Have you heard the news? According to the Los Angeles Times, “Religion doesn’t make kids more generous or altruistic, study finds.” The Guardian chose a more negative headline: “Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds.”
Could this possibly be true? What study is this? How was it designed? Who ran the experiment? When something this counter-intuitive makes headlines, my brain immediately starts flashing a “caution” sign. In this case, my brain was right. There are a number of issues that make me cry “foul!”
(I was going to post something about microenterprise, but I wanted to get this up while it was still timely. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for the microenterprise post.)
Here we go again. Christmas is coming. And in the spirit of the season, Christians are getting angry.
- We’re angry when someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
- We’re angry that our kids are on winter break instead of Christmas vacation.
- We’re angry that Starbucks has plain red cups.
Seriously? Do we have nothing better on which to spend our time and energy?
(This is the third article in a series on poverty. If you missed the previous two, please back up a few weeks and read those posts.)
What does poverty look like around the world?
Before we get any further, let me clarify some terminology. It turns out that sociologists use the terms absolute poverty and relative poverty, and it’s important to know the difference. According to the UNESCO website,
Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society. The concept therefore fails to recognise that individuals have important social and cultural needs. This, and similar criticisms, led to the development of the concept of relative poverty. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context.
Notre Dame gargoyle overlooking Paris.
Have you visited a medieval cathedral such as Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, or the incredibly tall cathedral in Cologne, Germany? I love the soaring arches, ornate architecture, stained glass windows, and the quiet, contemplative spirit inside. In fact, I think they’re altogether lovely, except for one thing: the gargoyles. It just makes no sense. Why in the world would the Christians of the Middle Ages put such evil-looking monstrosities on the very buildings they were dedicating to the worship of God?
Last week we learned that, while a lot of people fall below the poverty line, that situation is often temporary. Also, while the poor don’t earn much by US standards, it’s still over $10,000 a year—plus government and other benefits. What does that buy you? Today I want to address what life under the poverty line is like.
Granted, it’s not fun being poor. Having fewer resources means you have fewer options—and the answer too often is “no.” Opportunities may be limited. Sometimes, things cost more for those who can least afford it—prices at stores in poor neighborhoods tend to be higher than in middle class areas, and you can’t afford to take advantage of items on sale or discounted in bulk. Add to that frustration—being poor typically correlates with reduced influence, both socially and politically. I’ve always imagined desperate families in cars, skinny, hungry children in ragged clothing, and crime-ridden neighborhoods.
“Sure, there are poor people overseas, but we have poor people right here in America. It’s more important that we help them first.”
“I want to live in the United States, where even the poor people are fat!” –Indian laborer
“The poor you will always have with you.” –Jesus
It’s common knowledge that we have poor people here in America. There are families without homes, elderly retirees having to choose between buy food or filling a prescription, and children going to bed hungry.
But just how many families are homeless? How common is it for senior citizens to be unable to afford their medications? What percentage of children lack enough food to eat? How big a problem do we have, and how does it compare with the rest of the world?