Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poverty and Dignity

The November 16, 2009 issue of Newsweek features an article entitled "Seeing Dignity in Poverty: Dorothea Lange's Politics of Respect". It's a thought-provoking article pertaining to the idea that poverty-stricken people need more than just material help; they also need to be treated with respect, in a manner which instills them with hope for the future, and which doesn't presumptuously and self-righteously assume that the poverty which afflicts them is necessarily their own fault.

Some Christian charities and churches seem to understand the aforementioned concept. Others, sadly, do not.

NOTE: The aforementioned article argues that Lange demonstrates the dignity of her subjects by showing their stoicism. I agree that Lange's photos portrayed her subjects (such as the famous "Migrant Mother") with dignity. But I think that it's wrong, and potentially harmful, to think that overt demonstrations of understandable anguish, sadness or anger in response to adversity are undignified. After all, the scriptures teach that Christ's strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. There is nothing shameful about genuine tears or other intense negative emotions. Even Jesus wept and expressed anger from time to time. As Christians, we ought, above all, to be authentic and honest. There is nothing dignified about being treated in a dehumanizing manner, as if one's feelings are of no importance.

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