Neoliberal Globalisation and Role of the Church

By: Fr. Prakash Louis, SJ

Locating the issue

Globalisation, liberalisation and neoliberalism have become the most discussed and debated concepts today. These three processes are seen to have interactional impact on the entire global family. But the important facet of the evolution of these processes is that their area of influence is not just limited to economic sphere alone but seems to affect the entire societal processes. While the debate about the very process, the objective, the path pursued, and the consequences have been highlighted in various forums, globalisation and neoliberalism as a phenomenon escapes any simplistic understanding.

Understanding Globalisation and Neoliberalism

The term globalization used in 1985 by Theodore Levitt has assumed various meaning to different people. Roland Robertsor speaks of globalization as a process by which the world is becoming more and more “a single place”. At the risk of adding to the fragmentation in its connotation we can distinguish between twc different generic classes of meanings attributed to it. First, the spreac of human civilization, artifacts, institutions, patterns of living information and knowledge to span the planet earth. Second, a policy deliberately aimed at spreading certain institutions, modes of doing business, producing and trading commodities, services and information across all the states of the world.

From this type of analysis we can distinguish the following features: 1) there is a spread of international trade in goods and commodities. 2) People migrate from one country or region to another temporarily or permanently. 3) Money or means of payment are exchanged on an increasing scale between different countries and regions. 4) Capital flows from one country to another to help produce goods and services. 5) Finance without direct link with production of goods and services flows between countries. 6) Trans-National Corporations or TNCs have replaced MNCs which increasingly engage in the activities listed above. 7) Technology is traded between different countries. With the WTO frontier technologies take an increasingly proprietary form. 8) The spread of print and electronic media. 9) The growth of international trade and production of services of all kinds like shipping, insurance, banking, health care and of course finance( A.K. Bagchi: p 3219).


Before we move on to understand neoliberalism, let us try to understand liberalism. Liberalism is understood as a radical conception of capitalism that tends towards an absolutist view of the market, transforming it into the means, the method, and the end of all rational and intelligent human behaviour and in the course of time the social behaviour. Based on this conception,

people’s lives, views, the function of the society and the policy and priorities of the government are subordinated to the market. Once this market becomes absolute it is unfettered, with no financial, labour, technological, administrative or human restrictions. This also in the course of time converts some ideas of the economists of modern capitalism into a total ideology. Liberalism is essentially an economic doctrine that gives paramount importance to macroeconomic variables such as growth and inflation with no attention to income distribution, job security, food security, environmental degradation, people’s right or justice.

“Neo-liberalism” is a set of economic policies that have become widespread during the last 25 years or so. Although the word is rarely heard in the United States, you can clearly see the effects of neo-liberalism here as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer (Elilzabeth Martinaz: pl). In common parlance, neoliberalism is a term describing a market-driven approach to economic and social policy based on neoclassical theories of economics that stresses the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalised trade and relatively open markets, and therefore seeks to maximize the role of the private sector in determining the political and economic priorities of the state. At one level neoliberalism is an ideology. Literally “neoliberalism”’ means the “new liberalism’, and “liberalism” in its continental European (as opposed to North American) sense means “‘free market economics”. As such it is a resurrection of the orthodox “laissez faire” economic ideology that prevailed until the great slump of the 1930s.

This ideology contended that free market economies will run smoothly, steadily producing more wealth. Any problems that arise are supposedly a result of “unnatural monopolies” (especially in the labour market), which prevent the free movement of prices and wages pulling : supply and demand together. State intervention is seen as distorting | the economy and has to be restricted to defending private property, : national defence and, in the monetarist version of neoliberalism, overseeing the money supply (Chris Harman: p 4).

Role of the Church

Church is one of the most globalised global institution. It is a beneficiary of globalisation and at the same time has been speaking ; out against the evil effects of globalisation. John Paul II has been ; speaking and writing about globalisation. ‘It is disturbing to witness a globalization that exacerbates the conditions of the needy, that does not sufficiently contribute to resolving situations of hunger, poverty and social inequality, that fails to safeguard the natural environment. These aspects of globalization can give rise to extreme reactions, leading to excessive nationalism, religious fanaticism and even acts of terrorism.All of this is far-removed from the concept of an ethically responsible globalization capable of treating all peoples as equal partners and not as passive instruments. Accordingly, there can be little doubt of the need for guidelines that will place globalization firmly at the service of authentic human development — the development of every person and of the whole person — in full respect of the rights and dignity of all (John Paul II, May 2, 2003).

Challenges before the Church

Neoconservatism: While the rich and the powerful in powerful and rich nations are propagating and profiting through neoliberalism, the Church seems to move in the direction of neoconservatism. Rituals, rubrics and rules become dominant denying the people an opportunity to change according to the time.

Ghettoisation, parochial structure and mind set: Though ecumenism and being in the world are spoken, there is move towards ghettoization and parochial structure and mindset formation. Instead of being a believing community, we are a divided group.

Minority syndrome: In many of the South Asian countries, the church suffers by the minority syndrome. Often time, this is its own make up. Due to this it is not able to move out and work with other communities to face the challenges of neoliberalism.

Clericalism: The Catholic Church in many parts of South Asia/India suffers due to clericalism. Due to this lay leadership remains a dream. Once the clergy is out, there is vacuum and all kinds of elements at times tend to fill this vacuum.

Far removed from the reality

Non-negotiables are overlooked: it appears that at times, the Church is busy with many negotiable aspects of religion, spirituality, ecclesiology etc that it fails to engage itself with non-negotiables.

Opt for soft ministries: more and more Church personnel are opting for soft ministries like counseling, pentacostal type of preaching, ecospirituality and thus social action which engages in structural change is relegated to the background.

Possibilities before the Church

Rooted and Universal Church – GLocal response is possible: The Church is the global entity which is locally rooted and universal or global. In this capacity, it is in the best of the position to respond to globalization in favour of the vulnerable.

Emerging lay leadership: Progressively lay leadership is emerging and entering into many areas which were considered to be the domain of clergy till now. Moreover, the laity on its own merit is entering into politico-administrative stream where policies are made or unmade. They are playing a very crucial and critical role.

People still have faith in the Church: Irrespective of many drawbacks, the believing community still has lots of faith in the Church.

Greater openness, sensitivity and commitment: It is an encouraging trend that greater openness, sensitivity and commitment to Christian values, principles and communities are there. There is also openness to traditions and change.

Church has the opportunity to continue to be the Church of the poor and vulnerable: It is this which gives Church in predominantly Christian milieu and otherwise the opportunity to bear witness to the Good News of the Gospel.

Crisis can be converted into opportunity: At different sections, situations and milieus the Church is converting the crisis into opportunity and progressing towards greater integration and involvement.

Emerging People’s Theology: The emergence of people’s theologies like dalit theology, tribal theology, feminine theology, environment theology have opened up avenues for putting the pastoral cycle in practice leading to hope and liberation of those who are discriminated and marginalized.



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