U2's visit to Australia is but one of the cultural events throwing a spotlight on world-wide poverty. This Thursday in Melbourne a Make Poverty History forum will discuss ways of influencing the G20 agenda in favour of poverty alleviation.
For Christians, poverty is a complex issue. The Bible is neither pro-poverty, nor against it. It doesn't see poverty as a barrier to faith, nor as a spiritual good to be sought. The Bible is, however, against selfishness, love of money, and ignoring your neighbour in need. It is also pro- healing, sharing, loving and sacrificing your own comforts for others. Christians have to approach poverty through all of these spiritual guidelines.
But extreme poverty—stupid poverty, as Bono and Geldof call it—is such an affront to human existence that it can't be ignored, especially if we have the means to eradicate it.
A friend in politics, in his HSC economics textbook, quotes the humanist philosopher Thomas Pogge:
"How can severe poverty of half of humankind continue despite enormous economic and technological progress and despite the enlightened moral norms and values of our heavily dominant Western civilization? ... Our world is arranged to keep us far away from massive and severe poverty and surrounds us with affluent, civilised people for whom the poor abroad are a remote good cause alongside the spotted owl... Extensive, severe poverty can continue, because we do not find its eradication morally compelling."
But, thanks to technology, the moral distance between the well-off and the impoverished has been closing. It has become more compelling. TV, the internet and global events like Live Aid have turned Africans into neighbours, harder to ignore, easier to help. And there are more groups trying to help than ever before. Lobbying governments and large corporations to make a difference is becoming an artform.
For Christians who want to love their neighbours, it's just a matter of choosing a way to do it from the many great options available. There are no sure-fire ultimate solutions to extreme poverty outside the New Jerusalem, but there are plenty of working solutions and they are just a click away.
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