As a country pursues a shift in worldview, language and culture will change as well. These changes then lead to a shift in policies and practices of compassion. This process can be pictured as Paradigm → Principles → Policies → Program.
In the last 200 years the worldview in the West has shifted from Judeo-Christian Theism →Deism → Secular Humanism. Compassion, once defined by the Biblical worldview, has been reframed by an Atheistic /Secular Humanist worldview.
Three nineteenth-century figures–all named “Booth”–were pivotal in the shift in principle, policies, and programs related to caring for the poor.
Charles Booth (1840-1916) was an English philanthropist, researcher, and social reformer. Charles was a Unitarian, which put him squarely on the Deistic “bridge” between Biblical Theism and Secularism. He combined the classic virtues of hard work, dependability, and thrift with modern scientific social research into the causes of poverty. He studied the poor working class in London, England. His research and writing led to government intervention in the fight against poverty. This move from personal responsibility to government responsibility created a titanic shift in Western societies’ understanding of, and solutions to, poverty.
William Booth (no relation to Charles, 1829-1912) was a Methodist minister. William and his wife, Catherine (1829-1890), founded the Christian Revival Society in 1865 in East London. The ministry began by preaching to the poor and calling them to repentance. These Booths understood that the root of poverty was the sin inside human beings. By preaching Christ crucified and calling people to repent from sin, William and Catherine were laying the foundation for people to escape poverty. In 1878 their organization changed its name to the Salvation Army. This Protestant Christian church with its emphasis on “walking with the poor” (com-passion, “to suffer with”) has grown into a global movement working in 120 countries.
These two streams of Booths represent the divergence of our modern understanding of helping the poor. Catherine and William worked from the historic Biblical worldview which recognizes that the root of poverty is sin. They understood the influence of a poverty mentality, and the consequences of foolish behavior, including alienation from family and increased poverty. To solve the problem of poverty, one had to go to the root and call people to repentance and a new mind and new life in Christ. On the other hand, while Charles recognized the need for virtuous (rather than foolish) behavior, the deist framework of his research and policy recommendations led to today’s practice in which the government is seen as the authority which is responsible to address the needs of the poor.
This transition in the diminishing of compassion continued across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States, in a series of debates between two newspapermen. One was Horace Greeley (1811-1872), the founder and editor of the New York Tribune and of a Universalist persuasion, functioning from a Deist worldview.
In the 1840s, Greeley faced off with Henry Raymond (1820-1869), the founder of the New York Times, and a Presbyterian, functioning from a Judeo-Christian worldview. Their debate revolved around their view of man, the nature of poverty, and how best to provide charity.
In his book The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky describes how their divergent belief systems led to very different understandings of compassion. He understood that Greeley argued that poverty was external to man:
“Greeley’s Associationist belief was that human desires are good in themselves. Evil flows only from their repression or subversion. Give them full scope, free play, a perfect and complete development, and universal happiness must be the result … Create a new form of Society in which this shall be possible … then you will have a perfect Society; then you will have ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’….” Then Greeley’s argument continues: “… that the heart of man is not deprived: that his passions do not prompt to wrong doing, and do not therefore by their action, produce evil.”
Note that Greeley argues from a romantic, naturalistic worldview. Man is naturally good; it is the institutions and structures of society that are evil and thus bring poverty. Build a new form of society and poverty would be eradicated. We would have heaven on earth.
In contrast Olasky points out that Raymond argued that the cause of poverty was, at its core, internal to man, rooted in …
‘the sinfulness of the heart of Man.’ The remedy, he argued, must reach that cause, or it must prove inefficient. The heart must change. The law of Man’s nature must cease to be the supreme law of his life. He must learn to subject that law to the higher law of righteousness, revealed in his conscience and in the Word of God …. And that subjugation can only be effected by his personal will, the supernatural aids furnished in the Christian Scheme.
Note that Raymond, arguing from a Biblical worldview, sees the root of poverty inside the human heart. Any solution to poverty begins with a “heart transplant”—a new birth, as Jesus would say. It begins with repentance, a person taking responsibility for his/her own life, and, in the power of Christ’s life within, behaves within the moral framework of the universe.
It needs to be added, for the sake of completion, that the Biblical framework acknowledges three major forms of evil: moral evil (i.e. murder), natural evil (i.e. earthquakes), and institutional evil (i.e. slavery). All three contribute to poverty, but, as Raymond would argue, if you do not deal with the human heart, you will not get to the root of poverty.
The debate between Greely and Raymond demonstrates that history can be turned by a discussion between two human beings.
These two worldviews understand human beings, and thus poverty, in very different ways. The ancients understood that we live in a moral universe and that sin dwells inside each human being. The moderns naively hold that the heart of man is pure and society perfectible.
Two Russian writers speak from the frame of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Leo Tolstoy summarizes, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Similarly Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writes, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
As the West moved from its founding roots of a Judeo-Christian paradigm to the modern atheistic paradigm, the change in principle, policy, and program was radically deformed. The ancient principle that rooted poverty in the sinful heart and sinful behavior was abandoned for the new principle that rooted poverty in the laws and institutions of society. New policies and programs followed. The rise of Darwinism to justify an atheistic faith led not only to a biological application but also to a social application in the form of Social Darwinism.
New paradigms and principles led to the rise of the welfare state in the form of socio-economic/political systems (read Marxism and Socialism) as attempts to deal with poverty. Within Christendom, as a Secular-Humanistic worldview displaced the Judeo-Christian worldview, two new emphases for dealing with poverty arose. One was liberation theology, based in Marxist political and economic theory, which seeks to liberate people trapped in poverty from economic or political oppression. The other was the social gospel, which sought to eliminate poverty by reforming society according to “Christian” principles, often without recognizing that the human heart must be transformed.
When human beings are not responsible for their behavior, they diminish in stature. They become small. As the government takes responsibility for poverty, it grows large at the expense of human significance and human freedom. People become wards of the state. Individuals are not responsible for their own education, material well-being or health (witness the current national debate in the USA). The government becomes responsible for these things.
If men and women do not govern themselves internally by moral principle they will be governed externally by ever-increasing laws, courts and prisons. The individual is diminished and enslaved, the state becomes the warden of the prison.
Again, the words of Leo Tolstoy are instructive.
Not only does the action of Governments not deter men from crimes; on the contrary, it increases crime by always disturbing and lowering the moral standard of society. Nor can this be otherwise, since always and everywhere a Government, by its very nature, must put in the place of the highest, eternal, religious law (not written in books but in the hearts of men, and binding on every one) its own unjust, man-made laws, the object of which is neither justice nor the common good of all but various considerations of home and foreign expediency.
Different worldviews invariably lead to very different concepts of compassion and compassion programs.
- Darrow Miller and Gary Brumbelow