AGM 2011: Living Faithfully in a Rapidly Changing World

Where is our world heading? What is a Christian response to this direction? Is hope possible in these seemingly dark times?

These are all questions that Bob Goudzwaard, a long-time friend of CPJ explored on Thursday, May 12 following CPJ’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto. Below we give you the highlights of his talk.

What is the Christian response to the “important recent changes in the world of today”? A challenging question to be sure. According to Professor Emeritus Bob Goudzwaard of the Free University of Amsterdam, former member of the Dutch Parliament, and co-author of Hope in Troubled times: A New vision for Confronting Global Crises the answer is hopeful realism.

The evening’s discussion was framed around globalization. Goudzwaard considered a number of questions, asking “where is it heading? Is it a breeze or a hurricane? Is it a direction which we can also applaud from a Christian world view?” Listing the most significant changes to our world since the millennium, he gave the five themes of globalization that he currently found to have the most relevance:

  1. Emerging and declining powers- Certain formerly dominant countries are losing some of their status, while others previously relegated to the ‘third world’ have begun to gain ground, forcing a reconsideration of the use of the term ‘third world’ to categorize entire countries.
  2. Bilateralism and scarcities- Growing scarcities of resources, food in particular, and the consequent rise in the number of bilateral agreements between nations, are further evidence of the dominance of self-interest at a national level.
  3. Revolt in Arab countries- These developments also play an important role in the current global context, pointing to the role of both young people and technology and questioning which direction these activists will take their countries in.
  4. Growing indebtedness- Considering both individual and national reliance on credit, it is becoming clear that this type of practice is not sustainable in the long run.
  5. Lordship of money- It increasingly seems that “the real economy of goods and services has become more and more dependent on the whims and volatilities of money and money markets.”

Beyond these structural changes, further cultural patterns and attitudes can be perceived. What was initially supposedly a fluid development process has undergone what Goudzwaard refers to as a “hardening” – with countries increasingly locked into their positions with little chance for change. Threats to the status quo are greeted with fear and hostility as nations fear for their dominance and access to resources. The power of illusion is growing, as evidenced by the ability of society to believe that the current system can continue indefinitely with no negative consequences despite the recent major financial breakdown. Goudzwaard warns of these simultaneous trends “working together and strengthening each other right up until the moment of an abrupt and massive collapse.”

In response to this bleak future, Goudzwaard presents some ideas on what the “truly Christian view and response can be in times like these.” He strongly emphasizes that faith and religion have a powerful part to play in countering that future. He warns that “self-chosen gods will however depart, as idols always do, at the precise moment when we are most vulnerable.” He cautions against despair, saying that we can also decide to leave our false idols that hold us captive behind and “break through the power of deeply unrealistic illusions.” Ultimately Goudzwaard calls for a hopeful, faithful, realistic response – a Christian response, a working towards “God’s own globalization” saying that “in Him and in His pastoral rule of the world also the nation of Canada can still find its realistic and hopeful escape.”

What is particularly notable in this discussion is the link made between hope and realism – an almost counter-intuitive notion. However, when placed in the context of Bob Goudzwaard’s talk it helps to emphasize another key point- the need to move from focus on self to a focus on the common good, as it is in the best interest of us all. As respondent Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc commented, the common good is far more than the sum total of individual wealth. Rather, it is something that “raises us all up.”

The common good is indeed a concept that can and should be applied at the local, national, and international levels so that we leave behind emphasis on the self. And this is where the voice of CPJ becomes especially important. What else is the “political dimension of loving one’s neighbor, caring for creation and achieving the common good” – CPJ’s definition of public justice – but the discarding of emphasis on self? Much like Goudzwaard’s call to reject the dangerous illusions our society clings to, public justice means coming to terms with societal limitations and working for change from a solid Christian foundation. Indeed, CPJ’s concept of public justice is a call for hopeful active realism.

In this way, Goudzwaard’s provides a timely reminder that, as Councillor Mihevc pointed out, “a socially conscious Christian message still has social import and…is important for the creation of a just society.” But even more, it was a reminder of the reason for our work and the need to hold on to hope as we move forward.

Check back over the summer months for more from Professor Goudzwaard’s presentation and Councillor Mihevc’s response.

Jenny Prosser is CPJ’s former policy intern.

Add new comment

Latest Tweets