Wednesday 4 December 2013

What is modern poverty? Loneliness. What should Christians be doing about modern poverty? Visiting


Christians have become very mixed-up about poverty.

The idea (which I have heard from the current leaders of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches) that alleviation of poverty is a particularly urgent task of our day and ought therefore to become the major priority of the Christian churches is especially misguided - indeed, not just a mistake but actually a dangerous and harmful policy.


The fact is that poverty, in the Biblical sense, is pretty-much abolished from the modern world.

Biblical poverty was about working all the hours of the day and indeed being worked to death, starving to death, dying of disease... it was about death.

In the modern developed countries, by contrast, so-called-poverty is characterized by what the Bible would have called something like 'luxury and idleness': over-eating, obesity, alcohol and drug over-use, and un-employment (not working), and by living longer than anybody in history - but having on average few children.

In undeveloped countries, nowadays, poverty has a lot more hunger and disease than in developed countries - but is nonetheless characterized by societies rearing unprecedented numbers of children, with the population being added-to faster than ever in the history of the planet: an extra billion people every 12 years since 1975 and another billion expected in the next 14 years.

(As context, there was only one billion people in the whole world circa 1800 and it took more than a century to add the next billion.)

Thus Biblical 'poverty' was about populations collapsing due to famine and plague - while modern 'poverty' is about luxury and idleness in the West, and an exploding population in the poorest nations.

Two different things.


Furthermore, Westerners live in a world with a previously-unimaginable focus on this-worldly materialism, a world of short-termist hedonism, addiction to technological distractions, and intolerance for discomfort, a world of grotesque spiritual deficiency - so that to ask for a greater focus on relieving material poverty is precisely the worst possible emphasis for Christian leaders to recommend.

A greater focus on examining the distribution of material resources and on re-distributing material resources is exactly what we do not need; exactly what would be most harmful  to us - it is even further to subordinate Christians under the Marxist materialist preoccupations of Leftism.

I regard such policy as following the agenda of The Adversary, not of God.


(This is why the secular Leftist mass media have given such a positive reception to Pope Francis. Because he is assisting their demonic agenda.)


But we are told that the poor are always with us - so who are they?

I would say that the modern poor are the lonely.

Therefore perhaps Christians could or should focus on the area of greatest need - that is to say visiting the lonely - as with the Biblical instruction to 'visit orphans and widows in their affliction' - but expanded to visiting the lonely of whatever nature or cause.

(I hasten to add that up to now I have personally failed in this, as in so many charitable imperatives. This is a case of don't do as I do...)

Visiting would therefore be a more worthy and more necessary aim, less counter-productive and less actively-harmful, than pandering to the already dominant corrosive priorities of Leftism; which merely fuels the tendency to see the world primarily in economic terms.


Nonetheless, if modern Christians were to focus much more on visiting the lonely, they would not have the slightest difficulty in finding people who needed to be visited - in contrast to the way that people have great difficulty in finding people who resemble the Biblical depictions of poverty. 

To find the lonely, Christians would NOT have to travel thousands of miles to war-torn Africa, or home-in on disaster zones; they would not even need to cross to the other side of town. 

Christians could just step-out of the front door of their home or office, turn right or left - it doesn't matter; and walk for just a few seconds or minutes to find someone who needs visiting. 

Because loneliness is everywhere in the modern world. It is the main form of modern poverty.



dearieme said...

One of your finest, Bruce; and there's no need to be Christian to be persuaded by that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Thanks!

Gabe Ruth said...

Very good post. I disagree to some extent about the importance of material re-distribution (though not about how to accomplish it, nor its status as a lower priority), but here you present the true challenge to those that are materially comfortable: charity with your time, a much scarcer resource. The nice thing is that the lonely can help each other at the same time.

Matthew C. said...

Very perceptive! Certainly in the developed world loneliness and a desperate feeling of meaninglessness is the far most important kind of poverty.

Bookslinger said...

You've just described the Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching programs of the LDS church.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GK - Certainly it would be a great thing if the (obscenely) super-rich were voluntarily (and preferably secretly) to give most of their money to genuinely-good causes; but to do good overall it would have to be voluntary, not coercive.

asdf said...


Why shouldn't it be coercive? In many cases this wealth was obtained through evil means from the people its being redistributed too. Certainly some of the banksters I know who defrauded people to make their fortunes should have it confiscated and given back to those stolen from.

Since it is often impossible to get this done at the level of individuals we have a broad idea that wealth above a certain level tends to be stolen and that some level of progressive taxation as such returns a bit of it to those that it was taken from. It's difficult to nail a particular hedge fund manager's theft, but taxing obscene levels of income tends to net mostly from people like hedge fund managers.

In my professional experience almost everyone I know above a certain level of wealth has gotten it through fraud, dishonesty, and other evil actions. I've got no problem taxing these people as a crude manner of getting some of that back. There really is a level of wealth that is just absurd and pretty much always evil and acquired by evil means.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - If this was theoretical and untried, then there would be room for discussion; but we *know* from experience that this does not work, and we *know* that the attempt to do it (which usually is not sincere) ends-up by crushing the middling people.

Why? If wealth is confiscated then it will be avoided and resisted tooth and nail by people well capable of avoiding and resisting.

And because it requires the creation of concentrated state power greater than the power of the wealthiest group; and when that concentrated state power has been created it does... well we have seen what it does.

The idea of confiscating wealth from (only) the wealthiest and spreading it around is therefore a snare, a Leftist snare - a trick that has been played and is still being played again and again.

Any answer involves a Great Awakening without which any solution will soon prove worse than the problem.

asdf said...


Except we have done it in the past without it turning into communism or what not. In my fathers own time we had 90% tax rates on the wealthy. It was called a golden age, a time of unprecedented increases in wealth at all stages of society, of social cohesion, etc.

If anything the 1950s shows us that confiscatory taxes on the super wealthy have hugely beneficial effects for society and its governance. The loosening of those things in favor of neoliberal market reforms has been a complete disaster.

It's my belief that without high taxes on obscene wealth you end up with best the situations we see in Latin America, extremely corrupt oligarchies with no rule of law.

I don't see the changes I've seen in my lifetime (the retreat of the middle class and the rise of oligarchy, brought about in large part due to free market "reforms" and a lowering of tax burden on the wealthy) as good things.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - Well, what you interpret as a preventable shift from a golden age of sensible limits to neoliberalism, I interpret as the unavoidable intrinsic advance of Leftism: the inevitable shift from Old Leftism to New Leftism.

asdf said...

I don't think its inevitable. Certainly, many Asian first world countries have managed to have strong economic controls without becoming leftists. Japan limits CEO pay and this hasn't resulted in open borders. In fact its probably been instrumental in keeping the border closed (if CEOs had more economic power they would have forced the issue).

Though I do think not keeping control of oligarchs inevitably leads to oligarchies. And from the oligarchs I've met that's definitely an evil outcome.

Mike A. said...

In 1944 in the USA, the top tax rate was 94% and there were so many loopholes and deductions, nobody actually paid that rate.

danbk99 said...

I suspect it is alot more psychologically satisfying (in the short term) to get on a jet and travel to a distant land, and be greeted as saviors by poor, weakened people who look up to you, and perhaps can't even talk to you because they don't speak your language than it is to go across the street and visit cranky, unhappy people who believe they don't need you and may be annoyed by your presence.

Donald said...

I know this is sort of a secularist type question - and obviously doesn't obviate the need for a Great Awakening - but what do you think about abolishing 'intellectual property'.

It seems to me that the whole idea of intellectual property retards progress in actual science and technology.

Material property is a necessity, and likely the necessity of preventing fraud - but it seems ludicrous I can't take an idea/design and apply it to my own material without state interference.

Think how Big Pharma operates now. We'd have to streamline/eliminate the present 'clinical trials' but there must be a way.

What do you think?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Donald - I agree. Almost all of the greatest science, technology and art was done in a world without a concept of intellectual property.