Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Religious traditions are often conflicted about poverty. Poverty is bad because deprivation involves suffering. Yet the salvation religions offer is not material wealth, and certain types of poverty can even be beneficial in reducing distractions that otherwise interfere with the spiritual life.
Perhaps this tension was easier to live with in premodern cultures, where (what we now consider) poverty was common, if not the norm, and options were more limited. Modern developed (or “economized”) societies offer the possibility of a more secular and materialistic salvation from life’s ills. Whether this deliverance actually delivers us, we now have the economic and technological resources to liberate all human beings from extreme deprivation, if we care to do so. Should that be a collective priority? Can it be done in ways that remain sensitive to other religious hesitations about wealth and do not convert whole societies to consumerism and “moneytheism”?