Globalization is coming to be recognized as a totalistic process of domination over the whole of life by the principalities and powers on earth. Life is at stake everywhere, as it comes under attack by the dominant forces of killing and death. First of all, we affirm that life is the major concern of the Christian faith and, in addition, we note that the same concern for life is at the core of all religions and philosophies.
Since the end of the 20th century, the theme of life has occupied a prominent place in Protestant deliberations. In 1983 the World Council of Churches had as its General Assembly theme “Jesus Christ—the Life of the World,” focusing on the issues of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, to overcome economic poverty and hunger, the threat of nuclear war and the destruction of the natural environment. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches has decided to make its General Council theme (2004: Accra, Ghana) “Life in Fullness.” Currently the Christian Conference of Asia likewise has a General Assembly theme of “Life in Fullness for All.” This common theme reflects the growing awareness that life as a whole in this century is threatened by the realities of globalization.
For this reason, we are now proposing a paradigm for the study of life as a foundational framework for theology and theological education. Here I am not referring to theology as a part of academic study. I take theology as the study of life as a whole from the perspective of the Christian faith. Therefore, theological education is not to be confined to the discipline of theological study at theological educational institutions such as universities and seminaries. The study of life is a radical alternative to the modern academic system as a whole. It demands that we challenge the whole structure, content and process of academic and scientific studies.
Let me explain about this study of life, briefly. Historically speaking, learning and wisdom about life is closely related to the reality of death. Life has struggled to create a convivial community in the order of the universe against the forces of death. This is a completely different kind of study of life from that of modern biology. In modern times, the origin of life has become the subject of scientific enquiry, which has led to the theory of evolution of life in the universe.
From the perspective of faiths, religions, cultures and philosophies—including the Christian faith—the question of life is always linked with the question of the death of life. Here, death is not understood as the mere ending of life, as part of the order of life. It means the killing or being killed by the powers and forces of death, contrary to the genuine order of life. This study of the life as learning and wisdom involves the meaning and fulfillment of life, and the destiny and convivial order (community) of life.
The study of life begins with the story of suffering, destruction, the struggle of living beings, their resistance and overcoming of the forces of death, and the fulfillment of life in its wholeness, though the history of the study of life, or the story of life, is too long and complex to be surveyed here.
But from the point of view of the Christian faith, the study of life centers on the resistance of life against the powers of death. As we have mentioned, all the wisdoms of life—religious, cultural, philosophical and scientific—focus on this fundamental problem. Therefore, the study of life starts from this point of resistance-for-life.
The first affirmation in the study of life is that life is the subject, and at the core of life resides the spirit. This presupposes that life is not an individual fragment, but a convivial and communal reality of all living beings. This contradicts the Darwinian evolutionary order. Just as the mere end of a living being is part of the genuine order of life, so competition among living beings is part and parcel of the whole order of living beings. This also presupposes the interconnected unity of all beings. Furthermore, it rejects the split between so-called spirit and so-called body, and between spirit and matter. The living body unites spirit and body in the convivial communion of life. These presuppositions form the common wisdom of the religious, cultural and philosophical teachings of both East and West. Only modern Western science takes a different position, seeking to understand life through an abstract analytical and synthetic process. This has led to the so-called objective, reductionist and fragmentary conceptualization of life.
Life as subject lives through its self-propagation, self-nourishment, self-growth, self-governance and self-determination, self-healing and self-fulfillment. Life sustains self-identity and at the same time is creative for self-evolution and enhancement. The first crime of modern science has been its reduction of life into an object of scientific investigation without regard for its essential being as subject and self. Another folly of modern social science is that it has recognized only the human subject as the true subject, thus confining the right to life to the individual person. This is the concept of human rights that is being questioned nowadays.
Certain power constellations have risen up to pose major threats to life: empires, nation states and their military regimes, corporate powers such as TNCs and their global regime, organized world religions, global media and cybernetic powers. As a result, life is threatened by these powers and principalities in the global market, and in the political domain of empires and nation states. Throughout the history of human civilizations, such despotic imperial powers, fanatic religious dogmas and powers, modern nation states and the global powers of empires and markets have been threatening life. Today the globalization process contains not only these historical vestiges, but also new forms of power that threaten life as a whole.
What is the situation of life under the rule of globalization today? We will outline some signs of the times. Then we will inquire and try to diagnose whether present forms of the Christian faith can meet the challenges of globalization. Furthermore, we will seek to identify the basis of our hope for life as we project a new vision of life.
Globalization and the Principalities and Powers of the Global Market: Transnational Corporate Power
In the 21st century, the peoples of Asia are facing a grim reality, brought about by the age of globalization. In this age, not only people but all life on earth is groaning and suffering under death and destruction. Life is an interconnected reality, as we can understand from the perspective of rural communities: people suffer from poverty and hunger, from destruction of their communities, and from the chemicals that are injected into agricultural production in massive doses. At the same time, lands and forests are being destroyed and turned into commodities, and the earth is violated in terms of its integrity and sustainability. The life of plants and the genes of seeds, as well as human genes, are being destroyed and manipulated. Indeed the whole ecological system is under threat of destruction, that is, the death of all living things.
The primary agency driving this globalization process is the transnational corporate powers, together with their technocratic powers, which dominate the global regulators of the world economy (WTO, IMF, G-7) and the global market. Now the people’s movements and citizens’ movements are struggling against these forces of death in the global market.
Underlying Process of Globalization
Historically, globalization is the culmination of the ever-expanding Western commercial, economic and colonial powers, accompanied and supported by Western civilization, including Western Christianity, science and technology. The process of globalization has involved the colonization of the African, Asian and Latin American peoples, the modernization of political states, and the Westernization/industrialization of political economies. Today the global regime of capital dictates the total situation of life on earth. Racism, patriarchal structures, ethnocentrism, religious discrimination and all other contradictions are linked up with and serve the order of domination in this globalization process. Meanwhile, life continues to suffer and struggle for its survival and fulfillment.
The global market is dominated by the unlimited greed of the economically powerful, manifested through transnational corporate agencies, in a highly regimented global economic system. The rampant poverty, hunger and deepening economic injustice that we observe today are consequences of this death-generating system.
As concrete points in the working of this system, we may mention four examples: food (food production and trade), health (medicine and eugenics), informatics (the control of information via patents and intellectual property rights) and finances (the casino-like financial market and structural adjustment). But we also need to examine the threats to life posed by the global political economy as a whole.
Globalization is dominated by the industrial economy; its side effect is ecological destruction. The entire biosphere, on micro as well as macro levels, is degraded, manipulated and destroyed through the power dynamics of the global market, as the corporate entities seek limitless maximization of profits and expansion of power. Not only the natural environment, but also the food system—in the name of increased food production and health through eugenics (biotechnology)—are damaged and distorted in this process.
The rights of life as a whole—not just the rights of people—are suppressed by the global market regime. The polity of modern states lacks the necessary conceptual framework to affirm life as subject or to protect the rights of life, beyond the rights of human beings. Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx, while advocating the rights of the individual and of social life, respectively, did not consider the broader rights of life as a whole. In today’s reality, the industrial political economy respects neither human nor social rights, let alone life rights.
The global market regime today weakens and erodes the sovereignty of peoples and suppresses all these basic rights. Legal rules and other mechanisms instituted to control unruly powers and actions have been weakened under pressure from the global market forces. Measures to protect people and life are being “deregulated,” as the market forces penetrate countries and break down political and economic measures intended to protect the security of people and life. New communication and information processes have made cultural and political borderlines meaningless. International rules and regimes, meanwhile, are being put in place to protect the interests of corporations and big political powers. In response to this trend, citizens in many countries have begun to act globally through direct participation and solidarity beyond their national political boundaries.
The global market’s promotion of the neo-liberal ideology of free trade and unlimited competition accelerates the growth of conflicts in community and society, which often intensify and turn violent, in a kind of “neo-Darwinism.” Situations of violent conflict threaten social justice and social security, both of which are essential to a peaceful society. True Shalom/Salaam is comprehensive peace in a convivial community of life.
The global market has furthermore accelerated the commodification of human cultures toward the eradication of the culture of life. Under the influence of hi-tech media and the global cybernetic information process, cultural identity, cultural sensibility and cultural values are being dismantled. It is a process of one-dimensional homogenization and abstract desertification of local and national cultures of life. The “feast of life” is destroyed.
In the process of globalization there is a religious aspect that justifies the global market and its actions. Christian faith and ethics are deeply implicated in this process; the Christian faith was used to justify capitalism in the West. Religion has been used to justify not only the market and its components, but also the relationship of humans over natural life, theologically justifying human conquest and exploitation of nature. Although religious faiths are fundamentally about life, they have not protected life in the political and economic spheres.
The violence of globalization is further manifested in the geo-political sphere of global military hegemony. The reigning empire aspires to make the global market an absolute order, insuring this through uni-polar military hegemony over the world. Omnicidal weapons—nuclear arms, bio-chemical and laser weapons—are used against people and life. High-tech cybernetic processes make the destruction of life highly efficient. This situation could lead beyond mass destruction to the total annihilation of life on earth.
In this Context We Need to Envision a New Way of Life in Response to the Globalization Process.
1. A Life of Peace: Against War and Destruction of Life
Human history has been that of war among human groups and against nature. Some hold the view that civilization has developed through the process of creating weapons of war. The 20th century has experienced two world wars; and now science and technology, along with cybernetic and technetronic developments, have enabled humans to engage in all-out, absolute wars that can destroy human and cosmic life.
New life demands a matrix of security for peace for the whole of life—one that is capable of overcoming all wars, from local to global levels. A comprehensive peace movement with studies and praxis on all levels is needed for new life on earth.
The Biblical vision of peace and life, and its ecumenical manifestations in Asia and in the world, can generate hope and imagination for new and eternal life in the cosmos.
2. A Just and Healthy Life: Against Starvation, Deprivation and Poverty
The historical development of the economy has brought mixed and paradoxical blessings for life. Oikos + Nomos = Oikonomia = economy. Originally, economy was the human activity of caring for life in the home and in the garden. KyongSeJeMin (the Confucian notion of political economy) is an East Asian notion of economy that means “caring for the people according to the canons of the scriptures.”
It is human greed, manifested in many forms, that has caused starvation, deprivation and poverty as the economy has grown and developed into new stages. At each stage, the powerful have amassed riches. Now the power of global capital and its transnational corporate institutions dominates the global market. Its monopoly over science and technology gives them nearly unlimited power and influence, beyond outside control. In recent years money, through the financial system, has been victimizing people radically. All exchanges and dealings among people are controlled by the global market agencies to meet the insatiable greed of capital. Profit maximization and absolute control is the name of the game that they play.
New life in the cosmos demands a new economic justice. A true oikonomia needs to be articulated according to the needs of life on earth, which means overcoming the separation of the economy from other dimensions of life on earth. A life-enhancing concept of economy is required, one that transforms the orientation toward growth and profit maximization. Local communities need self-reliant and self-sufficient resources for their economic well-being and economic justice, as they live in the global situation.
3. A Life of Direct Participation in Solidarity Networks: Against Oppression
Political institutions have oppressed the people in many different ways. Nations and peoples have suffered despotism, autocratic rule, imperial domination, national totalitarianism, state dictatorships, military dictatorships, religio-political symbiosis, colonialism and ideologically rigid rule in many different forms. Even Western liberal democracy has not brought about the full participation of the people. It has enhanced liberal political rights such as human rights and other individual political freedoms, but it has also opened the door for the powerful and the rich to dominate the weak and the poor. Recent neo-liberal developments are a sequel to liberal political democracy. The liberal tradition has failed to control either the global market or national markets.
Globalization has made the political boundaries of nation states and national security measures obsolete to an increasing degree. Already we have experienced the domination of the superpowers; and now, transnational corporate powers are overriding any conceivable boundaries that inhibit their activities. The nation state no longer fully represents the people, preserving and securing their sovereignty. Often it has succumbed to the powers of transnational agencies and corporate entities.
But the people themselves demand direct participation and intervention in the global market, along with radical democratization of the existing political institutions. The people are bound to realize their political selfhood on the local, national, regional and global levels.
This requires local-national-regional-global networks of participation and solidarity commensurate with the global powers and principalities. We will need new political institutions at all levels, for global participation and solidarity across the boundaries set by the powers and principalities. Included in this is a new vision of ecumenical politics for new life on earth.
A radically new political process of direct participation and solidarity through networking is coming of age all over the world. This may be the only way to control and overcome the tyranny and domination of despotism, military dictatorships, imperial and colonial powers, and transnational corporate powers.
4. A Life of Shalom (Secure Well-being with Justice): Against Social Conflict and Violence
Human history is a jungle where the strong eat the weak and the fittest alone can survive. This process has been manifested in social relations in many different ways. The classical contradictions are between ethnic and racial, class and caste, gender and social status groups, forming the vortex of social violence. In this jungle, there is no justice, no community, no cooperation and no peace.
Globalization has brought a newly emerging social process that is dictated by the so-called new social Darwinism. New conflicts and contradictions, such as conflicts between information “haves” and “have-nots,” are emerging. Injustice is deepening and the intensity of conflicts is mounting to cause greater violence and cyclical acceleration of conflicts.
Social justice, social security, social peace and social reconciliation need to be redesigned beyond the global process in which neo-liberal ideology makes people worship the ideology of competition. In ideology, the victor is glorified regardless of the means used. People need a new approach for common living at all levels of local, national and global communities.
The welfare state social security system, as well as the socialist state social security system, should be transformed to establish a dynamic human community characterized by justice, peace and harmony. Prerequisite to this may be people’s participation in their local community, as this participation is closely connected with the network of common human security throughout the world.
5. A Life of Meaningfulness and Beauty: Against Desertification of Cultural Life
Culture is the soul of civilization. It is the art of common life. Through it people attain their identity, value orientation and aesthetic sense, and enjoy the “feast of life.” Culture is the art of common life in the cosmos. Culture gives the people their perceptual apparatus and orientation of understanding. Culture is the reservoir of life-wisdom of the people of the cosmos.
Globalization, with its accelerating process of technetronics and cybernetics, along with information and communication in hi-tech form, very much affects the cultures of peoples and nations in the world.
Ethnic, national and cultural identity—the inner core of life of community in the cosmos—is being radically eroded due to the impact of globalization. Powerless and marginalized ethnic and national communities are very much affected.
The perceptions, value orientations and world-views of people are strongly affected by hi-tech media and communications, which are dictated largely by the global market forces. Mammon and consumerism, materialism and hedonism are spreading rampantly in the minds and hearts of peoples all over the world. Hi-tech communications and cybernetic informatics affect the market, politics and societal processes in a most powerful way. What is beautiful is geared to the market-oriented pleasure mechanism. Knowledge is reduced to the level of technical know-how.
Culture contains the wisdom of life in the cosmos; culture is the spiritual home of life. Spirituality is the vital energy of life. This is eroded in the globalization process. Modern philosophy, science and technology are reducing and uprooting the spiritual core of life. Life is reduced to rationality.
The religious dimension of culture and, therefore, of life has been eradicated from the roots. Religions are the substance of civilizations, and cultures are the forms in which religious truths and spirituality find expression. Modernity has reduced religion to the minimum of what is rational; and the spiritual mystery of life is suppressed in the name of what is rational. Suppression of religious vitality is detrimental to the vitality of life.
What is most worrisome is that the global market will exchange cultural commodities, which may occupy the main process of the market. Globalization is commercializing the popular, mass and indigenous cultures into commodities in the market. This is causing several problems, such as homogenization, cultural desertification and identity crisis, as well as drastic injustices in terms of the cultural powers of communication and information. As information becomes a market commodity, the information gap will seriously affect the balance of power; it will replace the economic gap between the rich and the poor.
There is a demand for a new cultural movement that is truly life-enhancing in local communities. Asian civilizations enshrine great religious truths and their manifestations, which may be the wellspring of wisdom and resources for a new life of the peoples in the cosmos. The Asian soil and civilization may be the cradle of a new global civilization that would counter the current cultural process under the dictates of globalization. Cultural creativity is very much demanded for life, not for profit in the market.
6. A Life of Vitality in the Macro- and Micro-Cosmos: Against the Destruction of Life
Modernity fatally split life in the human community from life in nature. It also reduced the reality of life to the biochemical process. This is the epitome of modern reductionism in understanding life.
The industrial civilization, based on modern science and technology, has sought progress through the conquering of natural forces. This is the origin of the current environmental destruction process. Unless the fundamental paradigm of the industrial economy and its civilizational assumptions are radically altered and transformed, there can be no solution to the problem of the ecological crisis. This fundamental attitude of modernity is also present in the life sciences. The genetic modification methodology in food production is a prime example, in which reductionism and domination over life are consistently carried out. This process seriously threatens the life process as a whole.
Life is a whole. Life is to be cared for in the Garden of Life. The gardening of life demands respect for life in the cosmos, in its entirety and its integrity. Enhancing of life in the cosmos demands an entirely new paradigm of life, one that overcomes the understanding and manipulation of life. Life is to prosper against the damnation of death and destruction.
7. Life of Bliss in Celebration: Overcoming the Life of Curse and Tragedy
The greatest bliss in life is to glorify God and enjoy life with God. The foundation of such bliss and celebration of life is based upon faith in God. God has made the Covenant of Life in Shalom with humans. Life is life when it overcomes the power of death. Life is true life when it has an eternal dimension. Life is truly life when it is fulfilled in wholeness and fullness. This is the foundation for new life according to the biblical teachings. This reality of blissful life should be realized on this earth in a kairotic way. This is the beginning and the culmination of the study of life.
In Conclusion: A Few Pointers for Contextual Theology and Theological Education
(1) Resistance against the forces of death is a matter of confessing, based on a spiritual foundation. The Asian people are seeking a common faith commitment in this situation. Faith seeks not understanding, but the wisdom and love of life.
(2) A holistic paradigm of living for wisdom is needed. Theology should be the servant of an interdisciplinary and integral learning of wisdom, that is, an integral study of life that embraces a theology of life. Theology has long been captive to traditional metaphysics and modern epistemology. It has followed a reductionist method, fragmenting life and pushing it toward the supernatural and spiritual, separating theology from life as a whole. Rather than theology, it should be “theosophia,” or “ZOEsophia” (wisdom of life). It must abandon its reductionist, fragmentary understanding, and recover its holistic nature. Zoesophia is concerned with the community of life as a whole, not merely human life. All creatures have the wisdom of life: animals, insects, trees and so on.
(3) Community and communion of life take place at all levels: local, regional, national and global centers, each a Zoe-regionality. We affirm the sovereign rights of life on the national level; we enjoy continental and global solidarity links— “inter-contextual globality.” There should be no fragmentation of contexts. The global is actually intercontextual, linking local to global from the bottom up, not the other way around. The domination by global over local must be overcome.
(4) The global context is a complex local-global fusion of three kinds of geopolitics: rural geopolitics, industrial geopolitics and cybernetic geopolitics. Space and time in each of these are organized in complex ways. Recognizing that life is under threat of destruction in this context, Theosophia—or Zoesophia— seeks a kairotic geopolitics for life in fullness. Modern industrial and cybernetic space and time must be transformed, restoring the true rhythm of life for wholeness and fullness.
(5) In Theosophia, we seek multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-civilizational dynamics for a creative symbiosis for mutual enrichment. Out of their rich faiths, their cultural and historical reservoirs of wisdom, Asian people are searching for a common Zoesophia, a shared faith for conviviality of life.
(6) Holistic programming rather than departmentalization, through “institutes for the study of life,” may be the key to future directions of learning and teaching in contextual theology (theosophia).