by Tyler Bushman
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” -Bishop Don Helder We live in a time of historical poverty. UNICEF estimates that every hour 1000 children die from easily preventable diseases and almost twice as many women die or suffer from serious disability in pregnancy or childbirth for lack of simple remedies and care. As believers and followers of Jesus Christ and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are taught to serve and sustain each other both temporally and spiritually. “Bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea(…)mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:8)We are also taught to look after the poor, the widowed, the hungry, the imprisoned and the children. (Matthew 3:35-40) Special Rapporteur Leandro Despouy reported the following to the UN Commission on Human Rights. “Extreme poverty is the world’s most ruthless killer and greatest cause of suffering on earth. No other disease compares to the devastation of hunger which has caused more deaths in the past two years than were killed in the two World Wars together.” To end this hunger it would only take 10 percent of U.S. military budget. And yet the problem remains.
After hearing these alarming statistics, the more we understand about how great the poverty is that most of our brothers and sisters live in. We must ask a few questions. What are the causes of this great poverty? Could it be that there is just not enough to go around? In the Doctrine and Covenants we told that “the earth is full and there is enough and to spare; yea I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” The famous anarchist/scientist Peter Kropotkin reiterated the same principle. “Truly, we are rich –far richer than we think; rich in what we already possess, richer still in the possibilities of production…Richest of all in what we might win from our soil.” As a world we truly are rich. Its been estimated that the 2005 gross world product is equivalent to approximately 60 trillion U.S. dollars. If that money were redistributed to every citizen of the world, the sum would come to about $9,000 per person. But why isn’t it? Peter Kropotkin has raised the raised the cry. “All things for all men, since all men have need of them, since all men worked to produce them in the measure of their strength, and since it is not possible to evaluate everyone’s part in the production of the world’s wealth… All is for all!”
So if we live in a world with such vast wealth and resources, why is there so much poverty, hunger and illness? The answer is given in Doctrine and Covenants 104:18 “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made and impart not his portion according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” This very situation has polarized our world to a severe extent. The wealth of the three richest people in the world is greater than the combined gross domestic product of the 48 poorest nations. But the issue does not stop there: 5 percent of the United States population owns 81.9 percent of all corporate stock and controls the 57.4 percent of the net wealth of the whole population of the United States. How did these people get that rich? Did the five percent of the population really earn all of this money? Are they really entitled to it or are they doing exactly what the scripture stated above has warned us against –taking of the abundance and not imparting unto the needy. In fact, their fortune has not been earned by them at all. Their riches are the result of exploiting the labor of the poorest people on earth. The first stipulation of capitalism is this: for great wealth to exist there must be great poverty. In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. All over the world people are being exploited, but this is just business as usual –and the best way to turn a profit at any cost. The rich thrive off the backs of the poor.
I like the example of the mine owner: as the workers dig themselves deeper and deeper into the ground the mine owner builds his mansion higher and higher on the hill. What has the mine owner done to deserve this wealth? Is he working harder than the poor miners? Why is he paid so much more? Doctrine & Covenants 42:42 “Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread, nor wear the garments of the laborer.” So who is living off the backs of the laborers and causing their poverty? It’s the people at the top. It’s the CEO that is making 400 times the employees at the bottom. It’s the businesses that are so obsessed with profits that they will do anything it takes to get them even if that means running horrible sweatshop operations. But that is the name of the game in capitalism: the system demands it. If your profits are not growing –you’re gone. Corporations report to stockholders, not to their workers. “They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.” (2 Nephi 28:13) In reality what causes this poverty is capitalism –the system that glorifies greed and venerates their lifestyles.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Rev. Martin Luther King Paul taught us, in the popularly quoted verse in Corinthians that without charity we are nothing. “…Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” So perhaps we look to the conventional ways of giving charity –monetary donations, food drives, kits sent to third world countries…all of these temporarily ease the suffering which is great and is better than not acting at all, but the actual cause of poverty is still there and multiplying. In the next verse, we read “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” True Christ-like charity is not just sending seasonal humanitarian aid; the best kind of charity involves a change of heart that overthrows selfish lifestyles, conquers ideologies and topples the system that is causing that poverty which we despise. Revolutionary acts can be some of the most charitable. “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”