By M.K. George, SJ
We live in a war-torn world. I am not thinking merely of the cruel war that Russia imposed on Ukraine by invading it. Civil wars and conflicts in our world today currently count up to 62. Equally damaging are the war-like conflicts in families, communities, churches, religious organizations, in short in every human community. Behind all this is the big war in the individual human mind and heart. Faith remains challenged, hope is not anywhere in sight and love is lost.
I have tried to look at the present situation – marked by wars, the failure of religions, the Catholic Church in particular, and propose some ways to respond to these horrifying times.
Wars are threatening the very survival of our planet. No war is safe for anyone on the earth. Think of the deaths, displacements, abuses, destruction of environment and the sheer enormity of human suffering. The latest war in Ukraine is creating a huge food crisis in the world. According to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “The war in Ukraine is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis – food, energy and finance -with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies… the war has worsened food insecurity in poorer nations due to rising prices. Some countries could face long-term famines if Ukraine’s food exports are not restored to pre-war levels.”
The conflict has cut off supplies from Ukraine’s ports, which once exported vast amounts of cooking oil as well as cereals such as maize and wheat. This has reduced the global supply and caused the price of alternatives to soar. Global food prices are almost 30% higher than at the same time last year, according to the UN. The situation of oil and the cost escalation has affected every nation.
And the most formidable of all is the threat of a nuclear war which could lead to the annihilation of the earth.
Wars consume resources
When as per records almost 2.7 billion people are not able to eat enough to survive and be healthy, think of what the most powerful countries spend on weapons. The world has spent 156, 841 dollars every minute of 2021 just on nuclear weapons. In one year, the nine nuclear-armed nations – U.S., China, Russia, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the U.K. — spent a total of $82.4 billion on upgrading and maintaining their estimated 13,000 nuclear weapons, marking a 9% hike from the year before, according to ICAN’s (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) estimates. If we count also the amount spent on conventional war equipment, it is incredibly high. Amidst the Covid pandemic, the world’s military spending rose to almost $2 trillion in 2020 (SIPRI, 2021). When ‘war is good for business’ we can hardly expect a change in the situation in the near future.
Amidst these wars outside of us, there is an inner war that is consuming every human person, young and old, white, black and coloured, men and women. This is a war created by fear, insecurity, forced displacement, lack of meaning and fear of doomsday because of climatic changes. Looking at the mental health context, an indicator of the strongest form of internal wars, we see that ‘today, nearly 1 billion people live with a mental disorder and in low-income countries, more than 75% of people with the disorder do not receive treatment. Every year, close to 3 million people die due to substance abuse. Every 40 seconds, a person dies by suicide…’ (Rialda Kovacevic 2021).
For so many youth, men and women, there seems to be very little to hope for and live for.
Failure of Religion and other agencies
In spite of some bold leadership from Pope Francis, Dalai Lama and other religious leaders, the general feeling is that organized religion has failed to help people deal with the above crises in any significant way. The so-called Christian Europe is becoming fast secularized. More and more youth are leaving the Church. A recent survey starkly illustrated Europe’s march towards a post-Christian society. Research shows ‘a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow a religion…nearly two-thirds of young people in U K do not pray…The new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide” (Bullivant quoted in Sherwood 2018).
Wars are threatening the very survival of our planet. No war is safe for anyone on the earth.
Asia and Africa now show a growth in membership, but nobody can deny that secularisation and anti-Christian values are equally in ascendance. What is very worrying is that in this period of extreme wars, violence, and meaninglessness organized religions have no major impact. How is that religion, especially Christianity, is not able to intervene and help individuals and communities cope?
Instead, Christians seem to be aligning themselves with anti-Christian values and ethos. For instance, the behaviour of Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Moscow-based Russian Orthodox Church, in supporting Putin and his war with Ukraine. This shocked even his close friend Pope Francis. The latter was pretty sharp when he told the Patriarch, “Brother, we are not clerics of the state”. On another occasion Pope Francis remarked, ‘The Patriarch cannot transform himself into Putin’s altar boy’.
The loss of credibility of leaders is becoming a universal phenomenon. Just look at the names of various heads of the states across the world, from North to South, East to West, almost every leader seems to be guilty of moral and ethical failures.
Quite a few in the Indian Church seem to be ready for compromises with the party in power. Recent reports of a ‘secret conclave’ in Kerala on the New Education Policy, the call of a Bishop for ‘dialogue’ with a right wing group, and allegations of many covert ‘understandings’ with the ruling party should trouble the hearts of all those who realize the value of a democratic, secular country.
In some countries Catholics seems to have no qualms about joining anti-Muslim moves and escalating Islamophobia, forgetting that after Muslims come Christians and Communists in the hit list.
The reluctance of the Church in India to speak out loud and firm for justice is understandable, as Christians are just a puny minority and the institutional baggage they carry is heavy. But, we need a serious self-examination and collective discernment on how to respond to the rather precarious Indian situation of extreme growth in poverty, inequality, persecution of minorities, and the alleged moves towards the creation of a ‘Hindu rashtra’.
Religiously political and politically religious
No one can ignore politics. Being apolitical is a choice with tremendous adverse consequences. When someone claims he is apolitical or neutral all that he means is that he does not want to challenge those in power. When one keeps quiet in the face of injustice, the more powerful, often the unjust, win.
When as per records almost 2.7 billion people are not able to eat enough to survive and be healthy, think of what the most powerful countries spend on weapons.
Every member of the Church, particularly its leaders, are called to credible involvement in the political and social life of the nation. The most important role is to speak out, when everyone is afraid of speaking out. The Social Teachings of the Church, and most recently the words and actions of Pope Francis prompt proactive action. He said it so clearly: “There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia. By confronting terror with love, we work for peace,” he said.
“In Pope Francis’ call to dioceses to build bridges that overcome societal and economic injustices, it is important to note that those bridges need to be built on the solid foundation of Catholic social teaching – unfortunately our best kept secret.” (T.Magliano 2017)
How can we respond?
In a very simple but insightful article T.H.Warren (2022) wrote of eleven small ways an individual can help mend the world.
i. Have more in-persona conversations. We need to talk. In holding conversations, polite and inquisitive, we become seekers of truth.
ii. Get outside. With modern conveniences and luxuries, more and more people tend to spend all their time inside. Get outside, get to know nature, get to know people, and get to know problems.
iii. Eschew mobs – online and in real life: Mobs always create frenzy. Mob psychology gives a pseudo courage, which makes humans do things, which they would not when they are in their normal senses. The sad reality today is that with advance technology the online mobs are equally or more dangerous.
iv. Read books. Books make you reflect, engage and inspire.
v. Give money away. There is enough to share more at least with the half of the population that is needy and desperately needs help. Cut down on luxuries and reach the money to the neediest. And of course there is the widow’s mite.
vi. Invest in institutions more than personal brands. All over the world institutions are being slaughtered for the selfish benefits of a few. Look at India. The Constitution is getting ignored, Judiciary is silent, and Media is a slave, bureaucracy corrupt.
vii. Invest in children: In the mad rush of living, children are either neglected or pampered. Some are abused. Attend to them.
viii. Observe the Sabbath: Many have no time. The wisdom of the Sabbath has to be retrieved.
ix. Make a steel man of others’ arguments, and not thrash them down to humiliation.
x. Practice patience. Impatience is killing people, animals, and the earth. ‘Ruthlessly eliminate hurry.’
xi. Last but not least, continue to pray. To recall an old hymn, ‘the world stands in need of liberation’. Liberation to love, hope and believe. You and I are called to listen and respond.
George Mutholil, SJ (M.K. George, SJ) (KER) holds a doctorate in Education- Interdisciplinary-Sociology from Pune University. He has worked as an Adult Literacy Teacher, Sociology Professor, Researcher, and Family Counsellor. A former Principal of Loyola College of Social Sciences, Trivandrum, and Director of Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, he was the Provincial of Kerala Jesuits. Currently he is one of the two Regional Assistants for South Asia to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus.