One of the most powerful politicians on the planet is obsessed with building a wall to keep out undesirables. The promise to do so was popular enough to help get him elected. And now two countries that once prided themselves on friendly relations are divided by the spectre of that great wall.
The wall, the idea of the wall and what the wall represents are deeply problematic. The wall is symbolic of grave differences of opinion between the two countries. The country that wants to build the wall wants to keep residents of the other country out. The theory is that they aren’t trustworthy, not good enough to mix with the residents of the suddenly isolationist nation. Help us build the wall or we’ll slap tariffs on your exported goods to our country. What a needless, avoidable quandary.
But that is exactly what happens when individualism, misplaced superiority and intentional detachment is allowed to trump solidarity. It’s not the way Pope Francis sees the world and it’s not an acceptable Christian view.
“Is there anyone among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?” Jesus asks in Matthew’s Gospel. “Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish? If you, then, evil as you are, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him.
“So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the law and the prophets.”
The Golden Rule message delivered by Pope Francis to North Americans and all others is straightforward. If we have sympathy and concern for ourselves, we should exhibit the same for others. If we want opportunities for ourselves, we must strive to do the same for others. When we go out of our way to maintain our own safety, we should go out of our way to keep others safe. Whatever we would do for ourselves, we ought to be comfortable doing for others.
The worries and problems of others have to be our worries and problems. If people are living in abject poverty in our countries, we cannot stand idly by. If civil wars and other conflicts leave people orphaned or in refugee situations, those living in better circumstances are obligated to lend a hand.
Pope Francis points out that it is not good enough to sustain your own family. It’s equally important to look after others. It is not appropriate or Christian to build a wall around our own needs, wants and desires while shutting out the needs of others.
That’s a concept that seems to be lost on those now tasked with running the country to our south. They say their country doesn’t have room for refugees displaced from war-torn Syria and would rather build a wall around their own interests. They say there are far too many unsavoury characters stealing across the border. A high wall is needed to protect their selfish interests.
They say they contribute an inordinate amount of financial resources to a 28-nation international military alliance and that others better up the ante or face the prospect of losing an influential and powerful member country. The concept of using what you have to help others seems to have been abandoned.
They say that multilateral trade deals that were negotiated to benefit all countries involved are weighted against them. They want to change the playing field, build a wall around their manufactured goods to protect against the free flow of other nations’ products coming into their market.
It’s wrong to say that someone else’s problems are theirs alone. It’s wrong to say that those less fortunate than us are the authors of their own misfortune. And it’s wrong to say their misfortune is none of my business. Walls of selfishness do not cut it for Pope Francis and they didn’t cut it for Jesus.
The message for individuals and for nations is simple. Treat others as you would have them treat you. No man and no country is an island.
Looking past the barriers that separate us from others will always trump building protective walls around ourselves.
(Campbell is a writer in Halifax, N.S.)