Catholicity in the Age of Globalisation

“The critiques of globalization are vast in their canvas: they highlight its tendency toward aimless innovation, the undirected pursuit of efficiency, and an uncritical technical rationality that can be profoundly dehumanizing (cf Robert Schreiter, The New Catholicity: Theology Between the Global and the Local (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997), 10). The critiques highlight, too, the fact that globalization seeks to homogenize us by rendering irrelevant local identities and traditions, while absorbing us all into a “hyperculture” based on consumption (ibid.). In addition, globalization, especially via the information technology that has been in its vanguard, has a negative impact on our sense of time – “Time becomes a present with an edge of future, reminding us of the constant obsolescence of the past” (Schreiter, 11). Similarly, our relationship to space is redefined: “Our sense of space is also compressed, symbolized in the computer chip” (Schreiter, 11).

“Although the theological critiques of globalization are sweeping, they are also nuanced, alert to the social as well as the economic outcomes of globalization. This awareness enables the critics to bring into relief some of the ironies of globalization. Thus, Vincent Miller recognizes that the homogenizing tendency within globalization is likely also to generate its opposite: “strategies of defense, closure, protection, and purification” directed toward the survival of the particular in the face of the drift to homogenization (Vincent Miller, “Where Is the Church? Globalization and Catholicity.” Theological Studies 69 (2008), 414). This process, which Miller refers to as “heterogenization,” is a mixed blessing: it preserves the particular, but introduces the risk that groups – including religious groups – will circle the wagons, excluding all that is “other,” in order to assert and defend their particular identity (Miller, 416-417). Consequently, “identity” becomes an absolute that not only fuels a combative “sectarian impulse” but is often “deterritorialized,” shorn of any direct relationship to a local community (Miller, 417-419). Here, then, is the manifestation of irony: the presumption that “we are all the same,” all part of a global culture, giving birth to groups focused on a belligerent defense of their particularity.”

Richard Lennan, “Catholicity: Its Challenge for the Church”. New Theology Review, 24, no 4 (Nov 2011): 36-48. (Emphasis added)