The Brexit vote is just as much a referendum on the idea of globalization as it is anything else. Manfried Steger defines the term as referring to the “expansion and intensification of social relations and consciousness across world-time and world-space.” The people that are most frustrated by Brexit are those who have been immersed in a relentless education that posits that globalization is not only inherently a good thing, but is a march toward what is best for everyone. A closer read of the phenomena of globalization, though, reveals that it is more a mixed bag than inherently good or evil.
Steger’s work, which I referred to above, is entitled Globalization: A Short Introduction, and he frames his discussion of the concept using three particular dimensions: economic, political, and cultural. My central argument is that whereas globalization posits a universal way of looking at these three phenomena, there is actually quite a bit of disagreement on the best economic, political, and cultural principles. Globalization assumes that the collapsing of space-time boundaries and the intensification of these relationships lead to a new world that is better for everyone. This truth claim needs to be re-examined. Here are just a few examples:
Freedom of Movement
Yes, freedom of movement is a wonderful thing when it works out well, but it is impossible to ignore the impact of terrorism that has used this freedom of movement for its own ends. Globalization is built on loosely liberal democratic principles that many other worldviews do not subscribe to, and in many cases, believe is destructive.
Again, globalization is truly a mixed bag when it comes to economics. Yes, it provides burgeoning trade opportunities, and forces countries to try to work together to sort out major fiscal disagreements, but it also can mask deep divides about what it means to “work together”. Does working together mean continually bailing out other countries for their irresponsible fiscal decisions or teaching them a lesson through hard-love tactics? Economics are inherently emotional, because people are emotional.
One of the weakest points for globalization is how it deals with education. There is a vague belief that if you can teach a general way of thinking that aligns with the interests of secularism this benefits the next generation. However, we are already seeing how weak a foundation this kind of education provides for young people. Many of the tenets of secular education do not align with the lived reality of most individuals. Religion is an integral part of most people’s lives. When it is not included at all in a child’s education it should not be a surprise when that child grows up and cannot understand how someone might be motivated by their religion, and cannot even grasp a rudimentary appreciation for the nuances of each particular major religion.
Zooming back out to the general concept globalization, let’s look at what it means for Christians. One of the central ideas of globalization is that it means that we are all global citizens of the world. It often neglects the local at the expense of the global, however. The power of the gospel is that Jesus came in a specific way, teaching us how to love others specifically. He was born in a specific village, with a specific culture and way of life that he learned and grew up in.
At the same time, as opposed to religious systems like Islam, Jesus did not declare one specific culture better than others, so our expression of Christianity is never captive to one culture. It is both specific and general. Our working together as Christians is not based on our common assumptions or even a common set of principles, it is based on the central unifying figure of Jesus.
In the end, globalization is neither an inherently good or bad thing, it is a complex phenomenon. In Christ, our citizenship is in heaven, which gives us an entirely different outlook on the world. It is an outlook that is both realistic and redemptive, taking into account both the pernicious effects of sin as well as the radical hope of redemption in and through Jesus. Our call as Christians is to live within this world showing love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy, pointing all along the way to Jesus. That call will take us around the world, learning to love and serve others in the name of Jesus, because one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ Lord.