As a 65 year old I have realized that my fate is now in the hands of others. Will these others physically distance and stay home at great personal and economic cost or will they be indifferent? Will they be kind and recognize our profound social interdependence?
Rarely before has the understanding of, and respect for, human solidarity been the equation to determine whether others live or die? Little did I think that my core Christian belief that everyone carries the image of God and every life has dignity may become life saving for me and my generation. As a self-sufficient member of the rich West I thought this message applied only to the world’s poor as I dedicated much of my life’s work to serve them through World Vision Australia. But now I am dependent on the young in my society to accept and live by this ethic. As are we all.
Our Western culture has lived by the axiom that I can do what I like as long as I don’t hurt others. In many ways this was never really true even in pre Covid 19 times. We just never fully recognized our relational interdependence and shared climate vulnerabilities. We simply celebrated our individual freedoms and lived in their largesse. Most unreflected individual actions, often called freedoms to do what I want, impact on others and our planet because we are interdependent. Now with Covid 19 this has been made stark.
After World War 2 we made a fresh start to honour the sacrifice of millions with a NHS and aims of full employment. We built international rules and international institutions to recognize human solidarity. Paying one’s taxes after the war was a moral duty to show solidarity. But soon the advent of hyper individualism and social complacency about common sacrifice and solidarity eroded this insight and led to tax havens for the captains of success that robbed the common purse. Sadly this behavior will impact future generations who will be paying off the national debt accrued in Covid 19 for all the services on which our society depends-a debt burden long after I am gone.
We shifted from an ethic that said if we can mobilize for war we can mobilize for peace and build a fairer society based on our shared vulnerabilities. One that recognizes the human dignity of all. Then we shifted to an ethic that believed the best way to build society was to massively reward individuals and incentivize them through the market. Government that, in its essence, means collectively acting together for the good of all, was seen as the problem and needing to be tamed. But lurking unseen was the hidden reality that we are never just individuals but are all vulnerable and needing a society grounded in communal interdependence. Covid 19 has reawakened such communal interdependence and joint sacrifice.
Easter is about solidarity. As the Apostle Paul says when one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers. It about solidarity in failure and the need for salvation. Paul says though one man- Adam -death enters the world and through the death of the second Adam –Jesus- salvation and life enters. I will be reflecting on this one representative human whose death for us was to highlight human solidarity. That we are loved even in our shared frailties, selfishness and brokenness. All of us need saving and no one is superior, invulnerable or independent. This is an Easter vision that is deeply personal but not individualistic. For God so loved that world that he gave his son that we might live. Indeed, to live in a society where all are protected, all equally share the burden so that all might flourish.
By Tim Costello, Former CEO of World Vision Australia
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