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An insulting question: 'Could you survive poverty?'

I had a short respite from the liberalism of the San Francisco Bay Area by getting out of state and into an area where people maintain the traditional way of thinking and behaving. Not to say they don’t take political sides in election issues – oh yes, they do – but they are at least reasonable in their reactions.

Then I came home and went to church, and saw in the Sunday bulletin something I think – at least, I hope – could only take place in the Bay Area.

The bulletin is a weekly flyer given to all parishioners with notices of upcoming church activities, Masses and other information. It also lists various activities that will be taking place in the area with information as to what, why, where and when.

One of them caught my attention and I could hardly believe my eyes. I had to read it a couple of time before the reality sank in.

Here it is, verbatim, with their underlining emphasis, not mine:

Could you survive poverty? The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will host a Community Poverty Simulation.

(It went on to note the date and location of this event and a contact number for those wishing to register to participate.)

This poverty simulation experience is designed to help participants understand what it might be like to be a part of a typical low-income family trying to survive month to month. It is a simulation, not a game. The object is to sensitize participants to the realities of life faced by low-income people.

Oh …

Talk about patronizing and insulting.

After I took a few moments to catch my breath, I realized these fools are serious in what they’re doing. In their jaundiced view of the world, they are convinced the people in their area are so privileged and selfish that they need to learn about poverty by pretending to be poor.

In other words, they can’t imagine what it would be like not having an income for rent or food or clothing for your children. I guess they think those people are not only “rich,” they’re stupid.

Oh I know they said the program is “not a game,” but how else would you regard it when they also say that it will “simulate poverty”?

In a not-so-subtle way, they’re talking down to their expected audience by presenting a scenario of poverty.

While one goal might be to increase the idea of charity in the person, I have no doubt they’re also interested in increasing donations to the organization. Without donations of time, money and goods, the organization cannot do its work.

Keep in mind the part of the San Francisco Bay Area to which this program is appealing is quite affluent. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to assume the congregations in the church bulletin are financially well-set and know of poverty only from reading about it in the media.

No doubt these are also people who feel guilty about their successes in life. Religion has a way of doing that. People in that frame of mind would find a program such as this appealing and likely to assuage that guilt.

Just think, by the time they are done with the program, they might even feel motivated to increase their donations to St. Vincent De Paul.

Am I being too crass? Perhaps. Then again, realistic is also another way to look at it. The organization depends on people donating money, goods and time to make it successful. If people don’t see a need, then those donations decrease and that is not good for the bottom line.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic lay organization that serves the needy and suffering. It has two aims: to increase the spiritual good of its members through the exercise of charity, and to increase the spiritual and temporal good to poor families.

They summarize it thusly: “End Poverty Thru Systemic Change.”

Those are fine goals and they do good work, and have been for more than 170 years. Their more than 100,000 volunteers provide services in every U.S. state to families and those in prisons and hospitals. It would almost be impossible to put a dollar value on their good works, which depend on volunteer efforts and the myriad donations to be given to the poor and sold in their thrift stores, raising money for other activities.

Over the years I have donated to St. Vincent de Paul and intend to in the future. That’s why I find this “Poverty Simulation” to be so insulting and belittling to the organization. Do they really think so little of the American public? I hope I’m wrong and that this is just an aberration, but I fear not. It appears liberal political correctness has made greater inroads into religion than I had thought – and it infuriates me.

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