J.B. Banawiratma S.J.


Let us approach this issue in three steps: (1) the challenge of globalization, (2) our religious response to that challenge, and (3) the problem of debt in the context of globalization.

The Challenge of Globalization

The phenomenon of globalization is most discussed from the economic perspective and understood as integration of economics of the whole world including the 3rd world into liberal capitalist economy dominated by the Group 7 (Delhi 1998, a group consultation on globalization). Globalization is not a neutral phenomenon. It might show itself as a positive phenomenon of human fellowship and solidarity promoted through international networking. Yet, it has been especially related to "neo-colonialism" (Mangunwijaya 1998), economic domination, cultural aggression and political imperialism. Using the expression of Pope Paul VI "financial or technical assistance was being used as a cover for some new form of colonialism that would threatens their civil liberty, exert economic pressure ... or create a new power group with controlling influence" (PP, 1967, no.53)

To open a broader discussion it might be useful to hear A. Giddens’ general definition on globalization.

‘Globalization is really about transformation of space and time. I define it as action at distance, and relate its intensifying over recent years to the emergence of means of instantaneous global and mass transportation.

Globalization does not only concern the creation of large-scale systems, but also the transformation of local, and even personal. contexts of social experience. Our day-to-day activities are increasingly influenced by events happening on the side of the world. Conversely, local lifestyle habits have become globally consequential. Thus my decision to buy a certain item of clothing has implications not only for the international division of labor but for the earth’s ecosystems."
(Giddens 1994:5-6, underlined by me)

We can describe the global action at distance with its multi-aspects affecting local and personal contexts with the following diagram (Boff and Pixley 1989:12).

banaw1.gif (4088 bytes)

The diagram shows that the action at distance happens not primarily between nations and states, but between the classes of different nations. The most marginalized people are the dominated classes in the poor countries. They undergo double domination, namely from the vested interests of international organizations and from the dominating classes in the South.

Economical action at distance includes three related areas - the movement of goods, capital and labour across national boundaries, in which free market plays the dominant actor directed by profit motivations of private enterprises (cf. Kunen 1997:17). The Human Development Report of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) 1992 depicted global distribution of income in a famous figure of "champagne glass". The richest 20 % of world’s population receives 82.7% of the total world income while the poorest 20% receives only 1.4%. The gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow.

The global economical movement has been supported by political power in the North and in the South. The support has two faces. The authoritarian regimes prevent poor people’s participation in economics and politics, and free politics (sometimes in the face of democratic rhetoric) that is directed by interest of free flow of money. The Indonesian Bishops’ Lenten pastoral letter 1997, for example, mentioned among many other problems, the problem of corruption, collusion and manipulation in all areas of our national life.

"Many people seem to lose more and more their sense of shame: taking advantage of one’s office, position, and opportunities for enriching oneself, one’s family, relatives, close friends and one’s own group".

The economic domination and political imperialism are supported by cultural aggression driven by the new technologies. The hidden and worst agenda of advertising is to produce people’s illusion so far as to hold the principle, that buying, possessing or consuming goods and services are the guarantee of human satisfaction and fulfillment. Sometimes the traditional values of culture are abused to manipulate people and to keep them silent towards the "imperialistic father in an over-extended family" (cronies). Instead of being critical to traditional values in the context of post-traditional social order, these values are abused for economical and political domination.

Religious Response: At the Side of the Power or of the People?

A short glimpse over the phenomenon of globalization brings us to deep impression and concern of its implication. Globalization is not a neutral matter. It is pregnant with ambiguity, with unfair competition and unjust relationship in all areas of life. The political, economical and cultural domination are interconnected. Often religion instead of defending the poor, becomes a part of power’s hegemony.

The national problem is not only caused by foreign impacts; it is also a matter of national condition. The government exercises oppression in many ways. It has means like military, laws and ideology that often supported by cultures and religions. The government knows the importance of economy and the agents of big business need the support from the government. They act in collusion with each other with the expense of workers, farmers and victimized people. We can depict the domination as follows.

banaw2.gif (5540 bytes)

The diagram shows how the struggle for social change has structural difficulty strengthened by ideology, information, laws and military. The farmers and the workers (men and women) should organize themselves. By so doing the farmers can become more independent and autonomous. Not like now, rather than being producers they are more consumers of seeds, artificial fertilizer and pesticide that are controlled by the fabrics. Without empowering the farmers enough food can not be available. The workers should organize themselves, so that they are strong enough to struggle for their interest, so that they can participate in the process of production and take part in the profit. People and groups as many as possible should take part. But the first actors are the poor, the exploited themselves. Without their participation there will be no real social change. In other words, the way to follow is empowering the poor, promoting movement from below.

One of the impacts of globalization is the rise of fundamentalism (cf. Giddens 1994: 6-7, 245) that shows itself not only in religion, but also in family (nepotism), in ethnicity and race (primordialism) as well as in gender (patriarchy). Christians are not free from this temptation. The danger of fundamentalism lies in its refusal for dialogue and its potential for violence. In this condition, it has not been difficult for the military, and other interested parties, to manipulate religion and ethnicity in order to set one group against another and to divide and rule, devide et impera. The dominated and marginalized people become more powerless.

Religion is not a neutral phenomenon. It can be religion of the powerful or of the poor. Religion can legitimize injustice or defend the poor and the marginalized, live for justice and humanity. Being Christian is to follow Jesus Christ as the Way, to be with Him where He is and to do what He did and is doing. Consequently, orthopraxis has priority over orthodoxy, and both needs to be contextually performed. With the poor, God has an agreement to ally against Mammon, against the absolutization of power and wealth. Jesus is the symbol of the conflict between God and Mammori, between God’s kinship and Anti-God’s kinship, between positive and negative power. The criterion of following the Way is preferential option for and with the poor and the marginalized, whose primacy should be struggled for.

The Church’s preferential option for (and with) the poor and the marginalized need to be manifested concretely in all areas of life, economics, politics, culture and ecology. We should be aware however that the poor are not just objects of charity, they are also agents of social change. As for all human beings, their dignity comes from being made in the image of God, being co-responsible for the creation. Therefore, the most appreciative service for them is to be with them in such a way that they are able to empower themselves and to control their own lives (cf. Giddens 1993:208-231; 1994: 14-15). The efforts for the empowerment of the poor are the manifestations of option for the poor, which is centered in the poor themselves.

We need to be grateful that in Asia there are movements of justice, compassion and solidarity. We observe among the youth, intellectuals, legal advocates and nongovernmental organizations, inter-faith movements, efforts to empower people, to stand at the side of the victims, to defend the rights of children and women. The women’s movement supporting the victims and to struggling against violence has manifested sensitivity for life and brought extensive impact. The community consciousness of legal values, freedom and justice, as well as cultural and traditional rights is increasing. We also experience universal trends to cooperate in the promotion of human dignity and human rights as well as democracy. All of these are the signs of God’s presence and action in our life in Asia.

It is also a really promising sign that Asian contextual and liberative theologies are flourishing everywhere (see Pieris 1988, Amaladoss 1997). Hopefully these theologies can serve not only as intellectus fidei but also as intellectus amoris et compassionis to help people of faith to be compassionate and loving God and the afflicted.

The Church is called to live not for herself, but to be open to follow Christ witnessing God’s kinship. A new way of being and living Church that is more flexible to face current challenges can be described as communion of contextual communities, namely Basic Christian (Ecumenical) Community towards Basic Human Community and Basic Inter-Faith Community as a community of dialogue and transformation. The call for global ethic can be put in a framework of globalization of solidarity, or "globalization from below". The imperialistic globalization should be met with a counter strategy, namely a culture of networking among contextual communities towards globalization without marginalization, towards building a worldwide community of justice, peace and integrity of creation. God is calling us to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in praxis; we are called to live out risk-taking solidarity with the victims. The credibility of our witness needs to be gained through our honest and sincere attitudes, words and acts.

The Problem of Dedt

One of the problems within the context of globalization is international debt. It is an example of international unjust relationship involving the debtor countries as well as the creditors. Take an example of Indonesia. "During the New Order period, the World Bank provided $30 billion in loan to Indonesian government. But due to existing culture of corruption, 30% of the aid was misappropriated. Finance has come to means of stealing and accumulation of wealth through the public fund without control" (Winters 1999: 90). J. A. Winters describes the fact as criminal debt. For more than 30 years the World Bank continued to give loan even when it knew that a big amount of the money was stolen. (Winters 1999: 124). Therefore, there is enough reason for Indonesia to demand cancellation of all or at least part of that criminal debt. Yosef P. Widyatmadja thinks in the same direction and offers suggestion how decrease in debt can be used as a way to seek the balance of the right of living and sharing natural resources (Widyatmadja 1999: 127).

The Catholic tradition has offered some considerations about the problem of debt at least since Pope Paul VI.

"Rates of interest and time for repayment of the loan could be so arranged as not to be too great a burden on either party, taking into account free gifts, interest-free or low-interest loans, and the time needed for liquidating the debts" (Populorum Progressio 1967, no. 54).

The encyclical letter of John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987, No 19.3-5; cf. Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission 1986) depicts the situation of foreign debt as follows:

"The reason which prompted the developing peoples to accept the offer of abundantly available capital was the hope of being able to invest it in development projects. Thus the availability of capital and the fact of accepting it as a loan can be considered a contribution to development something desirable and legitimate in itself even though perhaps imprudent and occasionally hasty.

Circumstances having changed both within the debtor nations and in the international financial market, the instrument chosen to make a contribution to development has turned into a counterproductive mechanism. This is because the debtor nations, in order to service their debt, find themselves obliged to export the capital needed for improving or at least maintaining their standard of living. It is also because, for the same reason, they are unable to obtain new and equally essential financing.

Through this mechanism, the means intended for the development of peoples has turned into a brake upon development instead, and indeed in some cases has even aggravated underdevelopment."

U.S. Catholic Conference Administrative Board has raised the principles of justice, solidarity and the common good and offers the following criteria:

  1. The primary objective ought to be to assist in revitalizing the economies of the debt- burdened countries and to help poor people participate in their quality of life; in general, the greatest help should be provided for the greatest need.

  2. Any debt solution ought to preserve the basic human rights of the people and the autonomy and independence of the debtor nation.

  3. Responsibility for the solution ought to be shared equitably by both creditors and debtor countries, especially by the wealthier segments of their societies; the burden should not continue to be borne disproportionately by the poor people.

  4. The solution should not increase the debt; generally, less money going out of the country is better than more money coming in.

  5. Some immediate benefit should be obtained by the debtor country, especially for poor people.

  6. Criteria established, for adjusting debt should take into account the extent to which those responsible are accountable to their people and how human rights are fostered and protected in the debtor country, what the money was borrowed for, how it was used, what kinds of efforts the country has made or is making to develop as well as repay, and how the debtor nation proposes to reform its economy, including how to deal with capital flight.

  7. Any acceptable solution ought to recognize and attempt to relieve external factors beyond the control of the debtor country which tend to aggravate or perpetuate the burden — e.g., interest rates, commodity prices, trade barriers, budged deficits and geopolitical considerations. The global economy should be managed in the interest of eciuity and justice; participation of the poor ought to be central test of the morality of the system.

  8. Proposed solutions ought to enhance the ability of the debtor nation to pursue independent, self-reliant, particivatory, sustainable development. This consideration should receive high priority in any judgment as to the country’s ability to service a discounted debt — i.e., the amount of debt the country can reasonably be expected to manage fairly. (312-313).

Again on the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum John Paul II has written an encyclical Centesimus Annus, that also has concern for the problem of debt.

"At present, the positive efforts which have been made along these lines are being affected by the still largely unsolved problem of the foreign debt of the poorer countries. The principle that debts must be paid is certainly just. However, it is not right to demand or expect payment when the effect would be the imposition of political choices leading to hunger and despair for entire peoples. It cannot be expected that the debts which have been contracted should be paid at the price of unbearable sacrifices. In such cases it is necessary to find— as in fact is partly happening — ways to lighten, defer or even cancel the debt compatible with the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress" (CA 35.4).

The problem of debt is one of the challenges to live out global justice and solidarity, the progress and participation of all, the priority of the poor’s rights to live (cf. Mueller 1996). By entering the year 2000 we are called to proclaim the Jubilee, the joyful message to the poor, freedom from all kinds of slavery. Let the Churches become symbols of Emmanuel, God dwelling among us. God began the good work in Asia, God is now doing good work in Asia, and God will bring it to completion.



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* Presented as an introduction to discussion at the seminar on "Freedom from Debt Campaign Training", CCA, Chiang Mai, Thailand, November 28 —December 8, 1999.