News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Who Are The Poor?

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Who Are The Poor?

How long do we love our neighbor?

The simplest answer is: however long it takes. Again, there are some misconceptions, I believe, about who actually is poor and how long they stay that way. Many poor people in this country are the elderly, the infirm, and the working poor. It seems obvious to me that as a matter of public policy, the first two cannot simply be gotten rid of.

The problems related to the working poor call into question an economic system that promises that if you work hard and prove your worth that way, you will get ahead in America. The big question is: why isn't this happening? How much longer do the working poor have to wait? The discrepancy between those who have and those without grows every year--yet, the society promotes a winner-take-all ethos, while it hypocritically shames those who through one reason or another do not succeed to the big time.

The notion of a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of communities has a long history in Christianity, most notably in Thomas Aquinas. It is carried through in the Reformation theologians, as well, and is passed on through modern mainline churches.

I recently came across the following quote by Luther. He is commenting on St. Ambrose's words: "Feed the hungry; if you do not feed him, then as far as you are concerned, you have killed him." Luther comments: "If your enenmy needs you and you do not help him when you can it is the same as if you had stolen what belonged to him, for you owe him your help." (in _Treatise on Good Works_, p. 106)

This has been interpreted to mean that we owe the neighbor an infinite debt. What the limitations on that are relate to the rest of the command to love your neighbor, "as yourself." Yet, this again is understood in a non-selfish way, for selfishness is exactly that part of self-love that the Christian commandment asks us to overcome.


Anonymous said...

It is hard for us to consider other people unless we know them. The belief about poor is if I do not see it, it is not there. I am just as quilty as other people. we let our politicians makes us believe that since we are poor, we are worthless, incapable and lazy. I read Nickle & Dimed by Ehrenrich. Single mothers work two jobs every day, and still can not make the ends meet. They can not afford a car to take their kids to daycare, have no health insurance, can not get sick, since if they do they have to miss work and either don't eat or don't pay rent. It is sad that we let this happen in this country. Ali

the cynic librarian said...

Yes, they do indeed work often. But many people want to "blame" the poor for being poor. They have this stereotype that if you are poor you 1) don't want to work 2) are not responsible 3) are lazy. It is this kind of misperception that can be quite hateful at times. It treats people like objects and shames the poor while neglecting the problem.