Assault on our common solidarity

One of the central tenets of Christianity is the belief that God the Father sent Jesus into the world to redeem a fallen world.

Aug 30, 2017

By Anil Netto
One of the central tenets of Christianity is the belief that God the Father sent Jesus into the world to redeem a fallen world.

Through his passion for building the kingdom of God, he sought to repair the broken bonds of solidarity — between the Father and the individual and, by extension, the whole of humanity; between ourselves and our neighbours, and between humanity and the rest of Creation.

Jesus did not set about on his work alone. Almost everything he did — after his isolation in the desert and early morning sojourns up the hills — was geared toward community. Those who believed were invited to become part of a community of believers.

When the crowd who had gathered to listen to his preaching began to feel hungry, Jesus did not send them home. Instead, he took the loaves and fish presented to him by a boy and shared it among the multitude — and there was plenty left over.

Now, we do not know exactly how he accomplished this. Perhaps the rest of the crowd were encouraged to share what food they had brought along with others present — which would have been a miracle enough — or perhaps it was a supernatural miracle. But the point is, an individual act of sharing what one had — an inspiring act of community solidarity — proved to be the catalyst in the miraculous feeding of the multitude. Everyone not only had enough to eat but there were plenty of scraps left over.

At the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he exhorted his followers to be One — and not to let barriers divide them. So inspired were his early followers, they took Jesus at his word — literally. They shared their belongings with the community and made sure no one lacked anything. The earlier Christian communities also extended aid to poorer Christian communities further away.

This concept of solidarity extending to other areas produced some high points in human history. Britain’s post-war National Health Service, which used public funds to provide free healthcare for all, irrespective of the ability of pay, was one such example. (But since neoliberal thinking took hold from the 1970s, the social welfare-for-all principles of the NHS has been eroded.)

Right up to the 1980s, we, in Malaysia, had three key areas in life where the bonds of community solidarity were evident:

Education: When we were growing up, we all attended the same schools (apart from those in rural areas where the schools suffered a lack of resources). Sure there were elite schools, but school fees and other expenses were relatively minimal. Children from rich families mingled with those from poorer backgrounds in these schools even if those from richer families dominated the elite schools.

Healthcare: Private hospitals were rare, the exception rather than the rule. Most people visited government hospitals, which charged nominal fees that were affordable to almost everyone. And if for some reason, a patient couldn’t pay, the fees were invariably waived or written off.

Housing: In many neighbourhoods, children from better off families mingled with those not so well off. The favourite meeting places for games were at neighbourhood open fields or streets. Low-cost housing was built next to terrace or semi-detached houses: so we were never far away from one another in fairly mixed neighbourhoods.

At the root of all this was a progressive tax system, where those who were wealthier paid higher rates of tax and those who were poorer paid minimal or no tax, so there were more public funds available for essential services.

This system wasn’t perfect, but much of it has been undermined, the solidarity weakened, by the relentless onslaught of neoliberal economics, with its “survival of the fittest” and “user pay” principles.

Company tax rates and tax rates for the wealthy were gradually reduced, leaving the state with less revenue to subsidise education, healthcare and public housing. So, these subsidies have been slashed as the gap between the rich and the poor widened. .Now, we have separate private schools and private hospitals and gated communities, complete with security guards, for those who can afford to pay more. Fences, walls and burglar alarms sprouted. And so the physical gulf between the rich and the poor widened to match the widening gaps in income and wealth.

As we lived in separate areas, went to separate schools and hospitals, we began to learn less and less of our neighbours. The bonds of solidarity weakened.

The economic model — based on “you receive what you pay for” — encouraged us to become more and more individualistic. This model, along with the shift to regressive taxation, encouraged us to think only of ourselves and our immediate families. Even the bonds of solidarity found in extended families was eroded.

Not only that: our bonds with Creation grew strained. It was as if a barrier now separated our concrete jungle from Nature. Walking on bare earth made many of us feel uncomfortable. So we poured cement, concrete and tar all over the premises of our homes, our schools, our open green spaces, even our places of worship.

To feed our insatiable appetite for the latest gadgets, cars, fashion accessories, natural resources are depleted, forests are cleared, dams are built — driving out entire communities that those of us in urban areas cannot see or hear.

In business, the solidarity in workers unions was eroded — by oppressive legislation, economic forces (eg outsourcing) and unsympathetic employers, who are pressured to maximise profits and dividends to shareholders. So today, a shrinking minority of workers are unionised. Migrant workers and refugees are in a worse situation, more easily exploitable.

Against this relentless assault on our common solidarity and our solidarity with Creation, we are called to somehow strengthen our broken or strained bonds.

We can take inspiration from those who have showed us the way, by doing their little bit to build and sustain communities of solidarity, love and compassion wherever we are.

Above all, we can draw inspiration from the One who sacrificed his life in building a new world with stronger bonds of solidarity — Bread Broken for a New World. It is time to restore this solidarity in every facet of life.

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