Last year the Washington Post published an article about a statement Ben Carson made during a SiriusXM radio interview with Armstrong Williams. In the interview, Carson said that he thought poverty, to a “large extent”, was a “state of mind.” He went on to explain his position, but as you might imagine, he took a fair bit of grief, in large part, from folks who don’t agree with his politics. Like most issues these days, we can’t seem to take a position on a topic without someone being offended. Mr. Carson’s comments were no exception.
Which got me thinking….
As I waded through the responses to Carson’s comments – ignoring the visceral, hate-filled nonsense – the reasoned arguments against his position were, not surprisingly, from the secular perspective. Secular being defined as physical only. No God. We’re all just evolved animals. Truth is relative. And so on…
The notion that poverty is purely physical/material leaves me scratching my head. Outside the context of a catastrophic event (natural disasters, war, etc.), the reality is that poverty doesn’t just happen. I’ve come to see firsthand that it’s rooted in how people view themselves. How they view their relationships with each other, the environment, and most importantly, what they think about when they think about God. It flows from their assumptions on how the world works (or should work) and the choices they make based on those assumptions. It’s about worldview.
I’m learning that those who see poverty through a secular lens – purely physical, disregarding the spiritual – invariably look for someone or something to blame. Blame the poor for their poverty. Or, more commonly, blame the non-poor. The injustices of colonialism. Overpopulation. The lack of resources, infrastructure, or political systems. They’ll call for the redistribution of wealth, or preach about “fairness.”
Spoiler alert: Fairness is a myth. Andy Stanley says it best, “Fairness ended at the Garden.”
In his book Discipling Nations, Darrow Miller said it this way. “A worldview does more to influence people’s flourishing – their prosperity or poverty – than does their physical environment or other circumstances.”
And oh, by the way… It feels a little hypocritical of those on the secular side to dismiss the role worldview plays in the fight against poverty. To them, a non-secular worldview is irrelevant, after all, because life is rooted in the physical. There is no God. There is no spiritual element to consider. Truth is relative. Humans are evolved animals, that’s all. We live. We die. That’s it. We’re all just cogs in Nature’s machine, right?
Yet, their secular position is also rooted in a worldview. We all have one. It’s unavoidable. The choices they make are based on the their assumptions of how the world works. Their choices drive their behavior. In essence, their secular worldview becomes their religion.
But none of this is terribly new. Folks way smarter than me have written about this stuff for years. “Discipling Nations” was first published 20+ years ago. More recent works like When Helping Hurts (Corbett & Fikkert) and Toxic Charity (Lupton) all talk about the dangers of viewing poverty through the material lens. Volumes have been written. Almost everyone I meet that works with the poor has read them. There’s plenty of data out there to support it. We even point to the trillions of dollars spent to eradicate poverty, yet we don’t really talk about the link between poverty and worldview.
Why is that?
I have my thoughts, of course, and perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to share them without offending everyone. But for now, my focus is on how to effectively help the poor shift their worldview and thrive. To help them know that God loves them, that He has a purpose for their life, and they have responsibilities. To help them see the fruit of being a godly parent, spouse, teacher, business owner, and leader. To help them see that an abundant life is definitely possible. To help communities be compassionate, full of dignity, purpose, and freedom to thrive without being dependent on outsiders.
If you’re familiar with The 410 Bridge and our work with the global poor, you know that we’ve never defined poverty as a material problem. We see it as a worldview problem. Since the beginning, we’ve held fast to the idea that if we were really (I mean, no foolin’) going to help communities break the cycle of poverty, we needed to look beyond their physical challenges and help change their perspectives.
That, in essence, is what Carson is saying. What he labels as their ‘state of mind’ is what we label worldview or perspective.
Check back for Part Two as I explore another angle of Mr. Carson’s comments. You can read the full WaPo article here… https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/05/24/ben-carson-calls-poverty-a-state-of-mind-during-interview/?noredirect=on
Kurt Kandler is the founder and Executive Director of The 410 Bridge. He is passionate not only about breaking the cycle of poverty in communities where The 410 Bridge works, but but also for changing the paradigm of mission for the Western church and how it engages the poor.