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DOES RELIGION PERPETUATE POVERTY? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 29 August 2012
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DOES RELIGION PERPETUATE POVERTY?

By Jim Jordal

It does when it claims that poverty is God’s will. Poverty is not a curse sent by God, nor is it his will. Rather, it is the inevitable result of greedy, powerful human institutions that exist to transfer wealth from the bottom of the income pyramid to the top.

It does when it demonizes the poor by blaming all poverty on personal social and economic pathologies. Yes, sometimes individual and family dysfunction does cause poverty, as is supported by about 30 Bible verses. But if you look further (you’ll have to remove your colored glasses that discount such information) you’ll find about 2,000 placing blame where it belongs---on the backs of predatory human structures designed to prey on the poor for the benefit of the wealthy.

It does when it urges passive acceptance in the face of monstrous evil. Supposedly, religion is in the business of uplifting human beings. If this is so, then perhaps we could consider that any practice---like exploitation leading to poverty---demeaning to human beings has no place in religion. It does no good for well-meaning people to excuse poverty with the misinterpretation of Jesus’ statement that we will always have poverty with us. Right now poverty is always with us, but only because we lack the political will to end it.

 

It does when it throws itself solidly on the side of political and economic institutions of oppression. Such institutions do not deserve religious support because their actions are inimitable to vast numbers of suffering people. Their actions constitute one of the major causes of poverty, and religion should be calling them to task rather than lauding their efficiency and financial success.

It does when it celebrates the excesses of the few by claiming that their success is a result of God’s blessing rather than their favored positions in the economic system. At the very least the church might help them understand that they did not become rich by themselves, but depended upon social goods paid for by all citizens---infrastructure, schools, government offices, courts, and the military and police forces to protect them.

It does when it transfers justice from the physical realm into that of the spirit. Justice is compassion translated into action. Compassion may be spiritual in nature, but it needs hands and feet to transfer it into physical action. Compassion alone is not enough.

It does when it removes justice from something we need to immediately pursue into some form "of pie in the sky" futuristic panacea. It’s fine to believe that things will be better in the future, but what about now? Religion is not intended to be the "opiate of the people," lulling them to sleep while they are plundered by the forces of wealth and power. Religion is intended to speak God’s truth of justice for all to the powers of finance, business, and government.

It does when it pushes charity to the exclusion of advocacy. Charity helps people, but advocacy challenges the institutions that create poverty. Religion traditionally has powerfully supported charity while virtually ignoring advocacy because it threatens the systems creating wealth for the already wealthy.

It does when it rigidly separates the sacred from the profane with the result that issues involving money, jobs, taxation, government spending, finance, housing, medical care and such are considered beneath the purview of "spiritual" values and not worthy of attention from the pulpit. However, Scripture considers justice a spiritual value to be considered side-by-side with righteousness.

It does when it refuses teach and preach what Jesus clearly said about why he came to earth. Jesus used verb phrases like "preach the gospel," "heal," "proclaim liberty," "recovery of sight," and "set at liberty." His recipients of these actions were the poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, oppressed sufferers among the people---both then and now.

This said I want to make it clear that I’m not an enemy of religion, but only a seeker after truth wherever it may lead. Domination systems have for centuries subverted religion into lending them divine legitimacy in return for the right to exist. As far as I know, all major religions value justice, social order, human rights, truth, and decent interpersonal relationships. Poverty persists when religions fail to act on their beliefs because their main interest lies in perpetuating themselves, not challenging worldly systems of oppression.