Written by Brad Dixon
Over the past year, there have been different groups calling for revolution with disruptive protesting. Extinction Rebellion stopped traffic in major cities and demanded we start to treat the earth with more reverence. The Black Lives Matter groups created social disturbance calling for a total system change in how we treat each other as human beings. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us more expansive lessons on how we interact with our natural world, and how we use the earth’s natural resources to provide food for a growing human race. The overarching reason behind the virus jumping from an animal to a human host is the way we raise, transport, and slaughter animals for our food. Most of the 70 billion land animals killed each year are kept in cramped conditions where antibiotic use is needed to prevent early death while promoting unnatural growth. Large scale company run factory land blocks are taking over from smaller family run farms. Diversity is being lost. Modern farming methods destroy the soil’s biodiversity with fossil fuel derived synthetic fertiliser input to drive unnatural production.
The historical period of the prophets (740-520 BCE) mirrored our current time of social crisis and political instability. This ultimately led to the breakdown of Israel and Judah*. During these 200 years the small family run farm lots which were the backbone of Israelite society were losing their hereditary holdings to large rich landowners. Heavy taxes and harsh debtor laws made it easier for wealthy elites to take over the lands of smaller farmers who then were forced to become workers on the land for poor pay. The Kings profited from the creation of the larger blocks of land, and by the eighth century BCE a small group of wealthy elites had set themselves above the small family farmers who were the backbone of the nation. The prophets, who are consumed with love for the natural world and a passion for expansive justice, called upon individuals and the entire nation of Israel to “go forth” on a long liberation journey towards a “less oppressive and more just society.” They proclaimed the economic injustice and the oppression of the poor was intolerable. The growing gap between the rich and poor was an existential crisis.
The prophets also called out the judicial system with judges who were easily open to bribes from the wealthy and failed to stand up for the poor and vulnerable. The prophets also challenged the priests in the holy temple who let the suffering of the poor slip down the temple’s list of priorities Many more modern contemporary liberation thinkers such as Paulo Freire, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gustavo Gutierrez reinforce this challenge to our current thinking and endeavour to give some guidance for how we can live in ways that promote human thriving and global wellness.
All of these “justice minded” thought leaders warned that poor treatment of the vulnerable in society would lead to collapse of society. The response by the rulers and rich elite to the prophets was to ignore the calls for change and hang on to the status quo. They maintained that the current way of doing things was the best way. Unfortunately, this way only allowed a few to flourish while most struggled just to survive. This is not too different from the way our world is set up today. It is not sustainable. We have almost 8 billion sharing the planet with 1 billion starving, and 2 billion eating so much in excess that they are obese. The world’s top one percent own 44% of the world’s wealth with the bottom 57% owning around 2% of the total wealth†. As Gandhi stated, we have enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.
The simple over-arching message is, for a society to survive and thrive we need to strive for liberation from oppressive societal frameworks. There is a calling upon society in the prophet’s time and in our present time “to share your bread with the hungry and to take the wretched poor into care” (Isaiah 58:7). If change wasn’t made, then an oppressive society will inevitably fall over. Endemic injustice will fester and create a rot that infiltrates all. If the gap between those who have and those who do not grows to a breaking point, then revolt and revolution will take place. History has shown us that. Let’s all work together to evolve in a more peaceful manner.
*The kingdom of Judah broke away from the United Kingdom of Israel (1020-930 BCE) due to the northern tribes not accepting Rehoboam (son of Solomon) as their king.
†Credit: Suisse Global Wealth Report 2019.