In case you ever have a LOT of time on your hands and would like to read my senior thesis, here it is. This paper was born out of my interest in Africa, as well as traditional aid’s colossal failure to address poverty.
The Ethics of Food Aid
Americans love results. From rapid weight-loss programs to quarterly income statements, they like to see rapid outcomes for their investments in time and money. Similarly, the American government and populace alike desire proof that their charitable donations are effective. They want statistics on the number of people fed, houses built, and benefits produced for every dollar contributed. Even Christians participate in the process by giving money to non-profit organizations and sending short-term mission trips abroad. They want to see that their $30 a month or their four week stint abroad was impactful, both physically and spiritually. Yet this short-sighted model often detracts from real economic growth and individual enhancement. It eases the giver’s mind by creating the illusion of transformation while leaving the beneficiary’s situation entirely unchanged. The old adage goes, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime.” While an interesting thought to consider, this paradigm only functions effectively if the ultimate goal consists of merely helping people subsist. This paper goes much further. It proposes that developed nations, as well as private donors build roads so that fisherman can sell their products and create additional value. It suggests that benefactors promote the long-term advancement of trade rather than the short-term goal of reducing hunger as the solution to poverty. Specifically, this paper argues that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the global west should limit food aid distribution and divert resources to infrastructure projects such as transportation, communication, and education. Initially, an increased number of people will die from health care and malnutrition-related issues, but the long-term goals of economic development and prosperity will be served.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was chosen for this project because it contains both immense mineral wealth and extreme poverty. According to Gondola (2002), it is a “rich country where people starve” (p. 5). Mismanagement, corruption, and warfare have turned it into the nation with the lowest per capita GDP in the entire world. Clearly the debate between long-term economic development and short-term relief work is relevant in this chronically impoverished African nation.
Throughout history, unimaginable humanitarian injustices have been carried out against the Congolese people. During colonial times, the Belgian King Leopold established an exploitative, yet economically profitable system to rule the Congo. According to Nzongala-Ntalaja (2002), “King Leopold’s achievements were built as a result of slave labor and the crimes of rape, torture, bodily mutilation and murder” (p. 23). Rumor has it that if rubber-collecting villagers failed to meet their quota, they were required to pay the remaining amount in severed hands. Estimates of the death toll during this time range from 15-50% of the entire population, effectively eradicating millions throughout the course of colonial occupation. In terms of economic exploitation, it
Brought about the plunder of human and natural resources, and transformed African societies by subjecting them to capitalist relations of production… Whatever chances African merchants who were active in the pre-colonial trading frontiers had of developing into a comprador bourgeoisie were eventually destroyed both by the trading monopoly granted to concession companies and discriminatory policies favoring European and Asian merchants. (Nzongala-Ntalaja, 2002, p. 32-33)
Colonial rulers wreaked havoc on the colony that would be the DRC and set the stage for exploitative and corrupt systems for generations to come.
The DRC seemed to have reached the light at the end of the tunnel upon independence from Belgium in 1960. Here was a free, large, agriculturally and mineral-rich country with excellent infrastructure as a result of Belgian occupation. However, events throughout its short history conspired to inhibit the fulfillment of its full potential. According to BBC News (2010), after independence in 1960, the DRC immediately faced army mutiny and an attempted secession by the mineral-rich region of Katanga. Later in 1965, General “Mobutu seized power, renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko. He turned Zaire into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola and thereby ensured US backing. But he also made Zaire synonymous with corruption” (BBC News, 2010). Not only did Mobutu increase corruption in the fledgling nation, he also continued the vicious cycle of oppression against the people he supposedly liberated. He employed violence and political repression in his regime, utilizing US support and aid to maintain political and economic power. The CIA World Factbook (2010) describes the situation saying, “Mobutu retained his position for 32 years through several sham elections, as well as through brutal force.” Unfortunately for the Congolese people, Mobutu hardly looked out for their interests better than the Belgians, driving the country into a downward spiral of economic and humanitarian injustices.
In 1997, more events transpired that possessed the potential to transform the DRC. According to a separate BBC News article (2010), Rwandan soldiers invading the DRC to eliminate extremist Hutu rebels gave a boost to Congolese anti-Mobutu rebels. In a brief military campaign, the AFDL rebels found themselves in a position of leadership with Laurent Kabila as their head. According to Gondola (2002), “Zairians were ready to welcome anyone who might rid the country of Mobutu. Kabila promised a new era of peace and prosperity” (p. 163). Kabila, however, demonstrated little difference from his predecessors. He “turned a deaf ear to people’s aspirations for change. Apart from cosmetic changes, nothing was done toward social or economic reforms” (Gondola, 2002, p.163). In addition to oppression of the Congolese people, Kabila’s 1998 disagreement with his former allies Rwanda and Uganda kindled a new rebellion in the region. According to Clark (2004), Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia sided with Kabila and sparked an African war that has destabilized the entire central African region to this day (p. 3). Many think the United States could have intervened to prevent atrocities in the DRC but did not because the cessation of the Cold War eliminated American interest in the region. In addition, the 1993 failed Battle of Mogadishu incident in Somalia provided sufficient incentive to let African states manage their own affairs. Whatever the reason for the United State’s apathy, the Congolese people once again felt deprived of economic and political freedom because of forces beyond their control. Time and again they were left completely impoverished and helpless by external forces and direly needed assistance that never materialized.
Something has definitely gone awry with the political and economic legacy of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wars reoccur, people are treated inhumanely, and an orderly system is not yet existent. The question we as Christians and as citizens of the most affluent nation in the world must ask, then, is how to best ameliorate the situation in the DRC so that peoples’ lives are affected positively. How does one bring peace, justice, and prosperity to a nation that has resembled nothing even remotely close to those words for hundreds of years? This is an extremely important question to ask before attempting to undertake development work. Simply doing something without a specific strategy can lead to undesirable consequences equal to or worse than the present situation.
In recent times, the primary means to assist developing or underdeveloped nations has been to provide aid, both governmental and private. Americans’ answer to global injustice seems to create nonprofit organizations and raise funds and awareness to support various causes. According to the Washington Post, American donations to nonprofit organizations in 2005 amounted to almost $250 billion (Salmon, 2005). Although a relatively small percentage of this money goes directly to foreign aid efforts, it nonetheless represents a large sum of money. Likewise the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on food aid alone. Is this money effectively promoting economic growth? If not, we must implement an entirely new strategy to promote sustainability and long-term development in disadvantaged nations.
To begin, many people fervently believe in the efficacy of food aid. It undoubtedly saves lives, and when coupled with long-term development projects, can foster healthy economic growth. E Journal USA (2007), for example, a journal published by the U.S. Department of State, believes that food aid is essential for economic progress in nations such as Bangladesh. It states,
Studies have found that effectively targeted food aid is essential to Bangladesh’s food security, not only for short-term emergency relief but also for long-term economic development. Emergency food aid has been found to be effective in saving lives. Food aid closely tied to specific developmental objectives – such as enhancing infrastructure and production or supporting social outcomes such as education – has been effective in reducing poverty and in contributing to food security gains for the family.
Clearly some people believe there is merit to the argument behind food aid. However, others argue that there is an even better approach to development economics.
Admittedly, giving food to hungry people sounds like a straightforward and beneficial, even generous approach. There are starving people in Africa whom we as Christians have a duty to feed. Since the United States has truckloads of extra food, it would be easy to ship excess food reserves to countries with starving populations. However, giving hungry people handouts is not necessarily a viable long-term solution. In fact, the effectiveness of food aid in underdeveloped nations has often been called into question by people seeking genuine change. Take for example the $2 billion in aid that the United States government raises every year. According to Chen of change.org (2010), out of the $2 billion,
Only one-third of it actually goes to buy food. That’s because the U.S. government not only requires that almost all of its food aid be purchased principally from U.S. farmers – it also requires that 75% of donations get transported on U.S.-registered ships, a stipulation that sends transport costs flying.
Essentially, the United States government states that it will donate food as long as it benefits the U.S. economy. From the start, the chain of bureaucracy translates a $2 billion investment in food aid to $700 million for people who need it most.
While discussing the United State’s aid to impoverished nations, it is interesting to note the difference between military and economic aid given by the United States. According to Sharp of the Congressional Research Service (2010), military aid to Israel alone amounts to $3 billion in 2010. In contrast, the DRC received a meager $1 million in economic assistance in 2008 (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2010). Israel, a developed nation by all counts with advanced military technology, receives $3 billion in funding, while an impoverished nation with eleven times the population receives pocket change. Security issues and international politics heavily influence these decisions, but the United States must make the development of impoverished nations more of a priority.
In addition to the underfunding and misallocation of food aid, some would argue that its scope is inherently limited because donations are unsustainable. When a humanitarian crisis, an economic downturn, or donor fatigue occur, aid is inevitably reduced or diverted elsewhere. Take flood-devastated Pakistan, for example, where donor fatigue has contributed to only half the United Nation’s $460 million aid appeal being met. According to Roth (2010), Pakistan’s image of religious fundamentalism, as well as the occurrence of multiple humanitarian crises in 2010 has resulted in decreased donations for the distraught nation. Donors simply become tired of always giving without seeing tangible results, making long-term development projects in underdeveloped nations essential.
Even without donor fatigue, aid’s impact is severely limited by financial factors. The World Food Program is the United Nation’s primary humanitarian arm for logistics and the largest distributor of food aid in the world. With an annual budget of $3 billion and thousands of ships, planes and vehicles delivering massive amounts of food to hungry people, it can only address 10% of worldwide hunger. $30 billion a year would be necessary to address all global malnutrition, not accounting for population growth, natural disasters, corruption, or inflation. Clearly a more sustainable and efficient solution must be put forth if the elimination of poverty and malnutrition are ever to be achieved.
Another argument against food aid is that it can actually be used to cause more harm than good. According to Anderson (1999), international assistance can cause further damage in conflict zones by “feeding intergroup tensions and weakening intergroup connections” (p. 69). According to Anderson, aid feeds intergroup tensions by placing resources in the hands of a select few. Inevitably, food shortages occur and the impoverished become subject to the wealthy. This can create significant problems when sheer survival is at stake, prompting those in power to behave abnormally and egotistically. Second, foreign aid can break down intergroup connections by sending incorrect ethical messages to intended recipients. For example,
When aid agencies hire armed guards to protect their goods from theft and their workers from harm, the implicit message received by those in the war zone is that it is legitimate for arms to determine who gains access to food and medical supplies and that security and safety are derived from weapons. (Anderson 1999, p. 55-56)
This creates the impression that power is gained through violence, prompting people to forcefully gain control of resources.
The last reason why the efficacy of aid has been called into question is that corruption further detracts from its value, empowering the very governments and systems that created the problem. As was the case with Mobutu, the United States’ food and economic assistance can actually be used to keep corrupt leaders in power. Instead of feeding hungry Congolese, it gives the crooked government power over who lives and who dies, even allowing them to become wealthy by skimming off the top. Similar to the previous argument, aid empowers one group over another, creating national strife and contention. Since Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (2010) ranks the DRC 164th out of 178 countries in worst corruption levels, this sort of aid pillaging almost certainly takes place. Perhaps if economic or food aid were distributed more responsibly, citizens of the DRC could begin rebuilding their country on an equal playing field, but that is not currently the case.
To conclude this section on the inefficiency of food aid, some statistics have been provided on the problems the DRC currently faces. According to The Economist’s Global Hunger Index (2010), the DRC is the worst country in the world in “overall measure of the degree to which hunger stalks a country’s people.” According to the think tank, nearly 25% of the population is undernourished, 10% of its children are underweight, and 5% of its children perish before the age of 5. These statistics truly are abysmal and heart-wrenching, especially since there is complete ignorance regarding the situation. Even North Korea, cited frequently for its humanitarian issues and starving population, performs significantly better in every category. Not only is the food crisis occurring, but nothing is being done to change the situation. In fact, undernourishment, underweight children, and child deaths in the DRC have increased 66% since 1990. This is the largest increase of food related issues of any nation on earth. Clearly we must come up with creative strategies to oppose hunger and malnutrition in this nation. More broadly, if the developed world desires actual change, it must ensure proper distribution of food aid or come up with a different system for economic development in third-world countries.
Thus far, this paper has argued the inherent inefficiency of food aid. Although citizens of the DRC undoubtedly need some form of economic assistance, food aid does not create sufficient long-term solutions. So is there any hope for chronically impoverished nations like the DRC? Yes there is. Long-term economic recovery can occur through the development of infrastructure projects. Specifically, long-term infrastructure developments in transportation, education, and communication must be endorsed to sustain economic recovery and growth for future generations.
The first type of indispensable infrastructure to any economy is the transportation network. Without the ability to freely move about the country, essential trade can never occur. According to the CIA (2010), the United States possesses a network of over 4 million kilometers of paved roads. To demonstrate, a U.S. highway map has been shown below (Konrad, 2007). Its roads serve as vital arteries, providing access and mobility to almost any location nationwide.
In contrast, the CIA (2010) states that the DRC possesses less than 3,000 kilometers of paved roads. For a country a quarter of the size of the United States, this figure is miniscule. Although significantly more unpaved roads exist, many are poorly maintained, heavily mined, or completely washed out due to storms. A story from a missionary kid who grew up in the DRC demonstrates the necessity of transportation infrastructure perfectly. According to an interview with Kristina Noren, certain regions of the DRC produce an abundance of agricultural products. Throughout her childhood, her father built plantations where fruits and vegetables could be harvested and sold for profit. Ideally food security, stimulation of the economy and employment for many Congolese would result. Because of poor infrastructure, however, these goods never reached outside markets. Road conditions were, and remain so bad that goods would have to be transported by bicycle. That would cost precious hours, rendering the products useless by the time they reached markets. To this day, untended food rots on plantations while Congolese in other parts of the country face starvation. If only road conditions could be improved, the DRC possesses the potential to fully feed and sustain itself, even to become economically prosperous.
Second, communication infrastructure is essential to the development of any economy. Using Kristina’s example and assuming that transportation were adequate, farmers would still need communication to obtain the highest price for their goods. Otherwise profit uncertainty could reduce incentives for farmers to grow their crops. In addition, significant inefficiency costs could be eliminated by increasing coordination and planning. Interestingly enough, the DRC performs better in this category than any other. According to the CIA (2010), the DRC currently has 10 million cell phone users. This represents significant improvement on communication infrastructure and is one thing the nation does well. Internet usage and main line telephones, however, could still improve. Currently only 290,000 internet users exist along with 40,000 mainline telephone users. Improving these areas of communication, especially internet usage, will assist dramatically in the development of communication infrastructure in the DRC.
Another aspect of communication infrastructure is media. Freedom of speech is vital to the infrastructure of any economy, providing necessary accountability for the government’s economic and political policies. Unfortunately, Freedom House (2010) categorizes the DRC’s press freedom as a country that is not free. Although it possesses more than a dozen private television and a hundred private radio stations, these media outlets are strictly controlled by the government. Any unsavory information or government criticism is blocked immediately by state agencies. As demonstrated in Iran during the 2009 elections, internet usage could ameliorate the problem of restrictive traditional media by giving citizens an alternative voice. However, change is slow to transpire in the DRC because internet usage is still severely limited.
The last essential component of infrastructure is the education of a nation’s citizens. Though less tangible, education represents the most crucial of all infrastructure developments because it contains the most potential for long-term growth. Educated voters are more likely to understand political issues and resist oppression. Educated businesspeople have the ability to grow a nation’s economy instead of pillaging it. Educated Congolese can think of practical solutions to the reparation of their homeland better than any foreign analyst. These factors and many more contribute the fundamental necessity of education in the DRC. Without it economic growth and development will be illusory.
Surprisingly, the DRC also performs relatively well in its education system. According the World Bank (2005),
The education system in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been remarkably resilient in the face of economic crisis and armed conflict, setting the country apart from many other countries emerging from conflict. Enrollment has grown at all levels but has been most rapid in higher education, despite the virtual collapse of public financing of education since 1986. Households currently finance 80-90 % of education expenditures at all levels.
Though improvements can certainly be made, the DRC at least recognizes the value of education. Households sacrifice financial resources for educational investments, correctly recognizing the higher potential return through increased education.
While educational advancement is essential to the economic future of the DRC, a potentially destructive consequence is human capital flight, or brain drain. Brain drain occurs when educated professionals from underdeveloped nations find better employment opportunities outside their own country. Whilst developed nations benefit from cheaper labor and educated immigrants, underdeveloped nations suffer immensely. According to the Network of African Science Academies (2009), “One-third of all African scientists live and work in developed countries. This outflow represents a significant loss of economic potential for the continent, especially in today’s global society where scientific and technological knowledge drive development.” Imagine a United States where 33% of college graduates immediately left the country. Economic losses would easily reach billions of dollars. In order to curb this trend in the DRC, government policy must work to attract educated minds by creating greater incentives. Although this creates a catch twenty-two situation because infrastructure needs to be developed to attract business and business needs to be present to create infrastructure, something must be done to retain educated minds. Otherwise brain drain and the lack of infrastructure will continue to take its toll.
Clearly infrastructure development is an integral component of the overall economic development of the DRC. However, the development of transportation, communication, and educational infrastructure may be more easily said than done. After all, as mentioned above, the development of infrastructure often necessitates existing infrastructure. Is it even possible to improve the situation when so many features of the economy work against development? Further, what aspects of the political and economic system prohibit the development of infrastructure in the DRC? Aid agencies and non-profit organizations such as the United Nations frequently propose lofty plans to assist developing countries, yet progress remains elusive. Inhibitors to economic growth must be identified, along with practical, ground-level solutions for the improvement of impoverished lives.
When dealing with many African nations, the foremost barrier to economic development is corruption. Although dozens of problems beyond the scope of this paper exist in the DRC, corruption is the primary issue that must be addressed. Corruption almost always keeps economies stagnant and damages the livelihoods of average citizens. Other issues are peripheral compared to corruption because without its elimination, nothing economically positive can be accomplished. As mentioned earlier, Transparency International (2010) ranks corruption levels in the DRC as some of the worst in the world. Unfortunately, the government itself has been the primary ringleader of corruption and subsequent degradation of the country. Some even describe the nation’s government as actively stealing from the people. According to the Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, “The consequences of this system commonly known as ‘kleptocracy’ or government by theft, are well known: impoverishment of the people; destruction of infrastructure: and enrichment of the government and its collaborators” (n.d.). This type of government must be restructured, if not deposed immediately to promote prosperity in the DRC.
Unfortunately, the existence of so much corruption means that even if the U.S. government or private non-profit organizations diverted aid dollars to infrastructure development rather than food aid, nothing would change. Just as money for food aid becomes dispersed into corrupt officials’ pockets, money invested towards infrastructure development would diminish drastically if not disappear entirely. This is one of the most difficult questions regarding the economic development of the Congo. How can one work with a corrupt system to accomplish goals that the local government will not necessarily support? Even if the United States somehow managed to construct paved roads and highways through private contractors, how would economic progress occur when newly developed businesses would have to pay copious bribes to retain their business licenses? Admittedly these are difficult and frightening questions to ask. Although various measures have been proposed, no one ultimately has a practical solution to corruption in the DRC. If they did, it would have already been fixed. Yet an uncertain outcome does not signify an invalid question. In fact this paper argues the contrary. Though the answer to corruption is unclear, we as members of the Christian faith and the Western world must continue to actively think of solutions to the seemingly insurmountable problems faced by brothers and sisters in the DRC. Even if ideas flop, failure to even attempt a solution means dangerous apathy on our part.
Another complication to infrastructure development of the DRC is the prolonged cycle of rebellion and warfare. For years now the Eastern portion of the nation particularly has faced continuous warfare with disastrous consequences. The existence of mineral wealth has only served to fuel conflicts and further impoverish the populace. According to one BBC article (2010),
The natural riches have attracted rapacious adventurers, unscrupulous corporations, vicious warlords and corrupt governments and divided the population between competing ethnic groups… But as the battles in the east have rumbled on, the allegiances and intentions of the major players have become increasingly murky. Warlords have been absorbed into the army but are widely accused of carrying out atrocities and running their own personal militias. Army commanders have been accused of supplying the FDLR – the very rebels they are supposed to be fighting.
According to the article, the DRC is essentially in a state of chaos. The lack of peace contributes to the difficulty of infrastructure development. Roads, telephone lines and universities cannot be built when there is a chance of rebel groups attacking and destroying these structures. Unfortunately, aside from the fact that warfare obviously needs to cease, there is no satisfactory solution to the dilemma. Infrastructure must be built but conflict must also end. The West has little control over the latter. Practical solutions to this problem must be identified rapidly yet it seems that the very situation in the DRC prohibits the exploration of any such solutions.
Finally, the ethical dilemma and implications of money being diverted to long-term development projects must be discussed. Even if we realize the need for infrastructure and overcome the substantial barriers to development discussed previously, would it be ethical to allow someone to starve while building a highway or power-line? Could believers in Christ actually watch someone die for the long-term economic good of a nation? To explore this question, we must turn to the most important ethical resource in the world; the Bible. The Bible can be utilized many ways to support various ethical arguments. However, we will explore God’s heart in this matter by attempting to decipher the most ethical option. Disagreements will surely arise, but this is merely one ethical perspective in economic development. It is also important to note that a secular humanitarian view of economic development may differ slightly from the Christian one. Indeed in recent times, secular and other religious movements have highlighted more humanitarian issues than Christians have. However, as Christians we believe we are called to an even higher standard and must explore that standard in order to carry out God’s will on earth.
Throughout the Bible, God unabashedly demonstrates His concern for the poor. The Old Testament states that the “Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Psalm 140:12, New International Version). In the New Testament, James says that true religion is “To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, New International Version). The question, then, is not whether God cares about the poor. Rather, the question is how monetarily wealthy Christians should best utilize resources to rescue the poor from their present predicament.
Many Christians would argue, not incorrectly, that assisting the poor entails meeting their immediate needs of food, water, shelter and the like. Indeed Jesus states in Matthew 25,
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:35-36, New International Version)
Arguments for food aid can easily be understood, even supported from verses like this. Many Christians would argue that long-term economic development is beneficial, but only after meeting the more urgent needs of the poor.
A second Biblical perspective on economic development is the idea of financial stewardship. Matthew 25 again sheds light on this ethical dilemma, describing the parable of the talents. In the story, a master goes away for a long journey and entrusts his servants with various sums of money. Upon his return, he states to the two servants who doubled their investment, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, New International Version) To the fearful servant who failed to increase the master’s investment, however, he replies, “You wicked, lazy servant… you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest” (Matthew 25:26-27, New International Version). Another valid Biblical perspective on development economics is that Christians have an ethical responsibility to multiply their wealth. Since charity, no matter how many lives it touches, does not ultimately increase wealth, Christians should focus on infrastructure which promotes long-term development rather than continuous donations. Even if people starve, proper stewardship of God’s financial resources is the ethical approach.
God’s justice and plan for the alleviation of poverty likely falls somewhere between these extremes. Simply alleviating people from the immediate dangers of poverty is short-sighted and lacks vision. Merely viewing poverty mitigation as economic numbers to be grown and increased is coldhearted. After all, the poor are God’s people and need our empathy as much as our money. Therefore Christians must retain balance when dealing with this issue. Christians should always hold compassion for the plight of underprivileged human beings and give generously to lend a helping hand. God gives generously to us who are undeserving so we must reciprocate His blessing. On the other hand, Christians must never succumb to blindly donating money to organizations with little accountability. Non-profit organizations are notorious for displaying heart-wrenching pictures of starving children to increase funding. Yet authentic transformation seems elusive. What destitute people need are responsible, ethical, Christian businesspeople that will recognize their worth as people, develop infrastructure, and help them prosper through the addition of value. These businesspeople will adhere strictly to the ethical treatment of people and sound business principles in order to alleviate conditions of poverty.
As demonstrated, the underdeveloped world needs ethical business leaders to develop infrastructure. Long-term infrastructure development, not handouts will increase economic productivity and ultimately decrease poverty. This argument, however, is dangerously idealistic. After all, many Western Christians live in wealthy nations like the United States and have little contact with people in the DRC. Are there practical steps to the resolution of these issues short of physically moving oneself to Africa and starting a business from scratch? Yes. First and foremost citizens of wealthy nations as well as Christians must become educated regarding global issues. An understanding of global poverty, political corruption, malnutrition, war, etc. will naturally lead to increased empathy for people in those situations. With an increased awareness of these topics, citizens of developed nations should pressure local and national governments to enact educated programs for the reduction of poverty. Instead of blindly handing out food aid, people must pressure government, as well as private organizations to be more responsible with economic aid. Since we have the privilege of living in a capitalistic democracy, we can vote through political and economic means. Either way, we must use our votes responsibly to enact real change. We must act immediately to ensure that money is utilized wisely to impact the world!
No nation is beyond hope for economic recovery. Even the DRC, one of the most appallingly impoverished nations on earth contains some hope for the future. However, current strategies for poverty alleviation in the DRC will accomplish nothing. Only through infrastructure development and a long-term mentality can the DRC reach its full potential. Hopefully Christians, as well as developed nations will recognize this irrefutable fact and modify their strategies accordingly.
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Who Gets into Heaven and Why?
To begin, I would like to state that I believe in the Bible and the divinity of Jesus Christ. However, personal experience and stories from those around me have influenced my decision more than rationality. I admit that others could have experiences contradictory to my own to which I may not have an answer. In addition, the rationality that I do find in the Bible may be culturally conditioned because of my upbringing. This is an essay based on my personal view of salvation that others do not have to agree with.
First, I would like to discuss the question of why salvation is important at all and how a loving God could possibly send someone to hell. This is a futile discussion for an atheist, seeing that he does not believe in the existence of an afterlife. For believers in the reality of heaven and hell, however, this is an extremely relevant question because it determines one’s eternal resting place. In no way does Jesus deny the existence of heaven or hell. Evangelical Christians like to display the nice, loving Jesus that desires everyone to get to heaven, but the reality is that He will judge people for their lives on earth. Matthew 8:11-12 states, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So how can a loving God send His creation to hell? The cliché Christian answer is that God is absolutely pure so He can only allow those who have been purified by the blood of Christ into His kingdom. Although my answer is not definitive, I believe it has something to do with God giving people the freedom to choose. God loves people and wants everyone to arrive in heaven one day, but He also respects them enough to give them the choice. If they choose to reject Him, God respects their decision and will not force them to believe anything. This may sound harsh because most people would likely give up freedom of choice to avoid hell. However, God does not want brainwashed followers who seek Him because they are assured of salvation. Instead He desires a personal relationship with His creation, a natural relationship that involves a certain amount of trust in the Creator.
At this point I would like to discuss what exactly constitutes choosing to follow God. Again, this is in no way definitive and is completely open to debate. The four requirements for salvation in my perspective are:
- Acknowledgment of one’s own depravity
- Recognition of the need for an outside source of salvation
- Relationship with the source of salvation
Acknowledgment of one’s own depravity occurs when a person realizes he does not measure up to God’s standard. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18:11-14 of a person who has come to this realization, stating “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector… But the tax collector would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” The Pharisee went away unchanged because of the pride that remained in his heart. Unlike the tax collector, he felt good enough to achieve salvation rather than needing God, causing God to reject him.
Like the Pharisee in the parable, trusting in one’s self to achieve salvation signifies a fundamental attitude of pride. Rather than relying on God, this person believes that his own actions are good enough to reach heaven. Even the Old Testament, sometimes viewed as a legalistic approach to God states that “Those who are pure in their own eyes… will not be cleansed of their filth (Proverbs 30:12)”. The belief in their own good actions, ironically, is the very pride that excludes them from heaven. In addition to this, salvation by deeds does not rationally make sense to me. If God bestows salvation based on deeds, a person must complete a certain number before gaining acceptance into heaven. Surah 8:8 of the Quran mentions a “Scale of good deeds,” meaning a person must have more good actions than bad. However, this implies that God allows a person with 51% good deeds to enter eternal paradise, while subjecting the unfortunate sinner with only 49% to eternal torment. According to Dr. Chahinda, Muslims believe in seven layers of heaven and hell, so the person whose deeds barely outweigh each other will only receive the most minimal levels either one. However, I still find it an extremely unsatisfactory answer that a few deeds could determine the eternal resting place of my soul. Muslims would also argue that God is “The One who forgives, the Most Merciful (Surah 1:37)” and that He “Forgives whom He wills” (Surah 4:48), saying He will judge according to intention as well as actions. This, however, alters a Muslim’s position into one of salvation by grace. A God who allows some inadequate sinners to enter heaven while rejecting others when the predetermined method of selection is a scale seems entirely unjust. Although I admit that God’s ways are higher than mine, my human brain cannot grasp the rationality behind a God that judges mankind based on works. When making claims about Islam, however, I would also like to include the fact that many followers of other religions, including Christianity prescribe to a similar mentality. They rely on their own good, hoping it will be just enough comply with God’s requirements for salvation instead of approaching God with adequate humility.
A person who recognizes their own inability to achieve salvation inherently recognizes their need for salvation apart from themselves. For the person who has heard the full message of Jesus Christ, I believe this outside source of salvation must come from Him. Acts 4:12 states rather bluntly, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” This begs the question, however, about people who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Can God justifiably send them to hell because they never heard His message? Furthermore, who am I to judge if someone has actually been given the chance to accept Jesus’ message? A Japanese Buddhist only hears the name Jesus in history books, while a person in the United States might only understand His name as a swearword. Likewise, a Muslim’s only exposure to Jesus will likely come from the Quran. Even if these people have recognized their need for a savior, does God send them to hell simply because they have not believed specifically in Jesus Christ as their personal savior?
I cannot honestly believe in a God who consigns people to hell without any prospect of salvation. I believe that everyone does get a chance to believe in God, though not necessarily the direct message of Jesus Christ. Romans 1:20 states, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” This verse states that all men have a chance to recognize their depravity and understand their need for a savior, even if they have not heard Christ’s message. While Jesus’ decree to “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) signifies that actually hearing the gospel is preferable, I cannot limit God’s salvation to only those who have prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” The Bible even gives us an example of those who believe without actually believing when it describes the Athenians who worship a God they do not know. Acts 17:23 states, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown God. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” This verse supports the idea that God reveals Himself to mankind in various ways. If the Athenians realized their need for an unknown God to save them, I sincerely believe that they could have been saved without actually believing in the name of Christ.
If I argue that God can accept someone who has never heard the gospel into heaven, I must ask whether it is possible for a person who rejects the message to enter. John 3:18 states, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This verse states that whoever consciously rejects Christ will not enter heaven. It sounds harsh, but as mentioned earlier I believe that God reveals Himself to His creation and presents a chance for everyone to follow Him. However, I cannot judge if a Muslim who grows up with intractable biases concerning the person of Christ can be saved. Upon hearing the message, a Muslim will naturally reject it because of his culturally engrained views. He may discard certain aspects of Christ, while honestly seeking the heart of God. How can I claim that a person more piously searching for God is rejected from heaven, while I, in my self-righteousness am obviously saved? Though the Bible seems to take a stance against the salvation of such a person, I simply cannot decide for God that which is His decision alone.
The third requirement for salvation is repentance based on the knowledge of one’s own sin. If the realization of the first two realities does not fundamentally alter a person’s behavior, their acknowledgement is in vain. 1 John 2:6 states that “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” This verse conveys a radical change that must occur in a person. As discussed extensively by Paul, if the person’s realization is legitimate, he will know that his deeds are never enough to accomplish salvation, but he will perform them anyway as a reaction of love towards the one who saved him.
At this point I would like to say a word against Christianity’s tendency towards a philosophy of cheap grace. Some Christians use Romans 10:9-10 which states, “That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” as an insurance policy in order to live lives of self-gratification. As long as their orthodoxy is correct, God will forgive them for their lack of orthopraxy, or so their thinking goes. James, however, along with other Biblical writers condemns such erroneous thinking when he states that “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). This verse makes me think that the names of many “believers” will not be found in the book of life when God’s judges the hearts of mankind because their faith in Jesus Christ is dead.
Lastly, and most importantly, one must earnestly seek a relationship with their savior in order to receive God’s salvation. If a person recognizes their sin, their need for salvation apart from themselves and genuinely repents, yet neglects to seek after God, their acknowledgment of God is useless. That person is essentially saying they recognize God and apologize for their transgressions, but they do not care to take the relationship further. I would go so far as to say their previous confessions are illegitimate. After all, a person who truly believes in man’s depravity will inevitably believe that the only way to live morally is through God. When this realization occurs, a person must also realize that the only way to grow further is through a relationship with the divine. For the people who honestly desire to know God, He promises that they will get everything they ask. James 4:2 states “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Matthew 7:7 also claims, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” These verses communicate the message that anyone who desires to know God must simply come to Him. They will do good works, not to receive merit points towards the ultimate prize of salvation, but as an overflow of God’s love directed towards them.
Although a relationship with God is not always the last stage, I believe it is absolutely crucial for the salvation of human beings. A person may in fact, begin a relationship with God and later be convicted of their sin. The important point is that they do not cease to seek God after they have been “assured” of their salvation. For this reason, Paul admonishes the Philippians to “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” Philippians 2:12-13). Although no sin is serious enough in God’s eyes to merit a loss of salvation, I believe that terminating the vital relationship with God may be reason enough to deserve such a loss. After all, if someone ceases to desire a relationship with their Creator, one must ask if they ever knew the Creator in the first place. I would argue that uncertainties and doubts are important, even essential to one’s faith, but someone who completely snubs the God who saved in order to gratify their own desires may never have had faith to begin.
Hebrews states “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Again, this emphasizes the point that the gravest sin is nothing compared with God’s incredible capacity to forgive. God only cares that people’s hearts are receptive to His message, and will bring salvation to those who are expecting His return.
The final question I must ask is whether salvation is a culturally determined phenomenon. In other words, does God save someone based on culturally established beliefs? If Christians are indeed the ones who are “in” and people of all other religions are “out” as so many Christians believe, how can God place someone in the context of a religion that is outside of salvation and expect them to live up to the standards of someone who has grown up in Christianity their whole life? To begin answering this question, I think I have to start with the statement that perhaps not as many Christians will enter heaven as we think. As mentioned previously by Muslim background believers, I also think many who call themselves “believers” will be absent on the day of God’s judgment. Would it be too audacious to suppose that perhaps it is not necessarily easier for Christians to enter heaven than people of other religions? This is a blasphemous proposition in the Christian church but I think it deserves at least some examination. Growing up in a religious context inevitably involves another person imparting their beliefs upon you. While this process of belief acquisition may constitute an integral part of childhood, the difficulty lies in making a person’s cultural beliefs their own. While Christians, as I believe, may have many of the right answers, developing a relationship with God instead of simply having right orthodoxy can be an extremely challenging task. As states above, many Christians believe that stating the “sinner’s prayer” and occasionally going to church on Sunday is complying with God’s standards. On the other hand, a person growing up outside of a Christian context has a different lens to view the person and life of Jesus Christ. This person can truly appreciate Christ’s message because nothing so radical has ever reached their ears. Like the prodigal son who went from extreme foolishness to experiencing the incredible love of his father, people who grow up without the knowledge of Jesus may be more passionate about their relationship with Him once they encounter it. Once again, I cannot come to a conclusion about someone who consciously rejects Christ’s message. Although Paul states that such a person is condemned, I cannot help but wonder if Jesus’ sacrifice extends outside of people who believe in Him. The question then becomes how important is it to believe in the Jewish man named Jesus verses His overall message. If you don’t believe Jesus was God, can you simply believe in your own inadequacy and God’s mercy in order to be saved? From reading the Bible, I cannot help but think that one must believe in the actual message of Christ, if one has heard it, in order to be saved. However, I cannot limit God’s ability to save to those who believe in the traditional doctrines of Christianity.
As a result of this semester, I have lost my pedestal from where I can determine who is right and who is wrong concerning salvation. I have simply come to the conclusion that it is not my place to judge. I believe in Jesus Christ and will live my life according to His principles, but I cannot determine if other people are held to the same standard. If Jesus Christ is the truth, His light will shine through me to spread the message to those around me. As Malachi 6:8 tells me, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Berger, Peter L., and Anton C. Zijderveld. In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions without Becoming a Fanatic. New York: HarperOne/HarperCollins, 2009. Print.
Holy Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. Print.
Abdel, Haleem M. A. The Quran. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
Dr. Chahinda. “Islamic Thought and Practice.” Question Day. Agouza, Cairo. 8 Mar. 2010. Lecture.
Dr. Samir. “Muslim Background Believers.” Muslim Background Believers. Agouza, Cairo. 3 Mar. 2010. Speech.