Here in France many people, especially the 10% out of work, are, as usual, hoping they can make it financially till the end of the month. Among the 50% of us who pay taxes, not a few are wondering how they are going to pay their next tax bills. A fortunate minority, including me, and not only the filthy rich, are financially comfortable enough not to have such worries. They are more concerned about keeping their jobs (or their pensions), avoiding burn-out (or dementia), and being at a safe distance when the next terrorist commits the next mass-murder.
Some are concerned about all those immigrants flooding into France and other wealthy countries in Europe. They are not worried FOR the immigrants but BY them, about the burden if not the threat they represent (some of them at least, Trump would claim, must be terrorists !). “Re-establish borders, refuse entry the way Hungary does, send them back to the war-zone. Charity begins at home. We’ve got enough problems as it is. As a respected French Prime Minister once said : ‘France cannot take in the misery of the whole world.’ Hey, I’d like another beer.”
I recently saw a movie entitled “Indian Summers”. The title referred not to unusually warm days in Autumn but to the laid-back life of Brits who had decided to confiscate the sub-continent. It portrayed how the British in the 19th and 20th centuries lived in luxury in this pearl of the Empire, while the vast majority of its Indian population lived in squalor, unless they were employed as servants (“boys”) of the foreign ruling class.
The Haves and the Have-Nots. It was ever thus. The former often owe their good fortune to their exploitation of the less fortunate, and, naturally, are dedicated to the status quo. (Some even claim their “divine right” to their privileges.) But there have always been others who fight for equality : equality of opportunity and of human rights, beginning with the right to have enough to eat, a place to live, a job to provide for one’s family, an education for their children as well as their and their own health care. In India Gandhi gave his life to the cause of justice and the emancipation of his people.
Every day we see unbearable evidence that the world, including India, is still far from Gandhi’s dream, as the U.S. is still far from Martin Luther King’s. Many of us feel we should do something to help eradicate poverty, to feed the hungry, to stop the wars and to care for their refugees. The Pope, and many Catholic parishes, have offered accommodation and assistance to a tiny, token fraction of the immigrants fleeing war-zones and poverty. We feel guilty and ashamed of our own indifference – or refusal – to give of ourselves and of our substance to our fellow human beings, whether abroad, at our borders or begging in our own mean streets. We may admire “Doctors without Borders” and the activists of other NGOs, but content ourselves, at best, with an occasional, tax-deductible, miniscule check.
Atheists or non-atheists, we all face a problem of conscience – if we have not already anaesthetized it. Whatever the source of our motivation, our very humanity obliges us to allow poverty and injustice to challenge our innate selfishness. The degree of our unselfishness will depend on whether or not we believe in liberty, equality and fraternity – universal values which we either allow to remain just a slogan or ideals which give meaning to our human condition. God does not help those who help themselves. But God help us if we do not help others. A selfish world is not only short-sighted but ultimately suicidal.
Am I my brother’s keeper ? My three brothers are all dead, as is one of my three sisters. But Christ told us that our neighbors are our brothers and sisters. I live in a semi-detached house. My immediate neighbor, on the other side of the wall we share, lives alone like me. She is five years older than me, which makes her 85. She has already had a couple of falls, so her daughter has given me the keys to intervene should her mother need help. It’s not much, but it’s the least I can do – until I myself need a neighbor to be his brother’s keeper, or at least watch-dog. No man or woman should be, unless they prefer it that way, an island.