Religion poverty and wealth

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Causes of Poverty

Many of the problems in the developing world are attributable to the demands and lifestyle of the developed world:

  • Debts owed to foreign governments and massive interest rates on those debts
  • Foreign companies taking advantage of cheap labour and raw materials
  • Rich countries control world trade and the value of goods – meaning goods owned by rich countries are worth more and increase in value more easily
  • Global control by the richer countries means it is harder for the poorer countries to make their points to a global audience

Although there are other causes of the problems (see below) it is an inescapable fact that:

  • Three quarters of the world’s wealth is owned by one quarter of its population
  • The world produces enough food to adequately feed everyone yet millions of people die of hunger and related problems every day
  • In the poorest countries a quarter of all children die from preventable causes before they reach the age of five •
  • All of these are things that could be changed by the developed world and yet they are not 
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More causes of poverty

There are also other causes of distress in the developing world However these tend to be causes that would have significantly less impact if the country were better off to start with:

  • Lack of free/affordable health care • Lack of easy access to health care
  • Poor housing and sanitation
  • Lack of clean water
  • Lack of education
  • Environmental disasters (no insurance or emergency services dramatically increase the impact of events like flood or earthquake)
  • War and a lack of stable government

Poverty can be described as a vicious circle because where the population is poor:

  • Families tend to be larger (to help with family work; to ensure some survive to adulthood; contraception is largely unavailable)
  • Disease spreads more quickly owing to lack on immunisation and poor living conditions
  • Natural disasters impact more on the population
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Christians and Concern for The Poor

Christianity teaches that caring for the poor is an obligation, not a choice and people’s behaviour will be judged on how they treat one another; particularly those in need.

The parable of the Sheep and the Goats illustrates that when people care for those in need they are caring for God and when they ignore those in need it is actually God that they are ignoring.

One of the revolutionary (at the time) things about the teachings of Jesus was that he treated the poor and the rich as equals and at the time the Bible was written the concern was for the poor in the local community as people would not have known about the wider community

 Christians today tend to view the whole world as a community and are often concerned with the welfare of people in other countries as well as their own 

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Giving to Charity

Christians are able to make a choice as to which charities they support

They can also donate in a variety of ways:

  • Set aside a certain amount every month
  • Keep a collection box at home or at work
  • Give money to their local church
  • Voluntary work for charities
  • Running charity stalls at jumble sales, sending parcels overseas, etc.

Christians are taught that it is not the size of the gift but the spirit behind it that matters and there are thousands of charities registered in the UK; some are run by Christian groups others are not Some Christian charities are:

  • Christian Aid
  • CAFOD
  • Tearfund

Christians wishing to donate must choose those causes they think are worthy, e.g. something consistent with Christian teaching and principles

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Christian Teaching on the Right Uses of Money

Obviously people need to feed and clothe themselves and their families but Christianity warns that money can too easily become the focus of life and christians should avoid being greedy This helps them to remember that there are other people less well off than themselves. If people are too interested in money then they forget about God and Jesus taught that:

  • Money does not last forever and will have to be left behind when you die
  • To be guaranteed a place in heaven you had to sell all you had and give it to the poor
  • That the poor are blessed by God and will be rewarded for their suffering on earth when they go to heaven

There is disagreement among Christian Churches about the exact meaning of Jesus’ instruction to give all you have to the poor:

  • Some people think that it should be taken literally and monks and nuns take vows of poverty to achieve this
  • Other people think that it is just a warning not to be obsessed with money and possessions

Whichever view they take Christians believe that the main use of money should be to help other people

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The church and money

 A concern to christians is the amount of money that the Christian Church has:

  • The Church of England is still the largest landowner in the country (after the Queen)
  • The Catholic Church is believed to be one of the world richest organisations

 Some people say that the Church should sell all its possessions and give the money away if they want to follow Christ’s teachings. Others say that using beautiful things for worship shows respect for God and that the Church needs money to provide places of worship and properly trained ministers. 

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Christianity and Moral and Immoral Occupations

For people concerned about their relationship with God and money it is obviously important to consider how that money is earned and Christian teaching does not specify acceptable and unacceptable jobs, However many Christians will try to choose jobs that reflect their beliefs Christians are unlikely to choose jobs such as:

  • Pornography
  • Drug dealing or other illegal activities
  • Exploiting others

Christians may look for jobs helping others, or they may choose to investigate the ethical background of a company before they apply to work there, However ultimately what a Christian considers an acceptable job is a matter of personal choice 

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The Religious Life

 Many Christians believe that God ‘calls’ people to be monks or nuns and Those who have been called serve God in a life of prayer and contemplation, sometimes combined with charity work or teaching

One of the vows taken by monks and nuns is a vow of poverty – this means that they own nothing personally, although all their physical needs are provided for by the Church.

Religious Orders are trying to follow the example of Jesus by living communally and sharing everything they have.

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Tackling Poverty

Absolute Poverty is the situation where people do not have enough for the essentials of life, such as food or shelter

Relative Poverty is the situation of people who have less than the people they live amongst

Attempts to tackle poverty may focus on either kind of poverty, depending on where they are based. Charities and missionaries in the developing world are usually focussed on relieving absolute poverty. Work undertaken by these groups includes:

  • Building hospitals, schools, churches, medical centres etc
  • Providing staff for the above
  • Providing food, aid and shelter in times of natural disaster or war
  • Educating communities on sustainable practices

In the developed world groups tackling poverty are more focussed on:

  • Outreach work with the homeless providing shelter and food
  • Education about the causes of poverty

Christians can be found working in all these areas 

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Biblical verses for helping the poor

„If one of your countrymen is poor and is unable to support himself among you help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so that he can continue to live among you.‟ Leviticus 25:35

„If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of god be in him.‟ 1 John 3:17 

„On the first day of every week each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up… ‟ 1 Corinthians 16:2

 As he looked up Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth: but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”‟ Luke 21:1-4

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Biblical teaching on money

„No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.‟ Matthew 6:24 

„For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wondered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.‟ 1 Timothy 6:10

„Then he said to them be on your guard against all kinds of greed: a mans life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.‟ Luke 12:15 

„Jesus looked at him and loved him “ one thing you lack” he said “God, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me”. At this the mans face fell and he went away sad because he had great wealth.‟ Mark 10:21-22

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