We have built an economy around the love of money. The old false god that never seems to go away. Time and time again, the Bible warns us against this sin but repeatedly we are seduced by it: a higher income; a bigger house, a shiny new car, holidays in exotic locations. We are told by almost all political parties that economic growth will solve our problems; increasing incomes and tax yields, growing businesses and providing better public services. Yet after decades of unprecedented economic growth we look around us and see men and women living on the streets, public services at risk through endless cuts and reorganisations; nature under unsustainable pressure and a climate crisis changing lives around the world. The super rich grow richer while poverty continues to haunt us both at home and around the world.
How did it come to this? In the last century, after world wars, there was hope that a world of peace and plenty was possible for all. The United Nations, the European Union and the welfare state all reflected a desire for a better world. The dream faded and we struggle to find hope in an economy that seems to have lost its moral purpose. Without moral content all that remains for the economy is the pursuit of money—economic growth for its own sake.
Where do we find hope in the face of such a bleak vision? The prophet Amos, a herdsman and ‘dresser of sycamore trees’ had harsh words for the people of Israel, calling for justice and righteousness and prophesying exile and destruction. Unsurprisingly he was not popular and Amaziah, high Priest of Bethel, complained to King Jeroboam that Amos was a conspirator against the house of Israel. In our own age the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has called critics of his Brexit policies ‘prophets of doom’, so not much has changed. But it is the prophets who can show us the error of our ways, sometimes in the most surprising manner.
‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words’ cried out Greta Thunberg to the United Nations in 2019, expressing the rage of young people around the world. A new generation is looking at the world with fresh eyes and is fearful. They look to their elders for leadership but find themselves wanting. This perhaps is the best clue as to how we should respond to the crises in our economy and environment: listen to those who are marginalised or at risk; to those around the world who are at the sharp end of the climate emergency and who stand to lose most. The messages we hear from partner churches in Africa or the Pacific tell us we must change. Climate change, one of the alarming consequences of the economy we have created, is causing enormous problems for many in sub Saharan Africa and the Pacific islands. Just as at home those in poverty tell us so clearly how our economy fails them. ‘The bitter cry of outcast London’, a publication of 1883 exposed the horror of poverty in the richest city on earth and its message still rings in our ears. How do you now respond to these prophets, ancient and modern?
How can we make sure we listen and respond well to those speaking up for climate justice?
Today’s reflection is written by Adrian Shaw. Adrian Shaw is the climate change officer for Eco Congregations Scotland and leads on Care for Creation and Climate Change for the Church of Scotland.