Rediscovering Poverty. How We Cured
"The Culture of Poverty," But Not Poverty Itself
by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Religious Right is in the habit of "chattering"
unsympathetically and somewhat callously about a "Culture
of Poverty" that supposedly infuses the circumstances
that regulate the poor. Proponents of this theory argue
that the poor are not simply lacking resources, but also
have a unique and very damaging value system. According
to Oscar Lewis, a strong proponent of this disgraceful
social theory -
"... the subculture [of the poor] develops
mechanisms that tend to perpetuate it,
especially because of what happens to the world view,
aspirations, and character of the children who grow
up in it."
According to this supposition, people
in the "culture of poverty" have a strong feeling of helplessness
and dependency. They are a marginal people who
know only their own troubles, their own local conditions,
their own neighborhood, their own way of life.
In one way or another, this cold-hearted, mean-spirited
theory of poverty has been embraced by ALL
the "leading lights" of today's evangelical church, to
include: Peter Wagner, Paul Crouch, Jack Hayford, Charles
Stanley, the late D. James Kennedy, Tim LaHaye, the late
John Wimber, Juan Carlos Ortiz, Beverley LaHaye, Ern Baxter,
Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson,
the late Jerry Falwell, Chuck Colson, David Yonggi Cho,
Robert Stearns, Mike Bickle, Reuven Doron, Che Ahn, Frank
Hammond, Cindy Jacobs, Bill Hamon, John Eckhardt, Bobbie
Byerly, Dutch Sheets, Jim Goll, John Paul Jackson, James
Ryle, Frank Damazio, Ed Silvoso, Carlos Annacondia, Claudio
Freidzon, Roger Mitchell, Ted Haggart, Paul Cain, Chuck
Pierce, Rick Joyner, Kingsley Fletcher, Jim Laffoon, Barbara
Wentroble, ad infinitum. The theoretical premise
(mechanism) that has been used by these APOSTATES to insinuate
this evil and extremely NON-biblical
way of thinking into the mindset of the Christian church
is known popularly as the "Gospel of Prosperity." [Please
see APPENDIX 1 to this article.]
The "Gospel of Prosperity" is the belief
that God wants Christians to be financially rich. It confirms
to the wealthy that their wealth is proof God loves them,
and that it's okay to pursue wealth, even to make it top
Needless to say, this so-called "gospel" is quite
different from Jesus' teachings about abundance, which
urges us to share instead of hoarding our many blessings.
The gospel of prosperity feeds directly into the worst
parts of The American Dream with its focus on possessions
as signs of success. [Please see our article, "Capitalism
Barbara Ehrenreich details the secular origin of this
malicious way of thinking and traces its popularity to
the mindset regarding the poor that Ronald Reagan introduced
to the country as a whole during his presidency. [Please
see our article, "Making
a Crime out of Being Poor and Homeless."]
It's been exactly 50 years since Americans, or at least the
non-poor among them, "discovered" poverty, thanks to Michael
Harrington's engaging book The Other America. If this
discovery now seems a little overstated, like Columbus's "discovery"
of America, it was because the poor, according
to Harrington, were so "hidden" and "invisible" that it took
a crusading left-wing journalist to ferret them out.
Harrington's book jolted a nation that then prided itself on
its classlessness and even fretted about the spirit-sapping
effects of "too much affluence." He
estimated that one quarter of the population lived in poverty
-- inner-city blacks, Appalachian whites, farm workers, and
elderly Americans among them. We could no longer boast,
as President Nixon had done in his "kitchen debate" with Soviet
Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow just three years earlier,
about the splendors of American capitalism.
At the same time that it delivered its gut punch, The
Other America also offered a view of poverty that
seemed designed to comfort the already comfortable.
The poor were different from the rest of us, it argued, radically
different, and not just in the sense that they were deprived,
disadvantaged, poorly housed, or poorly fed. They
felt different, too, thought differently, and pursued lifestyles
characterized by shortsightedness and intemperance. As
"There is... a language of the poor, a psychology of the
poor, a worldview of the poor - to grow up in a culture that
is radically different from the one that dominates the society."
Harrington did such a good job of making the poor seem "OTHER"
that when I read his book in 1963, I did not recognize my own
forbears and extended family in it. All right, some of them
did lead disorderly lives by middle class standards, involving
drinking, brawling, and out-of-wedlock babies. But they were
also hardworking and in some cases fiercely ambitious -- qualities
that Harrington seemed to reserve for the economically privileged.
According to Harrington, the poor are
different from the rest of us, and not just in the sense
that they are deprived, disadvantaged, poorly housed,
or poorly fed. They feel
different, too, think differently, and pursue lifestyles
characterized by shortsightedness and intemperance.
According to him, what distinguished the poor was their
unique "culture of poverty," a concept he borrowed from
anthropologist Oscar Lewis, who had derived it from his study
of Mexican slum-dwellers. The culture of poverty gave The
Other America a trendy academic twist, but it also gave
the book a conflicted double message: "We" -- the always
presumptively affluent readers -- needed to find some way to
help the poor, but we also needed to understand
that there was something wrong with them, something that could
not be cured by a straightforward redistribution of wealth.
Think of the earnest Christian who encounters a panhandler,
is moved to pity by the man's obvious destitution, but refrains
from offering a quarter -- since the hobo might, after all,
spend the money on booze.
In his defense, Harrington did not mean that poverty was caused
by what he called the "twisted" proclivities of the poor. But
he certainly opened the floodgates to that interpretation. In
1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan -- a sometime-liberal and one
of Harrington's drinking companions at the famed White Horse
Tavern in Greenwich Village -- blamed inner-city poverty on
what he saw as the shaky structure of the "Negro family," clearing
the way for decades of victim-blaming. A few years after
The Moynihan Report, Harvard urbanologist Edward C. Banfield,
who was to go on to serve as an advisor to Ronald Reagan, felt
free to claim that:
"The lower-class individual lives from moment to moment...
Impulse governs his behavior... He is therefore radically
improvident: whatever he cannot consume immediately he considers
valueless... [He] has a feeble, attenuated sense of self."
In the "hardest cases," Banfield opined, the poor
might need to be cared for in -
"... semi-institutions... and to accept a certain amount
of surveillance and supervision from a semi-social-worker-semi-policeman."
19th Century workhouse where the poor were "institutionalized" and made to labor for their food and shelter under the banner "God Is Good" and "God Is Just."
By the Reagan era, the "culture of poverty" had become a
cornerstone of conservative ideology: poverty
was caused, not by low wages or a lack of jobs, but
by bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles. The poor were dissolute,
promiscuous, prone to addiction and crime, unable to "defer
gratification," or possibly even set an alarm clock.
The last thing they could be trusted with was money. In fact,
Charles Murray argued in his 1984 book Losing Ground,
any attempt to help the poor with their
material circumstances would only have the unexpected consequence
of deepening their depravity. [Please see our article,
"Racism and Right-Wing
Most Christians have
come to believe poverty is caused, not by low wages
or a lack of jobs, but by bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles.
The poor are dissolute, promiscuous, prone to addiction
and crime, unable to "defer gratification," and any
attempt to help the poor with their material circumstances
will only have the unexpected consequence of deepening
their depravity, an
attitude that is completely in contradiction to Christ's
"...If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou
hast, and give to the
poor, and thou shalt have treasure
in heaven: and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:21)
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,
where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves
break through and steal ..."
"But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where
neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves
do not break through nor steal ..." (Matthew 6:19-20)
So it was in a spirit of righteousness and even compassion
that Democrats and Republicans joined together to reconfigure
social programs to cure, not poverty, but the "culture of poverty."
In 1996, the Clinton administration enacted the "One Strike"
rule banning anyone who committed a felony from public housing.
A few months later, welfare was replaced by Temporary Assistance
to Needy Families (TANF), which in its current form makes cash
assistance available only to those who have jobs or are able
to participate in government-imposed "workfare." In a further
nod to "culture of poverty" theory, the original welfare reform
bill appropriated $250 million over five years for "chastity
training" for poor single mothers. (This bill, it should be
pointed out, was signed by Bill Clinton.)
Even today, more than a decade later and four years into
a severe economic downturn, as people continue to slide into
poverty from the middle classes, the theory maintains its grip.
[Please see our articles, "It's
Only Going to Get Worse," "A
Permanent 30% Unemployment Rate for the United States,"
"Unemployment Is Much Worse than
Is Being Reported" and "The
Elites Want High Unemployment."]
Increasingly, there is NO
way out of being unemployed and or under-employed.
If you're needy, you must be in need
of correction, the assumption goes, so TANF
recipients are routinely instructed in how to improve their
attitudes and applicants for a growing number of safety-net
programs are subjected to drug-testing. Lawmakers in 23 states
are considering testing people who apply for such programs as
job training, food stamps, public housing, welfare, and home
heating assistance. And on the theory that the poor are likely
to harbor criminal tendencies, applicants for safety net programs
are increasingly subjected to finger-printing and computerized
searches for outstanding warrants. [Again, please see our article,
"Making a Crime out of
Being Poor and Homeless."]
Unemployment, with its ample opportunities for slacking off,
is another obviously suspect condition, and last year 12 states
considered requiring pee tests as a condition for receiving
unemployment benefits. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have
suggested drug testing as a condition for all government benefits,
presumably including Social Security. If granny insists on handling
her arthritis with marijuana, she may have to starve.
What would Michael Harrington make of the current uses of the
"culture of poverty" theory he did so much to popularize? I
worked with him in the 1980s, when we were co-chairs of Democratic
Socialists of America, and I suspect he'd have the decency to
be chagrined, if not mortified. In all the discussions and debates
I had with him, he never said a disparaging word about the down-and-out
or, for that matter, uttered the phrase "the culture of poverty."
Maurice Isserman, Harrington's biographer, told me that he'd
probably latched onto it in the first place only because "he
didn't want to come off in the book sounding like a stereotypical
Marxist agitator stuck-in-the-thirties."
The ruse -- if you could call it that -- worked. Michael Harrington
wasn't red-baited into obscurity. In fact, his book became
a bestseller and an inspiration for President Lyndon Johnson's
War on Poverty. But he had fatally botched the "discovery" of
poverty. What affluent Americans found in his book, and in
all the crude conservative diatribes that followed it, was not
the poor, but a flattering new way to
think about themselves -- disciplined, law-abiding, sober, and
focused. In other words, not poor.
Concerning the church
which will hold sway over the world just prior to Christ's
return - i.e., the Laodicean Church - the Bible says:
"And unto the angel of the church
of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen,
the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the
creation of God;
"I know thy works, that thou art neither
cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
"So then because thou art lukewarm,
and neither cold nor hot,
I WILL SPUE (i.e., VOMIT) YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH."
Fifty years later, a new discovery of poverty is long overdue.
This time, we'll have to take account not only of stereotypical
Skid Row residents and Appalachians, but of foreclosed-upon
suburbanites, laid-off tech workers, and America's ever-growing
army of the "working poor." And if we
look closely enough, we'll have to conclude that poverty is
not, after all, a cultural aberration or a character flaw. Poverty
is a shortage of money.
- Barbara Ehrenreich, is the author
of Nickel and Dimed.
God bless you all!
IN ADDITION, WE URGE YOU TO DOWNLOAD THE NEW ANTIPAS PAPERS,
PRINT THEM OUT YOURSELF, AND STUDY THEM CAREFULLY; SHARE THEM
WITH YOUR FRIENDS.
FINALLY, WE URGE YOU TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT OUT THE FLYER
WE SENT TO YOU RECENTLY.
Then make copies and take these copies out to the campuses
where you live; pass them out; OR if that seems
too "daring" for you right now, post them on telephone
poles, the sides of buildings, on campus bulletin boards; post
them in union halls, in the neighborhoods of the poor and downtrodden,
near employment offices, wherever you can.
Once again, we URGE you to read (or
The Gospel of Prosperity
There is, of course, no basis in the Scripture for such
ideas as the "Gospel of Prosperity" (i.e., that those
who are successful financially are ipso facto men of high
integrity); though, no doubt, many people (especially
Christians) probably think that there is.
It has been repeated in the language of our culture so
often that it has now taken on the aura of biblical truth
- for example, take a passage like the following, a passage
which has been extracted straight out of the folksy lexicon
of one of this country's most well-known purveyors of
such thinking, Benjamin Franklin -
"Remember that money is of the prolific, generating
nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can
beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six,
turned again it is seven and threepence, and so on,
till it becomes five hundred pounds. The more there
is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that
the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills
a breeding-sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth
generation. He that murders a crown (five pounds), destroys
all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.
was a Deist; he was no Christian, and the advise
he gave was not biblical
This all sounds so biblical - it even has a biblical
cadence to it. The use of terms like "beget,"
and "to the thousandth generation," lends to
it a certain biblical veracity. But Franklin was no Christian;
he was a Deist. He had, as a result, no real knowledge
of the Scripture. It should, therefore, come as no surprise
that the quote used above has little to do with the Bible
- at least insofar as the New Testament is concerned -
and everything to do with the "wisdom of this world,"
which the Bible UTTERLY condemns and TOTALLY
"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with
God." (1 Cor. 3:19)
The fact is, as we have said over and over again on the
pages of this website, the New Testament does not hold
the rich in any kind of esteem or respect; quite the opposite!
- it scathingly condemns them in terms which can only
be described as brusque and severe; for example,
"Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received
your consolation." (Luke 6:24)
"... a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom
"... It is easier for a camel to go through the
eye of a [sewing] needle, than for a rich man to enter
into the kingdom of God." (Matt. 19:23-24)
Not only that, but what's even more frightening, the
Bible says that the pursuit of wealth - if unchecked -
will actually drive men into DESTRUCTION and PERDITION
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it
is certain we can carry nothing out.
"And having food and raiment let us be therewith
"But they that will be rich fall into temptation
and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts,
which drown men in destruction and perdition. (1 Tim.
And one should remember here that the above verses (i.e.,
I Tim. 6:7-9) are directed at a Christian audience; in
other words, it's not just unbelievers that wealth has
the potential of ruining, but it also has the very real
possibility of destroying Christians as well.
We need your help to spread the word concerning Antipas Ministries and the
eschatological viewpoint it represents; WE NEED YOUR
HELP BECAUSE WE DO NOT "LINK" WITH OTHER SO-CALLED "CHRISTIAN"
WEBSITES which are, for the most part, "in the tank"
insofar as their loyalty to the United States is concerned
- a loyalty that has made them partners in the BLOODY
trail the American military has left in its TERROR-RIDDEN
rampage throughout the world, as well as making them partners
in the abject poverty that American corporations have
imposed on the peoples and nations the American military
machine has ravaged - A BLOODY, TERROR-RIDDEN RAMPAGE
THAT HAS TO A LARGE DEGREE BEEN CARRIED OUT IN THE NAME
OF THE "PRINCE OF PEACE." [Please see our articles,
"The Third World
as a Model for the New World Order," Inside
the American New World Order System" and "The
American Empire: The Corporate / Pentagon / CIA / Missionary
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