I dedicate this week’s message to debtors, those many poor people who are in debt and cannot pay. All kinds of debt ” house rent debt, hire purchase debts, telephone debts, grocery debts, all kinds of debt, including the debt some people owe every month for the houses which they have tried to own. Throughout the history of man’s dealing with each other debt has always been a problem and there are many instances of the oppressive relationship which has always existed between the creditor and the debtor. When Jesus Christ lived on Earth, He took particular notice of the incidence of debt. Not only did He refer to debt in his teaching but He made the forgiveness of debt the cornerstone of His lessons on how pray to His Father in Heaven. He actually made man’s willingness to forgive the debts of their fellowmen a condition for receiving forgiveness from God. Christ’s teaching notwithstanding, the exacting by creditors from those who owe them became one of the underpinnings of the Christian capitalist society. Debt is the province of the poor. It is the source of their daily sustenance. They eat, drink and sleep in debt. And they live in constant indebtedness to the better off: The slum landlord, the housing speculator, the downtown dealers in household appliances and the various amenities which offer a higher quality of life. It is not for want of effort why the poor live in debt. Poor women toil in the hotels, the factories and the restaurant. They toil in other people’s kitchens, they toil on the land, they toil everywhere. They toil for the minimum wage.”””””” The minimum wage cannot support their children so if they want their children to look at television, they have to go into debt. If they want to put on an additional bedroom on their little houses, so that their boy and girl children could sleep in separate rooms, they have to go into debt. The fridge in which to preserve their food so that they could cook it in the night and warm it up in the morning before they go to work, can only be obtained by hire purchase. The problem which these poor folk have is that debt increases their cost of living. When a poor woman buys a refrigerator she pays much more than the true price of the refrigerator. She also pays a huge interest on the transaction and by the time she gets to own it, she has paid more than double the true price. My own concern about these hardworking debtors is that as they struggle to pay their many different monthly bills, they suffer from all kinds of stress-related illnesses, which affect their productivity at the workplace. Their earning power declines, they falter on their debt-repayments, the debt interest skyrockets, and as they lie strangled under the weight of debt, the debtors court dispatches them to jail for their failure to pay the debt. Last week I met with such a case, involving a young man. He lived on his own and got into debt with a washing machine and a refrigerator. He obviously wanted to enjoy some of life’s human comforts. He faltered in his payments. He went to jail. When he came out of jail, he failed again to pay and returned to jail. Five times he went to jail for the debts he owed to the two big business houses in town. When I spoke to him, he had just come out of jail, and he had a bowl of food with him. It was his last meal before his discharge and he walked with his rice and chicken because he was hungry and broke as he left the jail. The last time the bailiff picked him up he was on a job and he was sure that his boss would not take him back for fear of further interruptions. I am bothered by the plight of this young man and by the way he is being degraded for a debt to rich businesses in town. I am even more bothered by our economic society which allows such cruety to pass as the judgment of the law. What kind of law in our Christian society can expose the defenseless poor to the mindless oppression of the rich? How can the law in a Christian society defend the rich against the poor? This cruel treatment of the poor who cannot pay their bills is nothing really new. It is the true expression of capitalism. Capitalism is a system which enables the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer. Given, this is not the accepted definition of this dreadful system but in truth it is the true reflection of how the system works. It used to be worse. Centuries ago in Britain the capitalists used the law to incarcerate men who owed them. The factory owners owned the shops in which their workers were forced to shop. As they received their pay packets, they moved to the shop where they paid for the groceries which they took during the week and immediately took a new supply of goods on credit. The life of the poor worker was a revolving door. Those workers who got fed up of this treacherous regime and tried to drop out of the factory suffered the consequences. They were hauled before the court and sentenced to the debtors” prison. From the debtors” prison, they were Barbadoed to the colonies to serve as indentured servants. Others were sent to Botany Bay to found a penal colony which is now known as Australia.” In other words debtors were treated like degenerate human specie, not fit for communion with decent people. They were dammed by the law to satisfy the capitalist who was deemed worthy of the full protection of the law. The perpetuation of this sordid social strategy of using the law to defend the rich must surprise anyone who has an iota of social conscience. If a citizen gets into debt and runs into difficulty and cannot pay, does it make sense to confine this person in a jail cell. Is it right for the law to give him hard labour because he owes TDC or Cable and Wireless and cannot pay? How will they get their money when he/she is in jail? So where is the rationale that prevents present day lawmakers who emerged from the poor, from changing the law which weighs against the poor?
- Advertisement -