Re-thinking our Society
Maybe it’s because of the Guy Fawkes season, but I sense this time of year is one of compelling challenge and radical change – a chance to talk of reforming the structures we have created; a time (kairos) to believe differently….
Recently, one of the local Baptist churches hosted a showing of ‘The Divide’. Based on Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s book ‘The Spirit Level’, through personal stories this film illustrates the chasms which now face our broken society. There are the lives of the very rich – the ‘have-a-lots’, contrasted to ‘the haves’ but especially to ‘the ‘have-nots’. Gated communities to protect the privileged; ever-increasing debt for the poor. The consequences for everyone, stress, fear, ill-health and exhaustion. Surely this is no way to promote the happy and integrated community life which most of us aspire to?
If anything, this movie understates the brokenness and fragmentation. Full-time permanent employment, which is the main mechanism by which wealth is distributed, is fast disappearing. The International Labour Organisation suggests we shall need to create 600 million new jobs by 2025 to match a growing global population. Yet the numbers of adequately paid jobs is declining rapidly, and may well worsen in the UK after Brexit. There is no way this is sustainable unless we opt to accept zero hours’ contracts, low wages, and poorer working conditions.
We need to devise new ways of sharing money and income. We will need to value human skills and creativity in more innovative ways. This is one of the arguments for a Citizen’s Income (or Universal Basic Income) scheme – a far-reaching reappraisal of salaries, benefits, pensions and taxes resulting in a level of unconditional income as a human right for all. This is exactly what some northern European countries are piloting to make social and fiscal sense. In the longer term, it will strengthen the economy and restructure it on a more viable basis in the face of financial instability (see: www.citizensincome.org).
Human well-being and an adequate income for all is exactly what the Biblical principle of the Jubilee sets out. A regular corrective is built into society precisely to avoid excess and inequality. Land is to be re-distributed, debts written off and the most vulnerable given hope of a fairer future. Thus, would all families and communities be able to live abundantly - as it were living under their own vines and fig trees. In such a society food poverty, child malnutrition and poor living conditions are not perpetuated from generation to generation. Arguably this is the central message of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’, particularly with its reference to the forgiveness of debt (opheleima in Greek)!
This more idealistic lifestyle may not be easy for us to contemplate in a culture currently dominated by neo-liberal economic views and gross materialism, but neither should it be disregarded. When we live in such a disconnected society as ours, we must always hold before us a vision of what alternatives might be possible. This is at the core of being hope-full – of seeing what could be and letting that potential energise us to creating what may seem unreal and impossible.
Such ideals are embedded into many of our faith and belief traditions, though we may not always recognise them. But perhaps during this season of burning effigies we could include putting on the pyres the fragmentation which dehumanises us, and letting something fundamentally more wholesome emerge from the ashes. If we don’t have dreams of living differently, we may end up in a permanent nightmare of our own making…..
This article first appeared in Devon Green Churches News, November 2016