Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more


19 August 2022

The Guardian's Journal has a regular Long Read feature, and a recent one (August 18th) suggested, among other things, that the very notion of nationhood has become inextricably entwined with national borders. The writer, Gaia Vince, has suggested in her book Nomad Century: How to Survive the Climate Upheaval, that it was the bureaucracy needed to run complex societies that created the borders and national identities - defining who was a citizen (and therefore eligible for state protection) and who was not. Gaia Vince wrote,
"States used to be far more concerned about stopping people from leaving than preventing their arrival. They needed their labour and taxes...Nation states are an artificial social structure predicated on the mythology that the world is made of distinct, homogenous groups that occupy separate portions of the globe, and claim most people's primary allegiance. The reality is far messier."
My mind skipped straight back to the ancient stories of the Old Testament. The stories focused on Moses develop the idea that the People of God should have their own land and be distinct from all other nations - hence the Decalogue, the ten rules for maintaining the purity of the Hebrew community. (And also, of course, that the People of Israel should be a living witness to their God.)

Later, after the times of David when there was one nation Israel occupying the coastal region of Phoenicia, the nation split itself into north and south, and the Samaritans became the northern kingdom, despised and rejected by the southern kingdom of Judah. Neither would speak to the other.

And again, after the catastrophic conquests of both northern and southern kingdoms, the Hebrew people were constrained by other borders, those of the Assyrians, Babylonians and eventually Romans. So where does all this history, and much more besides, lead to in our time? Perhaps we should re-read the story of the Good Samaritan, who ignored the bitter acrimony that separated Jew from Samaritan and risked censure by providing first aid to a traveller in trouble. Even a mental border at that moment was unthinkable.

After all, we would all acknowledge that there is one human family on Earth, albeit with a myriad histories and as many faiths - truly a rainbow family. Can we really imagine a time when we will not instinctively notice a person's colour or demeanour - when we will not judge someone worthy or unworthy of our attention because of language, look or label?

Migration is a present and increasing reality, and will certainly become the most pressing global emergency to be faced. We are already seeing the effects of climate change in unruly weather patterns, and mass migration is already a reality for millions of people. The last thing the world needs is a hostile environment.

Gaia Vince again:
"The conversation about migration has become stuck on what ought to be allowed, rather than planning for what will occur...Climate change is in most cases survivable; it is our border policies that will kill people. Human movement on a scale never before seen will dominate this century. It could be a catastrophe or, managed well, it could be our salvation."

Nomad Century: How to Survive the Climate Upheaval - pub. Allen Lane on 25 August.

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