Saturday, October 17, 2009
Today I participated in the St. John's University Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Poverty Conference, the Vincentian Center's 6th biennial povertty conference. The theme was Extreme Wealth and Poverty and the Virtue of Enough. I moderated the opening plenary session, Globalization, Development and Poverty: The Crisis of Ethics and Economics, which featured talks by Drew Christensen, S.J., Editor-in-Chief of America magazine, and H.E. Oscar de Rojas, fomer director of the Financing for Developing Office of the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs. That session was followed by a second plenary panel that presented international perspectives on globalization and the effects of the economic crisis on both the wealth and the poor. The afternoon featured concurrent workships on topics ranging from the environment to mental health in stressful times to how we define poverty and measure progress in today's world.
I was captivated by the theme of this conference as soon as I heard it. The virtue of "enough." As Christensen pointed out in his talk, "enough" is not listed as one of the virtues. However, it is implicit in much of Catholic teaching. The goods of the earth, provided by our loving God, are destined for all and when are our needs are satisfied, we are obligated to share the rest. If we all consume what we need and share the rest, there will be enough for all. It is actually a pretty simple concept.
Christensen went on to talk about the various cultural forces that have contributed to a loss of a sense of enough, a loss of a willingness to modify our lifestyle for the sake of the common good...an unwillingness to have less so others can have enough.
What went through my mind as I was listening to both of the opening speakers this morning, but particularly Christensen, was the language of policital discussions over health care reform, in particular, the efforts to persuade those who currently have care that plans to secure universal access will not have any effect on their existing coverage. In the short term, that may be a politically expedient message. However, it seems to me that it is a message that feeds into an attitude of greed vs. generosity and of me vs. you. Beyond the specific issue of how we deal with health care reform and much more broadly with respect to worldwide issues of hunger, lack of clean water, etc., I wonder from where might come the leadership to stand up and say: We have a human obligation to make sure everyone has enough. And (more boldly) it just may be that some people have to accept less so that others may have enough.