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Discussion of POVERTY, INC. Offers Christian Insight

Film director and producer Michael Matheson Miller of the Acton Institute introduced his film POVERTY, INC. at Ohio Christian University’s Chapel Service before its showing in the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center (OCUBIC) on November 14. Miller also addressed the School of Business & Government’s students in a session of its Distinguished Speakers Series, focusing his talk on causes of chronic poverty and how to improve the model for delivering aid.

Winner of 60+ international film festival honors, the Templeton Freedom Award, and the Best Documentary Award from the FIFE Environmental Film Festival in Paris, this documentary explores a fundamentally Christian principle of selfless agape love for others which has contributed to its positive reception by diverse audiences. Spotlighting flaws in global aid and social development, this engaging film examines unsuccessful efforts to aid the poor in developing nations.

POVERTY INC. underscores the importance of meeting the challenges of worldwide poverty by seeing ‘the poor’ as human beings whose needs are best to be met by treating them as ‘subjects’ deserving of the compassion and respect of providers of humanitarian charity. Showing Christ’s selfless agape love of others enables ‘human flourishing,’ the aim of givers. Such caring goes beyond delivering material resources and social engineering. 

Miller asserts that technocratic approaches to social engineering have not succeeded in eliminating poverty because they view the poor as ‘objects’ with problems to be solved. They fail because they are naïve intervention. “Instead of seeing the poor as objects to be treated, the givers of charity should view the needy as ‘subjects’ to be cared for and loved,” concludes Miller.

Miller studies the effects of humanitarian aid programs and the model for delivering assistance with their best intentions. He critiques the ‘mental model’ behind these efforts, drawing from his observations and studies of communities who are receiving aid. He concludes that “givers of aid need to address the causes of chronic poverty.  Namely, the poor lack of ability to establish clear ownership of land, exclusion from access to courts of law for justice, barriers to participation in the formal economy, and lack of access to capital resources, i.e., business loans."  

Miller summarizes his view of why aid programs have fallen short by paraphrasing a philosopher’s adage that “When charity is separated from the truth about the situation it degenerates into sentimentality.”

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