The Role of Faith in Combating Poverty

Religious Symbols

I was particularly drawn by a comment made by a Catholic Bishop about the focus (which dovetailed around religion) of the World Bank’s Wednesday 15th April webcast on the power of faith to help end extreme poverty. Faith and religion are often used interchangeably but do not necessarily mean the same thing. They however complement each other. How I understand the two will emerge in the article.

Since time memorial, humanity has been in constant search for the truth about how men ought to relate to each other in order to live an abundant life. There is formal philosophy that is commonly associated with the academic world but even primitive man philosophized. Different cultures and people have been concerned with puzzling questions about life and these have revolved around a human existence without problems and where harmony among the living is possible. A heaven on earth perhaps? Issues such as disease, death, poverty and peace have been the concern of all humanity. Humanity has been bothered by how to live the best life. Arguably, it is these philosophizing questions on human existence that have led to religion (even the most primitive of religions). Through experience, different people have come to conclusions about how to live the best life. Some of these solutions may be faulty but arguably, they have led to a harmonious existence. Where does faith come in? Faith is the belief that the revealed truths or even understandings on how to live the best life are true. Faith motivates people to live in the prescribed manner. It is the belief in things hoped for. In the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 sums up the meaning of faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” If I am to put it in context, it would be the belief that experience doesn’t have to be the best teacher and that a wise man learns from the mistakes and wisdom of others.

Various religions understand what is detrimental to the best life and have therefore come up with teachings that guide people towards living in a manner that enables people to live the best life. This has often been conditioned by the environment that people live in. When there are disruptions, there is always the tendency for people to embrace religion without continuing to philosophize and people cease to learn from their mistakes. On the extreme, the products of years of lived experience are discarded for “evidence based” solutions.

Religion, faith and science are not incompatible. They are focused on the same issues. Faith and reason are two sides of the same coin. The science world is based focused on evidence based solutions about what works and what does not. On the other hand, religion and its moral codes are based on a lived experience of what works and what does not in ensuring the best life and afterlife for the human person. Faith and religion are not anti-science and one can trace back the origins of universities to religious groups and arguably, the scientific method is attributed to a Catholic Franciscan Friar by the name Roger Bacon. While religion may encompass the supernatural which contemporary science cannot find evidence for, the two can be reconciled. Science may prove to us the legitimacy of the supernatural.

Science and religion concern themselves with the same issues. While religion has found answers to issues such as eternal life, science is engaged in preventing aging and even using unethical methods that degrade human life. While religion may be focused on behaviour change through encouraging appropriate behaviour, science may be more concerned with preventing human beings from dealing with the consequences of their actions. This may not benefit humanity in the long run. Shortcuts are never solutions.

If people live their faith, it is possible to end extreme poverty in the world. As St. Paul said faith without action is dead. The question is how do we make it possible or easier for people to live their faith and can we differentiate authentic religion from an adulterated and fundamentalist one that also seeks to bring justice to those affected by poverty?



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