Friday, June 10, 2016, by Vanni Xuereb

Overcoming indifference

One of the fundamental tenets I have sought to go by has been that of trying my best not to judgeothers. I admit that it’s not easy to stick to it atall times and in different situations. However, trying to place myself in thesituation of an individual rather thansitting in judgement has been one ofthe golden rules I picked up from my Christian upbringing, stemming from Christ’s teaching: “Judge not that you may not be judged.”

Christianity has always attracted me because of the profound sense of unconditional love that Jesus lived and preached. So many episodes in the New Testament present Him in situations where He refuses to condemn. The only ones He does condemn are the hypocrites who preach one thing and practise the opposite.

Unfortunately, along the centuries, Christianity seemed to have ‘lost its way’, having become a rule book of dosand don’ts – injunctions and prohibitions lest one may find oneself on the roadto hell. Thankfully, three years ago, Jorge Bergoglio was elected Pope and has spent every breath of his pontificatetrying to restore the fundamentalcharacter of Christianity as a religionthat places unconditional love as its supreme commandment.

It is obvious that he meets resistance from those who would much rather remain in control of people’s lives, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’s times.


It is people like these that have created a caricature of religion and fomented intolerance and bigotry as well as fear if not outright hatred of anyone who does not fully conform.

What, in my view, Pope Francis is attempting to do now is to reverse a decline in many people’s disenchantment with established religion. People are not interested in a religion that only seems to present you with a code of good behaviour. Religion and spirituality are much more than mere rules. They concern fundamental options one adheres to in one’s search for the meaning of one’s very own existence.

In the Western hemisphere it seems that the increase in the number of those who no longer practise the religion they were brought up in has been coupled with this greater openness and tolerance towards whatever was considered as condemnable in the past.

Religion is widely perceived, unfortunately, as an obstacle toward greater personal freedom.

It seems to uphold values that seem to suffocate the legitimate aspirations of different categories of society. Pope Francis is trying to change this though he also has to deal with those within the Catholic Church who resist change.

What I cannot understand is how the so called ‘traditionalists’ can genuinely believe that by opposing Francis they can somehow save Christianity whereas, in my view, the opposite would seem to be the case.

It is important that this Pope succeeds in what he is attempting to do and that he is able to go further or, at least, to pave the way for his successor to press ahead with a restoration of Christianity to its original purpose.

Religion can be an extremely positive contribution to civilisation when it is not abused to justify the many sorts of atrocities we witness even today. In particular, religion can seek to redress the growing indifference and individualism in our societies. What comes to my mind is Jesus’s conversation with the man of the law as recorded in chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel. The law is summed up in two precepts: to love God and to “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is His response to the question that follows: “And who is my neighbour?”

The increase in popularity for extremist political parties in the West is one of the consequences of a society where the only notion of the common good is the instinct for self-preservation.

When Angela Merkel opened up Germany’s borders to immigrants she started to lose popularity and votes.

Donald Trump, who could be the next President of the United States, became even more popular thanks to his tough talk on deporting illegal immigrants and with proposals such as building a wall on the border with Mexico.

Austria’s Foreign Minister recently stated that migrants seeking to enter Europe illegally by boat should be denied the opportunity to apply for asylum and be sent back or be detained in island camps. The way in which the centrist parties in Austria are seeking to recoup their losses in the recently held presidential elections is to adopt the unacceptable rhetoric which seems to win votes for the extremist parties.

However, this indifference towards the value of each and every human life seems to permeate much deeper in our societies. I recently had to travel with my partner who had problems with walking due to a knee injury.

We, therefore, had to make use of a wheelchair. Although, I am sure that things are much better today than they were in the past, this situation brought us both face to face with the reality that, for instance, people who have mobility disabilities have to deal with day in, day out. Many people have no clue what that is like. Sometimes it took us ages waiting for a lift meant to be used by wheelchair-bound people just because someone would occupy the lift merely to avoid walking to an escalator.

Often, it’s not that people would not be ready to assist but that it does not even occur to them. To go back to what I started with, the indifference towards organised religion has also had this effect of eradicating the positive values that religion should represent.

Not sitting in judgement of others should not mean not caring at allabout others.

Back to “love your neighbour as yourself” and to “do to others what you would have them do to you” or, to quote Confucius, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you”. Surely these ‘religious’ precepts are positive values that can help us strike the right balance between intrusion into the lives of others or indifference.

Ultimately, Maltese society is not Catholic merely because our Constitution states that we are so. Possibly, that constitutional provision is an anachronism that promotes an outdated model of a Church that sought to entrench its hold over society.

Our model should be one that seeks the common good while allowing each and every person the capacity to maximise the responsible exercise of his/her personal freedom.