Terrorist alerts...the "axis of evil"...shifting geopolitical alliances. How can we make sense of it all?
Capitol Hill politics, U.S. relationships with Great Britain, France and Germany, radical Islam—the world seems more and more complicated. How can we make sense of it all, especially in the age of sound bites and television images that leave indelible impressions but give little or no historical or cultural context?
When examining the global community of the 21st century, it's apparent that two conflicting forces are in motion. One is the movement to unite the world into a global economy. The success of the interdependence of international corporations is evidenced here in the United States where labels that say "Made in China" or "Made in Japan" no longer shock us. We drive cars assembled in Mexico and wear clothing stitched in an Indonesian sweatshop. This is true in many other developed countries.
We're accustomed to images of poor children in Africa wearing athletic shoes with an American brand name, drinking Coca-Cola while toting a Russian-made AK-47. The power of companies to cross international boundaries was evidenced in that immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, MTV made inroads into new television markets in Eastern Europe.
Advocates of the global economy promote the concept that the quickest way to defeat socialism is to introduce its adherents to the glitter of packaged consumerism. The result is that U.S. fast-food chains see communist China as a giant mass of consumers ripe for an introduction to hamburgers and fries.
Others are more critical, seeing this global economy as an agency of a glib, shallow culture, promoting immediate if-it-itches-scratch-it consumerism promoted by creating brand names recognizable in Canada, Belgium, Japan, Egypt and everywhere in between.
In the view of those who promote the new world economy, megacorporations transcend national boundaries with an endless variety of products. Nations are seen as collections of customers—all the marketers have to do is devise the right advertising campaign for that specific market. If the consumer doesn't have a need for a particular product, advertising can create the illusion of a need. Actors in white smocks tell us what three out of four doctors, beer drinkers or housewives prefer, and that fabric softeners really can be "new and improved" every six months.
The forces of global economy are in a head-on collision with the forces of those who want to preserve a local culture, nationalism or religion. Islamic fundamentalist men in Saudi Arabia might want to drink Pepsi and watch American-made movies, but they don't want their wives and daughters listening to Madonna or wearing the see-almost-everything fashions of Britney Spears.
As Benjamin Barber points out in his book Jihad vs. McWorld , these two forces, global economy and the human need for historical, religious and cultural identity, collide into a symbiotic paranoia. The isolationist Islamic fundamentalist in Saudi Arabia relies on the global economy to sell the oil that allows him to buy a Mercedes made in Germany. Of course, the German in Stuttgart needs the oil from Saudi Arabia to run his Japanese Toyota which was manufactured in Britain.
Unity and disunity
The world is both fragmenting and uniting at the same time. NATO, which has ensured the unity of the Western world for decades, is in trouble. Leaders in France and Germany are frustrated with the lack of unity in the European Union and are threatening to create a new alliance of nations. The former Soviet Union has fragmented into new countries along ethnic and cultural lines.
People want to be more than consumers, more than a collection of marketing data. At the heart of the conflict are two human needs. One is the need to belong to a family, a community, to experience meaningful relationships with others who share similar values.
One powerful factor in global communication is the Internet. People can communicate across national boundaries, oceans and ideologies with the click of a mouse. But does it create a sense of community among those who relate to each other in a chat room?
Consider the troubling case of Brandon Veda, 21. He became another suicide statistic, but what made his death alarmingly different was that when his parents turned on his computer they found that Brandon's overdose of drugs and alcohol was watched by chat room acquaintances. Hidden behind the anonymous veil of code names and the virtual reality of cyberspace, people watched, some even encouraged, this young man to take his life.
No matter how much money, possessions or status a person acquires, these things can't answer the basic human need to be valued as a person. To be emotionally and spiritually healthy, a human being needs stable relationships with other people.
A second human need is that information, to make sense, must fit into a meaningful context. Palestinian teenagers are willing to die as human bombs because the only context they've known is a misguided view of the religious and political history of the land where they were born. They wish to protect what they see as their religious beliefs and families. In the context of their microscopic world, walking into a nightclub and blowing Israeli teenagers to bits (along with themselves) seems sensible.
In search of a world context
What this world needs are universal standards for how nations and individuals relate to one another—one law guaranteeing justice, fairness and mercy. Who can create and enforce universal law? The United Nations has largely failed in its promise of creating a world of cooperation.
What is needed is a world context, but what culture can supply a world view that truly will work? Will it be American, Arab, Japanese, French? Can it be developed through a religious ecumenical spirit?
Consider this: The Koran denies the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God and claims that Islam is the only true religion. The New Testament claims in no uncertain terms that to deny Jesus as the Christ and Son of God is to deny true religion. So we're faced with irreconcilable differences. This doesn't mean that Christians and Muslims can't live together in peace. It does mean, however, that unless there is a fundamental change, we will be forever divided.
There is a need for a single world community of shared values. It is the only way we will ever achieve universal peace. But it can't be accomplished by creating a one-world market of consumers vying for more and newer products. Sadly, it won't be achieved by religious ecumenism either.
The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write about the time when Jesus Christ will return to this earth to establish His Father's Kingdom. He records in Isaiah 2:2-4:
"Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
Our Creator will allow humanity to exhaust every avenue to create peace and harmony. When the situation becomes hopeless, and universal destruction seems imminent, Jesus Christ will return to create the peace, harmony and prosperity all desire through leading all mankind to a singular worldview—the right worldview. God speed that day. GN