Not that Italy is poverty, though someone here told me that Italy is a third world country and no one knows it. The fact is that I’ve had some amazing conversations since I’ve been traveling and I thought I would share some of the things we’ve wrestled with in those very conversations. One in particular that recurred during my time was the government’s role in pulling a country up to economic prowess.
I was reflecting on it today as we drove through the Tuscan countryside (which garners no sympathy, I know). But the constant central question is this: what do we do about poverty? What can we do?
In Geneva, particularly, the topic of economics came up. How the US (representing capitalism) is floundering while China (representing communism) is flourishing. The issue at hand wasn’t so much which model (capitalism/socialism) is the right one. That would be pots calling kettles dirty names, as we pointed out that it was China’s wild capitalistic business practices that were putting it on the map. Rather, we focused on the idea of human rights and controlling an economy.
What kind of shocked me was the idea which proposed that what China has done, placing human rights for all man at the bottom of their to-do list, is actually the superior model. Basically the idea is that China wants fat and happy citizens before they hand over rights. This is how they hope to avoid any form of revolution and push people to work. Look at Russia, I was told. They gave rights away at the start and now they have a bunch of whiny/lazy people who have nothing to fear from their government.
China, on the other hand, holds the people’s respect in their iron grasp. Work hard, or we’ll squeeze those rights to a veritable pulp. And so China builds an empire first, then (in theory) will give its people rights when there’s no reason to revolt. Why toss out a government when you have everything you need and more? Like mock Apple Stores for example.
In this model, power must be centralized so that the government can control and guide its economy to success. And in the end, it will give the people its rights.
My question is this: if you built an empire without human rights, why on earth would you give them away at any point? It doesn’t really line up with the type of thinking that believes you can put human rights on the back burner.
Which raises the other burning question I had:: if human rights are just that, their rights, what authority does any governing body have to deny them to their people – temporarily or not?
When contrasted to the United States, I felt that the shots were cheap and missing the mark. Frankly, the United States was a decent success until we got ahead of ourselves. What I mean by that, of course, is that we started living beyond our means. Printing imaginary money and then lending it out to people at ungodly interest rates and holding it over their heads.
This gets you into trouble really quickly when you suddenly start passing your debt around internationally to fund a large portion of your growing government (note it’s increasingly centralized).
Human rights didn’t screw us over, though a lack of any sense of responsibility and a growing dependency on the government certainly have. Somehow the world owes us, damnit. I want the American Dream, now. Don’t make me work 30 years for it. I’ll whip out a credit card for the junk and later I’ll drop a measly down payment on a house. If all goes well I’ll get it by tomorrow.
Yes, China is massively powerful. But how long until their influence really starts to pull us down? I’ve read numerous reports on how they’re flooding the scientific community with studies, the majority of which are bogus. They’re conducting some pretty intense cyber warfare that puts us all at risk. I could go on, but the question I want to draw out is: do the means justify the ends? Is it worth it to build wealth and step on the majority of humanity in the process?
And is financial and material gain what we’re really after? Yes, perhaps they’ll end up surpassing us on the standard of living and overall wealth. But is that what we really want? Just to be wealthy? To get the rich richer and the poor a little less poor? If you don’t have due process and can be thrown in jail with no protections, save the cash in your bank account, is that worth 20% more of the population being able to afford big screen TV’s?
And people say: that’s what socialism does, though! It spreads the wealth and evens the field. Except that when the few control that socialist government, the few keep some of the tastier treats. In an ideal world socialism would be fantastic. In our world, it gets corrupted quickly.
Sierra Leone, where I live now, is struggling with corruption in some horrible ways. Police, judges, hospitals. It doesn’t matter. Not to say they’re all corrupt, but there’s a lot of nasty business floating around regarding money. Some of the stories I’ve heard are enough to make my blood boil. Rights don’t really exist, unless you’re really patient and really fortunate.
The fact is that Sierra Leone is very rich in natural resources, but they’re controlled by a few people. And those few aren’t sharing. It doesn’t take much to corrupt most people, and when there aren’t many people to corrupt, corruption wins out quickly once it starts.
And so what?
I honestly think that two points are important to make and I’ll leave you with a few questions.
The first point is this: centralized power means there are fewer people to check and balance a said system. The more people you share power with, the harder it is for any one person or group to gain enough control to ruin the system. And there are more people around to fight back when they try.
This plays out in a lot of different ways, but I won’t get too into my thoughts right now.
The second point is this: ultimately the church has relinquished its responsibility, and that’s why we’re in an increasing amount of trouble. If the church took care of the poor (I’ll just point my finger at my home, the US for now) both in the realm of health care and in simply meeting their overarching needs (which is never so simple), we wouldn’t need the government to. If we continued to help the sick and needy, we wouldn’t need to worry about taxing the general populace for health care. I’m all for making sure everyone has health care, I just think the church can and should be taking care of this (and know some awesome people in the States who are working hard to do just that).
If we just tithed the base 10% we claimed to we’d have more than enough money to do this overnight.
If we took care of people’s financial, educational, and friendship needs, the world would be a better place – to put it in blunt corn. The thing is that we too often have a not-so-hidden agenda when we seek to help people. Yes the gospel is of vital importance. No it doesn’t help when we bash people about the ears with it day and night. ESPECIALLY when we aren’t LIVING it ourselves.
If you believe that Jesus is Lord then you must believe what He said to be true. If you believe what He said to be true, you should be living a life that looks at least somewhat similar to His. Granted you can’t wear sandals year-round in Washington.
In those conversations in Geneva we agreed that ultimately the responsibility for the health of the people (holistically) lies with the church. Some of you won’t like to hear that, but let’s be honest. If the local church gave away free health care, education, and even interest-free business loans, without any agenda except to love you, would you complain that much?
As for the church, let me ask you these questions. These are the questions I have to ask myself, instead of getting all uppity and self-righteous and thinking I’ve got it figured out.
How do we change the church to bring life to it and accomplish these things?
It’s a monumental task, one that may just be beyond you. So to stay humble, and to start the process where it needs to start, ask yourself this one: what am I doing on a personal level to fill the needs of those around me? How am I doing in following Jesus’ model of serving the poor? Do I take serving the poor seriously as a personal responsibility or do I hand it off to others?
I personally don’t take it as seriously as I wish I did. And don’t think that because I’m living in Africa serving poor people means my heart is in it all the time. It isn’t.
So how do we work on this together? How do we work on poverty? I think the first step is to ask ourselves where we’re at, and how we should move forward. I think the second is to listen to God and to join Him where He’s already working.
Recognize that it’s ultimately His responsibility – poverty won’t be conquered by we few, we puny, we humans. But it’s our responsibility to do what God calls us to to handle it where we are.
What am I doing that prevents me from following Jesus more closely? How can I serve the poor where I’m at with what resources I have?