"It is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can’t find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable treatable disease and hunger. That’s mad, that is mad."
The polls show that the majority of westerners donâ€™t care enough about those 25,000 kids to do much more than wear a white ribbon and watch a concert for a day. Despite what Make Poverty History says, I think it failed miserably and despite the e-mails and web banners, third world poverty or even poverty in Canada was not on the radar for the recent federal election and while Barack Obama has an innovative plan to deal with third world poverty, it isnâ€™t really a big election issue with those of you south of the border (the word poverty was not mentioned during the Presidential debates) either.
I donâ€™t think that is going to change. In 2005 a white bracelet was cool. There was a big concert and depending on where you were, pretty good bands (Canadaâ€™s was awful). Then it was done. People took off their wristbands and went back to their lives. I am sure they think about it every once in a while but not enough to show up on a poll as something we care about and definitely not something we care about more than our own interests.
History repeated itself in Canada as the environment was a huge topic. Then John Baird was named minister, came up with a pamphlet (I sent away for the plan and there was nothing to it) that passed the buck to another government long after he was retired and we all sighed and was relieved that we had done something about global warming. Stephane Dion looked at this and to his credit tried to do something about it.
Now Dionâ€™s Green Shift had problems but the attack that seemed to work on it was that this would mean higher taxes or lost jobs in industries that produce dirty energy and Canadians bought it. In other words we care about climate change as long as I donâ€™t have to do anything to change.
When I was watching The War by Ken Burns. Somewhere leading up to the Battle of the Bulge he mentions that support for the war was losing support at home. That kind of shocked me. So much for a day that will live in Infamy. People believed in the war in 1941 but in 1944 they were tired of it. Tired of the rationing, tired of the letters, tired of the news. While we have seen this in many countries over many conflicts but there is a big difference between what people say they value and what they are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. For most of the western world, we arenâ€™t willing to sacrifice very much.
If it is now unreasonable to pay $1000 down to get a car loan, or unreasonable to have capital to cover oneâ€™s losses, or even unreasonable to think that you would have to pay off a mortgage (why pay when you can refinance?), why should a government make any effort to look out for anything other than their own self interests either? The famous Irish based band U2 moved their incorporation to the Netherlands to avoid paying more taxes to Ireland (you know those things that go into government coffers so they can write checks to other countries). Good thing that their lead singer isnâ€™t calling for governments to give more in foreign aid or this move may have been seen as hypocritical. Oh right, never mind then. My point is that if we are not willing to sacrifice, why should we expect others to for us?
I donâ€™t know what changed. During the Armenian Genocide (there goes the Turkish readers of my blog) the western church chartered all sorts of ocean liners to pick up refugees and bring them to North America (for more read Samantha Powerâ€™s amazing book, A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide). Tales of large scale help after that are pretty hard to find even though the genocides and ethnic cleansing picked up the pace. Now instead of my responsibility, it is the governmentâ€™s responsibility. I am not sure what changed. Some Canadian conservative columnists like to blame Pierre Trudeau and the idea of big government but I donâ€™t buy that. It was probably a combination of a bunch of things; Urbanization broke down community ties, the decline of the church and the community around that, the economic boom of the 1950s created a new American dream that the western world embraced, and a more mobile culture. In some ways complaining about government is all we had in common. Robert Putnamâ€™s Bowling Alone deals with the issue on a deeper level than I can here.
Whatever the reason, it is something that we have to face. I was going to say â€œface it togetherâ€ but that isnâ€™t true either. 25,000 kids dying each day doesnâ€™t register on a lot of radar screens anymore. For those that do have it register, it is going to up to us to make a difference and it is going to have to cost us.
Growing up in the church, the only time I have ever been asked to sacrifice is when the church wanted something â€“ a new building, more staff, or was in trouble financially. We can blog about â€œcostly graceâ€ but for most of it, it has been pretty cheap. I have quoted Ron Sider here a lot before but when the church is totally self interested, at least we blend in well.
If we are going to make a difference, it is going to cost us in real terms. Maybe giving up upgrading our MacBooks, passing on a smart phone and other gadgets, taking in less conferences, or maybe downscaling some other things in life to invest in something that resembles more Kingdom values. I guess the question is, are we willing to sacrifice for anyone else in this life other than for ourselves? If we arenâ€™t willing, history has shown us that no one else is either.