August 8, 2014

Reclaiming Communication for Fullness of Life

Reclaiming Communication for Fullness of Life:
Busan Communication Statement

By Young-cheol Cheon

1.      Background: The importance of the Statement

God of life! The theme for the WCC 10th Assembly begins with these words: God of life, lead us to justice and peace. This means the theme based on the doctrine of God, the Creator of all of life, instead of Christology or pneumatology.

To reflect this theme by communication perspective, the international consultation was held in Busan, Korea, 22-25 May 2012. It organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), and the Korean Host Committee for the WCC 10th Assembly(KHC).

The consultation issued the statement called ‘Busan Communication Statement: Reclaiming communication for life, justice and peace.’ The latest statement on communication at the WCC assemblies was the ‘Communication Credibly’ at the Vancouver Assembly in 1983. Historically, WCC addressed the issue of communication at the Uppsala (1968) and Vancouver (1983) Assemblies. It shows communication does not play a key agenda in the WCC assemblies. There was more practical approach than theological one to communication.

Thus, the Busan communication statement is an important document in the ecumenical movement to develop communication theology and also for the WCC 10th Assembly.

2.      The Context of Communication: Globalization and Media

In today’s world, the context of communication is strongly related to the process of globalization based on neoliberalism. The Busan communication statement points out that “Political, economic, social, and cultural structures have been transformed by globalization and technological innovation.”

What is the relationship between globalization and media?
In fact, in the process of globalization, media and communication have a central place. Without the global media system, cultural globalization and even economic globalization would be impossible. The global media system plays a central role in economic and cultural globalization to promote and control global markets.

Particularly, Cyberspace communication is the driving force for globalization. The process of globalization has a strong cultural dimension, as transnational corporations homogenize consumer goods and services all over the world. This process is being aided by Cyberspace communication.

The statement says “despite the potential of social media, a few powerful corporations and individuals continue to decide whose voices are heard and what images are seen by the public, allowing them to shape policy, form public opinion, and move people toward war or peace.”

In other words, the development of Cyberspace communication formed a powerful tool in the globalization process. This has resulted in the domination of global markets by transnational corporations.

3.      God of life: Communication for Life

My presentation will focus on life and communication by an East Asian perspective. Then I will explore the relationship between communication for life and the concept of justice and peace.

What is the meaning of life? The term ‘life’ is such a big word like as ‘love’ or ‘truth’. Thus, we cannot simply define what life is and the boundary between life and non-life. To examine an answer for this question, we need an integral and multi-dimensional approach such as social, cultural, ethical, ecological and theological analysis.

As a theological answer to the question of ‘what is life’, life is a gift of God. This was the first sub-theme of the Vancouver Assembly. The theme of the Vancouver Assembly was “Jesus Christ – the Life of the World.” According to Paulos Mar Gregorios, there are two different but related kinds of life as a gift: first, biological life by creation, and second, eternal life by the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. Although biological life is temporary, he points out that not only is eternal life a far superior gift, but also biological life is a gift of God’s grace.

Then, what is the relationship between God and life?

Moltmann’s creation theology is an example to explore an answer of this question. According to Moltmann, when we understand nature as God’s creation, nature is ‘the world’. In terms of the relationship between God and the world, Moltmann describes “God in the world and the world in God.” This means his creation theology based on a form of ‘panentheism’ (the Greek terms “pan”, meaning all, “en”, meaning in, and “theism”, meaning God). According to P. Clayton, panentheism is defined as the view that “the world is within God, though God is at the same time more than the world”. The center of Moltmann’s creation theology is “the recognition of the presence of God in the world and the presence of the world in God.”

3.1  An East-Asian Perspective on life

What are Asian traditional perspectives on life?

     The statement notes that “All living beings consist of many cells that can only survive if there is communication between them. In the traditional Eastern worldview, as well as that of many indigenous peoples, the universe is understood to be an integrated whole, an interdependent organism. This view helps us to see that communication is the essence of life and that human beings are in communication with all creation.

The Eastern traditional worldview is organic holism while the Western one is largely anthropocentric and dualistic. It looks at the universe as an organism, which means “all of the parts of the entire cosmos belong to one organic whole and that they all interact as participants in one spontaneously self-generating life process” (Wei-Ming, T.). Thus human beings are organically connected with other living beings as an integral part of the cosmos. Compared with the Western worldview, this shows the different ideas of value and the different cultural backgrounds to understand the meaning of life.

For example, Tao, which is usually translated as ‘the Way’, is one of the most important concepts in East Asia.
According to Taoism, Tao is the ultimate beginning of the world and cosmic substance. Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, describes Tao in Chapter 42 of Tao Te Ching:

Way gave birth to one, and one gave birth to two.
Two gave birth to three, and three gave birth to the ten thousand things.
Then ten thousand things shouldered yin and embraced yang, blending chi to establish harmony. (Hinton, 2002, p. 51)

This denotes a primordial unity. The ‘One’ refers to the primordial totality. It firstly splits into two opposing yin and yang, and then interaction between yin and yang gives rise to a mediating third force, chi from which comes all things.

While Tao produces the ‘ten thousand things’ (all things in the universe), the ten thousand things constitute Tao. Thus we can find Tao everywhere.

In addition, all things are the result of the integration of two basic vital forces of yin and yang in Taoism. Thus, all things including heaven and earth as well as human beings must possess the elements of yin, yang and Tao. This means the life of all living beings is a oneness. It shows Taoism has an organismic worldview in which there is no such dualism as subject and object.

As for yin and yang in Taoism, it penetrates all of life; for instance, heaven is yang, earth is yin; sun is yang, moon is yin; man is yang, woman is yin. Although yin and yang are opposite, there is no conflict between them. Instead, yin and yang coexist and interact. Moreover they generate chi (or ‘ki’ as pronounced in Korean and spelled as ‘qi’ in China) to establish harmony.

In short, it is not an issue of which one is true or not, between Eastern and Western worldviews. Instead, to overcome the limitations of Western perspectives, we need to utilize the collective wisdom to come up with East-West integrated studies. This means that the East and the West should examine and review their mutual traditional thinking, suggest alternatives, and review them with each other.

3.2 Relationship between Life and Communication

What is the relationship between life and communication? How, then, does the Eastern traditional worldview affect the communication perspective?

Based on the traditional worldviews in East Asia, language, which is based on human senses, has limits in communicating. Language is insufficient to explain human consciousness and it is not even suitable to communicate with other living being. For instance, according to Taoism, human beings and all other beings are produced by Tao. Thus, it cannot be understood by human media such as language but it can be understood through our mind beyond language.

Thus we have to consider various ways of communication beyond language. Since all living beings are communicating subjects, not objects to be communicated to, we have to overcome the anthropocentric perspective on communication. In this way, we human beings may build a community with all living beings and develop harmonious relationships with them to live together on the earth.

For these reasons, I suggest a communication value named ‘communication for life’. The notion of ‘communication for life’ can not simply define. Just as the notion of life is integral and holistic, communication for life is not fragmented communication but holistic, integral communication among humans and other living beings. This holistic and integral approach is an Asian mode of thinking to understand the concept of communication for life.

Communication is the essence of life. All living beings are communicating entities. Without communication, no living being can exist. For example, the human body consists of billions of cell. These cells consist of organs such as brain, heart, stomach and so on. The human body can sustain and survive because of communication between them. If there is dis-communication, it causes illness or death of the human body. In other words, dis-communication means death of the living being. This perspective can also be applied to the universe as a vast integrated unit. In this sense, it can be said that communication is a synonym for life.

     The statement point out that “Without communication there would be no life. Creation was, and is, an act of communication. Communication was, and is, an act of creation.

In conclusion, communication for life is to live together with all living beings. Humans and other living beings in the universe do not exist in isolation but exist co-dependently. Thus, the role of communication is important to link with all living beings. Communication for life strengthens the harmonious relationships between humans and nature in order to bring cosmic harmony and peace.

The three sub themes of the WCC Busan assembly are ‘Life together in Faith: Unity and Mission’, ‘Life together in Hope: for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation in the world’, and ‘Life together in Love: for a Common Future’. In other words, communication for life means life together in faith, hope and love with humans and other living beings. Thus the statement notes that “In a world that has enabled people of different backgrounds, religions and cultures to be more aware of each other and their inter-connectedness, communication has the potential to promote life together in faith, hope and love.

 When we consider life, we have to recognize the threats to life. The statement describes “Communication also plays a vital role in confronting threats to life. It affirms life by promoting truth-telling, fairness, participation, dialogue, openness, and inclusion. Communication that threatens life is characterized by censorship, misinformation, hate-speech, lies, and exclusion.

Communication for life is to overcome communication for death and to bring mutual living to the human society and the entire cosmos. It is to fullness of life for all living beings. All communication that fosters values such as harmonious relationships, peace, justice, participation and coexistence is communication for life. By contrast, all communication which fosters values such as confrontation, conflict, injustice, exclusion and domination is communication for death.

These concepts also can find out at the WCC’s a new affirmation on mission and evangelism “Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.” According to the statement, “Mission comprehends the whole of creation. We are called to move beyond a narrowly human-centred approach and to re-discover ways of mission which express our reconciled relationship with all created life.” It affirms that “the mission of God’s Spirit is to renew the whole creation.” Then it calls to “participate in God’s mission beyond our human-centred goals. God’s mission is to all life and we have to both acknowledge it and serve it in new ways of mission.” This shows that WCC’s mission work will focus on overcoming human-centered mission and including salvation of the whole creation.

4.      Lead us to Justice: Communication for Life and Justice

What is the relationship between communication for life, justice and peace? How they relate to each other?

We cannot speak about the life apart from the threats to life. In fact, we live in a world where all life is threatened by the power of death.

How can we recognize the power of death?

The power of death is recognized in the growth of violence in human life and the destruction of nature. It is also recognized in political, social and economic injustice.

For example, the Accra Confession of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) declares that the signs of the times challenge us to recognize that the life of human beings and the rest of creatures and the earth are under serious crisis. Moreover, it states the cause of crisis is related to the development of neoliberal economic globalization. In this sense, the power of death is strongly connected to the neoliberal globalization in contemporary society.

Communication has an important role in overcoming the power of death and accomplishing justice. In other words, communication for justice means overcoming the communication for the power of death which is the threat to life.

5.      Lead us to Peace: Communication for Life and Peace

The concept of harmony is an example to explore the relationship between communication for life and peace.

Harmony is the cardinal concept of the Asian worldview as well as communication. The Scripture of Great Peace (Taiping jing) is an important Taoist text of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.) The text contains a wealth of information about communication between Heaven, Earth, and humanity.

According to the Scripture of Great Peace, harmonious communication between Heaven, Earth and human beings is most important to establish the Great Peace in the universe (We can understand that ‘Heaven’ means God, ‘Earth’ means all creatures). This Great Peace is not only for human beings but also for all living beings.

In other words, without reciprocal communication between humans and other living beings, Great Peace in the universe will not come true.

For instance, the lack of mutual communication between the three elements causes cosmic disorder. But if there is mutual communication between them, the era of Great Peace will come. In short, harmonious communication between human beings and other living creatures will bring Great Peace on earth. It is a way to live together with all living beings on the earth.

6.      Conclusion

     The statement notes “Communication for life, justice and peace affirms the centrality of communication rights to mass, community and social media and to restoring voice and visibility to vulnerable, disadvantaged and excluded people in a spirit of genuine solidarity, hope and love. God of life, in your grace, lead us to communicate justice and peace.

There are two focal points of a communication value ‘communication for life.

First, communication has to overcome the anthropocentric perspective on communication. Second, communication has to overcome communication for the power of death and to bring mutual living to the human society and the entire cosmos.

Overcoming the communication for death, which is the threat to life, is communication for justice. In addition, communication for peace is the harmonious and mutual communication between humans and also between humans and other living beings to bring Great Peace on earth.

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