One hundred years ago, during the First World War, the Christmas truce took place between British, German, and French soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front. On Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from opposing sides, who were stationed there to kill each other, instead got to know one another, shared photos of loved ones, and even had a game of soccer.
This of course made their superiors furious, not just because the troops were disobeying orders, but because it is much harder to harm someone with whom you have formed some sort of relationship. The enemy is to be faceless and nameless.
The same holds true for millions of people living in poverty around the world this Christmas. They are the faceless and nameless ones. In reality though, the enemy that is poverty is not faceless. Poverty is about people; it is not about statistics. Poverty is also not just about a lack of material goods; it is more about a lack of dignity, a lack of a sense that you are important. We are reminded that poverty is always personal because it is about relationship.
Market speculation and pursuit of profits are hindering the global fight against hunger and poverty, Pope Francis said Nov. 20.
In an address at a U.N. conference in Rome on nutrition, the pope urged the world’s wealthiest nations to do more to help those in need.
“Perhaps we have paid too little heed to those who are hungry,” the pope told delegates from more than 170 countries attending the global gathering at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
“It is also painful to see that the struggle against hunger and malnutrition is hindered by ‘market priorities,’” the pope said.
“The hungry remain, at the street corner, and ask to be recognized as citizens, to receive a healthy diet. We ask for dignity, not for charity.”
The Argentine pope has often called for greater compassion and justice for the world’s poor since his election last year, and he has made charity a priority of his pontificate.
“Excuse me, sir. I don’t have any cash, but I have a credit card, and I’m going to that restaurant right now. If you’re hungry, I’d be happy to have you join me.”
Well, I said something like that, though my French was a little rusty, and I might not have said it quite right.
The man was sitting on the sidewalk outside the train station. I’d just arrived in Paris after an overnight ride, and I was tired and hungry. The sign he was holding caught my eye: “I’m an out-of-work architect, and I need money for rent for my son and me.”
You just never know with panhandlers and street beggars. Are they telling the truth, or have they simply figured out how to pull our heartstrings? It’s easy to choose to ignore them, or to toss them some cash and pay off a guilty conscience. Don’t stop, just toss some coins and keep rolling on by. I was living in Madrid at the time, a city of five million people. Beggars are a daily fact of life in a city like that, and you need to find a way to deal with them. Eventually they become like busy intersections, crosswalks, gawking tourists, and all the other impediments to travel.
At the same time, I couldn’t help asking what Christ would do.
Absolutely, say organizers of a first-of-its-kind conference to be held by atheists of color in Los Angeles this weekend. And, they add, it’s about time those issues got some attention.
Called “Moving Social Justice,” the conference will tackle topics beyond the usual atheist conference fare of confronting religious believers and promoting science education. Instead, organizers hope to examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.
“Atheism is not a monolithic, monochromatic movement,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, an atheist activist, author and founder of Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, one member of a coalition of black atheist and humanist groups staging the conference.
“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”
The conference is unusual for an atheist gathering in another important way — its lineup of speakers includes members of the religious community. Hutchinson, often an outspoken critic of religion, described the conference as “effectively an interfaith conference.”