Friday, March 11, 2011

On Disasters and Cultures

Over a little more than a year, we've had three major earthquakes hitting three island nations: Haiti, New Zealand, and Japan.

Viewing pictures of the devastation in Japan, we are sobered by the destruction and its toll on hundreds of thousands of lives, not just those killed or injured.

But we have a confidence that a year from now, Japan and New Zealand will be at a very different point of recovery than is Haiti, where rubble commonly remains exactly where it was the day after the quake that caused it.

This is not simply because Haiti is a poor country and the others are rich ones. It has to do with what makes a country economically rich, which is, arguably though hardly so, culture.

As we have noted before, on Haiti the impact of Voodoo, slavery, and most recently paternalistic international aid has been the establishment and reinforcement of a culture that perpetuates poverty. Most countries in the Caribbean are poor, but Haiti is profoundly worse off than all of its neighbors.

Voodoo has taught Haitians that the spirits present opportunities to take economic or sexual advantage of others, so promiscuity and stealing are fine if one can.

Slavery taught Haitians that not working is better than working.

Paternalistic international aid have more or less destroyed Haiti's agricultural economy, further destroying incentives to produce as commodities are donated and distributed freely, leaving the country worse off economically than it was a generation ago.

Again, for elaboration, we recommend the consistently insightful discussion of dysfunctional culture from Lawrence Henderson.

SWNID has many, many friends who work in Haiti to make people's lives better, with the good news and with good deeds. We have more respect for them than just about anyone we know, and we are glad to partner with them in any way that we are able.

But we find ourself at a point of perplexity. It was brought home to us when we attended a workshop on Community Health Evangelism, a potent means by which Christians have brought the well-rounded good news to underdeveloped peoples, at which the presenter, asked where CHE doesn't work, responded, "Haiti."

Can we find a way to help Haitians that doesn't also hurt them? Certainly we have helped many individuals, especially those who have left Haiti. Can Haiti ever get on a trajectory to become like Japan and New Zealand, where culture disciplines fallen human nature at least to avoid the grinding, near-universal poverty that inflicts untold and unnecessary misery on so many?

Japan and New Zealand, like Our Republic, need Jesus. As does Haiti. But Haiti needs in ways that those other countries don't.

What to do?

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