Worldwide Discussion:

The last several installments in this headline series have outlined what we’ve all been taught about What God Wants. What was not said specifically was that the theology represented by these traditional teachings is a theology of separation. In this theology, humans are “down here” and God is “up there.”

Yet this is not simply a theological issue, because theology produces sociology. A theology of separation produces a sociology of separation. It is as simple as that.

That is exactly what has happened all over the earth. Humanity has created, and we now live in, a society of separation. Separation from God and separation from each other.

Now it’s true that in spite of our sociology of separation, we have had some remarkable achievements. Human beings can split the atom, create a cure for disease, send a man to the moon and crack the genetic code of life itself. Yet, sadly, many people—perhaps the largest number—cannot do the simplest thing.

Get along.

Why is this, do you imagine?

Think about this.

With all that humans have been taught through their myths, in their cultural stories, and by their religions—with all that humans have been told about God and about Life by their ancestors and their elders and their ministers and their priests and their rabbis and their mullahs—how is it that, in the collective experience of a huge portion of humanity, it hasn’t done any more good?

But it hasdone a lot of good, you may say. The world is a better place than it was before. People do not act as they did in primitive times. They live in peace in most places, and they are not violent.

No, they are not. Most people are not. We can agree on that. But can we agree on this? Collectively, humanity is unceasingly and increasingly violent with its own kind.

This Part VI in a extended series of headline articles in The Global Conversation.

Allowing people to go hungry is a form of violence.

Placing life-saving drugs and the finest medical care out of reach of millions is a form of violence.

Underpaying laborers while taking huge front office profits is a form of violence.

Mistreating, underpaying, denying promotions to, and mutilating females is a form of violence.

Racial prejudice is a form of violence.

Child abuse, child labor, child slavery, child prostitution, child trafficking, and child soldiering is a form of violence.

The death penalty is a form of violence.

Denying civil rights to people because of their sexual preference or their religion or their ethnicity is a form of violence.

Creating and maintaining a worldwide society in which exploitation, oppression, and injustice are commonplace is a form of violence.

Ignoring suffering is as much a form of violence as inducing it.

In 2004 humanity watched 50,000 people die and over 1.5 million forced from their homes during ethnic fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan. The world stalled and stumbled and did little or nothing for many months as this went on. That is the mark of an extraordinarily primitive society, too timid, too weak, too stultified, or, worse yet, too self-involved to be able to put a quick stop even to genocide.

Are you growing a little impatient with the narrative here? I don’t blame you. It’s tough to look at how things are, at how they really are, in our world. We’d like to stay on the sunny side of things. We’d like to keep thinking positively, keep feeling good about life. No one wants to look at the bad stuff.

But if we don’t spend at least a little bit of time looking at the bad stuff, how are we going to change it? Is the best way to change something to not acknowledge that it’s there?

I don’t think so. There’s a line in the wonderful Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman in which Linda, the outraged wife of Willy Loman, cries out to her grown sons to notice the tragedy before them in the form of a father whose life is crumbling right in front of their eyes, and to notice what he has gone through in life, and what he has tried to give them. “Attention must be paid,” she says with shaking voice. “Attention must be paid.”

We need to pay attention to the fact that our way of life is dying. We need to notice what the world has gone through, and what it has tried to give us. And we need to notice what we are doing, collectively and individually, in that world.

Attention must be paid.

In our world today an estimated 250 million children are working. Of these, more than 50 million between the ages of 5 and 11 are engaged in intolerable forms of labor. (The Progress of Nations 2000, Copyright: The United Nations Children’s Fund, New York, 2000) Does anybody care?

At any one time more than 300,000 children under 18, girls and boys, are fighting as soldiers with government armed forces and armed opposition groups in more than 30 countries worldwide, according to the Global Report on Child Soldiers (2001) published by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. While most child soldiers are aged between 15 and 18, the youngest age recorded in this report is seven.

For nearly two-thirds of the world’s people, life is a daily struggle. For half of that number, it’s a struggle for survival. Does anybody care?

Why do these conditions exist, do you think? Do you think it might have anything to do with the fact that we don’t see each other on this earth as members of the same family? Do you think it may be because we imagine that we are separate from each other?

For whatever the reason, the fact is that the world has not put into place a system for sharing the abundance of the earth that works for everyone, but only for those who meet certain criteria of skin color or gender or religion or ethnicity.

The U.N. reports that donor countries allocate an average of just one-quarter of one percent (0.25%) of their total gross national product to development assistance for poorer nations. Does anybody care?

And what is the stingiest developed nation in the world in terms of the proportion of total wealth that it donates? The United States, arguably, the world’s richestcountry. The richest is the stingiest.

Can this be possible? Yes. It’s possible and it’s true.

Now you might say, hey, wait a minute, the United States puts in more dollars than half of the other countries combined. And you’d be right. In actual dollars, you’re right. But the United States has more dollars than half the other countries combined. So, as a portion of what it has, the U.S. is the stingiest of all.

If you have ten dollars and you give your brother three because he is in trouble, and if your neighbor has fifty dollars and he gives his brother five, which one of you is more generous? Are you impressed by the fact that your neighbor gave more in actual numbers than you? Or are you mindful of the fact that he has five times as much as you, and therefore he could have given five times more? It might have been hoped that he would give in proportion to his wealth, don’t you think?

My own idea about this is echoed in the words of John F. Kennedy many years ago: “Of those to whom much is given, much is asked.”

But the U.S. is not alone in under prioritizing allocations for nations in need. All of the world’s richest countries in 2003 spent $60 billion to help the poorest countries address the problems of poverty, lack of education, and poor health. During the same period the spending of these richest countries for defense was $900 billion.

This led the president of the World Bank to suggest dryly that if the world simply reversed its priorities, the cost of defense would never have to exceed the smaller sum.

In a global society where the suffering of others really mattered—not just at the level of lip service, but at the level of doing something about it that actually changes things—such a reversal of priorities would be instant and automatic.

Because that shift in priorities has not taken place, violence of a more direct kind is becoming a way of life on the earth. More and more often these days, in more and more places, it takes the form of direct physical attacks by one person or group upon another.

The sign of a social order that is failing is that even among those people in the world whose lives are more comfortable and who are not overtly suffering, violence is on a dramatic upswing. When even those who should be contented are discontented, you know something’s wrong, you know you’re in trouble.

Violence is on an upswing not only on the streets of the Middle East, but on the streets of Europe; not only in the homes of the poor in Southeast Asia, but in the homes of the well to do in North America. That is why now in many countries metal detectors are found everywhere. At military installations and airports, where they might be expected, but also at places where they would once have been considered grotesquely out of place: shopping malls and hotels, department stores and nightclubs, and yes, even schools, churches, mosques, temples and synagogues.

That is why in London there are hidden cameras on the streets. It is said that the average person is photographed 300 times a day in London. In Chicago it has just been announced that hundreds of new street cameras are being installed throughout the city, adding to the thousands already there. All of this is for our protection, of course. It is about security. These cameras are programmed by computer to pick up any “unusual activity” and to send an alarm to police, fire, and other agencies, which will dispatch personnel at once.

Big Brother is watching you.

George Orwell gave that chilling description of everyday life on our planet in a book he wrote over 40 years ago. It took his nightmare world of 1984 twenty years longer than expected to be created, but created it has been, complete with Global Positioning Satellites that can pinpoint a person’s location within 50 feet, on-street surveillance cameras, government access to video rental and library withdrawal records and, in fact, scrutiny of virtually any kind of activity you undertake outside your home. Soon, there may be cameras in your home. Does anybody care?

All of this is necessary, we are told, because increasing numbers of people everywhere have become frustrated, angry, disaffected, unpredictable and more willing than ever to use violence.

Why is this, do you imagine?

Think about this.

And why have human theologies, to which humanity looks for the wisest answers to life’s most difficult questions, been unable to reverse this trend—to say nothing of heading it off in the first place?

The answer is that Separation Theology does not work. Yet people insist, to this moment, that it is What God Wants.

(Our exploration of this topic continues in Part VII of this extended series, coming very soon. Don’t miss a single entry. And if you wish to catch up on installments that you have missed, simply click on the word HEADLINE in the Categories list at right, then scroll down to find the column you wish to read.)

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