Monthly Archives: October 2011

Calvin’s Modest Method

I have been reading Calvin this semester and have been quite enjoying it. One of the most wonderful things is his insistence on contentment with God’s self-revelation. Calvin is a champion of having a humble epistemology, a modest theological method. In speaking of the Trinity he says:

“Here, indeed, if anywhere in the secret mysteries of Scripture we ought to play the philosopher soberly and with great moderation; let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends. For how can the human mind measure off the measureless essence of God according to its own little measure … Indeed, how can the mind by its own leading come to search out God’s essence when it cannot even get to is own? Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself. For, as Hilary says, he is the one fit to witness of himself, and is not known except through himself. But we shall be ‘leaving it to him’ if we conceive him to be as he reveals himself to us, without inquiring about him elsewhere than from his Word.” (1.13.21)

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Defining Poverty

It occurred to me today: how do you define poverty? Each suggested answer only brought up more questions. Here are a few examples:

You are poor if you budget is small. — This could be true, and yet you still would have more money left in your pocket at the end of the month than others (see below), or your budget is free of any burdensome payments (car, loan, mortgage, rent, etc.) Conceivably someone who owns their house, their car, and lives by themselves could live on a very small budget. This would result in a great amount of free money in their pocket.

You are poor if you have a small amount of money left in your pocket/bank at the end of your budget cycle. — This could be true, though of someone who has very large expenses and a very large income. Again, it is likely that the person with a large income also includes in their expenses things to their benefit: savings, or debt payments.

You are poor if your expenses are largely tied up in loan payments, and other non-productive uses. — While this characterizes the person who makes a lot of money and yet has massive amounts of debt, it does not take into account the person who, has large debt but is privileged by the education that loan made available. Another way to say it; is historical wealth or benefit factored into considerations on poverty? Ability to get a good paying job is certainly a corollary here.

You are poor if you have no privileges which give you the upper hand. — This is something that often misses most discussions of poverty among those who do have privileges (steady family, parents involved in and encouraging education, good schools, financial help for school, etc.) Yet even this does not take into account the ability to excel in a trade or entrepreneurial skills. You can make good money with privilege starting you on the right track. Capitalism at its best allows this (without comment on Capitalism at its worst).

Which one does the job? I’m really not sure. One thing is clear, once you start qualifying for more than one of these you can count yourself in the crew of the poor.

I am thinking about poverty, partly because I wonder how poor we are. I also think about poverty because I wonder if our scruples are misguided; how we define poverty will help us to decide who really needs help.