25 April 2013

Poverty, Religion and the Need for a Creation Story?

Poverty needs a creation story say Martin Kirk and Joe Brewer, the duo behind /The Rules. They make the case in Think Africa Press that religions have a creation story and imply that is what builds a connection to a single cause.
One of the major discoveries from our research was that anti-poverty groups, both in North and South, rarely if ever explain where poverty comes from. This is a critical omission in the common sense of poverty. It means there is a gaping hole in the logic that stands in the way of commensurate action to tackle it. In other words, because there is no commonly understood creation story, there is no clear, logically robust understanding of (a) what causes poverty, (b) who the principal actors are, and therefore (c) a solution that can be readily and widely accepted. 
Every religion has a creation story. So does every tribe, nation and ideological camp. The creation story provides the original cause from which all else follows. For example, the Story of Original Sin from the Abrahamic religious tradition tells us where human fallibility came from – an apple plucked from the Tree of Knowledge by an unwitting woman in the Garden of Eden. It offers a historic context from which all evil sprang forth onto the world in a moment of human weakness. And it does so with such memorable visual concreteness that most of us can recite the entire tale thousands of years after it was first written down. 
Poverty, as we talk about it today, has no creation story. It lacks a commonly understood cause. And so there is no logical solution for how to end it. In other words, there is no mental architecture that helps us intuit and envision it ever being eradicated. To succeed at changing this common sense, anti-poverty groups will need to introduce a creation story.
They point to an article from earlier in April where they make the case that poverty was created by man. Their case is made on the ground of inequality and call out the tax havens that hide as much as 15% of all privately held wealth.

The argument raises two essential questions. First is whether there really is a poverty creation story. By modern standards the life of man has been one of physical and material poverty. More progressive poverty expert ask to look beyond simple wealth to see true poverty. In that case, poverty was long the status quo for the average person.

Secondly, the allusion to religion is interesting. Religion has been a powerful tool in and development for both better and worse. It can perpetuate is the idea of saving other people whether it be the soul or the physical person. Doing so can create an us and them dichotomy that fails to connect two groups of people.

These are some preliminary and quick thoughts. What do you all think about telling the poverty creation story? Is there one to tell? If so, should it be told as a 'creation story' or in a different manner?