Fire crews battle a blaze that destroys the Spotted Dog and the Federal Backpackers earlier this week. In the aftermath people have responded with generosity. Photo: Crystal Jones.
Fire crews battle a blaze that destroys the Spotted Dog and the Federal Backpackers earlier this week. In the aftermath people have responded with generosity. Photo: Crystal Jones.

How to find humanity in world of abstract systems

When I was in High School I went to the same boarding school as two of my cousins, and that my father had gone to, some years before (I can’t say many years before, he might read this).

At the school all my clothes had a number in them, 206, which was my laundry number, allowing the school to put our clothes through an industrial laundry process and return them to the correct student.

That number as one small indicator of my place in a system. Obviously there are many other systems, and many other numbers, some of which are far less benevolent than my old boarding school.

I feel like systems like this are the opposite of an important part of the Christian message, even Christian systems.

Let me explain, systems are what allow human beings to operate in groups larger than about 50 people, systems took us from small tribes to nations, but in so doing started to abstract people, to reduce their full humanity to fellow member with me in the system.

You can see it when Australians bump into other Australians while overseas, there is an instant camaraderie between strangers, but that also means an instant exclusion of the non-Australian.

Harmless when it is about a beer in a pub or a joke about Vegemite spread as thick as strawberry jam, but indicative of how we group and categorise people.

One of the categories we use is proximity.

Mark Zuckerberg sums it up with the quote “a squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”

Recently in Bundaberg the Federal Backpackers burnt down, and immediately people have acted with great generosity, which is to be highly commended.

The Christian message which includes love for the neighbour who is different, who sits across the geographic and national boundaries tells us that we should be generous to those who lost so much in the fire, not because it was close, but because they are our brothers and sisters.

It also tells us that our brothers and sisters are in need all around the world; and asks us to be generous regardless of geography or other categories that our small human systems impose.

Rev. Andrew Schmidt, Good Shepherd Anglican Church



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