The violence at Wednesday’s student demonstrations may have been the work of only a tiny minority, but it was an early warning of how much social unrest lies beneath the surface at this time of cuts and real hardship. And in many ways it’s our generation that stands indicted.
For years we’ve been living beyond our means, financially by unsustainable levels of personal and collective debt; ecologically by consuming the earth’s resources in an absurdly wasteful way; and morally by way of a sexual free for all that gives adults freedom while often robbing children of a stable family life. We have been consuming our children’s future, convincing ourselves that because the waiter hadn’t yet brought the bill, there would be no bill. But there always is. As a famous economist once said, there are no free lunches. He could, though, have added, there are lunches one generation eats and for which the next generation pays.
That I think is what the bible means when it talks about visiting the sins of the fathers on the children. It doesn’t mean that this is a kind of punishment. If it were, it would be unjust. It’s simply saying that when parents live recklessly often it’s their children that pay the price.
There’s something deep at stake that touches on the very future of our society. Thirty three centuries ago Moses said something very profound. The book of Deuteronomy contains the speeches he gave at the end of his life, having led the people to the brink of the promised land. In essence he says: “You thought the forty year journey through the wilderness was the hard part. Actually that was the easy part. The hard part is affluence. That’s when you forget where you came from and why you are here.”
In an affluent society people all too easily think of the I not the Us; what benefits me, not the common good. When that happens, people lose the art of relationships. Marriages fail. Communities grow weak. People can become more concerned with short term advantage than long term sustainability. They begin to spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need for the sake of a happiness that won’t last. Then it all comes tumbling down, and often it’s the most vulnerable who suffer most.
Prioritising who are the most vulnerable is one thing. But the larger challenge is another. I believe we have to live within our means, or the next generation will pay the price. We may not mortgage their tomorrow for our today.