By Deacon Athanasius, Metropolis Austria
In the discussion around Global Citizenship and my faith I was asked to say a few words about how I think my faith (in my case, the Christian Orthodox faith) influences me in my engagement with people of other cultures and religions. I think and I hope that my faith influences me a lot when I speak with other people, not only if they come from other cultures or religions, but also in my daily life.
We Christians believe that God created man in his image, so all human beings have similarity with God Himself. Therefore a Christian has to try to see in everybody the image of God, regardless of his cultural or social background or his beliefs and opinions. The centre of the Christian faith, according to the gospel, is love: Love of God and love of the neighbour. Jesus Christ made it very clear, for example in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who that neighbour is: Every man, every human being on earth. The Christian attitude towards other people has to be motivated by this requirement. Our attitude should be motivated by love, and feelings like hatred, mistrust, hostility, etc. are not compatible with this ideal.
Of course, being a Christian, I have specific views on many subjects, which might be different from non-Christian people. This is true, of course, for everybody; every time people from different cultures, religions or “philosophies” come together. Nobody is completely “neutral” or “open” in his opinions and his behaviour. Everybody has his own cultural, religious and intellectual background, his convictions and beliefs that influence him and his way of behaving. This is true for religious people as well as for agnostics and atheists.
I believe that those differences are not bad in themselves and that we should not try to deny or quash them. Every human being is free to have his own opinion. We should accept that the other is different from me and that I am different from him.
I think this is what tolerance (a big topic in all discussions about globalization) should really mean. Not to avoid difficult discussions or controversial statements, not being scared to express an opinion that might perhaps offend somebody and therefore have no opinion and no beliefs at all, but rather to express my beliefs, defend and explain them, have serious, rational and respectful discussions about them and accept that other people have other thoughts about the topic and are equally free to express them. If, for example, I do not want to live in a completely secularized society, I must have the right to express my views freely and at the same time allow others to express their views too. And in the end we both must have the right to say: “I disagree”. But in all discussions it is important to respect the other as an image of God and to try to love him. This ideal, although I rarely manage to achieve it, makes me believe that the Christian faith is an enormous help for me in my engagement with other people and that “real” Christian behaviour and Christian values are a very important tool in the development of a global community.
If we want to speak about personal engagement as Christians in the global community, I think it is important to have a closer look at the different levels of globalization and to make a difference between the global perspective of the world, globalization and globalism.
The global perspective of the world is part of the preaching of Christ. The people of Israel had been the chosen people of God since many centuries ago, when Jesus Christ came on earth, this concept of a specific chosen group of people was abandoned. Christ addresses himself to all peoples. In the gospel according to St Matthew (28, 19), Christ tells his disciples:Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The aim of Christian teaching is to be known by all peoples of the world, with no ethnical, cultural or national distinctions and to accept everybody as equally beloved children of God. So the idea to see the world “globally” is a basic part of the Christian teaching.
Globalization in itself is the natural consequence of the development and use of modern technology (e.g. phones, internet, e-mails, planes, high-speed-trains, etc.). Maybe the most important characteristic of our world today is its amazing informational dynamism. You can get any sort of information or entertainment within seconds and thanks to video conferences you can speak with people on the other side of the world as if they were next door. It is also possible to travel big distances in a very short time. These incredible technical developments have made the world much smaller and contacts between different peoples much easier. There is not much sense in discussing here if the development of mobile phones, cars or the Internet is good or bad, like there is not much sense in discussing if the discovery of electricity or steam engines was positive or not. They do exist and are used by almost everybody. Therefore there is also not much sense in rejecting the process of globalization, unless, of course, you reject the whole technological development that caused it.
What can be discussed and what I think must be discussed is the level of globalism. Globalism describes the ideology of forming a globalized world (or to be more accurate, it describes a set of different ideologies). These ideological visions of what the globalized world could and should look like are very varied. Many people don’t really have an idea of what a globalized world should look like, partly because the question as we discuss it today is very new and there are many different factors to consider.
There are all the material and social questions, like how can we deal with global poverty, social injustice, illnesses, hunger and shortage of water, etc. These questions are not new, there have always been wars, mass starvation and epidemics, but a hundred years ago nobody in Europe was interested to hear about a catastrophe in Asia or Africa. In our day, however, these questions are asked in a different way, because in a globalized and therefore smaller world, an earthquake in Africa or a Tsunami in Japan consider us, too. And, more importantly, people in America and Europe today have a very luxurious life, compared to the rest of the world, so there is now the question, if and how we want to share our wealth.
The other new issue in the globalized world is that people of very different backgrounds and very different values and opinions meet and live close to each other. So the question comes up, how will it be possible for all these people to co-exist peacefully. There is a tendency, especially in the European Union, to more or less openly promote the abolition of the national level of identity and to attempt to create a homogenous world population with as few individual convictions and beliefs as possible. This is done by minimizing the differences between peoples, especially on the religious and cultural level. One example for this tendency is the plan of Mr Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament, pronounced this year during his electoral campaign for the presidency of the European Commission, to forbid all religious symbols in the public area, because the public area should be religiously neutral. I do not agree with this vision of Europe or of a globalized world. In my opinion it should not be the goal of globalization to disintegrate people’s religion, culture, faith, language or identity and to make them all alike, not even in exchange for values like tolerance or democracy.
Summarizing my thoughts, I would like to repeat that in my opinion there is no sense in discussing if Globalization is good or bad and if it maybe should be stopped. “You can’t stop progress,” as we say, so you can’t stop globalization either. Globalization, as everything else in the world, has its advantages, its inconveniences and its risks. We have to think about how this globalized world should be. Answers have to be found to the big social and economic questions, although I personally am not very competent in that area. I think it is important to promote and to support a globalization that accepts human beings as they are, that allows us to do what we think is right and that does not try to disintegrate national and cultural identity and does not try to suppress faith or religion. I think that the main role Christianity and the church have to play in the resolution of those questions and in the further development of the world are to teach and encourage people to love each other and to see in every man the image of God. This has to be done on a very low level, in the conversations and meetings of everyday, in the family, at work, at university, etc. But I believe that these daily efforts on a low level have big consequences on a higher level. And on this level of daily personal contacts, everybody can make his individual contribution to the transforming of the world into a better place.