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If you want to help the world’s poor, support the religious orders

Missionary orders stay with the destitute long after every western charity has left

By on Thursday, 1 November 2012

An Irish nun supervises a teacher at a Sudanese primary school (CNS)

An Irish nun supervises a teacher at a Sudanese primary school (CNS)

What is the best way to help the poor? This question is older than the Church, and probably as old as human society. But in modern conditions it has arguably become harder than ever to give a satisfactory answer.

Catholics have a moral obligation, arising directly from Christ’s teaching, to feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, shelter the homeless, comfort the suffering and in general respond with practical compassion to the needs of others, both through our own efforts and by supporting those who devote their lives to serving the poor. All of this arises from a human engagement between the person in need and the one offering help, a relationship which is fundamental to Catholic spirituality and social teaching.

But is this enough? Don’t we also have a responsibility to “make poverty history”, that is, to fight for a radically transformed world order by opposing what the Honduran Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez has called the “structural causes” of poverty?

There is no doubt that the world’s poor are often harmed by entrenched global policies, although views inevitably differ on which are the most obnoxious, or what exactly should be done. One obvious candidate for reform is the European Common Agricultural Policy, often cited as a prime cause of misery in the developing world. Other observers focus on the policies of United Nations agencies, especially the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Others again attack an international trading system which concentrates power in the hands of big business.

Few of us, I expect, feel confident that our opinions on these questions are reliable or comprehensive – and we are not alone. The fascinating literature on development demonstrates that there is little agreement on such questions, and many experts operate on altogether unconnected planes.

Perhaps a better approach is to consider the question of unjust structures from the ground up, adopting the rather different perspective of the poor themselves. For example, it is impossible to enter into their lives without pondering the destructive effects of war, corruption and bad governance. In some parts of Africa farmers avoid growing their crops within sight of the roads to reduce the risk that militias will plunder them. For the same reason, crops are cut down before they are ripe.

This fear of armed marauders exacerbates the common lack of access to roads or railways in Africa. To take one well-known instance, the roads from Nairobi to the west of Kenya are in a state of advanced disrepair, a situation reflecting the fact that the Luo, the dominant tribe in the region bordering Lake Victoria, have been excluded from national power since independence. The predictable result is not just the relative deprivation of the Luo themselves, but the increased isolation of Uganda, which relies on Kenyan roads to transport its products to the sea.

If unjust governance exacerbates poverty by excluding farmers and manufacturers from the export market, the petty corruption of policemen, school teachers, doctors and government officials is also a deadly reality for many poor people all over the world. A 2002 survey by the NGO Transparency International found that urban households in Kenya were paying on average 16 bribes a month, amounting to no less than 31 per cent of their income.

If anyone is inclined to dismiss the significance of this, the suicide of the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi will serve as a reminder of what it can mean in human terms. Bouazizi doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in December 2010, after the police and city authorities demanded protection money from him. Bouazizi’s death will be remembered because it triggered the Arab Spring, but the circumstances which led to it are all too familiar to the poor around the world who remain invisible to the media.

The sheer intractability of these problems should serve as a warning against utopian solutions to world poverty. It may also remind us of the true basis of solidarity between human beings, which is spiritual and personal, not technical or economic. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, we cannot help the poor if we regard their problems in exclusively material terms. Lack of bread and abuse of power are real and must be addressed, but they arise in a human – that is, a spiritual and moral – context.

If we try to fix material problems in isolation, Pope Benedict argues, without recognising the “ordering of goods” which places God at the centre of human life, we will end up replicating the dystopian nightmare of Marxism or the relativistic nihilism of the contemporary West. It is hardly surprising that African Catholics such as Obianuju Ekeocha, the young Nigerian scientist whose open letter to Melinda Gates has been spreading across the internet, eloquently reject the prospect of such a dead end.

My new novel, Ten Weeks in Africa, explores the world of international aid and NGOs, and researching it has intensified my interest in these questions. One of the things that struck me repeatedly as I was working on the book is the generally unremarked, yet actually ubiquitous, presence of Catholic institutions in poor countries. Catholic religious orders run clinics and schools, orphanages and cooperatives in almost every country where there is hunger, war, terror and manifest injustice.

Given the financial scandals which are now coming to light in the development industry, it is interesting to notice that Catholic institutions have certain fundamental strengths. Their permanence guarantees the seriousness of their work. Speaking the languages and operating under the political conditions of the countries they operate in, they generally take a patient, long-term view and avoid bombastic claims about their work.

Permanence also creates the conditions for a profound solidarity, indeed for thoroughgoing assimilation into the host society, with a tendency to see the challenges and needs of the poor from the ground up, in terms the poor themselves share.

Religious orders’ vows of poverty protect them from the tendency to make a good living out of helping others in distress. Most fundamentally, the fact that their work arises out of, and is constantly renewed by the sacramental life of the Church, means that the poor are not seen as a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be exploited. From the point of view of Catholics living in the West, the missionary orders offer virtually unlimited opportunities to participate in their work.

J M Shaw’s new novel, Ten Weeks in Africa, is published by Sceptre, priced £17.99

  • Benedict Carter

    That’s a nun?

  • TreenonPoet

    You provide no evidence that religion helps the poor. Some religious organisations have strategic presence, but do insist on pushing their brand of religion, thereby cancelling some of the good that they might do. Religions that promote quantity of life above quality of life can increase poverty. Religions that encourage faith in supernatural intervention rather than self-help through scientia can increase poverty. Religions that shun those of other religions and none can increase poverty. Religions that enable leaders to claim a divine right to rule (or divine approval) can increase poverty.

    The harm that religion does can cross continental boundaries. Look at the support for Mitt Romney by Catholic leaders in the US, and the reluctance of Obama to upset them too much. The consequences for the environment may be catastrophic globally.

    I am sure that there are good people in religious organisations just as there are good people in non-religious organisations. But to imply that non-religious organisations are essentially immoral is itself immoral. If there is a lack of non-religious organisations pushing morality, it may be because of the opposition of the religious (such as in the demonisation of secularists, and of humanists such as Richard Dawkins). That very opposition is also immoral.

  • Aaron Lopez

    “You provide no evidence that religion helps the poor.”

    Sometimes you can take it for assumption, like the fact that 2000 years of Catholic charity is pretty unmissable. 

    “Some religious organisations have strategic presence, but do insist on pushing their brand of religion, thereby cancelling some of the good that they might do.”

    You provide no evidence that pushing a brand of religion automatically cancels out any good “strategic presence”* might do. When Pope Leo III “strategically placed” Catholicism in front of the Franks and their king Charlemagne, Western Civilization was born. I’m pretty sure that was a good thing.

    “Religions that promote quantity of life above quality of life can increase poverty.”

    It’s a good thing that the Catholic Church discourages chasing paper money then, and instead the joy of love and community… kinda like this article is doing!

    “Religions that encourage faith in supernatural intervention rather than self-help through scientia can increase poverty.”

    Once again, thank God for Catholicism coming to the rescue, what with its faith AND reason providing not only the joyous Blessed Eucharist at Holy Mass, but those cunning monks and their love for science and agriculture from the 12th century onwards, who would go on to influence social administration. Who woulda thunk!

    “The harm that religion does can cross continental boundaries.”

    Because secularism is the healthier alternative. Just ask Robespierre, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro.

    “But to imply that non-religious organisations are essentially immoral is itself immoral.”

    This doesn’t make a lick of sense, and if it did, you’re putting words in the author’s mouth. He didn’t imply the immorality of non-religious organisations. Perhaps, at the most, he implied their futility.

    *Catholics don’t “strategically place” things. We unashamedly evangelize the Holy Sacrifice. And when we’re questioned for our unique charity, we simply say it’s because of Christ’s Holy Sacrifice on the Cross. We’re not a social justice group. Maybe that’s the key to charitable success.

  • la catholic state

    I totally agree.  The Catholic Church is the best and most efficient charitable organisation on earth.  Priests and nuns work for a pittance….and do not have families to support unlike secular charity workers.  Also the parish system means that every part of the globe (practically) is covered by the Church.

  • TreenonPoet

     Do those ”2000 years of Catholic charity” include the charity shown to heretics by the Inquisition?

    By ‘strategic’, I meant that the placement of missions etc. tend to coincide with what would be strategic for the purposes of reaching the poor.

    The article is ”kinda”suggesting that the joy of love and community come from religion. Not only is religion not an essential ingredient of such joy, but it can inspire hate and divisiveness. And overpopulation will sooner or later result in misery.

    faith AND reason”! Religious faith and rational reasoning are mutually exclusive.

    In an attempt to avoid another time-wasting session in response to your remark about ”Robespierre, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro”, I invite you to choose which one of these you consider to be the worst, and I will try to show why your assertion is not supported.

    The words from the author’s mouth (or keyboard) were ”Catholics have a moral obligation” as if non-Catholics do not, and ”As Pope Benedict XVI has written, we cannot help the poor if we regard their problems in exclusively material terms. Lack of bread and abuse of power are real and must be addressed, but they arise in a human – that is, a spiritual and moral – context.” which again (in the context of the article) suggests that the non-religious are not moral. False accusations are immoral.

  • drj81

    I think you’ll find that talking the talk is not the same as walking the walk.
    You could add Pol Pot and plenty of others too by the way. 
    Poverty causes over-population and having too few children causes poverty in the long-term. .

  • TreenonPoet


    I think you’ll find that talking the talk is not the same as walking the walk.

    What are you trying to insinuate?

    You could add Pol Pot and plenty of others too by the way.

    That does not look like a ‘by the way’, but like an expression of frustration that Aaron Lopez omitted Pol Pot from that canard. Such names are raised by Christians time and time again as if the false logic behind the thinking will one day become true through repetition. Firstly I should mention that Aaron Lopez was referring to the health of secularism. There is no way that Pol Pot could be considered to be a secularist. Secularism entails the separation of church and state such that neither meddles in the other. Killing those of various religions could not be regarded as not meddling.

    Although Pol Pot was brought up a Theravada Buddhist which is an atheistic religion (though going to a Catholic school at 10), the Khmer Rouge targets included some Buddhists and some atheists. As it is possible that he was an atheist, the false logic seems to go that (1) he was indirectly responsible for more than one million deaths, (2) he was an atheist, ‘therefore’ (3) atheism leads to mass killing. Atheism is just a non-belief in deities and says nothing about morality. Do you think that Sir David Attenborough has no morals? Attenborough is not only an atheist, but is also a male. Does masculinity lead to mass killing? All those with religious faith must compromise their logic to some degree and I come across this false logic often.  

    Poverty causes over-population and having too few children causes poverty in the long-term

    The UK is overpopulated because it has more than twice the sustainable number of people. I would not describe the UK as poor, but it is becoming poorer.

    The world is overpopulated because it is consuming at a rate 50% higher than the replenishment rate. As the population increases, food and water shortages become more likely and so poverty increases. No dormant deity is suddenly going to intervene.

    At any given time, there is an optimum range for global population, yet even when local overpopulation causes hardship, such as in the Philippines, the Catholic Church continues to encourage procreation.

  • julienorvan

    Oh, what a wonderful article! Thanks for your insight and balance, and for showing us as lay Catholics that we can do so much for the poor by supporting the Catholic Missionary orders overseas, to give on the ground help where it is most needed and most effective.
      I have seen this myself and believe it is true, that, as Jesus said, ” the poor you will have always with you” but they continually offer us the opportunity to be helped along on our way to God if we reach out and offer what we can to them. ” Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto Me”. 

  • julienorvan

    When you speak of ‘REligion” here when you say ” REligious faith and rational reasoning are mutually exclusive” you must be referring to the Muslim religion, as the Catholic faith is known for its inspiring such great intellectual, artistic, literary, scientiful and musical achievements in western culture throughout its history. Int the Catholic faith, reason goes hand in hand with faith, thus the flowering of all area of human endevor has ensued. The worst wars in human history, were started by the secular powers of the 20th century, and today  most of the armed conflicts in the world were due to Muslim aggression. 

  • TreenonPoet

     I am not referring just to Islam. I refer to all religious faith in which assertions are held to be definitely true when there in no supporting evidence. If evidence existed, the assertion would not be religious in nature. When there is no evidence, there is no rational train of reasoning that can support the assertion. Religious faith is, by definition, irrational.

    To write that reason and faith go hand in hand is misleading. The two co-exist. The religious selectively accept reason because they cannot live without it, yet religious leaders do their best to counter it (which is almost suicidal for society). In UK schools I am glad to see moves to add computer programming to curricula because this will show pupils that correct logic works and false logic (such as religious pseudo-logic) does not. Logic has not previously been a topic in the National Curriculum, but attempts to instil irrationality (such as collective worship) are compulsory. Religion is the enemy of reason. Restricting culture to what is compatible with religion has been stifling for many endeavours.

    To suggest that the worst wars in the 20th century were due to secularism is utterly wrong. For example, Hitler was not a secularist. His Roman Catholic upbringing probably initiated his hatred of the Jews (which the Church encouraged until very recently). Secularism is a recipe for peace. Religions are divisive.

  • Veronique16943

    No, you are proselytisers. You can get your aid so long as you allow us to evangelise you into believing our brand of fear and loathing with the unattainable bliss of a pretend afterlife.

    Jesus, being killed in the fairly normal method (of that time for state dissenters) by being placed on a cross until he died of exhaustion and dehydration, was a fellow seen as a rabble rouser – which he was as seen by the Roman overlords and the Jews who were constantly trying for influence amongst the Roman ‘masters’.

    Extraordinarily, you state that Catholics don’t strategically place things. For pity’s sake!! Of course you strategically align your proselytising with your tax exempt charitable handouts.

    Do you really expect those of us who aren’t deluded by religious dogma to seriously believe your charities are unsullied by your religious dogma?? I doubt it. And that is why I would prefer the state via our taxes to minister to the those in our society who need help. Without the religious tag as a lifelong ankle chain. 

  • Irene

    Excellent article! Very, very tue; the religious orders STAY when all the the other, or most other organisations, leave a certain country. They know the language, the know the culture. And- very important, their intention never was to gain anything, materially, from their work with the poor.
    However, I am often wondering if he Church could not do more to enlighten the world, especially here in the religion/catholic bashing, hating West, where the media continue to spread all kinds of lies and misinformation about the Church. At least, the Church should consider it an important task to inform the unbelieving West on the tremendous amount of work the Church has offered and continues to offer, throughout the world, to the most needy, the poorest of the poor. I am absolutely convinced that many people, ignorant about the Church in general, would become less prejudiced and more respectful and understanding towards the Church if only they would hear more about this, for ex that the Catholic Church stands for about 25-30 % of the total aid in the world, especially in Africa, to the millions of victims of the HIV- virus. Not to mention all the schools, hospitals etc that they are running. 
    To objectively inform cannot be looked upon as being synonymous to boasting! Even most catholics are unaware of the stunning statistics mentioned above! Maybe this is one of the reasons why so few catholics seem so sadly unaware of the true greatness of the Church? Vast numbers of catholics seem totally unaware – or, if they once were, have forgotten- that it was the Catholic Church which built western civilization.


  • TreenonPoet

     Do you think Jimmy Savile was a good guy because of his charity work?

  • VeroniqueD

    You have to be joking. I know you are not.

    The guy was a sexual predator extraordinarie if the media is to be believed and I have to say that there is lot of salacious spreadsheet stuff being published.He seemed to make charity work his entre into the world of vulnerable people. What I don’t understand (forgive me, I am an Australian and had never heard of this creep until recently).I don’t understand why this man was given private keys to private apartments where he had the places to be able to entice kiddies into a lair provided by the NHS and other bureaucracies.I have been looking at the unfolding of the antics if this hideous bloke (I find all the TV footage of him utterly repulsive) and have difficulty understanding why no one outed him. He was a disgusting human being. Even if I were to be generous, I would class him as a disturbed sexual predator who needed to be locked up.So, no TreenonPoet, Savile was not a good guy because of his charity work. He used the already existing charity network to entrench his revolting, narcissistic, paedophiliac and abusive behaviour.He even used the prison system, the psychiatric care community, the hospital systems and the child care organisations to abuse whomever he was able to in the situations he had manufactured for himself.And no one listened or applied common sense rational thinking to this man’s antics. I can’t believe that no one saw his yukness. I haven’t been here all that long, but looking at the unfolding of this revolting scenario, I want to know why no one saw him as awful and suspect. He is (or was) a revolting person with nothing to recommend him. Why was everyone sucked in by him?

  • TreenonPoet

     Well, I do not think he was a good guy either. No amount of good excuses even a small amount of bad, let alone the amount that Savile is accused of. My point was that the same applies to the Catholic Church.

  • Savia D’cunha

    There’s no comparison there. The church is feeds, clothes, educates more people than anybody else on planet earth. This is not just a small amount of good. The world needs the church.

  • TreenonPoet

     The world needs food, clothes, and education, but it does not need, for example, miseducation. There is no reason why the world should have to pay the price of religious indoctrination, especially when the religion encourages practices that counter the world’s needs.

  • Savia D’cunha

    Who the heck is stopping you from starting your own schools, hospitals etc?

    Why don’t you give up your job and family and commit to doing something 24/7 and then talk

    The world does not need atheists burning with hate for others.

  • nytor

    “when the religion encourages practices that counter the world’s needs”

    Ultimately the point of the Church is to save souls, more even than its point is to alleviate suffering on earth. It is not here to prioritise the world’s needs ans when those conflict with the soul’s needs the needs of the soul must come first. It is not the for the Church to accede to the world’s desires.

  • nytor

    I was going to say something similar, but hey, she’s doing good so let’s be nice. I haven’t volunteered to go to an African hellhole to educate people, so I reckon she deserves some credit.

  • Savia D’cunha

    What he means by world’s needs are what Western elites consider their needs.

    This is the same crowd that yells, “do not impose you values on me”, but they want to impose it on cultures/religions that do not share them, just because they think they are superior.

  • Savia D’cunha

    Atheists have their own agendas too. Everybody has a worldview.

  • VeroniqueD

    Why do you assume that TreenonPoet is burning with hate? I have been reading his/her posts for some time and all I see is reasoned argument. As distinct from my comments :-)

    One of the most awful things that has happened over the millennia is that religions, allied  orders and their other attached organisations have been able to infiltrate their ‘do goodness’ into the legal and taxation systems of many, many legislative systems thus furthering themselves and their basic indoctrinative (coined!!) message throughout those countries.
    While I don’t deny that such apparently civic offshoots of religions ‘do good’, they have enormous benefit from side-stepping tax legislation and regulation and by imposing some sort of tithing system on their followers.

    What I object to is:
    1. The tax breaks enjoyed by no other organisation, but easily achieved if an organisation calls itself a religion/cult and ahem! is not for profit.
    2. The indoctrination that is embedded with the proferred medical succour and the education of young and vulnerable minds into a belief system that basically says you will only get help if you debase yourself in front of a mythical (as yet to be proven) being that needs to be revered to the nth degree.

    3. What is your job Savia and your salary/hourly wage? No idea whether or not you are a professional. And just for the record, what do you do 24/7?

    I guess that when you actually look at the Catholic orders that engage in teaching and nursing/medicine, the financial grants come from the government while the food, cloister costs etc come from the tithing/bequests from the ‘true believers’.

    I suspect that what we do not need is one religion (being the true one, of course) burning with hate for another (also the true religion).

    If religious schools and hospitals are going to accept (gratuitously) grants and other funding from the government and its bureaucracies, why deny such grants and funding from non-religious organisations to supply the same benefits without any religious indoctrination? 

  • VeroniqueD

    I have to say Savia that you are so way off beam that you can’t even see. You are obsessed with your own view and woe betide any one who argues a different stance.

    You are on the wrong track, honey.

  • Savia D’cunha

    Take up your issues with the government, not with us.

    Write letters, go out and protest.

    The Catholic church does not require others to become Catholic or do they ask them too, in order to help them.

    Governments grant aid, simply because there cannot fill their shoes.

  • Savia D’cunha

    You have not refuted these arguments hon.

  • TreenonPoet

     The soul is an imaginary concept. There is no evidence for the existence of a soul, and science continues to accumulate evidence against. For example, it seems from neurological experiments that all thoughts correspond to activity in particular areas of the brain; that is, there appear to be no thoughts that do not involve neurological activity. If neurons are required to enable these thoughts, how could a hypothetical soul function without them? Also, I must admit that I have not read much theology about the soul, but what I have read (by respected theologians) suspiciously makes use of fallacies.

    To spend time doing something for an imaginary concept seems to me to be a sad waste of a precious life, but to do so at the expense of other people’s well-being is immoral. If the ultimate goal of saving souls leads to actions that encourage overpopulation, the world (not just the western world, and not even mainly the western world) will suffer. Yet you glibly wave this consequence away.

  • TreenonPoet

     I am not sure exactly who you mean by ‘western elites’, but the needs I was referring to (food, water, breathable air, and other requirements for health and security) are needed by everyone, including western elites. But I can think of some western elites, such as those who fund the US republicans, who do not seem to think that their own grandchildren will have these needs, let alone the rest of the world.

    I suppose any group who think that only they are right will at least appear superior in their assertions, even if they are modest about it. What matters is whether the views that they hold are superior. This is not just a matter of opinion. Different viewpoints are not necessarily equally valid. One of the ways to determine which views are the best is to test them. If tests show that one viewpoint is right and the other wrong, children should not be told otherwise, and should certainly not be told that it is a virtue to have faith in the wrong viewpoint. For example, although there is no known physical mechanism by which intercessory prayer might work, tests have been done under scientific conditions, and the results have been negative. The view that intercessory prayer does not always work, and that current physics suggests that it can never work, is superior to views that contradict this.

  • Savia D’cunha

    Yes, and the church does provide people with these needs.

    You might want to try the book Medical Miracles, it’s based on years of investigations carried out by the atheist 
    Jacalyn Duffin.

  • Savia D’cunha

    You have really bought into the Malthusian argument?

  • Dcruz

    In Pakistan too where chrsitians are persecuted and hated by extremist and fanatic muslims, the Catholic Church still provides help to the poor of whatever faith they belong to.The Eathquake in kashmir and flood relief work in Sind is still in process.Catholic school and hospital provide cheap education and so do hospitals. and also free services to those who cannot afford it.

  • Connections

    Super efficient use of resources and service with passionate commitment. A very flexible workforce who are pledged to obedience to their leadership too.

  • TreenonPoet

    My response to an article by Tom Bailey linked to by Savia D’cunha is as follows:

    Firstly, Tom Bailey attempts to discredit Michael Buerk’s view that overpopulation does not seem to be up for discussion. He does this by naming famous people who have commented on overpopulation, and by identifying some polls that have questioned the public about population levels. The issue, however, is whether global population is discussed in politically influential international fora when topics such as climate change, world poverty, food security, etc. are discussed. The reports show that population growth tends to be seen as a fact of life that gives urgency to minimising the consequences, rather than being seen as a problem to address directly.

    However, there are some organisations who even deny that there is a problem. Such a stance is contrary to the science and in this respect is similar to climate change denial. Bailey condemns the use of the term ‘denier’, not only suggesting that it is an insult that shuts down debate, but that it is ”a cheap attempt to place those who dissent from neo-Malthusian malarkey on the same level as those with whom the term is most closely associated: Holocaust deniers”. Who is really doing the insulting here?

    Next, Bailey tries to accuse those concerned about population levels as being racist, elitist, and prejudiced. His ‘logic’ seems to be that he regards Malthus as guilty of these traits, and so everyone concerned about population levels must also be guilty of these traits! Even if they were, which they obviously are not, how would this dicredit population science? Bailey writes ”his [i.e.Malthus'] contemporary equivalents frame the impoverished Africans and Asians in the same way”, again trying to suggest that those concerned about population are equivalent to the Malthus that he describes. The fact is that Africa is of concern because of its high fertility rate, and Asia is of concern because it is consuming at a rate so much higher than the replenishment rate. It is not racist to say so.

    Bailey repeats the ‘racist’ accusation and also tries to discredit the overpopulation argument by pointing out the poverty and low consumption per head in the third world. He writes ”Despite their meagre consumption levels, the dark mass of people Over There are accused of using up too many of the world’s resources”. Note the ”Over There” to paint a picture of aloofness. A factual article would not attempt to appeal to the emotions in the intense way that Bailey’s does. Asia happens to have the highest consumption/replenishment ratio, and this fact does not dissappear just because many Asians are poor, but it is as if Bailey is saying “leave the poor alone, you bullies”. In practice, it is the poor who suffer first when food prices increase, which they will do when food supplies are short.

    Bailey continues the demonisation of what he calls ”the overpopulation theorists” by saying that they view humans simply as mouths to feed and a plague of locusts that consumes all it can. He also says that they don’t take into account that humans are also producers, but what he really means is that they don’t come to the same ridiculous conclusion about human productivity that Bailey himself does. He asserts that economic growth would allow people to create more goods for more people to consume without saying where the resources to support this would come from.

    Bailey quotes Karl Marx as if to give authority to the idea that, as economies and societies develop, so too does the ability to support more and more people, which in Marx’s time might have contained some truth. Bailey states ”The Malthusians view resources as fixed and finite; they ignore advances in human productivity.”. Why, for a start, is he still talking about ‘Malthusians’? What is relevant is what academics today think based on the latest knowledge. It is true that resources are still considered to be finite (of course), but we not only have the advantage of being able to see the massive increase in human productivity, but also its fragility. Bailey writes ”What was a useless piece of the earth one day becomes a highly useful resource the next.” without adding that the reverse can be true, such as when a treeless, polluted, soil-eroded area is abandoned. He concludes with the utterley preposterous prediction that as human progress continues, so will our ability to produce more stuff for ever larger numbers of people. In other words, he is rejecting the indisputable fact that the Earth is finite.

    So Bailey’s article is packed with many fallacies. If he needs to rely on fallacies, what does that say about the existence of proper arguments against overpopulation concerns? One has to ask what the motive is for writing such an article.

  • TreenonPoet

     It depends what you mean by the Malthusian argument, since he had more than one. But your link suggests that you ask the question by way of an insult, since the author of the article linked to accuses those concerned about overpopulation as being racist (among other things). If you don’t believe so, why would you link to the article?

    For my reply regarding racism, please see my comment at

    You are not the first person on this site to link to that article. I have put my response to it at nesting level zero.

  • Dominic Johnson

    Whether you agree with the article or not the Catholic Church is the world’s largest provider of healthcare and education. Charitable work is done by the orders for the glory of God, but doesn’t come with strings attached and doesn’t profit the orders’ memebers.

    Sadly,too many   too  many NGOs and charities  are corrupt and perpetuate corruption.

  • TreenonPoet

     The strings attached are represented by the infiltration of religious doctrine. One of the ways the religious organisation behind the charity profits is by the increase in its power. There are instances invoving the Catholic Church where the strings are pulled, such as with the threatened closure of adoption agencies, or the threat of excommunication of surgeons.

    The existence of non-religious charities that are not corrupt shows that lack of religion is not a necessary ingredient of corruption. Furthermore, I think that to bind a charity with religious restrictions is a corrupt practice. Also, the distortion that religion applies to questions of morality can lead to an increase in certain types of corruption, such as that which results from a culture of secrecy that might be imposed for the supposed good of a particular religious organisation. (What happens to paedophile priests who are relocated to missions in areas where the general view is that priests are representatives of God, for example?) I am not saying that this sort of thing cannot happen in a non-religious organisation, but it is a reason for not suggesting that charities are better if religiously based.

  • meganclarke22


  • Scyptical Chymist

    How true about the religious orders – indeed I have believed this for quite a while now and when giving to charity I now support only these or those small charities who fund small but important work directly, Long may they flourish.

  • aspiring lay capuchin

    No doubt about it. The missionaries are the best. No need to say – Look at the Brothers of St. Gabriel La Salle and Salesian run schools. Look at the contribution of OFMCap in Africa, the Franciscans and Benedictians worldwide. They are the best. The TOPS! They give the Catholic Church a good name worldwide. They are the true Church!

  • aspiring lay capuchin

    Write an article about the goodness of the church, and promote your book at the same time. God will surely bless the sales of the latter. Will you then lead by example to give all the profits and royalties of your book to the missionaries for their work overseas. talk is cheap. Faith in action is better

  • catholic reporter

    The record is patchy. Look at Haiti. They all rushed there. Including Timothy Dolan and Sean O Malley? Now they all pulled out. The mess is still there. people are still living in tents….and will be doing so for years!

  • monicabcao

    If anyone wants to know more about the work of the Catholic Church regarding overseas mission, visit this website  – Missio is the official support organisation for overseas mission.

  • la catholic state

    Well maybe the secular charities are in remiss. Or maybe the celebrities have forgotten about Haiti and there is now no more photo ops for them there.  You can be sure though, that the clergy and nuns are still there with the people…educating feeding and sheltering them.  Take a closer look at what is going on, on the ground.  You will find the religious quietly helping the people. All is not lost…..

  • Vitto

    to eradicate poverty, charity is not the best way. Empower and educate the women, give them control over their reproductive cycle, and poverty will be eradicated quickly. This always works. 

  • VeroniqueD

    I couldn’t agree more Vitto.  Charity is not empowering but enslaving. Educating women into taking control of their reproductive cycle, finances and family size is precisely what the Catholic Church doesn’t want. No contraception means more children born into poverty in Africa and everywhere else that the Church has any power. The poverty/reproduction cycle keeps the Catholics in power in deprived areas. And those areas are the ones the Catholics proselytise in, give their barbed charity to and engender superstitious fear to.

    Female enfranchisement and independence is indeed the only way to eradicate poverty and overpopulation on this poor benighted planet. 

    I was so pleased to read your comment :-)

  • catholic reporter

    I am not as optimistic as you. Much is lost. The bishops and much of the local heirarchy was buried in the rubble…The “famous” priests and bishops rushed there. Their motivation was genuine…no doubt they remembered the biblical phrase, “to love your neighbour as you love yourself” After getting promotion to higher office, no doubt partly because of their selfless help and outreach in Haiti, have they forgotten the place. Maybe I am cynical but the people will be worse off because I see at last the hypocriscy

  • la catholic state

    You are being too pessimitstic….and I don’t really have time for it.  Worse disasters have taken place….and people have rebuilt again.  The famous priests went there for the good of the people…..but the celebs went there for the good of the people and the great photo ops.  Then left.  The Church never forgets the poor though…..and always stays with them.

    Instead of sniping about others….why don’t you pack and go help in Haiti. 

  • catholic reporter

    i’ll be there

  • catholic reporter

    there is rebuilding in the USA to do too after the recent storm. Charity begins at home

  • Guest

     We’ll take that as a No then.