Max L. Stackhouse on God and Globalization

My former teacher and now Berkshire neighbor Max L. Stackhouse has been writing for decades about the way societies are put together and interact. He has produced a magisterial series called God and Globalization. His Vol. 1, Globalization and the Powers of the Common Life is newly out in paperback. Max, recently retired from Princeton Theological Seminary was the Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Project on Public Theology, and the Rimmer and Ruth de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life. He has served on the editorial boards of The Christian Century, First Things, and The Journal of Religious Ethics. In a recent Confessing Christ Open Forum, he offered this concise and passionate summary of his views:

Dear friends discussing globalization:

Gabe (Fackre) told me to jump into this group since my name has been mentioned a couple of times. I did not know how to find this discussion, so Rick (me) told me where and how to look for these posts. It is my first excursion into group blogs. I would like to make a couple of points. The main focus of my research and writing on economic life and on globalization is that economic dynamics are not autonomous.

Herb (Davis) is right in thinking that I try to see what theology, and more broadly religion, has to offer to the understanding of economics — and I think it is a lot although it is indirect. My convictions come out my experience working for the old Board of World Ministries, which sent me to India, S-E Asia, the Pacific Islands, and I later represented Princeton Seminary at conferences and symposia in China, Korea, and Latin America. The economies in each area have some things in common, such as whether people have little or much, they want more, and in all contexts the laws of supply and demand operate. But, what people want more of and why they want what they want, and what they are able to supply and what they demand for what reasons are quite different. These things differ according to their view of and experiences in family life, political power, legal systems, educational opportunities, medical conditions and technological capabilities. In other words, economics is less an independent cause in social stability or change, than a result of the cultural and civilizational fabric. And, here is the main point, these are all deeply influenced by the dominant religion as shaped by the professional leaders of that religion — the clergy, intellectuals, theologians, and charismatic leaders who appeal to the core of the faith and relate it to the social realities the civilization faces. Under the influence of the secularization hypothesis, religion is a by-product of economic (and psychological) factors.

The view I have come to turns this around and puts the economic question in a larger comparative civilizational context. It also puts the ongoing debate about whether we should have a more socialist or a more capitalist economic system, for both sides of these debates presume that economics is the basic force in human relations and social life, and is either more or less just, defined by one or the other economic ideology.. On one side justice is defined as equality by political policy, on the other side as freedom under legal guarantees of access and opportunity — now modified into a little more or a little less social democracy or democratic capitalism.

What this has to do with globalization is that globalization is a world-wide civilizational change that involves the wide-spread adoption of patterns of family life, political order, legal definitions, educational patterns and medical and communication technologies that were historically formed by Christian theological influences. That is now making economic globalization possible and in some cases necessary, although the massive transition leaves the playing field open to corruption, exploitation, and high risk behaviors — none of which are new and specific to globalization.. I think contemporary Christians should baptize globalization, washing it of its sins and set it on the paths of righteousness and developing a theology of globalization that can guide it in our post-nationalistic world toward the New Jerusalem to which all peoples can bring their gifts.

Theology is the clue to the understanding and guidance of globalization.

In Christ,

Max

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