Although like many people I am fortunate and live in a wealthy and industrialised, modern and technologically advanced society, I wonder whether for all that we take for granted, are modern societies all they are cracked up to be? In other words, are we any better than some of the tyrannies and dictatorships dotted around the world? Are the Western democracies really democracies, or democracies in name only? I now tend to believe the latter. Real democracy is compromise; it is not rule by the rich, of the rich, for the rich. Real democracy is the majority of people living any way they choose and having a say in how the country is run. Is getting a vote every four or five years really all we should expect from our system, or parliamentary democracy? I don’t think it is to be honest. And the extra question for Christians is, how far should we accept second-rate democracies and when, and how, do we begin to challenge and protest when governments are not really acting for the majority of people?
Freedom is a much misused word, and the reality is that one person’s idea of freedom could be someone else’s idea of tyranny. Real freedom is self-evident; in other words, where people have political, and other, freedoms they want more of it and in societies where there are limited or even no real freedoms, they want it! Nobody it seems wants dictatorships or military juntas or rule by self-serving wealthy elites. We often pride ourselves in the West of having the societies that are envied by less prosperous and seemingly less free societies in other parts of the world. It is true that for the most part in British society, we can live any way we want, say and write anything we want, do anything we want provided we don’t harm anyone else, dress any way we want and for the most part pursue any goals and ambitions we want, and nobody really cares either way because they are doing the same. Yes, all the above are definitions of freedoms that many of us take for granted in the West. But, and there had to be a ‘but’ didn’t there, for all this we have a political class that rules in our name, that is often far too narrow, far too privileged, perhaps far too wealthy and is far too little challenged when they make decisions that usually benefit wealthy corporations and wealthy and powerful people like themselves, where usually the ordinary citizen is the last consideration. There is far too much of this in Britain, and it seems many such democracies around the world; often we have a vote in everything, but a say in nothing. While gas and electric bills rise, and the cost of transport especially train travel rocket up year after year, and food and essentials go up far faster than inflation, politicians and governments of whatever political hue or persuasion seem hamstrung and unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Why do we vote these people in if they are going to be next to useless and do nothing or very little that they promised fervently they would?
Freedom is more than a word, freedom is what we as individuals, families, communities and nations should be pursuing for all humanity, and of course for ourselves too. Christian freedom paradoxically comes from being obedient and being good servants of God; there is no freedom, no real freedom, without the Law. My answer then to those who rule us and those who make the laws is that they should also learn how to be good servants of those who voted them in, and not just opportunists clinging to any convenient gravy train.
There must be a chance for people from ordinary backgrounds to get on in life and succeed and fulfil their ambitions, to share in the nation’s wealth and prosperity. Why are the wages of those at the top so high and the wages of those at the bottom usually so low? Isn’t there enough to go around? It seems not. The reality is that often people who are wealthy never seem to have enough, or are never satisfied, whilst the rest of us have no option but to live on a budget whether we like to or not. There truly is more to life than having lots of money and acquiring lots of money. There is a sadness in selfish and self-centred behaviour, when someone has millions or even billions of pounds, and the only thing that motivates them is to add more money to an already bulging bank account. Just what is the purpose of being even richer when you have almost everything anyway? ‘He entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.' And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. 'He has gone to stay at a sinner's house,' they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, 'Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.'’ (Luke 19:1-10 NJB)
Instead of moving into the 21st century, the class system and its nonsense and prejudice has kept Britain back in the 19th century, run by rather posh, rather otherworldly privately educated men, who seem to always get top jobs with high salaries in every sphere of British life. Isn’t it time we started demanding that our so-called democracy was actually run like a democracy, for all its people and not a pampered and privileged minority at the top?
How posh you are or how common you are seems to matter far more in British society than how talented you are, how intelligent you are, even how much drive and ambition you have. The consequences of this for British society is incalculable; a skewed society where often posh people, regardless of how little achievement or talent or intelligence they might have, are given preference over someone deemed not posh, or not the ‘right sort’. Yes it sounds, and indeed is, absurd, but this is still British society to some degree and the way it operates. It might seem that in some way or somehow, this is an ‘inevitable’ outcome of British society, that all the unfairness and injustice, all the double-standards and hypocrisy even are natural outcome of the way British people live. Nothing could be further from the truth; injustices come from skewed human systems, and systems, governments and corporations are made up of individual people. Evil and injustice are not natural outcomes, they are often the result of particular thinking and unjust political regimes. Sometimes it even seems that religion or organised Christianity is just another part of the social system, another natural outcome of human society; in short, sometimes it seems that British Christianity is just another appendage of the class system we all live under. Again, nothing could be further from the truth; it is not God that promotes unfairness and division, it is human society and individuals within societies that promote unfairness and division, often for very selfish ends. God truly is about fairness, justice and equality. ‘There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female -- for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28 NJB) All that is wrong about the world is part of the world system, and the world system is doomed to disappear and end in dissipation and disappointment. God’s Kingdom, a kingdom of peace, justice, righteousness, fairness and equality amongst many other good things, is what is coming and is what will last. The Christian should be in the world but not be a part of it. In other words, though we might live under a class system in Britain, or any other skewed system anywhere else, we should not be partakers in its injustice and we should not accept or add to the divisions and unfairness it creates. If God graciously and mercifully accepts all kinds of people, then so should we. If someone is racist or prejudiced in some way, perhaps they need to understand that this is not God’s plan for human beings. ‘He decided beforehand who were the ones destined to be moulded to the pattern of his Son, so that he should be the eldest of many brothers; it was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought into glory. After saying this, what can we add? If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:29-31 NJB)
In the world at large, there is division, injustice and often barely concealed rampant unfairness; those who are already privileged and wealthy often go on to become more privileged and wealthy, and the rest of us not so wealthy and privileged are meant to grin and bear it, or accept that we will have second rate lives unless we win the lottery or become successful ourselves in some way. And it is almost drummed into us that we should look up to those who are privileged in some way, even If the reality of such privilege and the truth behind it is often hidden from us. The world rejects many people because they are the ‘wrong’ class, or the ‘wrong’ colour, or have the ‘wrong’ accent or in whatever way are not deemed the right sort of person. We all know that this is unjust; what is Jesus’ answer? ‘Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me; I will certainly not reject anyone who comes to me(.)‘ (John 6:37 NJB) It might be hard for someone who is prejudiced towards other humans to understand this, but God created us all with love and as unique creations. Those who practise and promote division might one day find they are the ones left out.
People throughout the ages and everywhere on earth have been looking for paradise, a place where there are no troubles, enough to eat and everyone can do what their heart desires and live in peace with all. Is paradise a myth, a utopia never to be reached? In the West, they think it’s in the East, and in the East they think it’s in the West. Where shall we go to find paradise?
Our job as Christians who live in a deeply divided world is to live in peace with all people and to treat everyone else as we ourselves would wish to be treated, and to serve God with a whole heart. ‘…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’ (Joshua 24:15 KJV)