Christianity and Poverty: correlation or causation?

published on December 22, 2005


S. Menon


The CIA Fact Book statistics on poverty in developing nations is indeed an interesting description. Sure enough, when we look at the numbers, we can clearly see a definite correlation between the spread of Christianity and rates of poverty in nations. An observed correlation, however, merely describes a population or event. Correlation alone does not prove a cause and effect relationship between two events or variables.  The criteria of causation include three conditions, one of which is correlation. In other words, correlation only suggests a possibility of causation.


I think we can try and make this hypothesis more meaningful by considering one or two other events or variables. By no means am I claiming that they are, therefore, the causal factors associated with poverty on nations. If we add the dimensions of race and colonialism to this, we get a clearer perspective on the problem. When we examine the list of nations with high poverty rates that are predominantly Christian, we see that virtually all of them have a colonial past and are all non-White populations. The entire sub-Saharan Africa and South America were colonized by the Europeans. In fact, if we consider South American/Latin American and the Caribbean nations, we will see that the indigenous populations are disproportionately represented in the low-income category. While churches dot every nook and corner in the Caribbean islands, families and marriages have become more or less defunct, with nearly 80 to 90 per cent of children without ever acknowledging a father figure and an alarmingly high incidence of HIV. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, South Africa are all strong supporting cases of this hypothesis. Not only do these nations consist of large indigenous populations, they also were colonized for long periods of time by Europeans.


In Asia, we see that Philippines (Spanish), Macao (Portuguese), and now Timor, are the only Christian societies in the entire continent. Macao is now part of mainland China. Contrary to the  ‘stock & barrel’ conversion claims by evangelical Protestants, South Korea still has a non-Christian majority. Indeed, these three regions show highest levels of economic strain and social break-down.  One only has to walk the main streets of Hong Kong to understand the pathetic plight of Philippines, especially their women, who serve as maids in the rich homes of the host country. On Sundays, the ground level of HSBC Bank in Hong Kong seems like a perfect place for tens of thousands of maids to gather and socialize with their sisters after six days of hard and onerous labor. They even conduct street side beauty pageants! Macao earned fame for gambling and other enticing leisure. These are clear indications to any one that, for whatever reasons, the much extolled Christian morality and promise have not helped these populations progress in any direction. Meanwhile, the rest of Asia is making giant leaps. And the ones taking the lead – Japan, China, and India – are all conspicuously non-Christian, non-Muslim!


In contrast, we have also witnessed the phenomenal economic success of western European nations, as well as North America, Australia, New Zealand, and White South Africa.  Well, these nations are also virtually Christian. They are economically and technologically the most advanced nations in the world. In those cases, one must ask what role Christianity played or did not play in shaping their destinies. If we are to argue that “ Christianity breeds poverty “, then, we must also explain why the same religion DID NOT breed poverty in western Europe, North America, or down under. Let us be very specific here. We are not talking about brown-skinned Native Americans, Blacks, or the aborigines of Australia. Of course, all of them having been bearing the cross literally and figuratively ever since the white man set foot on their soil! What is worse, the southern Bible belt in the United States lags miserably behind the northeastern states in education and socio-economic mobility. Going to church services is an every-other-day affair for these oppressed masses of poor Whites, Blacks, and other minorities, neglecting the academic challenges and demands that their children face. Of course, they do believe in miracles!


To make the original hypothesis more meaningful, perhaps, we might add a new variable – race.  When we consider the races – white, brown, black, or whatever – we find that, indeed, there is an even stronger relationship. In other words, we can at least argue that, in spite of the zealous evangelical efforts of the colonialists, none of the colonies seem to have reaped any material rewards for accepting Christianity. To the contrary, the consequences have been worse!


The story of nations where Islam spread is also not that different in their destinies from those of the Christianized nations. We have at least three neighbors who are living proof of this disturbing trend. Those fundamentalist Indian Muslim migrant workers in the Middle East countries bite bullets when they are collectively labeled and referred to as ‘Hinds’ by the Arab Muslims. So much for their loyalty to a Pan Islamic paradise! This is further testimony to the notion that, where Semitic religions have spread their tentacles, it has been done with an end to achieving something other than a promised redemption. The story of Indian Christian immigrants to the United States is painfully similar to that of the Muslim expatriates in the Middle East. Striving to assimilate fully into the American mainstream is an exercise in futility which many of them have come to realize.


If so, what do these trends point to? This is the question we must probe. If religion has not brought promised salvation to its flocks, what does it signify? Against a backdrop of colonization and subjugation by one race of many others, it becomes clearer to any observer that Judeo-Christian proselytization in colonies has managed to achieve one goal for the dominant player – a subtle form of cultural imperialism. Even after decades of political independence, the freed subjects around the world have silently and fervently continued to abjectly supplicate to the pre-eminence of western Christendom. The lesson to be learned is that while political independence is easy to come by, cultural independence is not so. By indoctrinating some into a certain orthodoxy, these powers manage to keep societies divided and weak. The converts owe their loyalties to the colonizers since their religiosity keeps them in a binding relationship with the powers that stripped them of their heritage and self-respect in the first place.


The contrived poverty of Christian or Muslim converts may thus be better understood from a socio-historical perspective. Until these unfortunate souls realize their victimization and try to free their souls of the blemish, the poverty statistics of these ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’ nations may very well continue to alarm us. The sooner they see the whole picture, the better it is for themselves and their nationhood. Color seems to be more than skin deep! And religion seems to have failed to blind the guardians of faith.

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