The parlous state of our societies and the apparent paralysis of those charged with leadership of the institutions traditionally tasked with the guidance of society have given rise to a flurry of naming and blaming.
What or who is responsible for the upsurge in crime, the failure of institutions, the collapse of the economic order?
Education is a convenient scapegoat as the products of schools are easily identifiable. But of course, this whipping boy is the wrong bobolee as education and its products emerge from the total society of which schools, especially the much vilified ‘prestige schools’ are but a small part.
The opening statement of our Lenten observance, “Remember that you are dust…” and the traditional celebration of March as a month dedicated to St Joseph, patron of workers and work, among other aspects of life, suggest alternative lines of reflection and action.
The human person is God-breathed-on-dust, as one exegete underlines, a definition that implies that each human being is personally, intimately and continually known and loved by God, that each such person is part of the entire family of created beings, and has a duty of obedience to the Creator and Sustainer of all life, and of care to all of creation.
This view of society demands that we approach every interaction from a position of respect since each created thing and every other person participates in the same breathing out of God and the same origin and destiny—dust. It also changes the way we look at work, not as a punishment to be avoided, or a commodity to be exchanged for more things, but as a participation in the very creative activity of God.
However, it is precisely this commodification of all human behaviour that has contributed to the present state of affairs. Life and every interaction is measured in terms of what gain the individual can achieve – so relationships are assessed in view of their perceived benefits in cash, influence or entertainment, and are subject to the laws of the marketplace. If they no longer yield dividends, cash them in.
Work is narrowly viewed for its profitability, as is political activity, church roles, philanthropy and service. So it is no surprise that the Other is seen, not as a neighbour, someone to whom we must draw nigh, but as a competitor for scarce resources who must be eliminated.
This is as old as Genesis, as Shakespeare, as Machiavelli, as your sibling. So we know the score, just as we know how to change the tune.
This weekend’s Scripture Readings set before us the Commandments, the directions for use if we would be human. Unfortunately, we act as if they were options offered for our selection or rejection.
We would not treat the directions in our car manual as casually, yet, the Laws of our making get short shrift from us. Scapegoating may provide temporary distraction from the pain of our disobedience, but the way back is clearly marked out for us, a Way of the Cross, but the only road to salvation.