Monday, April 28, 2008

Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

A food line in Jakarta. See more photos here.

Globe columnist and author James Carrol takes on the "silent tsunami" of the current crisis (yet another one) regarding food:

OF ALL the marks of difference that separate humans, none is so drastic as hunger. Not only does the physical sensation of being famished set a person off from those who are sated, but the well-fed are hard put even to imagine the desperation that goes with an empty stomach. Among the relatively well-off, hunger is like a vague rumor, having little more substance than the report of bad weather in a distant part of the globe. Last week, at an emergency summit meeting in London, a UN official described a present global food shortage as a "silent tsunami," affecting millions of people in dozens of nations. As if out of nowhere, a world-historic crisis has arisen. In recent months, there have been food riots in such diverse places as Haiti, Cairo, Cameroon, Senegal, and Bangladesh. In Mexico, people speak of the "tortilla crisis," as the skyrocketing price of corn has made that staple too expensive. In the last two months, the price of rice has doubled in world markets. Store shelves across the southern hemisphere are empty, and foodstuffs in many places are being severely rationed. Economists define a general spike in commodity prices as the sharpest in 30 years. Without notice, the situation of hundreds of millions of chronically hungry people has become acute. The United Nations warns that 20 million children are at immediate risk of starvation. (If you read anything today, read this whole column)

The Baha'i Faith teaches that the material world is a mirror of the spiritual world, that social problems are a reflection of underlying spiritual conditions. Could it be that the current crisis over food serves as a metaphor for the hunger of people everywhere for a social order that feeds the soul as well as the body, that satisfies the hunger and thirst for righteousness mentioned in the Beatitudes? A letter from the Universal House of Justice, which I often meditate on as a public health social worker, offers commentary on the attitude of Baha'is towards material deprivation in the world:

"But in our concern for such immediate obvious calls upon our succour we must not allow ourselves to forget the continuing, appalling burden of suffering under which millions of human beings are always groaning -- a burden which they have borne for century upon century and which it is the mission of Bahá'u'lláh to lift at last. The principal cause of this suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred, untrustworthiness, selfishness and tyranny among men. It is not merely material well- being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives -- they need to know who they are, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act towards one another; and, once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to everyday behaviour. It is to the solution of this basic problem of mankind that the greater part of all our energy and resources should be directed."
(The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 283)