In search of lasting wealth...

It appears as if there is a concerted attempt to highlight issues of ethnicity and religion. It seems that almost any issue can be turned or twisted into an ethnic and religious issue in an effort to whip up primordial sentiments for political gain. Now this is worrying.

Mar 14, 2019

By Anil Netto
It appears as if there is a concerted attempt to highlight issues of ethnicity and religion. It seems that almost any issue can be turned or twisted into an ethnic and religious issue in an effort to whip up primordial sentiments for political gain. Now this is worrying.

This is a pity in a new Malaysia which seeks to move beyond the barriers of ethnicity and religion that were entrenched in the old Malaysia. That said, many among the local income group, especially among the bottom 40%, are fearful of being left behind in the current economic model.

Instead of looking into the causes of their predicament and how their socio-economic position can be improved, much time and energy is being wasted in whipping up ethno-religious sentiment.

The neoliberal model that some have embraced emphasises the survival of the fittest. Those with extra capital and income have an advantage as the system concentrates wealth in their hands. Two major sectors where this is evident are the financial and real estate sectors, which feed off each other, as ‘investors’ or rather speculators zero in on projects where there are enormous profits to be made.

Often projects, especially construction, seem to be decided based on the billions in project costs rather than the actual benefit to the people. And most of these projects involve placing cement in the ground or building concrete structures in the belief that this is good for the economy – and then the wealth would somehow trickle down to the people.

As a recent commentary online observed, if you dig a hole in the ground and get someone to fill it up with cement, the cost of doing this would add to GDP.

In Jesus’ time, we had the Temple in Jerusalem. The original temple was probably not very big. But along came Herod the Great, who wanted to leave his mark behind, especially in Jerusalem, which he wanted to turn into his showpiece. And so he expanded the premises around the temple so that it covered a vast area spanning 1.5 million square feet or close to two dozen football fields. Lots of shiny marble, porticos, majestic pillars, and a vast elevated plaza. The temple walls soared ten storeys from the ground.

No doubt, this helped the local economy as well. It is said that 10,000 labourers were involved and a thousand masons.

The end result: the Temple became perhaps the largest sacred site in the Roman Empire.

In doing this, Herod fed into the people’s religious and community pride as he knew the temple was at the centre of their religious lives especially during the Passover time. The Temple was also at the centre of political and governmental leadership at that time, so a grand structure lent prestige to Herod himself.

And yet, when Jesus approached the Temple as Passover approached, he must have had mixed feelings. He had seen how the landholding aristocrats and religious leaders placed heavy burdens on the people including through the collection of taxes.

The Sadducees, in particular, were highly conservative but were wealthy. They collaborated with the Roman rulers and also participated in the Sanhedrin. So they were not the most popular among the ordinary folks in town.

When Jesus toppled the moneychangers’ tables, he struck at the heart of the Temple system. It was not animal sacrifices or exaggerated externalities that Jesus was interested in. He wanted love, mercy and compassion – and this was in scant supply in the interpretation of religious piety of the time – and perhaps in our time too.

As we observe Lent, it is worthwhile to take a look at the economic system and the power structures in our own world.

Are the revenue generators in the global economy, the sources of immense profits, putting that wealth to the needs of ordinary people? Or are they concentrating that wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

Who are the prime beneficiaries? Who are those who are struggling? Who are those who place a heavy burden on the people?

How is it that fabulous wealth is earned in certain sectors, while others can barely cover the monthly expenses of their families?

Why is it that the environment has to bear the relentless cost of GDP growth? As an article in the Guardian pointed out recently, “If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with up to 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.” It added that the production of concrete is believed to be responsible for 4-8 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

So as the youth of the world protest on 15 March calling on the people of the world to do more to curb climate change, we too need to reflect on our own roles. Are we following the system or do we need to do more to uphold the values of the new kingdom?

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