fbpx
Articles

Why we can’t look away from global hunger

Poverty, tragedy, and the discomfort of being faced with the suffering of others

/
August 25, 2022

In 1993, a photojournalist took a photo that has become iconic and controversial. Titled “The vulture and the little girl,” it shows a young, starving, small girl being stalked by a vulture preparing for her to die. In the context of the 1993 Sudanese famine, the image was instantly iconic, with The New York Times running the image on their coverage. However, it became controversial because of the public’s question: “Did she survive? Did you help her get to the food station?” The photographer did not (journalists were encouraged not to interact with their subjects at the time to avoid spreading disease), and instead was careful to not scare the bird away before he got his shot. He did scare the bird away after the picture, but still left the weak girl on the ground instead of taking her to the food station where her parents were attempting to get food. 

“Did you help her?”

The image is a stark reminder of the incredibly tragic results of famine and hunger. However, it is also a reminder of the ability of humans to turn our eyes away from the tragic, or place a filter between ourselves and the world around us. At its most basic level, the public’s question is the same one that we all should be asking: “Did you help her?” In an age where we are surrounded by so much tragedy and news of devastations across the world, there is an understandable need to prioritize what we can do. However, when faced with such a clear instance of need and scarcity, the response should be to help. The photographer should have helped her. Yet, it was easier to turn away once his job—chronicling the devastation rather than responding to it—was complete. 

The tendency to turn away is one that we all know well. It’s avoiding the eyes of the homeless individual panhandling on the corner at the stop sign. It’s quickly scrolling past the Facebook post detailing hardship. It’s the discomfort that comes from hearing a child tell about their family’s home life, and learning how they have struggled since the economic downturn. 

We don’t like that discomfort. It makes us feel like we are guilty for what we do have. So we turn our eyes away and choose to ignore it. That’s someone else’s problem. Not ours. We don’t have time to stop and help. So we push down the discomfort and tell ourselves that we are doing our job, and it’s someone else’s responsibility, just like the photographer who walked away as soon as he had taken a picture that would win him a Pulitzer.

More tragic than ignoring the problem is the way that we tend to relegate it to something happening somewhere else. To read accounts of the image, the journalist saw everything through the lens of his camera. It was a mediated world that he inhabited. On one level, this is expected for a journalist who covers some of the worst situations around the globe (he had spent years covering violence and civil war in Africa). A level of distance is to be expected.

Yet, the distance required to leave a starving girl on the ground after a vulture was just stalking her requires turning off a piece of our humanity. It’s the piece that causes people to run into flames to save a child they don’t know. Or the way that strangers will rally around a struggling family to provide for them. We recognize that this person holds inestimable worth and dignity, and we should treat them accordingly.  We don’t leave them in the dirt. 

But when life is mediated through a camera lens (or for most of us a smartphone), it is easy to see not people but images. We don’t mean to dehumanize others. But when you experience people through a filter, then it becomes easier to also push every other emotion or desire through the same filter. We start to think that reports of tragedies are just numbers and normal realities, rather than evils we must resist with every fiber of our being, the lingering effects of a broken world crying out for redemption. When we assume that mindset, then it becomes easier to turn that blind eye. One death may be a tragedy, and a million a statistic (as is often cynically claimed), but when news of that death comes to us in the same way that we watch mindless cat videos, then it is just one more piece of information for us to consume for a moment and then discard for the next factoid to cross our timeline. 

Hunger and poverty are areas that are especially difficult for Americans to truly understand, and thus make us even more likely to turn away. I may not like what‘s in my fridge, but there is always something there. We may see poverty around us, but often it is confined to a place, not widespread. And so we turn away because we don’t want to reckon with the discomfort that we feel. However, for Christians this is not an option. Like the Samaritan who cared for the dying man on the road, and Jesus’ reminder that when we served the least of these we served him, we do not have the option to turn our eyes away from the tragedy around us. 

Practically, this means that we must be looking for those opportunities around us to serve the world. Unless you are a tech billionaire or an expert in public policy, then it is unlikely you will be able to solve hunger and poverty. However, you can search for ways to serve the individuals around you. This might mean volunteering at homeless shelters and providing donations. But ideally it goes beyond simple incidental moments and instead is a life characterized by attention to the problem. We should not confine our love of neighbor to the holidays or special emphasis days, but rather see the need around us every moment. Yes, we can try to solve the immediate problem, but we must also look at how we might develop a long-term relationship that has the potential to help an individual with their ongoing hunger or economic situation. 

In a social media age, we need to guard against issues like hunger becoming just a fact that we know because of our screens and constant stream of information. The statistics and data we hear in reports are snapshots of the real-life experience of those suffering. We can’t let our heart be turned off so that we don’t have to be incovenienced. Those suffering don’t have that luxury, and we shouldn’t either. Instead of turning our eyes away in the face of tragedy, let us be the people who work tirelessly to see that suffering eradicated in Jesus’ name. 

Photo Attribution:

globalhungerrelief.org

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24