A Review: The Problem of Wealth
I grew up knowing that I was poor. My awareness of my poverty was not easy. Like other immigrants to Canada, my family did not have family inheritance or job connections to move up the metaphorical socio-economic ladder. We lived in a small two-bedroom apartment, which was infested with cockroaches. Everything in our apartment was second-hand: we used furniture that others had thrown away and my dad somehow managed to bring home. It was always clear to me that we were poor and that I shouldn’t ask for things from my parents as they couldn’t afford to give them to me. The question of why some have more than others do and why some have so little dotted my life growing up in Canada.
As a child, this was difficult, as children compare themselves to others. I remember that while my friends enjoyed going to the movies, I only went once during my whole childhood. After begging my mother to take us to the movies as I was so curious how a movie theatre even looked, my mother finally took my sister and I to go see a movie. I was overwhelmed by the big screen and finally understood why my friends enjoyed going to the movies so much.
Questions related to poverty and wealth have followed me since my immigration story began in 1975. When I was 16 years old, I traveled to Haiti with my church group, and saw how the people living in the poorest country in the western hemisphere struggled to stay alive. Then, during seminary studies in my early 20’s, I went to India for the summer and saw poverty on the streets of New Delhi and Calcutta.
Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty addresses such questions in her new book, The Problem of Wealth. Living in the United States, a world superpower with so many resources, it hard to fathom that people are hungry and homeless. It is unconscionable that so many of those living in poverty and on food stamps are children.
Hinson-Hasty tackles the socio-economic gap in America by beginning the debate with the problem of wealth. One of the reasons for beginning with the problem of wealth is theological as she highlights how religious traditions are able to offer a radically different way of entering into a conversation about wealth inequality and poverty by identifying the problem as wealth and not poverty.
Hinson-Hasty reminds us that the major world religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous spiritualities all instill compassion and call us to imagine different ways of sustainable life. These theologies engage us to see how individualism, overconsumption and destruction drive our contemporary dominant forms of wealth creation. Native American theologies, for example, teach us the importance of community and the relational reality of the Earth. In a globalized world, it is ever important to engage in theological dialogue and work together to address the problem of wealth.
Hinson-Hasty frames the right questions to enable us to understand more fully the power dynamics that are part of the debate over wealth inequality and poverty. She also explores how the middle class can help eliminate poverty by reducing our levels of consumption.
For the world to survive economically and sustainably, we need to reimagine ways of living. Our present lifestyle of greed and individualism is taking us to a downward spiral of self destruction. Our present economics are going to destroy the Earth in the process. Lifestyles based on our greed for more clothes (which is one of the highest sources of pollution in the world), our greed for bigger homes (which use more fuel and energy to heat and cool down), our greed for more food (with the high amount of animal consumption, we are creating a disaster in animal rights and animal wastes), and our greed for bigger cars and more cars (causes more carbon emissions), challenge us to rethink what wealth is doing to our planet. It is time for us to make this clear connection of greed, wealth and the destruction of our planet.
As we engage in an effort to live sustainably with care for others, Hinson-Hasty takes us on the right track and challenges us to address the problem of wealth and work towards a more equal and sustainable world. We can all engage in that work as we frame and confront challenging questions that will enable us to see more clearly the roles we can play in creating change. We can also learn from the stories of others who were forced to think innovatively because of their poverty. For example, immigrants in the US are aware that they lack access to the same ways that white middle-class families increase their wealth so they think in creative ways by forming informal groups such as lending circles to enable the whole community to succeed. What are some ways that you can create change in the community in which you live? How do you think creatively to increase the well-being of the community as a whole? Sharing those stories will enable all of us to become more aware that wealth cannot solely be defined in money terms; wealth is known in creativity, mutuality, and sharing.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim serves as Associate Professor of Theology at Earlham School of Religion. She holds degrees from Knox College and the University of Toronto, and is the author or editor of 12 books. Among these are The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology; The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology; and Contemplations from the Heart: Spiritual Reflections on Family, Community, and the Divine. Eerdmans included her in their list of Five Great Women Scholars, and the Englewood Review of Books named her in their list of Ten Important Women Theologians You Should Be Reading. Grace is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is married and the mother of three children.
 Elizabeth L. Hinson-Hasty, The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2017), 15.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 14.