Saturday, February 05, 2005
I haven’t had as much time and energy as I would like to read and study over the last few weeks. Over the last couple of days in particular I have been really exhausted. Unfortunately much of the work that I have had to do during that time has demanded a lot of creative input, something which is very hard to whip up when you are tired. This weekend we have visitors staying, so I will probably not be using my room (and my computer) much for the next couple of days. Next weekend I will be away and I hope to spend at least one day of that time in concentrated study, something I haven’t done much of for quite some time now. At present I am struggling with writer’s block. Of course, writer’s block is often just a euphemism for sloth and I feel that this is the case in my situation. Nevertheless, identifying it is far easier than shaking it. At the moment I am working through a number of different books. I am enjoying Robert Alter’s The Five Books of Moses; his translation of the Pentateuch makes for very stimulating reading. I am halfway through The Fifth Head of Cerberus, which is my first exposure to the writing of Gene Wolfe. I am ashamed of the fact that I never went to the trouble of reading his work before now. His style is scintillating and thought-provoking. A number of people I respect have recommended Wolfe and, in retrospect, my reluctance in reading him was inexcusable. Paul Duggan has a fan page and James Jordan has frequently made reference to his works. James Jordan’s Through New Eyes is also on my reading list. I have read it a number of times before, but it is a book that bears rereading. I have just finished listening to Jordan’s lectures on reading the Bible and these precipitated my decision to pick up Through New Eyes again. The Christian world would be a better place if everyone read Jordan. When I first read Jordan I found his approach to the text quite bizarre and many of his ideas seemed more like flights of fancy than the fruit of serious exegesis. As I spent more time reading Scripture, however, I found myself converted to Jordan’s position. At Gaines’ recommendation I am reading Marva Dawn’s Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society. Marva Dawn’s work is always brimful of insights and is also quite accessible and readable. Unfettered Hope is no exception. Nevertheless, if there is one quibble that I have with Marva Dawn, it is her tendency to place too much of the responsibility for the poverty of the third world at the door of the West. It seems to me that this simply reinforces the victim mentality that is much of the problem in the third world. Life is not a ‘zero-sum’ game, despite the tendency of many Christian writers to treat it this way. The West was not always ‘the West’ as we think of it. The wealth of the West is not merely the natural state of affairs, but only came as a result of diligent development of capital over many centuries. Britain and America were not created with ready-made infrastructures and high standards of living that were somehow denied to the rest of the world. The wealth of the West is not necessarily at the expense of the rest of the world. We can only consume so much because we produce so much. This is not to say that there aren’t immense problems with the way that we live in the West (worship of Mammon being one among many). I don’t think that we do the third world any favours when we continually cast it in the role of ‘victim’ and fail to point out that, in many respects, they have been the architects of quite a few of their own problems. Passivity in the face of natural forces (as can be seen in animism), widespread corruption in government, a failure to take responsibility and to take the initiative, a lack of a social stigma attached to laziness, a lack of law and order, a lack of a future orientation, a view of the world as a given and unchanging order, certain forms of caste and tribal systems, systemic envy that endangers property, and religions that totally renounce the world probably play much more of a role in the poverty of the third world than anything that the West does. I believe that the West has preyed upon the third world in various ways and used vices such as those listed above to its benefit. Western nations may rightly be accused of encouraging, perpetuating and exploiting these vices in the populations of third world countries as a means of extending their economic empires. Britain’s colonial expansion could hardly have succeeded, had we not exploited the weaknesses of various societies (e.g. the caste system in India). It seems to me that a lot of blame should be laid at the door of the West, but that writers like Marva Dawn take it too far. All too often I am told by the authors that I read that I should feel guilty about the fact that, living in the West, I enjoy a relatively wealthy lifestyle. Although I believe that there is much to be ashamed of in our history and current practice in relation to the third world, I just don’t believe that we bear all the responsibility that it being placed upon us. Rather than giving purely out of guilt, I believe that we should be giving primarily out of love and concern. I also believe that speaking truthfully about the causes of much of the poverty of this world may not be politically correct, but it may do more good than sustaining the victim mentality that often serves to keep many people in our world poor. I know that this might sound awfully controversial, but it's my opinion. I have seen too many poor people close up to have romantic views of their lack of complicity in their own problems. Their slavery is not merely a slavery to sinful systems, but to their own sinful vices. I should hardly need to say that this is not to be used as an excuse for a lack of concern. It can help us to focus our concern more effectively, though.