I had occasion to visit and revisit some Catholic documents in regard to how to relate to the poor recently. What follows below is open to revision if someone can propose a more appropriate reading of these documents, but here is my opinion.
There is in many Catholic circles a very common phrase, “preferential option for the poor.” As far as I am aware, this phrase is of relatively new coinage, first being used immediately after Vatican II (by Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez in 1967 with the introduction of liberation theology), and used often (almost non-stop) since then. Fr. Gutierrez’s idea may be encapsulated so:
[T]hree bottom-line principles about life and death at the bottom. First, material poverty is never good but an evil to be opposed. "It is not simply an occasion for charity but a degrading force that denigrates human dignity and ought to be opposed and rejected."
Second, poverty is not a result of fate or laziness, but is due to structural injustices that privilege some while marginalizing others. "Poverty is not inevitable; collectively the poor can organize and facilitate social change."
Third, poverty is a complex reality and is not limited to its economic dimension. To be poor is to be insignificant. Poverty means an early and unjust death.
Two more recent and moderate expressions of the concept are:
When instituting public policy we must always keep the "preferential option for the poor" at the forefront of our minds. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation.
“love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel”.
Without attempting to parse out all the flavors and, since 1967, all of the corrective qualifications imposed on the concept to conscript it away from heretical liberation theology and bring it into modern Catholic proposals, here are three expressions – if not of the term itself than of the underlying thought - from JPII who more or less initiated the official adoption of the social mission of the preferential option, though working off the prior work of John XXIII and Paul VI.
(U)njust distribution of wealth and engrained, structural injustice require the Church’s spirited advocacy for—and in defense of—the rights of the poor. (Homily at Yankee Stadium Oct. 2, 1979)
“[T]here arises a grave structural conflict: ‘The growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the masses.’ ” … “[T]his poverty is not a passing phase. Instead it is the product of economic, social, and political situations and structures . . . [that] create a situation on the international level where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, who get even poorer.” (Puebla opening address, 1979)
Do all that you can, especially you who have decision-making powers, you upon whom the situation of the world depends, do everything to make the life of every person in your country more human, more worthy of the human person. Do all you can to ensure the disappearance, albeit gradually, of that yawning gap that divides the few “excessively rich” from the great masses of the poor, the people who are subjugated in grinding poverty. (1981 Philippines.)
This was all a precursor to the eventual movement of the “new evangelization” that appears to explicitly place solicitude for the material ills of the poor as a foundational aspect of extending the good news of the Gospel.
The problem I am trying to come to grips with in all of this is that it seems to ring hollow every time I look at it carefully. From every aspect, it seems to be a bit of a flummery.
What do I mean? Well, how about this: though the Bible frequently speaks about improving the lot of widows and orphans, in the New Testament there is not a single, solitary instance recorded of Jesus himself, nor directing his Apostles, in either doling out money from their common purse nor miraculously springing gold or other assets out of thin air to relieve the poverty of a poor person. NOT ONE INSTANCE. The closest we have of even an allusion that sometimes their common purse may have been used this way is the one explicit time Jesus told Judas to stuff it when Judas made disparaging remarks about the purchase of a real luxury instead of the money being spent on the poor.
On the other side of the coin, so to speak, Jesus also repeatedly and resoundingly disapproved of strong attachments to wealth: where you store up riches, there also your heart will be (i.e. heaven, with non-worldly riches.) Then there is this passage: do not be anxious about what you shall eat, or what you shall wear. Your Father in heaven knows what you need..
Now, think for just a moment about that solicitude that our Father in heaven bestows on us. Throughout the history of mankind, His benevolence and providence has lifted up people in dire need (saving Noah, protecting David, etc). At the same time, His benevolence even for those whom He loves most and who (among humans) love Him most, permitted great evils to befall them: Abel was murdered, Joseph was sold into slavery, prophets were martyred, the Israelites suffered famines in which many died, the 7 sons in Maccabees were tortured and killed, and on and on into infinity. What kind of benevolence and care is it that Jesus is speaking of when he says “your Father in heaven knows what you need?”
The only answer that I can give that makes sense is that first and foremost, and outweighing all the other aspects by 1000 to 1 (if not more), is the spiritual care of bringing His beloved to heaven in the end. Goods to be enjoyed, other than that spiritual union with God that is itself the foretaste and precursor to heveanly joy, are ALWAYS granted with a view toward that one pearl of great price, that one truly important good.
And, God in His infinite wisdom is constantly using both the goods and the ills of this world to perform His works and achieve His goals, so that if a man dies of illness, or loses his house, or his family dies from an accident or flood or robbers, He can use these things for His purposes including the salvation of those He intends to bring to heaven. When we say that “I need that food” what we really mean is “I need that food to thrive right now and satisfy my hunger, but if God decided rather that what I really need for my salvation is to give that food up, become ill, and die, THAT need would outweigh my need for this food.” So, I didn’t really need that food after all, not absolutely. Or, again, I need health to do my job and raise my family, but if God were to decide to permit an auto accident in which I lose my eyesight and become mentally disabled, I would no longer really “need” my health, I would lose my job, and I would no longer be performing the role of raising my kids in the same sense. And since these would be due to God’s providence, then I don’t need to do those things if He decides I don’t, and so I don’t REALLY need my health, not absolutely. All of the needs for goods of this life are relative needs. The only absolute need is the gift of faith and grace necessary for salvation, and these gifts can be present no matter what external conditions exist.
Now, every human is ordered toward heaven, but part of the passageway to heaven is death. So it is part of God’s providence that each person suffer death, and so it is simply false to say (in an absolute sense, of course) that I need that which will prevent my death, that such things are necessities absolutely. And in every single case where we may die from X cause, God could, were He so inclined, change conditions so that X does not occur at all or does not bring about that death – He could heal the cancer, prevent the accident, etc. For EVERY SINGLE human person who has lived on this earth and who has died, God’s providence permitted his death even though it was preventable (by God). Soooooo, if by providence we mean God’s solicitude for our spiritual welfare and eternal end which are served in this life by some good things and by suffering many ills also, then inevitably the fact that a person is in the midst of some suffering or material lack is not proof that he does not have “what he really needs,” nor evidence that he is not being greatly loved by God at that very moment.
Or by man.
So, Jesus’s message of good news is the good news that salvation is open to all – BOTH the rich and the poor. A rich man may die in great pain, accept his suffering as God’s will, and go to heaven. A poor man may live in great pain, accept his condition as God’s will, and go to heaven at death. Neither is the rich man’s wealth nor the poor man’s poverty the reason they are saved. That’s good news to the poor. But because salvation is open to the poor even while they remain poor, and this is contrary to the anti-gospel of the world, Christ characterizes his mission as that of preaching “the good news to the poor”, even while he eats dinner with rich tax collectors and calls *them* to salvation also. The good news to the poor isn’t that their poverty will end in this life, or even that their poverty will end if everyone around them becomes a God-fearing Christian, it is that their poverty is no barrier to salvation. It is that even while poor they can use their poverty as a weapon againt the real evil, that of Satanic (and moral) evil. And His mission to the poor did not directly eradicate the poverty of any poor person, instead he forgave their sins and healed their bodies and expelled their demons and called them to repentence, and called them to detachment from worldly goods – just like His call to the rich.
Which is to say, the poverty of the poor is not a fundamental aspect of evangelization.
Let’s look at the speechifying about the preferential option for the poor in another way. We see these two comments:
‘The growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the masses.’ … “[T]his poverty is not a passing phase. Instead it is the product of economic, social, and political situations and structures . . . [that] create a situation on the international level where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, who get even poorer.”
Now, I am sure all of us have seen all sorts of statistics in the US about the widening wealth gap, and the ever encroaching dark of (financial) night the poor live in constant fear of. OK. But the Pope is speaking on a world-wide basis, and so I was thinking about it on a worldwide basis. And I tried to come up with objective, un-alloyed, definite measures to the overall welfare of the poor. Here are two: the percentage of people suffering from childhood malnutrition, and the life expectancy of the various populations. Both of these probably are related generally to overall material stability of the poor, given how satisfying hunger and avoiding death stand as motivations for human actions.
Lo and behold, in both cases the objective reality is that the third world, or “developing countries”, are improving and have been improving steadily on both scores since 1950. For malnutrition, childhood stunting is used as a measure, and this tells the tale:
(Source: Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2000, 78)
In terms of the percentages of those who suffer malnutrition, the poor are gaining, not losing. For life expectancy, the poor are showing just about the same improvements as for malnutrition, except that here the poor countries are actually closing the gap on life expectancy compared to the first world countries.
I have not tried to do extensive, careful research, so this is just rough, but anyway here is what I find: on most gross objective measures of material welfare of poor nations, they have generally improved since 1950. I think it likely that the above statistics are probably comparable to most other aspects of life, in the sense that if at all possible people will pretty much make sure, before all else, that they have food for today, and that they stay alive, so if in 1950 their conditions in spite of the most strenuous efforts ran them into malnutrition and otherwise early deaths, then they were also unable to deal with many other aspects of poverty that took second fiddle to either hunger or mortal illness, whereas 20% more of the same people are now able to avoid daily severe hunger and early death so that must free up time and energy and resources to deal with many other aspects of their poverty. For something like 20% more of the population who had been severely poor, life is measurably and objectively richer than it had been. This approximates what I found:
The proportion of the developing world's population living in extreme economic poverty has fallen from 28 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2001….
Some economists, such as Guy Pfeffermann, say that other non-monetary indicators of "absolute poverty" are also improving. Life expectancy has greatly increased in the developing world since World War II and is starting to close the gap to the developed world where the improvement has been smaller. Even in Sub-Saharan Africa, the least developed region, life expectancy increased from 30 years before World War II to a peak of about 50 years — before the HIV pandemic and other diseases started to force it down to the current level of 47 years.Child mortality has decreased in every developing region of the world. The proportion of the world's population living in countries where per-capita food supplies are less than 2,200 calories (9,200 kilojoules) per day decreased from 56% in the mid-1960s to below 10% by the 1990s. Between 1950 and 1999, global literacy increased from 52% to 81% of the world. Women made up much of the gap: Female literacy as a percentage of male literacy has increased from 59% in 1970 to 80% in 2000. The percentage of children not in the labor force has also risen to over 90% in 2000 from 76% in 1960. There are similar trends for electric power, cars, radios, and telephones per capita, as well as the proportion of the population with access to clean water. (Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_poverty)
The facts appear to say that while the rich are getting richer the poor are getting richer. So, either (1) Pope JPII was simply in error in his evaluation of actual objective conditions in the world at large (not impossible, could be he was taken in by the liberal media just as much as other people have been), or (2) he means something other than OBJECTIVE, actual conditions of material wealth. And I suspect it is a combination of the two. That is, it seems to me more likely he did accept (too much) at face value the apparent world picture, as depicted by the liberal media, of the increasing plight of the poor, but what that picture really depicted was the SUBjective, perspective-based change in what people perceive as the plight of the poor because it was shown as in comparison to the state of those not poor. So, in effect, what the Pope is really point an accusing finger at is the widening relative gap in wealth of the rich compared to the poor.
But is even this perception valid?
Our study reveals that the most prominent features of the data over the time periods examined – primarily, 1960 – 1985, are wealth disparity and wealth mobility. These features can be summarized as four development facts:
• In every year studied, there is great wealth disparity amoung countries. In 1985, for example, the highest-output countries were 29 times richer than the lowest-output countries.
• Wealth disparity has not increased or decreased. The distance between the richest and poorest countries remained essentially the same throughout the 1960-1985 period.
• The wealth distribution has shifted up: the richer got richer, but the poor did too. Therefore, no absolute poverty trap exists.
• There have been development miracles and disasters. During the 1960-1985 period, 10 countries increased their wealth relative to the wealth leaders by a factor of 2 or more. These miracles were matched by an equal number of development disasters: during the same period, the relative wealth of another 10 countries decreased by a factor of about 2.
(Source: “Change of Wealth of Nations,” Federal Reserve Bank Quarterly Review, Spring 1993.
So it is conceivable that the Pope was wrong even on the relative disparity issue. But that’s the basis of what he was writing on, I think, so I am willing to consider it for the sake of the argument to see what comes of it.
Assuming hypotheticaly that the greater disparity is true, what kind of an ill do the poor suffer when as a class they go from 30% being hungry to 10% being hungry? There is obviously the ill of 10% being hungry. But that’s not a NEW ill, that’s just as old as the hills. You cannot point to the 10% being hungry and call it an evil due to NEW social structures in any definitive sense. Yes, we haven’t solved the hunger of those 10% when we might have, and yes the grossly obese may be guilty of both a sin against their own proper good AND a sin against their fellow neighbor, but that’s not a new sort of evil.
The other kind of ill the poor suffer is that from seeing that there are others so much better off than they are. If it used to be that everyone around you was hungry with you, and now part of the population is well fed and at ease and you are still hungry, along side the the keen edge of hunger you may feel affronted and ill used. That is indeed a new suffering you have. The more others get wealthy, the more evident it is that they (the wealthy) have what a poor person like you can only wish for. As the wealth gap widens, this sort of suffering of the poor is the greater even if your actual material condition is better. So, even though percentage-wise fewer suffer, they suffer more intensely seeing what might be instead.
But of what moral fabric is this suffering made? Let me pose the question again in another way. When an American who was struck with polio in 1950 looks at the near-polio-free populace of the 1980s, 90s, and 00s, he can see that he suffers something that didn’t have to be. If God had sent him into the world just 1 generation later, or if men had gotten off their duffs and discovered the solution one generation sooner (composed, not a little, of multiple generations of “scientists” and “doctors” who could not bring themselves to believe the evidence of germ theory), he might have lived without polio. And again, in some 100 to 200 years, there will probably be medical marvels that will actually REPAIR the damage of polio, so that a sufferer can be cured whole and entire. So, if he were born 200 years later or if mankind had gotten around to its eventual discoveries faster, (if those lazy doctors and researchers would stop doing useless stuff like endless conferences on “bioethics” that justify abortion and infanticide), he could have lived pain free. Or, again, if God had simply decided that he not contract polio, he could have lived pain free.
Of what moral fabric is this suffering? Let me start to answer with a quote:
In like manner, the other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must accompany man so long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently - who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment - they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present. Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere, as We have said, for the solace to its troubles. (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum)
Obviously, one possible answer to the question, of what fabric is this new form of suffering, is envy. Those who don’t have may envy those who do have. If those who are hungry suffer not only hunger but also the seeing that the rich have excess that could be given to the poor, it is readily possible that they might be tempted to want the very good things that the rich have. But wanting to have precisely what another person has is the definition of envy. So for food and other material wants, new suffering in the poor caused by others getting richer (at least this form of new suffering) is somewhat problematic as a reason for proclaiming to the world reasons (new, special reasons) to change our approach to wealth and especially wealth distribution. It simply does not do to say “those people over there will envy you if you don’t give them part of your wealth.” That’s not much of a good reason for the wealthy to change their behavior.
However, for my polio example, envy may not be the only answer, especially because the sufferer may not be upset by the fact that others don’t suffer like him, at least not ostensibly. Yet that doesn’t necessarily get him off the hook for problems in the spiritual order. If God sends us something to suffer, one of our responses can legitimately be “how do I change conditions to get rid of this evil” but until that effort succeeds our required attitude about the suffering must be “I will submit to God’s will and accept His chastisements for His sake to the extent He makes it that I cannot change it while doing His will” and if it turns out to be impossible to get rid of the evil then the same attitude means I will continue to accept the suffering till death or till God changes it. It is impossible for a person with that attitude to also, at the very same time, be grievously forlorn or in sorrow at the reality that “things might have been different, had I lived at a different time, had I not contracted polio, etc.” So, it is one or the other. Either humble acceptance of God’s sendings, or pride-filled insistence that I have as much right to live pain free as the next guy, but not both.
Since before the Second Coming every man has to die before heaven is open to him, every man intending to gain heaven is required to be prepared, at some point, to suffer the pangs of mortal ills until death, with God providentially choosing not to relieve him of the burden in this life. No man is rich enough to escape this eventuality, this being shorn of every vestige of worldly good, including his own body (and as a consequence every good that serves the good of the body). So every man, rich and poor alike, must be prepared to forego health and life itself at God’s insistence if he would gain heaven.
I submit that the same sort of evaluation holds for poverty.
If God had decided to arrange the world just a little differently, that rich person over there might not be rich, and I might be in his place instead. I might have been born into a rich family. Or I might have been given that opportunity for a scholarship, gone to college, gotten a medical degree, and be well off now. Or I might have had the opportunity to become a master electrician and live quite comfortably. Or I might have not had a drug-abusing mother and had regular meals. (just a hypothetical, ok?) Etc. All of these might have beens are really possible, and there are infinitely many of them. If a poor person starts to give in to the temptation to adhere to this form of thinking, there is no end to the ways he can be unsatisfied with his current lot in life, reasons to rail against his condition as an injustice. But many of them, perhaps most of them, in some cases even ALL of them, are instances of the poor person identifying a might-have-been with a should-have-been that simply isn’t a “should” that is really true by reason of justice, or at least not really due to him. For, most available might-have-beens are simply NOT a matter of any specific person doing him (or his parents or grandparents, and beyond that I refuse to consider) out of anything definite that was his due. Certainly there is no missing ought, or something due, in the case of a person contracting polio and most illnesses, and it is also generally not present in floods, earthquakes, plagues, droughts, failed crops, failed businesses, disabling accidents, and so on, and these surely cause a great many of the things that could turn a person’s welfare around from mediocre or even well off to poor. Consider the widow whom Isaiah stayed with, whose cow God killed in the night. When Isaiah complained about this ill treatment of the widow, God revealed that no injustice occurred, God had intended originally to take the life of her son instead so the death of the cow in his place was a great mercy. Even though it left her destitute.
Gutierrez and JPII appear to suggest an analytical model in which the mere reality of inequality of wealth is precisely the “injustice” of the rich to the poor. In support of such a thesis, they (and others) elicit quotes from the early Church and from the Fathers, such as
“Property is theft.” (St. Basil the Great)
“The rich take what belongs to everyone, and claim that they have the right to own it, to monopolize it.” (same)
“You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.” (St. Ambrose)
The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; (St. Basil again)
Leading to more modern, but equally extreme constructions of comparison:
Poverty is the greatest form of violence. (Gutierrez)
But against the apparent meaning of all of these, the Church for many years has insisted otherwise, that private property is not only licit, but is implied by the natural law itself as a necessary concommitant of man in society even aside from sin. Thus either the Church has simply repudiated the above comments of such men as Basil and Ambrose, or it has interpreted these sayings in ways that moderate the impact of them. And clearly the simplest thing to say about them is this: those sayings were either hyperbole, or based on a specific (flawed) social model (imperial Rome and its law provided that property ownership explicitly allowed the owner to “use or abuse” the property) that does not obtain generally.
Among other things, the above comments about the rich and their excess cannot begin to help analyze relative human needs. They do nothing to help discern that while X amount of food is needed in the sense of being required to avoid clearly ill health, X+Y amount may be needed for fully robust health. They do absolutely nothing to help reflect on the fact that a man needs music and learning as well as food and clothing(in a different sense of need, but strongly enough that some people will give up food before giving up music), and that these needs sometimes require a great deal of assets in order to be met that could represent “the bread in your cupboard” that you have not given to your neighbor. Nor do the comments remotely help place the relative timing of needs between the needy in any kind of hierarchy: if I take the bread I have in my cupboard and give it to the poor, and thus have nothing to break my fast in the morning, and thus cannot do my day’s allotment of labor, I will then run afoul of St. Paul’s injunction “if any will not work then neither let him eat.” Simple prudence for tomorrow is a positive duty, not a narcissistic flight of greed. No, the firm and definite principle of private property means, if it means anything at all, that a man has the definite duty to adjudge for himself by reason (and for the goods placed in his hands by nature, by personal effort, by gift, and by exchange) the immediate, short term, and longer term demands on his goods to meet higher and lower level of priorities, of both necessities and of goods in due proportion, for all those neighbors (himself, his family) to whom he has definite primary obligations and whether they are not YET met if he gives up the bread, gold, or money saved for all these primary uses, and whether the savings are not what are properly called “excess” simply.
And THEN, after he has met all of that, if he has still more left over, he retains the right and duty to adjudge that these goods can be better used in X hands rather than Y hands for the poor. That is to say, the mere fact that I have a real surplus and that you have a real need does not mean you can simply take my excess as “yours” in justice. It isn’t yours yet, until I have decided to give it to you to meet your needs instead of giving it elsewhere for some other need. The above sort of so-called teachings that undermine the rights of private property with regard to the rich man’s excess mean that he is incapable of giving gifts out of that excess, which means that these teachings as such undermine the very “gratuitousness” of their own trumpeted declarations. They cannot have it both ways: if they want our giving to be modeled after the generous and gratuitous giving of gifts of the Father, then we have to actually own the things which we give to others in need, and thus the giving is an act of charity, not of simple justice properly understood. If they don’t want to credit the giving as that of charity (in excess of justice) then they have to retract their call for a gratuitous sort of behavior in imitation of the gratuitous God.
And so we get to the later 20th century “social” encyclicals such as Populorum Progressio and Solicitudo Rei Socialis that natter on and on about “development” but at every turn undermine exactly what development comes out of. If (mistaking Ambrose’s comments as being literal teaching) any inequality of goods is, itself, an injustice to the poor by the rich, then EVERY SINGLE instance of a man taking his (even short term, relative) excess and investing it for a future increase in productivity is thereby stealing from the poor person who needs it right now. Every man who stores up grain in his barn for next spring’s planting, when there are poor people in need of dinner down the river, in the next country, or in another continent, is stealing their dinner. Never mind that by giving up the seed grain he is stealing his own family’s future. So too, the man in Old Testament Israel who obeyed the Mosaic law and followed Jubilee rules by allowing the land to remain fallow in the 7th year, by storing up grain from the prior 6 years, was stealing from the poor who had not enough to live on this week.
But fortunately, even as the terms “justice” and “private property” are made horribly confused in these documents, so also are “poverty” and “inhuman conditions”. We see this smashing together of disparate notions:
What are less than human conditions? The material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love; oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power, from the exploitation of the worker or unjust transactions.
What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life's necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. From there one can go on to acquire a growing awareness of other people's dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, (l8) an active interest in the common good, and a desire for peace. Then man can acknowledge the highest values and God Himself, their author and end. Finally and above all, there is faith—God's gift to men of good will—and our loving unity in Christ, who calls all men to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men. (Populorum Progressio)
By these definitions, rich Americans who are “crushed under the weight of their own self-love” are in inhuman conditions, and well-off Chinese industrialist managers who are stuck in “oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power” are living in inhuman conditions. Equally, rich Americans whose income and opportunities are unchanging, stagnant, static, are also in “inhuman conditions” because truly human conditions imply not just a current supply of the necessities but “broadening horizons”and“acquiring refinement”and other sorts of growth. That is to say, “human” conditions are simply not based on an objective measure of “sufficiency” of any definite amount of goods related to man’s nature, but rather on a sliding scale of ever more, ever better, ever growing amounts of wealth, education, refinement, culture, regard for others, etc. It’s not just the 15% or 30% of humanity that is living in objective economic lack of material goods necessary for life, it is about 98% of humanity that is in poverty. Who knew? And of course we can’t bother with distinctions that separate out the different meanings. It’s all just “poverty” or “inhuman conditions.” Don’t try to notice, by the way, that under this ever-changing measuring stick of “development” implying ever more wealth than before no matter how much everyone has, greed of acquisition is (accidentally?) baptized as instead merely fulfilling the human spirit. X amount is never enough simply because “human” conditions are conditions of increasing what you have for more and more and more because there is no static measure.
"Development is the new name for peace." (Populorum Progressio and repeated in Solicitudo Rei Socialis)
You see how that works, right? Poverty is violence, (even relative poverty) and peace is the resolution / eradication of violence, and so “development” - wealth transfer - becomes the obligation of ALL parties as a sheer matter of justice to eradicate “violence.” I guess as long as a nation is making strides toward “more” in comparison with the richest nations – thus is gaining faster than the rich nations are gaining - there is sufficient basis for an expectation of future peace, but as soon as it looks like – even in the comparative sense, of course – a nation is not keeping up with the rate of progress of a rich nation, that’s violence and theft and intrinsically evil. Maybe that’s why Guadium et Spes (Vatican II) includes “inhuman conditions” in the ranks of “intrinsically evil” acts, even though it cannot really be considered an act at all.
Indeed, the entire body of documents seems to create a sort of intentionally obscure notion “inhuman conditions” under which they can throw virtually any situation at all that anyone might think is less than perfect for ANY reason (utterly at odds with Leo XIII quoted above) – not realizing that they have given in to liberalist terminology shenanigans (newspeak) and extended victimhood status well beyond the normal range of victims to include even those who are being berated as oppressors and victimizers. Their “make a new class of victims” impetus got out of hand and they forgot to shut it off, so they just went on creating new victim groups until they included the rich. Like Mickey Mouse magically creating more broom-slaves and forgetting to put a limit on them. Left hand, meet the right hand who doesn’t know anything about what you are doing.
So too, they ignore the fact that at least 80% of the poor people living in “poverty” and “inhuman conditions” are living objectively in greater wealth than the average, happy, “dignified” person in Jesus’s time. How can this be? Don’t ask. Don’t even wonder how the very same objective living conditions can be dignified in one case and undignified in another. So too, the St. Francis who literally walks away from every form of ownership of property, who eschews all property for the sake of purer love of God, can live in immense dignity but many of the poor who own a small hut with a tiny garden are living in conditions contrary to human dignity, not because of the objective amount of wealth they own but because of how that amount of wealth compares to some people in a far off country with whom this poor person compares himself, much to his negative conclusion. Is this what is meant by the “spirit of poverty?” Don’t ask. These questions are not to be put on the table for discussion.
Don’t ask, either, about Gutierrez’s politicization of religious vows of poverty:
Voluntary poverty is a conscious protest against injustice by choosing to live together with those who are materially poor.
Gone is the spiritual motivation of simply giving up goods in order to avoid ATTACHMENT to goods, (such as my brother made on entering an order), which is a root moral objective. Gone is the rationale of vows of poverty made by cloistered nuns, who don’t have any “protest against injustice” and don’t “live together with those who are materially poor.”
So far as I can tell, the entire program starts off on the wrong foot and never gets a great deal closer to getting truly fixed, though I think Benedict XVI sort of corrected some of the defects. The wrong foot is in attempting to identify poverty as a condition of inequality, and as a mindset of “lack of power” in world affairs, and as an inherently undignified status while being relative, and as a single problem, and as a problem whose solution we should expect to find before we achieve converting all men to Christianity and before the Second Coming, and as trying to locate in prosperity a direct and fundamental point of evangelization, and in ignoring the tension between the root requirement of development (investment and husbanding of so-called “surplus”) and laying claim on all surplus as belonging to the poor to meet their necessities. So too, many of the proposed solutions amount to either outright liberal claptrap (set up new governmental ministries, and new international governments to oversee the [forced?] distribution of goods), or incredibly empty, inconsistent mumbo-jumbo (nations must meet together [really?]…peoples should respect each others cultures… while the rich nations may legitimately impose conditions on their providing support for the poor, these aren’t really gifts, and still the cultures of the victim/oppressed cannot be uprooted in despotic mandates from the rich [including cultures that ignore tenets of private property, contract law, and rule of law generally?] ), or measures that are actually counterproductive in true economic terms, (treating investments of the rich as simply injustice as such because those assets belong to the poor – even though it is precisely those investments that provide jobs and self-sufficiency rather than a permanent underclass victim status for the poor).
I am not against a preferential option for the poor taken in the proper context: the poor need our help more than the rich and powerful, so they have more claim on our (material) help. That's a preference. I have a problem with converting that into a foundational principle of evangelization (as if the poor need the Gospel more than the rich, or as if the poor have more right to the Gospel, or as if the poor will be better by receiving the Gospel than the rich will). I also have a problem with converting mercy and charity into justice. And of converting the Gospel message of detachment from worldly goods into a message for the rich only.