HH Raseshwari Devi Ji
If God exists, why doesn't he take care of poverty?
We understand God has the powers to do anything. Then why doesn't He fix the problem of poverty?
Thomas Malthus was an English economist whose ideas influenced policymakers and thinkers worldwide, right up to the 20th century. He predicted that population growth would far outstrip food production, leading to starvation and other dreadful outcomes. The world's population has grown almost eight-fold since Malthus's time (1 billion in the late 18th century) to nearly 8 billion now, but we have not yet run out of food. We are growing - and wasting - more food than we need, and there is no danger of running out of food, even if the population increases further. You can attribute this to the bounty of nature and God or advances in agricultural technology.
But that does not mean that there haven't been famines and mass starvation deaths in the two centuries following Malthus's dire predictions. This is a list of a few famines of the past two centuries.
1850-1873 (China). Because of the Taiping Rebellion. 60 million dead.
1896 - 1900 (India). Because of British policies. 2 million dead.
1917 - 1919 (Iran). 2 - 10 million dead.
1921 (Russia) 5 million dead.
1928 - 1930 (China) 3 - 10 million dead.
1932 - 1933 (Soviet Union) 7 million dead.
1943 (India). Bengal famine. 2 million dead.
1959 - 1961 (China). Great Chinese famine. 15 - 55 million dead.
1994 - 1998 (North Korea). 2 million dead.
1998 - 2004 (Congo). Second Congo War. 2 million dead.
So, was Malthus correct? No, in almost all instances, these deaths were the handiwork of man and not because God was negligent in supplying food.
Most of us have heard of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. In his landmark paper, he argued that famines and deaths occurred due to bad governance, not nature's wrath. While droughts can and do happen, it need not lead to mass deaths if the land's government is fair and responsive.
Compare two countries - North and South Korea. A political boundary called the 38th parallel separates the two countries. These are two countries with a great deal in common, the same people, with very similar culture, language, climate, and geography. Yet, North Korea has abject poverty, and starvation deaths were common till a few years ago. It may still be happening. On the other hand, South Korea is one of the world's wealthiest countries with almost no poverty. Is it God's fault that people live in abject poverty in North Korea?
Even if you place the blame of poverty squarely on God, of late, it would seem he is working overtime to eradicate this scourge.
Extreme poverty has reduced sharply across the globe in the past few decades. China has lifted hundreds of millions from extreme poverty. India, too, has had significant success. Other parts of the world have also seen a considerable reduction in extreme poverty. It is quite likely that we will see, in our lifetimes, extreme poverty eradicated from all parts of the globe.
This will give rise to another question - what is poverty? How poor does one have to be for qualifying as 'poverty-stricken'? Even in wealthy countries like the USA, there are sizeable numbers who are poor. But you cannot deny that there is a difference between poverty in the USA and poverty in India or Africa. For instance, a person can have a house, a car, air conditioning, adequate food and clothes, and still be below the USA's poverty line. Tell this to a poor man in India, and he will probably shake his head in disbelief.
So, let us not drag God into this debate on poverty. He has given us plenty for our needs; if poverty still exists, it is due to humans' vile deeds.
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