Your Opinion: Response to Todd on poverty

Dear Editor:

“Throughout history there have always been beggars, wealth and class envy. Life goes on,” wrote Phillip Todd in his letter to the editor (Aug. 21.) With these remarks, but I think with a differing intention, Todd joins ranks with President Bush’s favorite philosopher, Jesus Christ. He taught: “... the poor you always have with you” (Matthew 26:11.)

I share Todd’s disappointment with the government programs named, although I sense his disillusion lies deeper — that such programs exist at all. His observation relative to the ancient writer Plutarch that “the war on poverty ... existed back in those days” is a correct one and older than that. Certain Greeks decried a program in the golden days of Athens in the fifth century B.C., when funding was made available to enable the poor of the community to attend the theater, free of charge. Demosthenes later persuaded his contemporaries that these funds be reappropriated, to support military effort.

Even earlier in the Ancient Near East, rich landowners were urged at harvest time to leave behind bits of grain for the poor to glean (Leviticus 23:22). Much later, the prophet (read social critic) Amos chided the rich for their part in maintaining the chasm between rich and poor: “Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory ... and eat lambs from the flock ... who sing idle songs ... who drink wine from bowls ...” (Amos 6:4-6).

Notwithstanding the remarks of Jesus that we always have the poor among us, we are not excused from helping those in need. As far as I can recall, enduring government programs began after a horrific fire in ancient Rome, when hovels and shacks burned to the ground and thousands of inhabitants lost their lives. Thus was born a government agency, the fire department, founded upon the principle that government act when individuals are helpless to act. This principle, it seems to me, underlies certain government programs today.

The Buddha as a young man lived safely and secluded in a palace knowing nothing of the heartache that lay outside. One day he ventured beyond his confinement to behold that there are sick and poor and needy among us. Thereafter, he devoted a significant portion of his life to their service. Long was the journey from that day until the day he sat under the bodhi tree, when he became enlightened and, so, became the Buddha. The lives of holy ones are intended to direct us in right and just paths.

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