
traditions stress diverse values. We speak
of Confucian values, of Buddhist values,
of Christian values, etc. But these values
are distinct mainly in nuances, rarely in
essential trends. Therefore they can serve
as sound ethical foundations in a globalizing
It may be useful to compare globalization
in the spiritual and ethical realm with
a pattern we are observing in the linguistic
field. The growing interconnectedness of
the world has encouraged the development
of translation software, but has also demonstrated
the need for a global language, a "lingua
franca," that will enable a sizeable
number of literate people around the globe
to communicate with each other. As a matter
of fact, English has largely been adopted
as that language. Does this mean the parallel
extinction of other tongues and dialects?
The risk exists, obviously. But on the other
hand we notice a growing sensitivity to
the values inherent in these languages as
cultural vehicles. Strenuous efforts are
made to promote their survival.
It may also
be useful to evoke the political consequences
of globalization, which were so eloquently
presented by the host of Forum 2000, Vaclav
Havel, President of the Czech Republic,
in the address he made to the Parliament
of Canada on April 29, 1999:
of the Twenty-First century ... will be
a world of an ever closer cooperation, on
a footing of equality, amongst larger and
mostly transnational bodies that will sometimes
cover whole continents. In order that the
world can be like this, individual entities,
cultures or spheres of civilization must
clearly recognize their own entities, understand
what makes them different from others and
accept the fact that such "otherness"
is not a handicap, but a singular contribution
to the global wealth of the human race.
of globalization cannot but have an impact
on all aspects of life, including in the
spiritual and ethical realm. There doesn't
appear to be any reason for misgivings.
On the contrary, globalization holds the
potential of better understanding through
contact and dialogue.
i.. as quoted by Fred W. Riggs in Globalization
- Key concepts.
- Key concepts", notes : "When
the main links between China and Rome involved
long-distance camel caravans travelling
over Central Asia, or junks and dhows sailing
the Indian Ocean, we can think of the system
as loosely netted or having low density.
By contrast, in today's world, air travel
and cyberspace permit the modern network
of global linkages to be extremely dense."
L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree:
Understanding Globalization, 1999.
by Wendy Kaminer in The Globe and Mail of
November 2, 1996: God is still not dead
Tibetan prayer wheel is the equivalent of
the repetition of a mantra
Bernard Shaw, vol 2, Preface p. vii
xx.. Al Seckel,
Bertrand Russell on God and Religion (1986),
Emeritus of Religion, Carleton University.
to Antonio Gualtieri in Confessional Theology
in the context of the history of religions
faith we mean "the assurance of things
hoped for, the conviction of things not
seen." (Hebrews 11:1)
December 6, 1996, the Edmonton Sun published
a commentary by Jeff Craig on a one-hour
retrospective marking the first anniversary
of Robertson Davies' death. Craig called
him a "literary legend" and went
on: "As an essayist and lecturer, Davies
earned the mantle of the greatest man of
letters the country has known." For
decades Robertson was also master of the
University of Toronto's Massey College.
a letter to The Globe and Mail, February
same idea is expressed in Mat. 5:38-41:
"You have heard that it was said, 'An
eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.'
But I say to you, do not resist evil; but
whoever slaps you on your right cheek ,
turn to him the other also; Romans 12:14:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and
curse not; Romans 12:17: Never pay back
evil for evil to anyone; Romans 12:21: Do
not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil