Is there more to being a developed nation than having a strong economy?
How do you understand the term developed nation?
Thirty years ago we divided the world into under-developed and developed nations. Then in the 1980s we began to speak of lesser developed and developed nations. Today we speak of developing and developed nations. Three times we have changed the designation of poorer nations; significantly not once have we altered our self-description: we think of ourselves as a developed nation. This is a curious designation because, even if you adhere to a limited model of economic growth, we are developing all the time as well. In fact, on many indicators, we are developing more quickly than poorer nations.
As Christians, however, we should ask whether it is right to equate becoming wealthier with becoming more developed. Jesus gave a simple summary of the law: love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Although we cannot compel others to love God or their neighbour if they choose not to, this summary gives us an important clue to what it really means to be a developed nation.
The purpose of life is to foster good relationships. The Church’s prime responsibility is to share the love of God with others through words and actions. People are given the opportunity to respond to the love of God. As scripture says: we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). However, for a nation’s priorities to be informed by a Judeo-Christian view, the responsibility to love your neighbour as yourself is called for, and the purpose of public policy changes from generating economic growth in itself (it may still remain a means) to creating an environment in which human relationships can flourish.
This is not a game of semantics, but a genuinely alternative way of looking at life. On this count, Britain is perhaps less developed as a nation than it likes to think it is. Levels of alcohol and drug abuse (the highest in the E.U.) suggest a desire to escape the realities of life. A culture of promiscuity underlines the commodification of sex. Rates of divorce (also the highest in the E.U.) generate unhappiness for many adults and children. Long working hours are praised as evidence of a strong work ethic, but they also reduce the amount of time that parents and children are able to spend together.
Flexible labour markets are encouraged to reduce unemployment and maximise profitability, but they have also led to the dismantling of traditional extended family networks and a weakening of inter-generational bonds as people move to find work. We pay care staff on average less to look after older people than the hourly wage earned behind the counter in our biggest fast-food chain. In contrast, the extended family network in many parts of Africa is robust and confers special dignity on its older members.
So which of us is more developed?
The idea that the end goal of public policy should be to create environments in which human relationships can prosper is gaining ground today. There are glimmers of light in political thinking this way in the U.K., but even more so in Australian politics. As we continue the struggle to eradicate global poverty, it may be time to re-define ourselves in a less hubristic way: we are all developing nations when it comes to improving human relationships.
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