What Does It Mean to Be a Global
The Case of the International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities
For eleven months, from February 2005 to January 2006, I have been traveling to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and England in preparation for the founding meeting of the International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities. In January 2006, we launched the International Association in Cape Town, South Africa. Funded by the Association is a global network of networks and organizations led by darker skin peoples. Its aim is to foster human dignity and justice, and promote the voices of darker skin communities within international conversations. Perhaps the theme of the Association is captured in the phrase: A Better World Is Possible.
Prior to my travels and the founding meeting of the Association, I have been studying the Third World or so-called developing world since high school in the mid- to late 1960s. In college, I majored in Afro-American Studies with a minor in political economy. Both disciplines linked the poor in the U.S. to a strong international focus. My graduate degrees, likewise, had a global component. My first Ph.D. was earned at Union Theological Seminary (New York City). At that time, Union was known as a major intellectual center on Third World liberation theologies. My doctoral dissertation was a comparative work between theology in the U.S. and that of South Africa.1 And my second Ph.D. is from the University of Cape Town. These years of formal academic study were coupled with a history of travel. In fact, my first trip to the Third World occurred in 1974. So even before my recent global visits in preparation for the founding meeting of the Association, I had been traveling to the Third World for over 30 years.
Still, the eleven month study and immersion travels from 2005 to 2006 provided the opportunity to live with people in rural areas and urban ghettoes of unbelievable poverty. I had the chance to experience the ordinary spiritual and cultural rituals of poor people, indigenous communities, and working class families. What are the foods that they eat? How do they sleep at night and where? What public outlets were there for citizens to participate in politics? What are the naming ceremonies for their children? How does the role of women change in different cultural contexts? What modes of transportation do they take? What type of clothing do they wear? What variety of music is played and on what instruments? How are the houses constructed? What do water and fire mean to them? What do they do for recreation? What mechanisms do they use for survival and resistance? How do they see themselves as global citizens? What do they think of the U.S. government and the citizens of the U.S.? What visions of a better world do they have for their children?
In addition to my travels and formal education, another important contribution to my understanding of what it means to be a global citizen was my reading articles, essays, and books by people in the different countries I visited. There exists literally thousands of journals, magazines, and books in the Third World. The overwhelming majority don’t have proper access to global marketing. One reason is that the monopoly corporate book companies of the United States and Europe prevent these books from entering North America and Europe.
For the remaining time of this discussion, I’d like to answer the question – what does it mean to be a global citizen – in two ways. First I will share what I think is the new global context that urges us and calls us to be new world citizens. And second, I will offer the International Association on Black Religions and Spiritualities as one, young model for possible global citizenship.
In today’s world there is a specific social context to the question: what does it mean to be a global citizen? The world situation has changed dramatically. Consequently, a thoughtful religious response is in order, one cognizant of these new developments throughout the earth.
One of the major and fundamental changes in global realities occurred with the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Both symbolically and substantively, November 9, 1989 marks the day the Berlin Wall fell. Those bricks had been built in 1961 and now the wall came tumbling down. Of course today, the people of the former Eastern Block have to decide the nature of their system, whether it be communism, socialism, capitalism or some mixture of all three. But without question, 1989 had unprecedented and historic implications for U.S. citizens. For the first time, the government representing U.S. citizens became the sole, undisputed superpower in the world.
Before 1989, the U.S.A. and the USSR had protocols and policies that allowed them each to counter-balance the actions of the other. For instance, if one of the superpowers contemplated unilaterally invading a smaller country, it had to think about the consequences coming from the other superpower. In one sense, they performed a dance, at times a lethal dance, where each partner had to maintain clear communications, engage in consultations, and attempt to study and guess what the other was thinking. Each superpower, in this way, hesitated before it acted on the world stage. Prior to 1989, diplomatic, military, and economic language contained such phrases as "balance of power", "spheres of influences", and the protection of smaller "client states". Since 1989, the language of the U.S. government – the sole military, political, and monopolist capitalist superpower – has shifted to "we’re number one"; "we won the Cold War"; "we have a moral responsibility of ruling the world"; and "God has called the U.S. to spread a U.S. form of democracy around the world". In fact the radical shift in language has concrete implications in the real material world. The sole superpower is building an empire.
The economic face of this world empire is known as neo-liberalism.2 Neo-liberalism has taken on at least three aspects: free markets, privatization, and deregulation. It calls for access to "free markets" in all the countries of the world. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) are policy examples. The philosophy and policy of "free markets" favor monopoly capitalist, global corporations that gain access to other countries’ markets with few or no restrictions. But too often workers and the environment suffer in this process. Similarly, by price undercutting and massive advertising, U.S. monopoly corporations can drive other countries’ products out of business. Once in developing countries, corporations pay little or no real estate taxes, sale taxes, or income taxes and workers are prevented from establishing unions.
Second, neo-liberalism (that is, U.S. foreign policy in conjunction with U.S. global corporations) demands that other governments shift from public services to "privatization". Instead of the government providing for the health, welfare, education, and well being of its citizens, especially the vulnerable sectors, other countries have to privatize these services. And, in too many instances, U.S. monopoly corporations are the firms who receive contracts for privatization. For instance, if hotels are state owned in the Third World or developing world, the U.S. government offers to give a loan on the condition that the Third World government sells that hotel to a U.S. owned international hotel chain.
Third, in addition to "free market" and "privatization" policies, neo-liberalism engages in "deregulation". If super profits can be made by removing regulations that aid workers and the environment, then those regulations are in fact removed, especially in the developing countries.3
The unprecedented influence of one superpower has allowed the U.S. government and its partnership with U.S. economic entities to have a major influence on international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and multilateral agreements on investments. As a result, these massive regulatory bodies pursue forms of neoliberalism as well. Perhaps both the increased privatization of public services and the mammoth debt in the Third World are clear indications of the IMF’s and WTO’s shift to neoliberalism policies.4
The direct result of U.S. economic imperial policies is increased poverty for and removal of public safety nets for working people, the poor, and citizens hovering on the margins of existence.
Politically, the U.S., as sole superpower lacking a counterbalancing power from the USSR, assumes a new understanding of its rights on the world stage, an unyielding sense of its authority around the world, and a unilateral ability to persuade others about what is normative and what should be codified legally.5 If Third World governments are to deal with the one superpower, they have to conform to international laws and political perspectives that the superpower deems important. For instance, if the superpower indicates that global geopolitical affairs are absolutely defined by terrorism, then Third World governments have to politically arrange their sovereign laws and policies in accordance with the political analysis of the superpower. And when the superpower cannot utilize public discourse, political muscle, or incentives to rally world political decisions behind the superpower in world bodies such as the United Nations, the superpower acts unilaterally politically. To restate this, a singular superpower appears less constrained by international laws and understood conventions and more bent on its sense of its own right and its individual authority.6
Furthermore, the 1989 disintegration of the USSR has left the remaining superpower with a sense that its political system has won out. So, if the Soviet Union’s own understanding of democracy has failed, then the remaining superpower sees a green light that its unique type of American democracy can be exported abroad. Clustered around the export of the unique American interpretation of democracy are the concepts of individualism,7 prosperity, and freedom. In a sense, these three notions are the political expressions of a set of moral values. Individualism means one acts first on self-interest. Prosperity means that a citizen’s purpose in the public square is to use both hard work and democratic participation to achieve prosperity. And freedom accents the lack of government restraint on corporate entities and individual citizen’s rights.8
The effect of U.S. political influence results in Third World governments feeling stress around their independent sovereignty, in relation to the welfare of their own people and borders, and a sense that there exists only one interpretation of democracy and freedom.
Militarily, one superpower owns the greatest single concentration of weapons of mass destruction the world has known. On the one hand, being the military giant seems a privileged position and an impenetrable fortress. But a superpower also sees military might carrying a responsibility to take up the policing of the international world. Privilege becomes burden. Similarly, the sole superpower now feels that it is vulnerable to all of the rotten governments and terrorists on earth. It has become a magnet of attack since it now solely symbolizes the Great Satan. Accordingly, the superpower engages in public chastisement of heads of states, abduction of democratically elected leaders, and pre-emptive strikes. The fortress fears its own weaknesses.9
The military might of one world empire fosters a sense of extreme vulnerability on the part of the people and governments of the Third World. No longer can they use the USSR as a counter-military sponsor to the United States. Third World countries can be militarily violated and no other body or bodies in the world can prevent these secret and open military violations.
Cultural hegemony has become another indication of U.S. imperial power. Even before the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, U.S. culture had begun to seep behind the iron curtain. The McDonaldlization of the world perhaps is the best known cliché of this growing phenomenon of making the world in the image of the United States. In fact, the three most recognized brand names in the world come from America: McDonalds, Coke a Cola, and Marlboro cigarettes. In addition, U.S. clothing, especially forms of casual wear, permeate the globe. Music and videos, particularly corporate capitalist marketing of gangster rap and other forms of pop music, is becoming a universalizing principle aimed at the world’s youth. If young generations can be socialized into accepting U.S. culture, then when they reach the age of governing their own countries, the former youth who will be running government and civic societies around the world will have a common cultural language, that of American culture. Likewise American technology of cell phones that take pictures, download music, allow virtual dating, play videos, and form global youth chat rooms have shrunk the space and distance of the world’s youth culture. With access to a cell phone, even rural youth in the Third World can be like an American young person, not by owning the materials of U.S. youth, but by vicariously participating in the latest American youth craze found on a cell phone. Imperial culture establishes its superpower presence by cultivating taste buds and fashion style. Often cultural imitation is more effective than military imposition.10
For the local inhabitants of Third World countries, the negative impact of U.S. cultural globalization is the subordination and lost of indigenous forms of people’s culture11.
And a new form of religion, originating primarily from the U.S., has aggressively targeted the entire world for dominance. We might call this a third wave of Christian missions. The first type are the so-called mainline churches – Baptist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. The second are the classic Pentecostal churches – that is, Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God. The new third wave existed before the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it has taken off exponentially since the establishment of one superpower. In fact, its global missionary activities are supported by the U.S. government.12
The new form of Christian missionaries, arguably the religious arm of U.S. Empire, is called neo-charismatic Christianity.13 It emphasizes a wealth and health prosperity gospel. Jesus Christ wants poor Christians to have a Mercedes Benz because material things show forth the power and blessings of Jesus Christ. This prosperity gospel is also described as the name-it-and-claim-it good news. If a poor person wants to be rich or have expensive things, he or she simply has to name what they want and claim it in the name of Jesus Christ. In addition to wealth advocacy among the individual poor, neo-charismatic Christianity performs spiritual healing and deliverance concerts by laying on of hands to cast out demons from inside the individual bodies of poor people. Healing results from a deliverance ministry.
What neo-charismatic Christian missionaries do is mimic some of the same values of neo-liberalism and U.S. democracy. They advocate individualism, prosperity, and freedom. Culturally, they echo and export forms of U.S. culture and, simultaneously, they attack the indigenous culture in the Third World as heathenism, devil worship, and the Anti-Christ. And politically, they push for American interpretations of democracy and freedom. Militarily, they give religious sanction to U.S. armed services presence on foreign soil.
Furthermore, throughout the Third World, neo-charismatics have an international cable network called the God Channel. The American prosperity gospel preachers have developed an international mechanism that, like other global media, has to get clearance from the U.S. government (presumably the State Department and the C.I.A.) to access satellites circling the globe to broadcast their Christianity to the Third World. Now one can be poor in the developing world, not travel from one’s village, and still watch the major American prosperity gospel televangelists. The God Channel takes American imperial values, beliefs, and tastes and deposits them into the homes, common yards, and hotels of the Third World. Here, the more one praises Jesus Christ, the more one becomes an American by way of neo-charismatic worship and theology.
For the everyday poor person in the developing world, neo-charismatic missionary contact means linking U.S. world view and visions to the vulnerability and intimacy of one’s very being; that is to say, to tap into a person’s faith with the divine. Religious hope becomes fused with American global perspectives. Neocharismatic Christianity is the fastest growing example of world Christianity, outstripping mainstream denominations and even indigenous religions.
1.Dwight N. Hopkins, Black Theology in the U.S.A. and South Africa: Politics, Culture, and Liberation, Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005 (originally published by Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989). Also see, Simon S. Maimela and Dwight N. Hopkins, ed. We Are One Voice: Essays on Black Theology in South Africa and the USA (Johannesburg, South Africa: Skotaville Press, 1989).
2.For a religious and theological interpretation of the globalization of neoliberalism, see my "Religion of Globalization," in Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases, ed. Dwight N. Hopkins, Lois Ann Lorentzen, Eduardo Mendieta, & David Batstone (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 7-32.
3.As The South Goes. A Periodical from Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide vol. 6, num. 1, Spring 1999, p. 3
4.Rebecca Todd Peters, In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization (New York: Continuum, 2004), pp. 41-58.
5.Micael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Massachusetts.: Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 9
6.For an ethical defense of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, see my colleague’s, Jean Bethke Elshtain’s, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (New York: Basic Books, 2003).
7.I have further refined American individualism into three subsets: historical amnesia, instantaneous fulfillment of desire, and "we’re number one" mythology. See the introduction in my Being Human: race, culture, and religion (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2005), pp. 4-7.
8.Peters, op. cit., pp. 59-64.
9.Sharon D. Welch, After Empire: the art and ethos of enduring peace (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2004), p. xi.
10.For a positive paradigm of global, transnational cultural learning and inter-religious interaction, see my "A Black American Perspective on Interfaith Dialogue in the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians," in Heart and Head: Black Theology Past, Present and Future, Dwight N. Hopkins (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 109-125.
11.For theories of culture, see my "culture" chapter in my Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 2005); Barbara Adam & Stuart Allan, ed. Theorizing Culture: An Interdisciplinary Critique After Postmodernism (London, England: University College London Press, 1995); Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner, ed. Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory (Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994); Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda For Theology (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1997); David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, ed. Stuart Hall: Critical Studies in Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1996); Juliet B. Schor and Douglas B. Holt, ed. The Consumer Society Reader (New York: The New Press, 2000); and Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival Of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
12.Mark Lewis Taylor, Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2005), introduction.
Rev. Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins is an ordained American Baptist minister. He is Professor of Theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Dr. Hopkins received his M.Div., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees from Union Theological Seminary, New York and also holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Hopkins has published several books including Introducing Black Theology of Liberation, Down, Up and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology, Black Faith and Black Talk: Essays in Honor of James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power (editor) and Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion.
Copyright © 2006. Dwight N. Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.
Used by permission, BlackandChristian.com, 2006