What role can religion realistically play in the eradication of poverty?
JACK MCLEAN is a Baha’i scholar, teacher, essayist and poet published in the fields of spirituality, Baha’i theology and poetry.
This question may be answered from two perspectives: first, the generosity that one individual shows another in need; second, a global problem that needs to be remedied systematically.
Both approaches are used in the Bahá’í Faith. Regarding the individual, this scripture from Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, prescribes the ethics of generosity and justice: “Know ye that the poor are the trust of God in your midst. Watch that ye betray not His trust, that ye deal not unjustly with them and that ye walk not in the ways of the treacherous” (Gleanings, p. 251).
However, the sharing of wealth is not sufficient. The individual must be helped to reclaim his dignity and self-worth, instilled with confidence to improve his economic situation and thereby fulfill his potential.
In 2008, the Bahá’í International Community at the UN produced a noteworthy statement on poverty-- “Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One”. This document was written in response to the UN Human Rights Council that called for a consultation on “draft guiding principles” that could forge a link between human rights and extreme poverty.
The Bahá’í International Community received direct input from consultants who held discussions in 6 countries: Brazil, Guyana, Haiti, India, Namibia and Turkey. In this manner, the economically disadvantaged proposed their own solutions to the eradication of poverty.
This document contends that a new framework must be adopted to replace the failed, rich nation-poor nation, donor-recipient mentality that, tragically, has not established self-sufficiency in the developing world, despite the $2.3 trillion spent on foreign aid in the post-world-war-two-period.
“Eradicating Poverty” creates instead a multi-level paradigm of interconnectedness that defines a new way forward. It steers away from reducing poverty to financial inputs alone, but sees, rather, its elimination as the interplay of 11 social, spiritual and material principles: governance, justice, human rights, individual responsibility, gender, economic activity, extremes of wealth and poverty, employment, agriculture, sustainable development, knowledge.
This document defines poverty rather uniquely as “the absence of those ethical, social and material resources needed to develop the moral, intellectual and social capacities of individuals, communities and institutions.” It calls for a long-term, workable, sustainable approach that contributes to the effective elimination of poverty
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