Seems Like a Worthily Heroic Thing to Attempt for the Glory of God

A reader sez:

President Kennedy said:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth…”

The Roman Catholic Church in America should say and mean:

There are near 70 million Roman Catholics in the United States today. So, I believe the Roman Catholic Church in America should commit itself to achieving the goal within ten years of eliminating child poverty once and for all.

The Christian faith has achieved such feats as destroying slavery (a universal, immemorial institution) and creating a scientific revolution that has achieved astounding feat. There is no particular reason we couldn’t do this, except of course, the question of our own will. Typically, the reply to some proposal like this is “The poor you have with you always”–as though this was positive demand by Jesus to abandon the poor to their fate and a condemnation of care for the poor as always and everywhere utopianism and nothing but utopianism. As the verse about Canaan being a slave was beaten to death by apologists for chattel slavery and “wives be subject” was beaten to death by apologists for oppression of women, so this beloved proof text is beaten to death by people who, at the end of the day, wish to maintain the status quo of profound inequality that leaves a billion people in poverty, millions and millions of them children. Jesus remark is not a license for disregarding them. He calls us to ridiculous and outsized charity for the glory of God, not to “It’ll never fly so don’t even try” inertia. Children in poverty should be as outrageous and unacceptable to Americans as children in slavery, child prostitution, or the cannibalism of children.

I wonder what practical steps can be taken toward realizing this? I wonder who has been working on them? I wonder what I can do?

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  • Stu

    Just to be clear, slavery has nowhere near been eliminated in the World.

    • Nor was it eliminated in medieval Europe by a 10-year campaign. Rather, it was eliminated by a centuries-long process of building a culture of respect for every person’s life and dignity before God.

      Slavery, really, is one extreme manifestation of poverty: a slave no longer owns even his/her own person. Moreover, the same culture that made slavery unthinkable was also growing toward making poverty unthinkable.

      Then industrialization changed most structures in human society, and culture is still trying to sort out how to be human in an integrated way again. The Church has a grand role to play here.

      • Stu

        Agree, but even that trend was limited to mostly western society. Slavery has remained present in Africa, Middle East and Asia throughout. And while the industrial movement certainly reset things in the West as you point out, our zeal to evangelize the World with the Truth that only the Church can proclaim seems to have left much of the rest of the World waiting for that grand role you speak of.

        Regardless, the timeline driven approach goes from being utopian to dystopian. War on Drugs, War on Terror,War on Poverty. You can’t defeat such things in totality.

        • irena mangone

          We can try though one step at a time. Little by little but job as are needed. Here in Australia there are several generations without work but saying that I did see on TV. Back in the 80’s young folk interviewed saying even if there was full employment they did not want to work Should they receive government benefits their parents should support their lazy off spring. And a few years back a TV station concerned a bout youth unemployment got some young people a job but guess what they didn’t like the uniform so turned down the work where am sure other young people would have been grateful to get employment regardless of the colour style of uniform and they grow up and have children God help us all

    • Sigroli

      Not to make light of it, but WalMart employees come to mind…

      • Stu

        I’m not going to defend Walmart, but I am speaking of “no shit” slavery which is alive and well in the world.

  • My only objection to the reader’s proposal is the 10-year time limit. It would, I think, literally take a miracle of divine intervention to eliminate child poverty – which really is to say, all poverty – on a global scale within ten years. It would require a cultural and technological revolution the likes of which I don’t think this world has ever seen.

    Then, if ten years have passed and God has not seen fit to eliminate poverty everywhere, will we give up? Or even if he has, will we sit back on our laurels and let poverty re-emerge through our laxness?

    I suppose I’m more inclined to take the “fighting the long defeat” attitude. I don’t know if it’s God’s will to actually eliminate poverty in this world, but I do know he’s commanded me to give to all who ask, and not leave the poor man without his cloak, and so on. So, even if the effect is ultimately futile in the world’s eyes, I will do whatever I can, today, to eliminate poverty within the scope of my power. (The scope of my power includes, of course, my ability to affect the structures of society, and whatever power God gives me through grace or charism; so this cannot be a cop out to say, “Ah, I can do no more!”)

    All that said, this is like the difference of flavor between chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream: it probably doesn’t matter except to find what motivates each person to answer the call we all have: care for the poor, and love one another (rich or poor) as Christ has loved us.

    • Stu

      “So, even if the effect is ultimately futile in the world’s eyes, I will do whatever I can, today, to eliminate poverty within the scope of my power. ”
      That’s what such grand plans miss out on. They start at the top. We have to work at the local level. It’s about changing a mindset, not executing some grand war plan.

      • “It’s about changing a mindset, not executing some grand war plan.”

        Both-and. The structures of society really do need changing. The work of some individuals must be to eliminate the structural reasons for poverty.

        Meanwhile, as you say, a structural solution without changing individual and cultural mindsets, literally metanoia and repentance, will result only in tyranny.

        • Stu

          Sure. But it must be done locally and spread outward. Absent a benevolent dictator (I remain on standby to serve if called upon 🙂 ), a massive top down approach (grand war plan) would be very difficult.

  • Eliminating poverty “once and for all” is as unrealistic an idea as eliminating bad marriages and lonely single people “once and for all.” This is not a matter of achieving a material goal like putting a man on the moon. This is about restructuring society. I don’t say we shouldn’t work towards it, nor that it cannot be done, but it’s not a material goal. It’s a moral goal, and that kind of thing is way, way, way more difficult in a Classically Liberal society.

    For one, you absolutely need the artists and poets on your side, and we “conservatives” haven’t been doing so well at raising artists and poets.

    • Stu

      And vocations.

    • I think I largely agree with you. The solution to the problem of poverty is a moral solution. But there certainly is a material component. It is a material goal, for example, to make sure that every person on earth has enough food to sustain health, shelter over their heads, and reasonable clothing.

      Now, insuring that each adult has access to honorable work, that each person has access to society and culture, that each person has a role in governing society – these are certainly moral goals; and insofar as poverty deprives a person of proper human dignity, these are essential to “eliminating poverty”.

      Still, the impossibility of achieving the latter in a material or permanent way should not be an excuse for neglecting the former.

      • But we have solved the material problem. There are 317 million people in the US of which approx. 16% live below the poverty line, which gives us a total of 50,720,000 people living below the poverty line. If each of those people needs an average of 2000 calories per day and we have a 365 day year, that’s a little over 37 trillion calories we need to supply per year. A McDouble has 390 calories, so that’s about 95 billion McDoubles to buy per year. McDoubles are $1 each and the Federal SNAP budget is $133,000,000,000. We could use the SNAP budget alone to buy every single person below the poverty line in the US all the food they would need and still have $38 billion left over to administer the program.

        Now, of course no one wants to subsist on McDoubles, so what kind of food ought they to have? And once you ask that question, you’re talking about society and culture and honorable work and a dignified life and all that, and we’re back staring at the moral problem again.

        • I agree. I was including the practical distribution of food, clothing, shelter, etc. as part of the material solution, but I’m not wedded to that grouping of ideas.

          In any case: we have the resources; we even have the logistics, for the most part. What is missing is the political/economic implementation. And, because we have the resources, the lack of implementation is exactly what Catholic Social Doctrine means by sinful social structures.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Do you mean to say that “[p]olitical problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems”? That “[n]o less than politicians do, great poets move nations, even though the generality of men may not know the poets’ names”? Further, that “[i]f men of affairs can rise to the summons of the poets, the norms of culture and politics may endure despite the follies of the time”?

      Radically conservative 🙂 All quotes are, as per my usual, Kirk’s, and the last two are from (depending on the edition), §4 of chap. XIII, “The Conservative as Poet” (in which he writes extensively of Eliot, and a little of GKC).

      • Someday we’re going to discover a topic on which we seriously disagree, ivan-the-mad, but I’m not holding my breath.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Heh, I could always advocate for geocentrism or young earth creationism 😉

  • John

    I’ll stick to practicing actual charity (to the extent that my means allow me and assuming I can defeat the hardness of my heart) and leave grand plans to change the human condition “once and for all” to the real visionaries.

    Offhand, I can think of a couple of ways to eliminate child poverty but I’m not sure the poor would thank me for trying to implement them.

  • Mark R

    Eliminating poverty should be about as easy as eliminating sin. In other words, it is work that can never be finished…which does not mean it should not be worked upon. Who constitutes the human race is continuoulsly in flux, as would the solutions to the poorer members’ poverty. What Christianity can contribute to, besides making efforts to alleviate poverty in individual instances, is to imbue the conception of poverty with some kind of human dignity.

  • Mike

    Yes or no: is living in a 2 bedroom apartment in a high rise with modest furniture, no tv, no xboxes or iphones, with a small compact car that is 9 years old, with a couple of new pieces of clothing a year, not going away for vacation, is this situation what you mean when you say “the poor”? Keeping in mind that this famiy of say 4 has enough food to eat and has health insurance to cover major illnesses.
    My answer: Yes they are “poor” but that doesn’t mean that if you don’t want to help them to move into a 3 bedroom house or get a newer car by giving them money they haven’t earned that that means you are being immoral.
    My point is that poverty as PFrancis has seen it in Brazil in Manila in Africa is NOT comparable to the “poverty” that the Left whines about in NY City or Chicago or LA. They are NOT comparable. It is like comparing the struggle for life that blacks were subjected to to the struggle for the societal acceptance of homosexuality that today’s LGBT community is engaged in.