What do Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Nigel Farage of UK Brexit fame, Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte and Pope Francis have in common? They are all “outsiders” who have tapped into a backlash of widespread discontent and anger from hundreds of millions of people who feel disenfranchised by the political, ecclesial and economic establishments which have taken a stranglehold on the global levers and benefits of power and capital. Each has been a catalyst in unleashing a tidal wave of social upheaval of tsunami-like proportions.

Each has offered new hope. It may be based on nationalism, xenophobia, racism, a socialist dream or a Christian gospel of justice and mercy. Whatever the driving force, hope is on offer. In a world of 15-second TV sound bites, high unemployment, widespread poverty and clear signs that the divide between the rich and the poor is widening by the minute, these  leaders have given hope to those who feel shut out of the mainstream.

This huge groundswell of people has finally managed to have a say. They feel disenfranchised,  that nobody cares about them. They are saying, “no more”.

At the heart of this disenfranchisement lies a core problem — the god of neo-liberal economics. In every corner of the world, including New Zealand with Rogernomics, its forces have divided people into winners and losers, haves and have-nots. The public purse has been carved up for private ends through the privatisation of public assets like transport, health and medicine. Expenditure on public housing, welfare and programmes for the poor has been
slashed. Systematic attacks worldwide on trade unions have weakened worker rights. The result is a time-bomb ticking in the middle of the planet.

The winners and the “haves” have accrued power and wealth beyond anything previously dreamed of in human history. The sagging middle-class, workers and the poor have been left behind to fight each other for the leftovers. Neo-liberal economics, the value base of which is greed and competition in which only the strongest survive, creates hundreds of millions more victims each year. Its rapaciousness is insatiable. Witness the TPPA and RCEP (the Asian trade deal) and similar negotiations still proceeding at pace and in secrecy. These agreements, which are all about further disempowering people and allowing corporations to steal even more, show contempt for the common good.

The myth of free trade without protection for local industries and workers is part of the gospel of neo-liberalism. The “globalisation” of the economy has provided welfare for the rich and capitalism for the poor, freedom for capital and restrictions for labour. Just 62 individuals now hold the same amount of wealth as 3.5 billion people, one-half of the world’s population. In New Zealand, 10 percent of the population holds 60 percent of the wealth, up from 55 percent in 2010. The gap is widening. The bottom 40 percent hold just 3 percent! (NZ Statistics, June 2016) This is clearly wrong.

Millions are reacting against this giant economic fraud. They see that what we are ending up with is not a society of equal opportunity, inclusiveness and equality, “but a permanent capitalist theocracy that ensures a two-thirds society, with the majority divided and indebted, managed by a corporate class, and a permanent working poor”. (John Pilger, Counterpunch, June 2016). They see it. They don’t like it. They are voting against it.

We teach that God speaks to us in these “signs of the times”. These sinful international structures are clearly against the common good of the human family and the well-being of the planet. But as Christians we have hope. So what signs can we read?

First, that the empowerment of the poor and the hope it brings is a central Gospel teaching, part of the promise of the New Covenant enacted by Jesus. Are these movements a sign of this?

Second, that this huge global empire of financial greed and injustice sits on shifting sands and will implode, partially or fully, sooner or later. The conglomerates and international banks and their allies in governments won’t have the final word. They will fail as they have failed before. Our faith teaches us that God’s will cannot be thwarted forever. (Amos 2/6-9; Matthew 5). The Reign of God doesn’t allow for it.

Third, they sense that small and local is better than big and brassy as found in Washington, Rome, London, Manila and Brussels. They want smaller, more personal, more local, more say. Through such structures, people feel a better sense of belonging and of having some control over their futures.

Pope Francis can read the “signs of the times”. He offers hope at every turn. With the gospel in hand, he has consistently condemned the neo-liberal economic system, calling it “grossly sinful”; he has highlighted the plight of the poor, their need to be respected and their voices to be heard; he has challenged the wealthy to share out of a sense of justice, not just charity; he has repeatedly begged for an end to war and condemned the arms industry that keeps fuelling it; he has called for tolerance and hospitality for immigrants and refugees, drawing attention to the need to respect each as a child of God.

Francis has addressed these issues fearlessly and witnessed to a hope-filled future. He preaches hope and acts with courage. Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Jim Consedine is a priest of Christchurch diocese

1 COMMENT

  1. Understandably, the democratic way of life, with the backbone of Christianity that has produced so many humanitarian causes, from William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery to Pankhurst’s emancipation of women to allow for women’s suffrage, thereby restoring what women lost, namely economic and political rights with the rise of patriarchy, this kind of government is very attractive, as are the benefits, social welfare on tap. However, there are deep groundswells which are neglected , issues that should be faced, including why there are fewer seminarians, why youth are emerging as a very different consciousness, who view their progenitors as “out of date”, and in all of this is the ever-present danger of television, and the imposition of commercial values to the detriment of shame. The ten commandments have given way to secular laws, and the society that is the product is often led not by logic, or even compassion, but one which simply fits into US style norms, that yield little contradiction of wrong -doing, but which supply a minefield which few are interested in navigating.
    It is a fact that most immigrants eventually integrate, with the Irish usually miscegenation is common, while the Scottish are known to keep their traditions for several generations. But both of the aforesaid respect the laws within the country as predominately Judeo-Christian in origin and therefore respected. This is not the case for all migrants.

    When India’s partition in 1947 as recorded in “Time” got under way, a massive movement resulted in much blood letting, and while the end result was Hindu India, and Muslim Pakistan, history records that 600,000 MURDERS OCCURRED IN JUST SEVEN days.

    All this and more are part of immigration.

    Britains desire to show compassion goes hand in hand with other countries, more so, but Hungary has closed its borders, and Poland’s 150,000 conservative Poles marched out one day to demonstrate what the country had known: Nazi, and Communist incursions, that cared little for their Catholic culture, and the number of Poles (six million) who died along with the Jews in WWII.
    This culture takes a long time to develop, and respect for it is clear in Margaret Thatchers determination to restore her country’s rights to their personal space, and remove the lingo that typifies the ideology which has swept through the west. It is not respected by Sharia law (now sadly legal in the UK), and three towns in the UK are not about to retrun to the ways (and laws) of democracy. Some regard recent political changes as a betrayal, that politicians have betrayed their own constituents, doing things which their countryfolk did not believe was for freedom of Christian conscience and betterment of the economy.
    Politics so often is pressured by chosen causes in the community that are good for increasing the voters options, and for short term gains. Moreover the media is frequently distorting facts (as is known in the US when the hundreds of thousands who rally against abortion are not shown but instead the radical element that shouts for womens rights without any thought for the rights of the child.).
    An excellent means of addressing economic failures in third world countries is “Marys Meals”, which was started by a Scotsman which allows immediate charity via a credit card, that pays for meals for the destitute, by the use of volunteer workers, and the direct spin off, is teaching chidren to read and write. This self-help mode can makes a hiuge difference to self-esteem, and other options follow.
    A litte common sense and heeding the words of a Chaldean Archbishop Amel may save some of what lies ahead.
    ” You think all men are equal, but this is not true: Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become victims of the enemy you have welcomed into your home. Our sufferings today are a prelude of those that you Europeans and Western Christians will also suffer in the near future. I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostalate has been occupied by Islamic radicals WHO WANT US CONVERTED OR DEAD. But my community is alive.
    Please try to understand us. Your liberal and deomcratic principles are worth nothing here. You must consider our reality in the Middle East, because you are welcoming in your countries an ever growing number of Muslims. Also you are in danger. You must take strong and courageous decisions, even at the cost of contradicting your own principles.”

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