Saturday, April 4, 2020

Love and greed in a pandemic

I went for a walk this morning. It is part of my routine that hasn’t been interrupted by Covid-19. The difference, of course, is to be respectful of physical distancing. The low volume of traffic, businesses either shuttered or not yet open due to modified working hours, provided an eerie feeling. If it wasn’t for the daylight hours, one would think it was about 4:30 a.m. and the city hasn’t wakened up. While this new normal is taking some significant readjustment, both socially and spiritually, it is something I believe most Canadians are embracing.
It was disheartening to hear how our neighboring state, New York, in their effort to contain the spread of this coronavirus, has not had adequate support from the White House.  I was further dismayed when I heard the President, Donald Trump, state: “Let us not make the cure worse then the problem.” Adding, he hoped businesses could be opened by Easter. A statement that suggests the economy is more important than the safety of human lives.
Thankfully this attitude changed the following week. But what President Trump was actually acknowledging with these earlier remarks is the importance of capitalism in world economies today. A system that developed as the feudal system that organized society in Europe broke down. Instead of owing allegiance to a group of powerful property owners caring for those serfs living and working their lands, every person now had to become more or less responsible for themselves and for their own. Cash money, not blood and land became the basis of power. While this new economic system had merits, such as the creation of the middle class, it also produced a system that values greed, as Gordon Gekko, the fictional financier in the movie, Wall Street, proclaimed: Greed is good.
What has been forgotten, and what this pandemic is reminding all of us, is that there is another system of social and economic organization. It predates the development of capitalism and has roots in all world religions. It is the universal truth that maintains: “Treat others as you would want to be treated by others.” This tenet of faith, to name a few, is expressed in Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. In each of these world religions this principle is united with the idea that expects us to work for the happiness of others, especially the poor and unfortunate.  As the book of Deuteronomy encourages: “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” (15:7-8) These two basic tenets of all world religions can also be summed up in the phrase, “more money doesn’t mean more happiness.” In fact studies have found that the most successful people tend to be givers rather than takers. (Adam Grant, 2013 Wharton School of Business) For this reason, life is about people you’re with, a sense of community with those around you; nothing else matters as much.
What this says to me is that there is a universal principle guiding all of creation, influencing humankind, regardless of race, creed or culture. That principle is love. When Saint Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Love never ends” (13:8), he understood what Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, geologist and paleontologist, would later discover in his research. He explained that in contrast to physical forms of energy that tend to wear down according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics in physics, love is a second species of energy, not electro-thermodynamic but spiritual, that can continue to grow in its power and force. It never tires. (Activation of Energy, 375). What Teilhard concluded is that love is the name for God. God’s love is the energy that brought the universe into being and binds it together. For Teilhard, the deepest drive behind the development of human welfare is not greed or might, killing or domination, fear or terror. Rather, it is the power of love living inside each of us. He believed that it was the generative energies of love that brought about these positive transformations.
 As we continue following the precautions provided by our medical professions, remember that physical distancing and isolation are not only important ingredients in saving lives, it is symbolizing the value of life. This epidemic has reminded us that death is inevitable. But, there is another death which we can avoid, which is the second death that the book of Revelations speaks about; this death occurs when we allow love to die in our hearts. The past few weeks have illustrated how many have not allowed love to die in their hearts, through their respect for the health of others as they follow the guidelines and by those on the frontline of this pandemic who heroically give their time, talent and love for those in need. 

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