The World in a Wafer: Globalization, Localization, and the Lord’s Supper

September 5, 2014

Driving down Hawthorne Boulevard the other day I looked up to see Portland, Oregon’s version of Whole Foods called New Seasons Market. The tagline on the building says, “Locally Owned, Locally Grown.” On their website New Seasons is filled with phrases such as “home grown,” “we live local,” and “commitment to the community.” New Seasons is popular in Portland, like the other local restaurants and shops that seem to open daily in Southeast Portland. What is it about local that people love? Why are many cities in the U.S. seeing a resurgence of the Ma & Pa stores? And is there something deeper people are reaching for?

The local la la is at least in part a reaction to the phenomenon known as globalization. Globalization is the process of international integration of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. Globalization was triggered by advances in communication and transportation, but most recently it has been accelerated by the Internet. In short, globalization flattens space and time detaching things from particular localities. (I am not curmudgeonly enough yet to think either of these movements are inherently bad. What bothers me is a false dichotomy where one ignores the benefits of the opposing services. My opinion is that it is best for them to live in tension. But that does not mean each faction does not have its own ripple effects.)

Globalization, as Cavanaugh puts it, is a “master narrative.”[1] While bringing things together, ironically it fragments things. The Mcdonaldization of Society causes everything and everyone to line up and taste the same burger in less than a 90 second wait. Whether one is in Paris, Kentucky or Paris, France the McDouble is offered with the same “cheese” and ketchup. But the masternarrative “produces fragmented subjects incapable of telling a genuinely catholic story.”[2] The catholicity of the movement subsumes the local under the universal and everything loses its distinctiveness. Cavanaugh gives the example of Mexican food being popularized in places like Minnesota.

Just as the food must be universalized and made bland enough to appeal potentially to the taste of anyone anywhere, to compete there must be a simultaneous emphasis on its unique qualities; advertised images must be rooted in a particular location, for example the traditional Mexican culture of the abuelita before the clay oven sipping pulque and shaping tortillas in the palm of her hand. Anyone who has stood at a Taco Bell counter and watched a surly white teenager inject burritos with a sour cream gun knows how absurd these images are.[3]

The ephemeral particularity is the flipside of a dominant universality. The illusion of diversity is shattered by the combined architectural Pizza Huts and Taco Bells. Everyone knows Italy and Mexico are not together enclosed in the clear glass double-doors.

New Seasons and other local shops and restaurants therefore resist the globalization by bragging of their local space. Rather than flattening time and space, they open themselves up to the space surrounding them by not garnering their products (at least not all of them) from Florida and China. This resistance is met with open arms, for people desire to feel a sense of rootedness, of belonging.[4]

Cavanaugh rightly argues in his article that the Lord’s Supper, or what he refers to as the Eucharist, overcomes the dichotomy of the universal and the local. By collapsing spatial divisions, the Lord’s Supper tells a spatial story about the destiny of the world. The Lord’s Supper is catholic in the truest sense. It is celebrated by those across the world who acknowledge the Lordship of the man from Galilee. However it has a “decentered center; it is celebrated in the multitude of local churches scattered throughout the world, with a great diversity of rites, music, and liturgical spaces.”[5] The Lord’s Supper is a region whose middle point is everywhere, yet also restricted. The Body of Christ is present in each rite (with the body of Christ) across the African huts, the Protestant warehouses, and the Roman Catholic cathedrals. The Lord’s Supper unites while also respecting the locality of each congregation. The Lord’s Supper refocuses space so that the more one becomes united to the whole the more tied one becomes to local. The global ensues centered locality, and further locality enlarges globalization. Thereby world in a sense collapses in the local assembly in the taking of the bread and wine.

And the Lord’s Supper not only overcomes the dichotomy of the universal and local but tells a cosmic story. Hebrews 12:22-24 speaks of those coming to Mount Zion. Mountains are intermediary sites where the heavenly and the earthly meet. And where the two realms meet there is a city. In the city there is a festal gathering of the firstborn which is a way of describing a sizeable feast. On Mount Zion the whole church is united and the temporal and spatial walls are torn down. It is a local celebration with global proportions, and global portions. “The consumer of the Eucharist is no longer the schizophrenic subject of global capitalism, awash in a sea of unrelated presents, but walks into a story with a past, present, and future.”[6] The consumer by absorbing a body is absorbed into a new body. The localities of the world’s distinct cuisine are on the common table, and a chair exists for people from every nation. The world is in a wafer.

Neither New Seasons nor McDonalds should be shunned. They are both reaching for a greater meal each has their part to play in the arch of the cosmos bending toward a great reality. We don’t get many descriptions of what the kingdom of heaven will be like, but we do know that it will be a meal, and we also know that many nations will be gathering. A joyous global and local feast approaches.

Patrick Schreiner

Patrick Schreiner is associate professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24