Understanding poverty as a complex, socio-economic phenomenon, it is also necessary to recognize that it has a spiritual dimension. As is often observed, some “rich” people suffer from spiritual poverty, whereas some “poor” people are spiritually rich; thus it is clear that poverty exists not only in the material dimension. The spiritual and material aspects of poverty are in fact closely related.
It is obvious that material poverty obstructs the sound physical development of the child. But in many cases, it can also wear down the awareness of the intrinsic value and dignity of being human, which in turn leads to unhealthy relationships among individuals and sectors of society. In this sense, material poverty is one of the primary obstacles to the manifestation of human physical and spiritual holiness, the innate potential for which lives originally inside each human being.
Children living in poverty are robbed of educational opportunity, and as a result, after becoming adults, can obtain only a minimal income. When their children are born, reborn with them is the vicious cycle of impoverishment.
Recent economic globalization, driven chiefly by unrestrained financial speculation made possible by advances in information technology, is making this process of impoverishment even more rapid and far-reaching, allowing unprecedented richness for a few and leaving increasing numbers of people behind in absolute poverty.
It is spiritual poverty that is behind this misuse of our national and international economies. What takes place in a free market economy reveals the spiritual condition of its members. In particular, two manifestations of spiritual poverty – exclusive preoccupation with self and corresponding lack of concern for the disadvantaged, and the heart of greed that pursues excessive personal wealth regardless of the consequences for others – are distorting socioeconomic structures and impoverishing whole societies.
In this sense, it can be said that the very fact that a society – today’s international community, for example – allows some of its members to live in material poverty reveals that the society itself, as a whole, is spiritually poor. The tragic consequences of this spiritual poverty are seen even among the materially wealthy, where increasing rates of youth suicide, self-destructive drug abuse and violence reveal the severe lack of hope and meaning young people are experiencing in their lives.
The problem of poverty is thus a multidimensional phenomenon. It has material, economic, social, psychological and spiritual aspects, and is complicated by intergenerational processes and structural factors. It is essential to take a comprehensive approach that maximizes synergies among the many fronts of the fight to put an end to poverty.
As international organizations and NGOs tackle the eradication of poverty in their various fields, religious people, with the mission to change the world starting with the heart – from the inside-out – have a unique contribution to make in the area of education. We believe we can play a particularly effective role in the peace and health education which are so essential in the fight against war and disease, as well as in education that includes such spiritual values as faith, ethics and justice.
Our dream is this: as children beaten down by poverty awaken to their own human dignity and regain the joy of living and hope for the future, their own unlimited potential will be revealed. This, in turn, will lead to freedom from the vicious cycle of poverty and enrich the whole world. To build the capacities of families and societies to realize these aims, what is sought from all religious people everywhere is the beginning of a silent revolutionary movement of the heart.
The Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), which was inaugurated in May 2000, is creating new opportunities for interreligious cooperation on initiatives for children and aims to develop a grassroots global movement for children in the 21st century, working in cooperation with international organizations, national governments, NGOs, businesses, scholars, media and people from all other walks of life.
For more information, please contact: Arigatou Foundation, 3-3-3 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0053, JAPAN,
Tel: 813-3370-5396 Fax: 813-3370-7749