Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Curse of Enforced Poverty

Turning the clock back a few years, says the bishop in his weekly column in the Catholic Times, we would find quite a few places where one could enjoy leisure time activities. Each neighborhood would have open spaces where you could find movies and circus events, along with other entertainments. In the alleyways you would see children playing with picture cards, jumping rope or dancing, and hear the chatter of children.

With the coming of industrialization, these human activities began to disappear. Today, the bishop says, the places where people are gathering and enjoying themselves are places that require an entrance fee. So the poor have few or no places to go to enjoy themselves.

Could this be one of the reasons we have so many cases of depression and mental problems among the poor? the bishop asks. Many people don't remember seeing so many mental problems in the past. With the loss of human interchange we  are spending more money for medical care.
Jesus told us not to keep our eyes only on material things. Not an easy thing to do today when leisure time activities are often centered on the acquisition of money.  Can we as Christians excuse ourselves  from any responsibility for this state of affairs? He wonders whether we are an important part of the problem.

Seoul is a city where many rich people live. Recently, he says, a mother of two daughters, living in Seoul and working in a diner, fell and hurt her arm and then couldn't work. Finding no way out of the serious situation, she took her life and the life of her two daughters. Though many put the blame on our current welfare system for the tragedy, we should reflect, says the bishop, on the fact that our sense of neighbor is disappearing. Who  drove this mother to commit this tragedy? he asks. He can't erase from his thinking, he says, that we are all accomplices for what happened by closing our eyes to the ingrained injustices of society. What is worse, he says, is that we will continue to have many more of these incidents unless we, as a society, resolve to address the issue seriously.

Korea has for the last 8 years been number one in the number of suicides as a developed country. Last year we had, on average, 42 persons who committed  suicide each day. The relationship of poverty and the number of suicides is well established. Surveys have shown that 13 percent of men who are in the lowest 25 percent in income have had thoughts of killing themselves. While only 4 percent of the upper 25 percent had these same thoughts. Among college graduates 7.9 persons in every 100.000 killed themselves. For every 100,000 persons who had only an elementary school education the number was 121. 4 persons. The figures speak for themselves.

One of our maxims reminds us that even the nation is not able to keep a person from poverty, seemingly saying that poverty is not a problem of society but a personal problem of  laziness or stupidity or some serious incompetency; this kind of thinking lies behind many of these maxims, the bishop says. A Christian has a different way of seeing the problem. When we accept everyone as brothers and sisters and work together to eradicate the problem of poverty,  we will be living as members of God's kingdom.

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