This is the final in our three-part series of edited excerpts from Prof. Bob Goudzwaard’s speech ‘Living Faithfully in a Rapidly Changing World’ to CPJ’s AGM in May, 2011. In the first portion, Prof. Goudzwaard explored five characteristics of globalisation that have emerged since the millennium: emerging powers, bilateralism and growing scarcities, the revolts in Arab countries, growing indebtedness, and the lordship of money. The second part examined the hardening of globalisation and the growing power of illusion; two cultural trends which Prof. Goudzwaard believes to be crucial to understanding our current reality.
But what is a truly Christian view and response in times like these? Are we indeed confronted with a new inevitable course, a fate as unavoidable as a falling night over a beloved country like Canada?
The Last Dimension
To take that question seriously we have to add one other dimension to our picture. It is the almost forgotten dimension of religion, faith, and ideology.
At first sight it may seem as if religion has nothing to do with all these trends or common characteristics. But almost nothing is less true. Do you think that the power of illusion, just like the power of magic, simply stands on its own? And do you think that the unlimited pursuit of one’s own material happiness is just a neutral attitude? Of course it is not. But I also hope that you see that views, goals, and attitudes formulated in this way also look like goals and attitudes of last resort and thus may be seen as expressions of obviously living ideologies, while continued illusions have always had something to do with narrowing views which so easily originate from serving idols.
A deep relationship seems now to develop between an increased hardening of policies and what René Girard, the French Christian philosopher, has called a growing worldwide hurricane of desire. A hurricane which can catch you alive, and from which there is almost no possibility of escape. Somehow Western society has already fallen into the grip of its self-chosen gods. If it does not awake, they will be allowed to feed further illusions and can bring us to the madness of fighting for all that we want to have and to maintain at all costs and by all possible means. Self-chosen gods will however depart, as idols always do, at the precise moment when we are most vulnerable.
That is no doubt a hard kind of diagnosis, with a hard message involved in it. But do you also share the common belief, that there is no longer a way out of the present impasse? No, of course I hope not. Please let us also observe the message of hope and perspective. Indeed, illusions can take us into captivity and idols can leave us at the most critical moment. But we can also decide to leave them, say goodbye to them, and break through the power of deeply unrealistic illusions. We can remain childish, but also become culturally, economically and religiously mature!
But I have to add that this insight of true hope can only be expressed and maintained if the richest nations, and that includes us, somehow come to their senses by seeing and confessing that all these alarming developments also find their utmost base in a false religious background.
René Girard, as I noted already, compares our present global situation to a hurricane of desire and greed. But each hurricane, he suggests, has also an eye, a centre of silence. What is this centre? He uses two flashing words to describe it. Firstly, it is love. For in real love the inter-esse, the goods between us as persons and nations which so easily lead us to envy the other, just fall away. Love makes room for what the other needs, leads to sharing. And his second word is: following. It is used by him in contrast to the lust for endless imitation of other persons and nations in their quest for more material richness.
The willingness to follow sets us free from those desires. Indeed, nations can make room for other nations' basic needs, instead of endless imitation and rivalry. In Psalm 2 the rulers of the nations are summoned to bend to the Lordship of the Messiah and to follow his rules of justice, and stewardship for their own good. That is parallel to what Girard says here.
To be captivated by illusions is indeed extremely risky. But we should never forget that illusions are never as strong as reality itself. God is the Lord of reality and He is still present in it. The gospel of John, Chapter 16, gives us a strong picture of this presence. It is in the court of human history that the Holy Spirit is continually testing and judging nations and civilizations. Judgement is not far away from nations which find their lust in oppressing others, in serving money as their god and violating God's creation.
But there is, happily, an opposite side. Philip Potter, the previous secretary of the World Council of Churches, called it once ‘God’s own globalisation’. Our living God is still actively preparing the world for the coming of his Messiah-King. It will be a Shepherd-King who will stand at the end of world history. But we all know that a Shepherd does not rule according to survival of the fittest. He rules according to survival of the weak.
We have to live out that future now. We have to share our bread with the hungry and to abstain from the bitter fight to reserve the world for ourselves now. Money should not be allowed to guide us and to govern us, for only Jesus has the right to rule over our lives. So, my final conclusion is that in Him and in His pastoral rule of the world the nation of Canada can still find its realistic and hopeful escape.
Click here for the complete text of Prof. Goudzwaard's speech.