I get the sense that Christmas this year is going to be very subdued across the globe. In Europe, the war in Ukraine has not only torn that country apart and plunged millions into a cold, hard winter with massive disruption of power and gas, but also the constant threat of missile attacks from afar. For troops on the battlefront, icy conditions in the trenches and the need to attack and defend their positions, make life pretty grim.
But the misery does not end there, across Europe people struggle with inflation, now at the highest level for half a century. Shortages of energy affect everyone and the need to cut back on heating has become universal. A quarter of a billion people are on the move from their home countries to a better life in the West, many are now homeless in cold and inhospitable conditions. Those trying to cross by sea face hostility on arrival and run the risk of drowning on the way.
In the United States, the debris left by the Trump administration continues to haunt. Energy prices and inflation are putting pressure on all who work for a living and even more on those who are retired. The older populations of all developed countries are putting increasing pressure on social support systems and families. The economic conditions which made the era after 1950 so prosperous with ever rising incomes and monetary stability seems to have come to an abrupt end.
Across the world and very few national leaders stand out. Where are the visionaries and the brilliant minds that created the US, Asia and Europe post the Second World War. No one seems to understand the “new economy” with its instant communications and the use of electronic money. The old places of work in steel foundries and factories seem to have died or been transferred elsewhere. Somehow the richest countries seem to be able to create jobs and it is now commonplace for these countries to be close to zero unemployment.
Not so in the developing world where absolute poverty pervades nearly all countries with declining standards of living, education and health services. In many countries’ life expectancy, which was growing nearly everywhere, have started to decline. Unemployment is rife and seems to be almost impossible to deal with. Seventy-five years of the IMF and the World Bank and of massive aid from the developed countries to the developing countries have not been able to change the decline. In fact, it is now recognised that much of the aid may have been counterproductive.
Despite all our efforts the rich have grown even richer and the rest have been left behind with disastrous consequences. This year in Africa, perhaps a billion people will have little to celebrate at Christmas. They will struggle to find enough to eat, sleep rough in a crowded run down “home”. They will watch the haves party and wonder if we all live on the same planet.
But it is more than all of that, we now know that our earth’s resources are finite and that this is all there is out there. This is a terrifying prospect and all our sophistication and technical know-how simply shows us what the future holds and it is not pretty. The optimism that has characterised the past two centuries seems to have evaporated. Where science was once going to solve so many of our problems, now science reveals our vulnerability, even to ourselves.
Faced with these new realities, when COVID-19 arrived on the scene, perhaps fabricated in a Chinese laboratory, we suddenly faced an adversary that we could not see, that crossed borders as if they did not exist and one that we could not fight. Obama warned us this was coming, when it arrived it plunged our world into crisis from which it is only now recovering.
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Now it is the by-products of our prosperity — greenhouse gas emissions from our factories and farms. Changes in our climate, nothing can be predicted anymore. Nomads can no longer find grazing and water for their herds, suddenly food security is a major issue even where money is no object. Clean water for our cities can no longer be taken for granted and farmers everywhere are asking themselves, what next! We suddenly appreciate the real cost of the turkey or the ham on the Christmas table.
Nothing is more difficult than changing how we live and make a living. Into this chaotic world order, comes the boy Christ. Born in a stable to parents who were among the absolute poor in semi-desert Israel, he had little formal education, probably started to work with his dad at 12 and lived in a society where life expectancy was short and nasty. At the age of 30 he left his family home, never married and began life as an itinerant pastor and teacher. In the next three years he changed the world and died on a cross as a criminal watched by his mother.
I was introduced to this man when I was 17. I had no religious background, had never read the Bible but I knew I needed something. The discovery of the Christ child/man changed my life completely. Somehow, I know that His teachings and way of life are the key to how we manage our future as humankind and how we manage the world we live in. If we did not know it before, we should certainly know now that we cannot go on as we have in the past century.
The fundamentals are the same. Look around you in the world where we live and die. It is obvious that it is not the product of chance but design. Read the Bible and discover how it all came about — the extraordinary thing is that that simple description, written 4 000 years ago, is absolutely scientifically accurate down to the most finite detail. Man is described as a specific creation, in the image or likeness of God Himself and we know this because we are creators ourselves. The one who made it all said that everything on earth was there for us, extraordinary. Then He went on to say that we are the earths custodians and not just that but we share that responsibility — both men and women. No second place for the girls here! If we mess it up, it is our responsibility.
And if all of that is true, then we should recognise that life on earth for mankind has rules and laws by which we should live. We were designed to marry and have children.
Sex is a God-given gift but if abused, destroys instead of creating. Children are best raised in families — they make better citizens and workers and even managers. What a world this would be if we loved one another, treated each other as we wanted to be treated ourselves. If we gave away our cloaks to those who did not have. If we shared, there would be no hunger in the world. War would have no place in human history.
And that is what Christmas is all about; about a man who came into the world to show us the way, the truth and the life. He is the light of the world and if we put our hands into His hand this Christmas, He will show us how to live. We can celebrate His coming because He has our future in His hands.
Eddie Cross is an economist and former Bulawayo South legislator. He writes here in his personal capacity.