It seems to me we are fighting a war against the globalisation of indifference. As I look around our neighbourhoods and communities, and examine our country’s response to human needs both locally and internationally, our explanations of why we cannot do anything to make a difference fall very short of what we should expect of ourselves as Christians.
Our willingness and capacity to look the other way is somehow a measure of our own humanity and highlights our inability to fight for what is right, however difficult and challenging it may be.
The call to be a neighbour is threaded through our Christian faith and is fundamental to how we see ourselves in relation to God and the love that God has for all humanity. Organisations like Baptistcare are always at the edge of this dilemma; how do we work with limited resources and who do we prefer in our work; is it our Governments’ desires or those of our communities and of God? I often talk about the ‘last, the lost and the least’ or perhaps more recognisably, I use the phrase, ‘the preferential option for the poor’. It is this that distinguishes us and marks us out as Christian. It is the Vision of ‘transformed and enriched lives’ for Baptistcare which keep us going. Remaining the same and doing what we’ve always done will mean that nothing changes.
I want to quote from an article written by Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo from The Vatican and representing the Pope in the Global Freedom Network, entitled ‘The current situation: The question of happiness and the value of just institutions and norms’, where he challenges us to ‘consider our neighbour, without exception, as another self, taking into account first of all his or her life and the means needed to live it with dignity…above all we must make ourselves the neighbour of every person without exception and actively help him or her when he or she crosses our path, whether he or she is an old person abandoned by everyone, a foreign labourer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child suffering in the streets, a hungry and excluded person, or a victim of modern slavery and human trafficking who calls on our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord: ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Mt 25:40).
It seems to me our governments rely on us forgetting what its like to be a neighbour, as we decide whether we value each other or not, using the economic lens to judge, discarding those who are economically useless or profitless.
The commentary about dignity is essential for the way agencies like Baptistcare will distinguish itself in our culture and society in Australia, as well as locally and globally as we always keep the last, the lost and the least at the front of our consciousness and prioritise our work accordingly. If we don’t, we are guilty of adopting an attitude of cultural euthanasia, silencing and making invisible, those who we no longer want to see or have a presence on our community. Is that what we want?
In particular I have been thinking about the changes to our aged care services which we are experiencing at the moment, the changes to funding and different opportunities for our older citizens to have access to suitable services. Much is made of the ‘user pays’ philosophy, but the trouble is, it removes dignity from those who cannot pay, and judges them as wanting. Our language is unhelpful, even though the principles are useful.
All of us, if we’re lucky will be ‘old’ one day. Being old offers all of us with time to reflect and harvest the lessons of a lifetime in the service of our communities, families and for our young people and children. Honouring and sharing the lessons of the past, holding onto hope for the future is a significant gift arising from old age.
Pope Francis last year in Rio de Janeiro’s San Sebastian Cathedral asked people to raise their voices in order to change the course of history. He asked his audience:
‘to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable … everything that might encourage us to be closed in on ourselves. Look, at this moment, I think our world civilization has gone beyond its limits; it has gone beyond its limits because it has made money into such a god that we are now faced with a philosophy and a practice which exclude the two ends of life that are most full of promise for peoples. They exclude the elderly, obviously. You could easily think there is a kind of hidden euthanasia, that is, we don’t take care of the elderly; but there is also a cultural euthanasia, because we don’t allow them to speak, we don’t allow them to act. And there is the exclusion of the young. The percentage of our young people without work, without employment, is very high and we have a generation with no experience of the dignity gained through work. This civilization, in other words, has led us to exclude the two peaks that make up our future’.
And in the midst of this, we exclude the stranger, the poor and dispossessed, we strip them of dignity and humanity; and we are busy turning our countries into fortresses, besieged in our minds by the ‘enemy’ from without as well as from within, described and created by our Governments to distract us. The refugee and asylum seeker, alongside the elderly, the young, the unemployed and poor are no longer welcome in our society. It is a society that is becoming far more judgemental, far more exclusive and which is sharply divided on itself. Alienation is rampant in our neighbourhoods and we are blind to God who offers a way forward.
So my question is: where is dignity in all this and how have we come to such indifference that we no longer care unless it directly affects me and my money?