Relationships between rich and poor
Edexcel IGCSE section D
Your first paragraph ...
The specification says:
The issues of, religious and non-religious beliefs/teachings about, and the (differing) attitudes of religious and non-religious people to: the responsibility of wealthy individuals and countries towards the poor; examples (including local ones) of practical generosity in society or within religious communities; how the poor should be treated, as expressed in the ideals of charity, justice and compassion.
Christian beliefs/teachings which encourage the wealthy to support the poor. Examples of practical generosity within and by Christian communities, based on Christian teachings about love.
Charity: Those who are wealthy giving money to the poor
Compassion: Feeling pity for the suffering of others, which makes one want to help them
Justice: Making sure that people have what is theirs by right
Christian teachings about charity, compassion and justice
Christian attitudes towards charity, compassion and justice build on several themes that you should already be familiar with.
- All people are children of God and he cares about them all.
- Christians are taught the principle of love as expressed in the 'golden rule' which is to 'love the Lord your God... and love your neighbour as yourself' (Mark 12:30-31, Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37-39).
- The world is created for the good of all people. Christians believe they have a duty of stewardship. The world and all its resources ultimately belong to God.
Many Christians believe that they have a duty to give to the poor. The story of the rich young man (found in all three synoptic gospels) suggests that the rich should give to the poor.
The Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-27)
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
The accounts do not tell us whether or not that particular man succeeded in giving what he had to the poor but some of the early Christians seem to have followed this instruction literally.
- 'Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.' (Acts 4:32-35)
In other instances Jesus said that giving up earthly riches to the poor was a way of 'storing up treasure in heaven' (Luke 12:33) and the idea of helping the poor through charity fits with Christian agape. The writers of the New Testament letters took up this message and the writer of Hebrews said 'Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.' (Hebrews 13:6).
In the Old Testament money and wealth was often presented as a sign of God's approval; the rich were rich because God was rewarding them. However, it also mades it clear that showing concern for the poor was considered pleasing to God. The book of Leviticus specifically instructed farmers to leave some of their crop when they harvested instead 'you shall leave them for the poor' (Leviticus 19:10) and this could be regarded as type of charity. Furthermore, in the Old Testament it says
- 'For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’' (Deuteronomy 15:11)
which implies that the rich should behave charitably to the poor.
Compassion literally means to feel what someone else is feeling. In Romans Christians are instructed to 'rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep' (Romans 12:15). More simply, compassion is really another word for love and Christianity teaches that all Christians have a duty to show agape to others. Christians believe that compassion should be more than just pity, it should lead to action. The following quotation makes this point clear.
'But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.' (1 John 13:16)
Other teachings (chosen from many, many possible ones!) which relate to the Christian duty to show compassion would be
- The parable of the Sheep and the Goats which says that people will be judged on the basis of how they treated others.
- The parable of the Good Samaritan which demonstrates compassion in action as the Samaritan 'had compassion' for the injured man.
- 'Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.' (Galatians 6:2) (meaning, help one another at times of need).
- In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul said that without love we are nothing.
- Finally, Jesus instructed his followers 'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.' (John 13:34-35). Christians are called to imitate Jesus who showed compassion for those in need, the sick, the sinners and the outcasts.
Justice refers to economic social justice (how wealth is divided up) and criminal justice (what punishments are just for certain crimes). Many biblical references to justice (especially in the Old Testament) are more concerned with criminal justice than with economic justice.
Justice is to do with fairness. There are different ways to decide what is socially and economically 'fair' and people will not necessarily agree about what is just. For example, is it 'fair' to expect the rich to pay more tax to support the poor? It perhaps makes society more even (and is therefore 'fair') but one could argue that the rich worked hard for their money and it is 'fair' to let them keep it.
In the Bible God is described as a 'lover of justice' (Isaiah 61:8) and his people are encouraged to 'do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly' (Micah 6:8). Those who are unjust are condemned. The prophet Amos scorned those who 'deal deceitfully with false scales' and cheat the poor by selling the 'chaff of the wheat' (Amos 8).
In deciding how to act justly Christians would be influenced by the idea that 'the earth is the Lord's and everything in it' (Psalm 24:1). The world's resources are created for the good of all people and therefore all people are entitled to a share of wealth. Many Christians would say that the huge inequalities which exist in the world today are unjust and are against the will of God.
An unjust world:
One in eight people go hungry each day and yet 30% of the food produced each year is wasted.
17% of the world's population use 80% of its resources. 80% of the world's population together have the use of only 20% of its resources.
The Independent published a photo gallery comparing a the quantity of food different families around the world have for a week.
Do the rich have a duty to help the poor?
- It is unfair for the rich to have luxuries that they do not need when some people lack even the basic essentials of life. The rich have more than they need while other people lack what they need.
- Many people who are rich are rich because they have been lucky. They have been born into a country in which they will have a good chance of earning a living. They might have inherited money. They might have made a business gamble that paid off. Many of the poor are poor because they are unlucky. They were born into a region prone to natural disasters or beset by war. They might have been orphaned or born to drug addict parents and had no chance of making a good start in life.
- From a Christian perspective, all wealth comes from God and God specifically commands people to show compassion to the poor. True love leads to action.
- The rich have worked hard for what they own. They deserve to keep it. Giving it indiscriminately to the poor would encourage some people not to work.
- The rich should keep their wealth to make sure that they can be independent in retirement or to help their children and grandchildren in the future.
- It is nice if people choose to give to charity but it is not a duty. Even the New Testament also specifies that charity should be given voluntarily - people should not feel obliged to give. 'Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.' (2 Corinthians 9:7)
- Finally, one could argue that society as a whole has a duty to end poverty, it is not just the responsibility of the rich.
Is charity the best way to help the poor?
Liberation Theology was a twentieth century theological movement which developed in Latin America. It aimed to end poverty by overturning the oppressive structures which trapped people in the cycle of poverty. Many liberation theologians were influenced by Marxism and thought that capitalism had some significant flaws. Many liberation theologians like Leonardo Boff or Gustav Gutierrez would say that giving to charity is not the best way to help end poverty.
Some people argue that charity is not a good way to help the poor.
- A lot of charity provides short term aid which might make things better in the short term but does not really address the things that actually cause poverty.
- Furthermore, charity makes people dependent on charity which makes them very vulnerable if for some reason that charitable giving stops.
- Some charities are small and deal with very specific areas and this may be an inefficient way of dealing with problems. Individuals may well choose to give to causes that are particularly meaningful for them but this may not be the thing that can bring about the most good.
Things like fair trade co-operatives, better education systems and infrastructure and the removal of corrupt governments might actually be better ways to help the poor in the long term.
Examples of generosity to the poor:
"When I was earning £14,000 as a student, I found I was in the richest 4% in the world, even adjusting for how much further money goes in developing countries.
"Giving away 10% of that, I found that I would still be in the top 5%. So while it can seem impossible to live on less, if your employer was to suddenly pay you less, you would get by somehow."
“I thought that I would make a relatively small sacrifice to help so many people, but it has turned out to be no real sacrifice at all: the sense of engagement in the project of making the world a better place is worth far more to me than some new gadgets or a slightly larger house.”
Bill Gates founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle global poverty and ill health. Bill Gates is estimated to have given over $20 billion to charity. He has also encouraged other wealthy people to take the 'giving pledge'.
Toby Ord a University research fellow gives away a third of his earnings annually and aims to give away a million pounds over the course of his lifetime. The BBC reported his commitment to charity here. He has founded an organisation to encourage other people to pledge to give away whatever they can afford. His website giving what we can gives more detail about his motivation and the causes he has helped.
There are many Christian charities dedicated to helping address poverty and injustice in the world. Christian Aid and Cafod are two of the best known.
Link back to Edexcel RS IGCSE Section D page.
Global injustice statistics here.
BBC GCSE revision on Christian attitudes to compassion and summaries of Christian charities working for justice here.
BBC ethics discussion of the problems with charity here.