May they all be One

On Sept 16 we celebrated Malaysia Day. This time it was under the cloud of the coronavirus, an economic downturn and political upheaval.

Sep 20, 2020

By Anil Netto
On Sept 16 we celebrated Malaysia Day. This time it was under the cloud of the coronavirus, an economic downturn and political upheaval.

In recent months, the old politics of race and religion has made a comeback of sorts in a pushback, a renewed attempt at pursuing an exclusive vision while dividing society.

On the surface, this appears to have crushed the dream of a new Malaysia based on unity in diversity, founded on justice and compassion for the vulnerable.

But the irony is that those behind the divisive politics of race and religion are themselves divided and fragmented.

Those who aspired for a more inclusive nation should not lose heart. God is in control of our world, and our destiny, and He wishes good things for the world, in the same way He saw that what He had created in Genesis was “good”.

Today, we can see a stirring among the younger generation and a growing distaste for communal parties, as is evident in Sabah.

In a way, Sabah gives us hope that a new way of life that transcends ethnicity and religious barriers is possible, maybe even on the horizon.

To their credit, Sabah and Sarawak have shown us how people of diverse backgrounds can live in peace and harmony, without the divisive politics we are so accustomed to in the peninsula.

In the Malaysian context, we are often  conditioned to think of unity as confined to ethnic and religious tolerance, given the backdrop of growing polarisation.

Yet, unity is much more than improved ethnic and religious relations among the people; it is much broader, all-encompassing. In the Garden of Eden, we noticed unity, harmony and interconnectedness. The whole of Creation was united – human beings and other living organisms, thriving within a vibrant ecosystem.

But greed, envy, violence and exploitation got in the way and destroyed that precious inter-relationship and interconnectedness. What was meant for all – the Commons – was coveted for huge profits. Labour was exploited to accumulate extraordinary wealth, leaving the vast majority living in misery.

In John 17:21, Jesus prayed: “May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”

It is not enough to improve ethnic and religious relations to realise that One-ness. We need a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and resources so that everyone has  the opportunity to live life to the full. Without socioeconomic justice, there can be no real unity.

The pandemic has revealed that our world is sick – and it is not just due to the coronavirus. The virus of selfishness and accumulation has led to rising inequalities around the world.

It will take active intervention to reduce these inequalities. The first thing that must be done is to introduce a wealth tax to reduce the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

There are other measures that can be applied. We need to reverse the current regressive taxation system to a more progressive system. We need to tax income from work (labour income) and income from assets (capital income) equally, while raising corporate, income and inheritance taxes.

The authorities should take stronger action to curb tax avoidance (which is legal, through clever means of reducing tax payable) and tax evasion (which is illegal).

In certain European countries, those with enough income don’t mind paying higher taxes as everything is then taken care of  – free healthcare, free education, old-age pensions for all, unemployment benefits. No need to worry about saving huge sums of money to pay for medical emergencies, children’s education or old age.

So government spending should be made more progressive by spending more on social support and essential services such as public healthcare and public education.

Our understanding of unity should be broad enough to ensure that all those within our borders are treated justly, humanely, in fraternity and solidarity – the stateless and refugees, the migrants, the asylum seekers, the marginalised communities, the forgotten elderly, the sick, the Orang Asal and the Orang Asli.

They are all human beings made in the image of God.

We also need to reach out to people of other faiths in the spirit of being One with all, in the mystical bond that holds the entire Creation together.

It is not just relations with the human family that we should strengthen. We should heal and repair our broken relationship with nature. Look around and see the ample evidence of this brokenness: chopped down forests, massive reclamation, polluted rivers, plastics in the ocean that are killing the fish, forest fires, polar ice caps melting. This must change.

May we strengthen our solidarity with all those who are suffering and heal our broken bonds with one another and with nature.

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