When disappointed with our politicians and distressed by the problems within our society, we come under the impression that there is a kind of rotten system out there. Without hesitation, we criticise and blame the system. In truth, however, there is no such thing as ‘the system’ but only you and I in our insular and complacent way of life in which we do almost nothing to change the world situation with each passing day. The moment we look at the world and say ‘what a rotten system’, we misperceive the reality and create a division between ourselves and humanity’s problems. How strange it is to observe the phenomenon of one’s own mind separating itself from the rest of mankind, and then naming the system as something different from who we are when it is, in reality, the result of our mutual creation.
Observing the bickering politicians on television, for example, we are apt to change our voting preferences if our chosen party breaks yet another promise. Perhaps we have voted Labour for 45 years, and now that they threaten to increase our taxes we decide to switch our support to the Conservative Party that pledges to enact policies more in line with our self-interested concerns. Instead of becoming activists and uniting with others to effect real change across the world, we think mainly of ourselves and leave all the responsibility for improving society to our government, acting as if the politicians were our parents and we their dependent children. Meanwhile those politicians, in order to stay in power and appeal to the biases of individual voters, conjure up intricate schemes and profitable investments by juggling with destructive market forces that they do not understand. While we worry about our mortgages and wage a personal crusade for our private happiness, we give the ignorant politicians license to release the forces of commercialisation that have had such a devastating effect on our society, our environment and the prospects of future generations. And then we blame the system for all of the resultant social and economic turmoil, without acknowledging the part we also played in holding back the natural flow of creativity, justice, freedom and human evolution on this earth.
Why do we fail to perceive, through inner awareness, our self-appointed role in manifesting the drudgery and divisions of daily life that we like to call the system? How often we lay the blame on capitalism in particular, without realising the separation this creates in our mind which is, in itself, the very essence of an ‘ism’. The act of voting is a direct expression of an ism when we abdicate our power to the politicians and then blame the system when everything goes wrong, notwithstanding our own inaction and apathy. You and I are wasting our time in talking politics about how society should be governed and structured, if all along we are creating divisions between each other on the basis of isms and opposing ideologies. It is we who create and represent the isms in all their forms, not least the political isms that we become attached to as a pretext to hide our fear, self-centredness and complacency. You are Labour; I’m a Conservative. My government disagrees with yours; we go to war over an ideology. Both situations arise from the same level of thinking, and it is we ourselves who suffer from the psychological divisions that we have all created. And there is no escape from our joint culpability, not even by retreating to self-sufficient communities and separating ourselves physically as well as psychologically from the rest of mankind. So long as the world is dying then we will die too eventually, in one way or another.
If we look closely and perceive in psychological terms what capitalism is doing to people and the planet, and how this profit-oriented mode of social organisation became so loose and out of control, then we are left with a few basic ingredients: complacency, greed, blindness, and above all our collective arrogance. So if capitalism is rotten then we are all rotten too, because we represent the human behaviour that has sustained this iniquitous system throughout the generations. What we call capitalism in its purity no longer exists; all that we see today is the abuse of that widowed and corrupted principle, which now stands in the starkest opposition to the principle of sharing. The old idea of capitalism as taught in universities has long been disregarded, while sharing in political and economic terms is so thoroughly eclipsed that it is barely understood among the highest levels of our existing governments.
How is it possible, then, to completely change the system, when most of us would rather pursue a comfortable existence within our little boxes that we call ‘my life’ and ‘my rights’? We think of ourselves, first and foremost, and prioritise above all else our holidays, our pensions, our entertainments and home improvements—‘I do not want to be disturbed’ should be the sign that we carry above our heads. That is not to say it is wrong to live humbly in comfort with nice material things, but for the rich man to live truly comfortably in this world he has to be sure that everyone else has what they need, otherwise his comfort will come at the cost of bodyguards and security fences. Even the poor are heavily conditioned to accept the injustices of our divided world, and are thereby inclined to remain ever demoralised and apathetic instead of uniting to challenge the inequalities of the system. Our complacency has been sustained for so long on an emotional level by fear and a lack of self-knowledge that it has become almost genetic. In the end, we become spiritually dead to our higher purpose and creative potential as human beings, and it is that very psychological separation between us that has caused the evolution of mankind to be so slow and painful.
From this perspective, what we call the system can be defined in simple terms as our wrong attitude to human relationships—between ourselves within our societies and among the people of different nations. If I perceive the psychological fact that society is an extension of myself and I AM the system, both in its national and international manifestations, then no longer will I proclaim ‘it has always been this way’ when confronted by poverty, injustice and corruption. The whole dynamic within my consciousness will fundamentally change once I recognise that no-one is absolved from humanity’s problems, and at the very least I will join the demonstrations for freedom and justice that are sporadically erupting in every country.
The complacency of those who criticise the system and then do nothing to change the world situation is, in truth, a form of charlatanism. It makes no difference if we are rich or poor; a mode of living in which we seek only our personal comfort and happiness, unaware of and indifferent to the crises that threaten our world, is psychologically dangerous both for ourselves and for others. With such an attitude to life, how can we complain when market forces run riot and cause social divisions and widespread destruction? Now that commercialisation has entered our veins, our collective complacency has reached such epidemic proportions that we may have to start listening to the fanatics who speak of a coming apocalypse or Armageddon. Indeed, if this is the highest expression of civilisation that humanity can achieve, perhaps our only hope for a mass awakening to our common unity is an irrevocable downfall of the global economy.
There is no better illustration of our tacit complicity in sustaining the system than the celebration of Christmas, at which time we consume and consume by robbing our fragile and unfortunate earth on the high streets in the name of Jesus. How many of us recycle and assert our environmental values, and then say to hell with all our ethics come December 25th—for we must celebrate no matter what the cost. And then we fail to acknowledge that spending so much money on expensive gifts is an act of political conformity, and essentially a denial of our intelligence and freedom. Even if we don’t have the money to spend, we would rather go into debt to buy presents for our friends and relatives because we have to maintain the image of a certain lifestyle. Despite the unsustainable indebtedness of millions of people and of every single nation, in both financial and ecological terms. Despite inwardly knowing the sad truth that we live psychologically separated from one another at this time of immense stress and suffering. And yet still we celebrate in the name of an elusive and bearded father sitting up there in the heavens; in the name of a happy family that enjoys the opportunity to ‘see each other together again’; in the name of filling a void in our inwardly desolate and conditioned existence; and in the name of misleading our children with all those unnecessary gifts—to the extent that every child becomes a suitable candidate for a Pavlov experiment every Christmas eve. And then we fool each other by saying that it’s the fault of our governments, the corporations or ‘capitalism’ for destroying the earth, when we ourselves are conjointly responsible for everything that is happening to our world.
This is not to condemn the festivities of Christmas or criticise the celebrations of other people, but simply to enquire with an open mind as to the reality of what is happening today. It is not to judge or point a finger because we are all to blame for the world’s problems and no-one can be exempted, as we have already established. So let us ask in all sincerity: what does Christmas as we know it today have to do with love or Jesus? Let us have the courage to face this question, and then go quietly within ourselves to find an answer. What is the value of pretending to each other and to ourselves that ‘life goes on’ by repeating the same greetings with each passing year: ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Happy New Year’? How much honesty is in these words when each day is filled with fear, stress and financial insecurity to the point of suicide for many people? When most of us suffer in varying degrees from depression, loneliness, and the secret pain of living psychologically separated from one another? And when we force ourselves to send greetings cards to all our friends and relatives just so we do not appear rude and tired of it all?
Let us go further and enquire why at Christmas time we kill so many millions of animals and cut down so many trees in the name of a spurious Christmas spirit, only so that we may enjoy our festive dinner with laughter and indifference to what is happening in the world beyond our table. So much of the resources of the earth are therefore destroyed and wasted in order for us to fill a hole in our anxious and empty existence, as if the love of Jesus only vibrated in our homes every December 25th. At the end of the day, all of this destruction and self-indulgence is enacted for no truly moral purpose but for the sake of a mere belief—a belief that the church, in its labyrinth of distorted creeds, has misled us in for millennia.
We may say to ourselves that buying so many gifts is an expression of our love and affection, but why does that love have to be expressed chronologically on a specified date? Is it really love, or conformity and conditioning based on the denial of our intelligence and a ‘belief in a belief’? In which case, our herd-like purchasing of presents, fir trees and so much food and drink is a social act that is inherently devoid of love and freedom, and inevitably characterised by mental or spiritual discomfort—because conformity cannot exist without its roots in fear. Our excessive consumption is automatic and hence unthinking in its violence toward this earth and toward ourselves. It is an unconscious lie that perpetuates the very system we profess to dislike, while habitually diverting our attention away from our collective complicity, hypocrisy and complacency.
Remember that we are all part of this reality, and we are all charlatans to some degree by dint of even participating in our present-day society. And celebrating Christmas is not a crime, so let’s look at ourselves without condemnation but with all humility. Let’s try to be aware of what we’re doing and realise the fact that we constitute the very system we abhor, even though we do not want to see the part we play in creating this malignant social order. Together let’s observe the interdependence of everything that is happening in the world, and ask if we can celebrate Christmas in a different and truly loving way.
Because it is not the love of Christ that is guiding our festivities, but rather the forces of commercialisation that are feasting on our conditioning and conformity, and now holding a knife to our throats. That is the truth of what is really going on, as anyone who has observed the queues of desperate shoppers in holiday sales can attest to. The multinational corporations are feasting on our conditioned compulsion to buy and buy, while the banks are feasting on our social conformity that pushes us ever deeper into debt. And when the whole system of unsustainable borrowing and lending implodes, it may be the governments that bail out reckless banks to try and resuscitate a melting economy, but it is WE who seek to continue with a supposed normal way of life, who quickly return to our same self-interested behaviours as before, and who thereby willingly sustain this iniquitous system. The world situation is so insecure that very soon there can be no more bailouts, either for the rich or the poor. And yet STILL we celebrate come December 25th, which has absolutely nothing to do with Christ or what He said.
We are all familiar with the words of Jesus on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (ēlî ēlî lamâ azavtanî). But today it’s as if humanity is silently and unconsciously saying: ‘My God, why have we forsaken YOU by allowing commercialisation to dominate our lives, thus desecrating your holy kingdom and renouncing your teaching on right human relations?’
The reality is that December 25th is a sad and terrible day, because at this time when we are celebrating the birth of Christ, many millions of men, women and children are deprived of the basic necessities of life, let alone the luxury of a Christmas banquet. And at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, we wish each other a happy new year at the precise moment that thousands of our brothers and sisters are near to dying in distant countries. It is almost as if we are celebrating those needless deaths from hunger, malnutrition and disease. We may still protest that it has always been this way, but would we gaily celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve if someone had died within our family, God forbid? Why, then, do we do nothing as thousands of people die each day from avoidable poverty-related causes, and think nothing of it? In such times as these, what we are in fact celebrating is our self-proclaimed freedom to remain complacent, oblivious and immature behind an age-old alibi that says ‘life is short’, ‘you only live once’, or ‘let’s meet up and have a good time’.
As an experiment on just one New Year’s Eve, try not to do anything that evening and instead stay at home alone, without watching television or communicating with anyone. And then see how lonely you feel at midnight, in the knowledge that everyone outside is revelling and having fun. At that moment, imagine you are suffering from acute hunger and have no prospect of obtaining food, while the rest of the world is blithely continuing with their new year celebrations. Let us try to imagine: how would that feel?
However dramatic it may seem, the fact remains that our complacency on a collective and worldwide scale is so dangerous that it kills other people. Our complacency kills the poor either directly or indirectly; but it also slowly kills ourselves in a spiritual and moral sense as we continue to pursue a way of life that is divided from the rest of humanity. We all know that people are dying from poverty somewhere in the world, but how many of us do anything about it? Only the very few. In which case there is no moral distinction between our own celebrations at Christmas and the mafia family that kills many people, and then attends church on Christmas day in the memory of Jesus and His message. Of course, it is natural to enjoy and participate in traditional social festivities, but what kind of enjoyment can there be while millions of poor parents are witnessing, in their own arms, their child dying of undernutrition? And while so much food and other essential resources are shamelessly wasted and not shared with those in desperate need?
When our festivities are over and we read the daily newspapers, we are often disgusted when a billionaire builds an enormous palace in the vicinity of slum settlements or in a very poor neighbourhood. But why don’t we acknowledge that we all live in precisely the same way on a global or cross-societal basis? Are we not ashamed, or is our complacency so culturally ingrained that we have now become totally indifferent?
Please reflect on this for yourself, and try to objectively perceive how our individual complacency, our family’s complacency and our nation’s complacency has continued for so many years that having poor people dying from hunger around the world has become the norm. It is a planetary complacency which effectively says: ‘It is their destiny to perish in poverty, and it has got nothing to do with me’. Our governments do nothing to stop thousands of people from needlessly dying every day, because we allow them to get away with it. So we are the system too, and the system is us: everything is interconnected. So long as the ordinary person moves within a life of indifference, so long as ‘I’ do nothing to raise my voice for justice, then all of the bankers and the big corporations cannot be blamed for making money amidst widespread misery and destruction.
For how long are we going to play deaf and dumb, refusing to listen to the cries of the suffering millions or even talk about these issues to our families and friends? For how long are we going to bow to the authority of politicians with their obscure policies, thus allowing the forces of commercialisation to abduct our children from our love and affection? For how long are we going to remain conditioned by the rules of isms that tell us what to do, which way to go, how to be happy and who to vote for? And for how long are we going to remain so frightened and asleep, denying ourselves the freedom to live each day as a new day? Surely the time has finally come to stop repressing who we truly are—that is, the compassionate and caring human beings that we are born to be!
We all know those very personal moments when we are alone at home, sitting on our bed and gazing at the floor. Reflecting on our lives, we think of the futility that is involved in working so hard to pay the rent or mortgage, with the constant uncertainty and worry of losing our jobs or homes. We think of all the buried pain within ourselves, the short-lived moments of contentment and the ever-present but unspoken loneliness. The rare kindnesses we have received and all the tears we have shed. The ceaseless longing to be happy and to be loved. The desperate yearning to find the right partner; the eventual marriage; the heartrending divorce. The unnecessary and stressful image that we must maintain to be accepted in a judgemental, insincere and covetous society. The anxiety that torments us in dreams, and the fear of becoming old and unwanted. And the television that shows again and again the same politicians, the same dull faces and the countless trivial programmes. Sitting on that bed with a hopeless view of our relationship with the world, we are liable to wonder how society has made us so indifferent to each other’s suffering. And how the system has managed to diminish our compassion for all that lives, while disconnecting us from our children and from nature, and depleting the little love that is left in our hearts. We all know those moments when we feel angry, guilty and worthless, when emptiness and despair overwhelms our thoughts, and when we finally decide to switch off the lights and cover our heads with the blanket, silently wondering: there must be more to life than this!
In light of all the suffering and critical problems in the world, what better way to celebrate Christmas this year than to go out in the streets and peacefully demonstrate for an end to poverty and injustice. To say: no more cutting trees! No more buying extravagant presents! And then to raise our voices for all the world’s people to be fed, cared for and nourished. Wouldn’t that be the best Christmas we have ever known? Because then we would not only express our loyalty and affection for our own family and friends, but we would also stand in loving unity with the entire world. If Jesus were walking among us today, perhaps that is what He would call on us to do. He would not want us to continue with our indulgent festivities that have no essence of true love in them. The very least we could do in His memory is organise meetings for how to help the poor, and then think of the needs of others and of the environment.
For example, if for only one year we could abstain from celebrating Christmas and new year with massive spending and overconsumption, think of what could be done with all the money we would save for our brothers and sisters who are dying of hunger and disease. Imagine what we could overcome together if all of that money were pooled and redistributed to those who urgently need it, and the kind of Christmas that would be. Imagine how our children would cry out of love in the midst of an explosion of world goodwill. And think of the power of that love and freedom expressed in every country, with millions of people united under the banner of one humanity—free from beliefs, free from authority, and free to express the dignity and beauty of being who we truly are. Perhaps then we would experience the ever-simple presence of the Christ, among us again at long last.
We are not talking about sending more parcels to the poor for the sake of charity at Christmas, which has no relation to the psychological and spiritual revolution that we are here imagining in human terms. It is high time we eliminated the conditioning of charity from our minds, for it is such an undignified way to look at love. It is also insulting to both the giver and receiver, if after giving we continue with our complacent way of life instead of helping the poor to achieve justice, or in any way changing society and our own consciousness. And the poor will say nothing because they rarely do, especially in the most impoverished countries where all they know is to die of hunger. We may donate to charitable causes at Christmas, and that is a necessary thing to do, but then we will act as if nothing has happened and soon forget about our chosen cause. Hence we normalise poverty and social injustice, and we ourselves become part of the reason why such inequality and suffering endures.
So instead of sending more of our parcels to the poor, let’s unite and demand that our governments end poverty once and for all—not through the means of condescending charity, but by redistributing our nation’s surplus resources in the name of justice and right human relations. Let’s unite in our hundreds of thousands on the streets of every city, and demand that our governments make an inventory of everything we have and do not need, and compare it with the requirements of other nations. This is not an unusual thing to ask for; when moving home, every family is used to taking stock of everything it has in order to find out what it doesn’t need, and much is then donated to charity. Now let’s ask that every government make its own inventory of the nation’s excess resources, and works out, through the United Nations, the logistics for how to redistribute those surpluses to the world regions most in need.
We cannot deem this charity if it is instituted through new intergovernmental arrangements that ensure, in perpetuity, the elimination of life-threatening deprivation and preventable disease. Many countries are producing far in excess of what they need, especially in terms of grains and other essential food produce; so it is not much to ask that the family of nations make a global inventory of all that is produced in surfeit, and then cooperate to share the world’s resources and finally eradicate extreme poverty. And if our government refuses to do it, let’s stand in the street in such vast numbers that the overwhelming power of the people’s voice will bring the right politicians into office, those well equipped to serve the rising call for freedom, equality and justice.
None of this is to suggest that we should not celebrate Christmas, so long as we continue this tradition in a more humble and loving way towards each other and towards the earth. We cannot commemorate the birth of Christ through a conditioned mind, and without any moral consideration about what is happening today. Nor can we consider Christmas to be a religious observance if we are only concerned with food, drink, presents and laughter, while disregarding the grave problems of the world and not even mentioning the words Jesus, poverty or injustice. Let’s take our drinks and organise a mass demonstration in the streets, at the very least, and forget about the tinsel decorations and roasted turkey.
And if we would like to remember Jesus, let’s share food within our homes in a very modest manner and without the costly gifts, the usual gluttony, or the commercialism and gross materialism that denigrates this supposed holy time of year. In its place, let’s use Christmas day as an opportunity to practise right human relations among our family and friends, and demonstrate love in action by serving each other during the brief holiday time we spend together. This will bring us closer to the memory of Jesus than any ritual performed in His name. There is no doubt it would have a great effect on our children in particular, and help bring us all to awareness of the Christ’s simple teaching.
If we want to experience the presence and energy of Christ at Christmas time, it will never happen if we sit around in idle chatter while overeating and getting drunk. Because the true nature of the Christ is unconditional love and self-sacrificing service, as anyone knows. Many people are waiting for a great day of declaration to take place when the Christ will return to the everyday affairs of men, but we forget that there are countless declarations of the Christ’s presence that are already happening every day and all around us. When you experience joy in seeing someone you cherish in your life after many years of absence, that is a declaration of the Christ and His love. When a critically injured man is saved by Doctors Without Borders in a war zone, the energy of the Christ is there when the man, once healed, gratefully clasps the hand of his foreign doctor. Or if you have fed someone who is destitute and hungry, and then witnessed the look of thankfulness in that person’s eye as they are eating, that is a pronouncement of the Christ’s presence among two people.
Can we therefore envision what a great planetary event it will be when we unite on the streets for freedom and justice, when we finally recognise the Christ Principle within each other and ourselves, and when we unitedly call upon our governments to share the resources of the world? Can we even conceive of such a display of compassion for one another, where there is no longer any division between the people of every nation but only the one love? We think of Christ as the Lord of Love, a one-time visitor to the world of men sent to awaken that principle within us, but if you truly express love for other people then you are also free, both inwardly and outwardly. The interconnection between love and freedom is very intimate and real, hence if the Christ is the embodiment of love then He is also the Lord of Freedom. So if we want to know the true nature of the Christ this Christmas, let’s unite in demonstrations and make a stand for a new dispensation, a new earth and a new revelation, and together let’s experience what may happen.
Please take a moment, shut your eyes and imagine that you are the Christ. Looking out into the world with its depths of suffering, injustice and chaos, you decide to return and release your teaching once again. How would you start your work knowing that man has sunken into a deep ocean of beliefs and complexity, where simplicity is almost non-existent, and mind conditioning has reached its peak? Knowing also the immense opposition that is waiting to persecute you with rage and hostility, and that before you walk again among everyday society a voice from heaven will whisper: ‘My Son, remember that the infringement of human free will is forbidden.’ Furthermore, obscure powers are waiting to engage you in a very tricky game of chess, an inscrutable contest made especially for you by the prevailing forces of commercialisation. And those forces know, all too well, that the Kings and Queens in this game are made not of wood but of human free will. How would you go about helping this unfortunate world, and where would you begin?
We may ask what role the church has to play in confronting this reality, and whether the priests would even recognise the Christ if He were walking among us today. Or perhaps more pertinently, we may ask if Jesus would recognise His church and what it has become. The church leaders of today seem more preoccupied with recruiting believers in a fabled God than following the Christ’s simple instruction to serve and help the poor. Or else they appear engrossed in arcane theological debates about what Jesus might have said all those years ago, a figurehead that they have placed somewhere ‘up there’ in a mythical heaven and removed from our everyday world. They are not training their flock to go out in the streets and do something for justice, thus perceiving the grave reality of commercialisation and the crying need for a unified voice of the world’s people. Instead, they preach about a historical figure called Jesus as if He were not Jesus anymore—that is, a man who radically disrupted the status quo by inspiring us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
We have prayed to Christ for two thousand years: is that not enough? We have built thousands of wonderful temples in his glory: is that not enough? Isn’t it time to forget our ceremonies and worship and finally recognise the Christ in each other and within ourselves, united under the banner that reads ‘freedom and justice for all’? Isn’t it time for the priest to put his regalia aside and join our cries in the streets for sharing, peace and an end to hunger? We may ask: where were the priests when capital cities were covered by hundreds of tents and protesters? Where is the groundswell of popular support among the clergy now that Pope Francis has made a stand for economic reform and global equality? And who are the true priests in modern society if we consider the earth as God’s holy temple—is it the clerics who occupy their time with rituals and vain confessions, or is it the activists for Greenpeace and thousands of other groups who fight to defend and uphold the rights of Mother Nature?
The role of the church is to heal, guide, protect, teach and bring awareness, but it seems as if ordinary engaged citizens are doing this job in place of the church overall. Hence the only way for the church to reform itself in line with the teachings of Jesus is to stand by the emerging people’s voice—like many religious campaigners are trying to do, despite widespread resistance from within their ministries. If the Christian and Catholic churches remain distorted in their understanding of divinity and the Christ, it is inevitable that they will be increasingly left behind, as already evidenced by the many old church buildings that are closed for worship and put up for sale. But if the church perceives the love and presence of Christ in peaceful mass protests throughout the world, and if it moves in unison with public opinion for more free and tolerant nations, then it has an important role to play in the great social transformation that lies ahead.
It is the responsibility of us all, regardless of our colour or creed or position in this life, to participate in creating that unified call for justice, to recognise the malefic effects of a culture in thrall to commercialisation, and to raise our voice toward our governments along with millions of other people. Once these events begin to take place, it won’t be long before the principle of sharing is recognised as the last and only solution to world problems.
Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi is STWR's founder.
Editorial assistance: Adam Parsons.
Photo credit: argyadiptya, flickr creative commons