I recently caught up with a friend who is living and working in China. They were telling me about how there has been a law passed recently that forces people to visit their parents on a regular basis. The reason for the law? People of younger generations are less and less inclined to care for the welfare of their elderly relatives, and people are becoming increasingly isolated and depressed.
China’s solution? Legislate to force people to stay in communication with their relatives. A fairly typical Totalitarian (and stereotypically left-wing) response to a crisis: legislate, enforce, resolve. Except that it doesn’t really work, does it? We know that when someone is forced to do something, that doesn’t mean they want to do it. They will do it out of obligation or duty, and ultimately out of fear of the consequences of not doing so – especially in a totalitarian regime.
This reminds me to an extent of the Old Testament law. There was a LOT of legislation, a lot of very specific sub clauses to a lot of different laws. So perhaps there is an alternative?
In our country, we have the same problem of isolation and loneliness, but we trust that the individual has the right and responsibility to do what they want and will ultimately choose to love their family well. We provide basic support for those who are alone, but we do not go out of our way to shift people’s thinking. That’s because we do not live within a society where we are controlled or manipulated on anywhere near the same level.
… which reminds me of Christianity. We’re able to do what we want, how we want, when we want. In the words of Paul “everything is permissible”. But, not everything is beneficial. There are dangers to both approaches – legislating means love cannot be a part of it, and leaving things to happen naturally often means love is left out due to a lack of care, incentive, or ultimately selfishness.
There is a third way: the way of Christ himself. Christ came to earth with intention, he laid down some basic principles (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself) which were enough to get at the ethos of the law. He calls us not to remain as we are – selfish, unyielding and egocentric. He calls us to remember the other before we remember ourselves. He calls us into a change of heart, of attitude and of lifestyle.
And of course we know that if we follow this path, we will see a prosperous society. When we look at “healthy” or “inspiring” churches or faith communities – we see a tight-knit society which values young and old alike. That’s how we ensure that the elderly among us are looked after and loved. And it’s how we can begin to solve the other ills in our society, too.