Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Third Side

My student teacher has the class working on a short essay about instrumental vs. intrinsic good. She is having the students examine issues where a person's intrinsic good might be called into question by society and in doing so she is asking them to look at "both sides" of the issue.

One student e-mailed me asking for some help sorting out the two sides of domestic poverty (her chosen topic). I hope this is a good exercise in recognizing that the complexity of an issue often extends beyond "two sides". In fact, my response is still a gross oversimplification of the issue, but still I hope readers find it edifying if not convicting.

I wouldn't think that there are two specific "sides" that she has in mind, but in terms of how people respond to the issue of domestic poverty those responses typically fall into one of two (or maybe three) categories.

The first might be those who have no interest in helping the plight of the poor. They either are unaware of their poverty and suffering, or they are aware of it but have no desire to help. Perhaps they view those in poverty as suffering the consequences of their own bad decisions and they don't feel obligated to help them. Perhaps they feel that the poor don't deserve their help. (Clearly they have never heard in their hearts the words of Christ in Matthew 25:31 - 46).

The second category might be those who are deeply moved with empathy, charity, and love to alleviate the suffering of the poor, because they recognize that all people deserve mercy and to be treated with respect. These would be people that go out of their way to help the poor and needy by volunteering their time or talent, donating money, food, or clothing, or simply praying for the poor. These people have taken to heart what St. John Chrysostom said when he preached that "failing to give to the poor out of our surplus of wealth is to steal from them and deprive them of life."

A third possible camp might be those who feel
compassion or sympathy for the poor, but they are so busy - so preoccupied- with all of the other aspects of their lives that they never "find the time" to help the poor; or perhaps because they are average people with no extraordinary talents or tremendous wealth they assume that they have nothing to offer; or perhaps they are so discouraged by the vastness of the problem that they figure the actions of one person can't really make a difference. This would be those Christ finds neither hot, nor cold, but lukewarm. Sadly, I think that I fall into this category.

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