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April 20: The Humanitarian View of Poverty

Vision Viewpoint continues its study into the "rule of the invisible," and how the spiritual precepts of Christianity move the world to ever higher standards of living, ultimately pointing the way to Christ.

Michael Harrington wrote the book on what may be called "The Humanitarian View of Poverty," but in that book, he ran into some facts that were quite surprising – especially as he studied poverty in the United States. He called attention to the fact that in the past, poor people lived in a way that was very different from what is now thought of as the culture of poverty. Their diet and housing may have been substandard, but they were not impoverished, because they had will, vitality, and aspirations. Agrarian culture, in particular, had these characteristics, and built from them a strong family and social cohesiveness, enabling them to move to a central role in American life. They found themselves in slums, but they were not slum-dwellers.

In fact, Harrington found that those without money were often distinguished by their virtue (and "virtue" here is defined from a Christian standpoint), and it was by their virtue that they were able to elevate themselves, and other with them, out of impoverished conditions. Their virtue and their faith in Christ managed to never really allow them to be poor, in the general sense of the word, because their vitality, aspirations, and will had distinguished them.

In his study of the poor nations, P.T. Bauer concluded in his famous study that economic progress tends to be found more in human abilities and attitudes than it does wealth, political institutions, or historical experience. Bauer listed a number of cultural properties that made it likely that people would remain poor. He listed, for example, lassitude: meaning an indolent and indifference towards responsibility. He also listed high preference for leisure, which drives people into poverty, as well as a lack of self-reliance and thus no confidence to face life also were characteristic of a poor people. In addition, a lack of skills to allow one to succeed, a lack of desire to gain such skills, and a resignation of the situation that people found themselves in, never trying to climb out of it, were also descriptive of a poor society. The passive or contemplative lifestyle, the prestige of the mystic, the adherence to this passive or contemplative mysticism, the renunciation of this world’s goods, the fear of change, and belief in the occult and the mystical view of nature all tend toward poverty also.

These were common denominators found in all impoverished nations and cultures. It wasn’t a lack of money – it was a lack of will. Actually, it was a lack of Christian virtue. They didn’t give up simply because they themselves were at fault. Rather, such tendencies often occurred as a result of living in a culture constantly torn by civil strife, where people just gave up. There is, therefore, no heartless approach here, there is just a recognition that where these characteristics – our sinful nature – are allowed to thrive, poverty will be the result.

Bauer did notice, however, that when Christian missionaries came into the mix and came into the culture, bringing the Gospel of Christ, change occurred, and not only was there spiritual change, but the spiritual change meant there was a reliance upon the understanding of that invisible world that moves the material world: the laws of nature, for example, and the laws of human action, the invisible social capital – Christian love, Christian virtue, faith in Jesus Christ, charity toward others, seeking out sound teaching and wisdom, etc.

This reliance upon true invisible social capital (namely virtue), along with the elimination or mitigation of theft and envy in these cultures, immediately caused a higher quality of life to arise out of the debris of a broken culture. Wars were settled, missionary effects upon cultures, bringing virtue into the mix, brought the rule of the invisible into the laws of human action, as societal virtue elevated all that it touched. The law of invisible social capital actually goes to the rule of the invisible. Not the mystic, but rather those powerful forces, deemed spiritual in Scripture, that move the earth. Just as gravity, being invisible, moves the physical world, so it is in the rule of conduct in society: things invisible move the world around us.

The Christian radio program Vision Viewpoint is a ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI.


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