Culture Politics Spirituality

All We, Like Sheep, Have Gone Astray

All we like sheep(le) have gone astray!

I’ve always loved the Christmas story. In the Northern hemisphere where I grew up it is closely associated with the Winter solstice (the point at which the days start to get longer again) and its theme of the coming of light into the darkness. And this marking of the seasonal transitions is linked to a deeper story about death and resurrection, power vs love, suffering and forgiveness and new beginnings.

Handel Messiah – All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray

It is traditional in some places to perform Handel’s Messiah at this time, an epic and timeless setting of the Christmas story composed in an incredible 24 days!

This year I’m reflecting on the words “All we like sheep have gone astray”. In an age of individualism it’s almost an insult to be compared with a sheep who (in our mythology) don’t think for themselves but simply follow the flock. And yet we are deeply social creatures who, no matter how much we kid ourselves, can’t avoid following the norms, beliefs and values of the people we surround ourselves with. I find it highly ironic that the people I know who are into conspiracy theories and accuse those who don’t share their views of being “sheeple” seem to be the most sheep like in their unquestioning and uncritical acceptance of the social media sources they follow.

Back in Handel’s time (and before that in the time of Jesus) the issue wasn’t so much whether people were like sheep, but who they were following – and it if wasn’t the Good Shepherd (the Divine; Source; Spirit; God) then they were likely to go astray or be led astray.

So have we, individually or collectively, gone astray like lost sheep?

I think of how lies have become so mainstream in politics, aided by social media, and how this has led to the erosion of trust and the potential for civil discourse.

I think of the fetishisation of money and it’s corrosive impact on that great statement in the US declaration of independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At this time of late-stage capitalism it seems the only right that matters is the right to pursue money.

Happiness is worthy goal, but decades of research have shown that once people are lifted out of the survival stress of poverty, increasing financial wealth does not lead to an increase in happiness.

In fact many of the things that we know contribute to happiness are actually undermined by capitalism’s relentless pursuit of the dollar. Some of these things include social cohesion, community, meaningful work, creativity, confidence in the future, time to play and celebrate, connection to a healthy natural world and even birdsong (yes, a recent study showed a correlation between hearing birdsong and happiness).

This time last year, Australia was in the midst of some of the worst bushfires this continent has ever seen – something that climate scientists agree is going to be a more and more frequent event as the climate changes. Then we went, almost without break, into dealing with a global pandemic. Again scientists tell us that this is likely to become a more common occurrence as we place more deadly stress on the environment – the life-support system that we all depend on.

And yet for our Australian government, supported by donations from the fossil fuel industry and working in tandem with the Murdoch owned media (which dominates the media landscape here) these stark environmental warnings are “inconvenient truths” that get in the way of a “gas led recovery”.

Meanwhile legitimate refugees continue to languish in detention (at the cost of millions of dollars) year after year, denied the basic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Meanwhile the Uluru Statement from the Heart continues to be ignored.

Meanwhile we continue to chop down our last remaining old-growth forests – again subsidised by the tax-payer in such large amounts that we could simply use that money to pay the people involved not to chop down the trees, and they would get more money than they currently earn!

If you also feel that “we, like sheep, have gone astray”, post in the comments below.

Meanwhile I wish everyone reading this a very happy Christmas and New Year. May there be a new light coming into the darkness of this world. May that light take up residence in our hearts, and may we all start following the Good Shepherd (whatever that may mean for each of us) who will not lead us astray.