Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, where she leads the center’s work on religion and global development, and a professor of the practice of development, conflict, and religion in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. In this episode, Katherine Marshall takes a deeper look at the problems we face from a global perspective. Katherine also examines the importance of faith in global development for third world countries. We will learn what is needed to achieve global sustainability and the importance of equality.
The Interview with Dr. Katherine Marshall
Darrell: I’m your host, Darrell Eisel. And today, we welcome Katherine Marshall. Katherine Marshall is a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, where she leads the Center’s work on religion and global development. She’s also a professor of the practice of development, conflict and religion in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Please enjoy.
Darrell: I wanna start us off with the first question. What are the three – in your opinion, the three urgent global issues that will require the attention of foreign affairs professionals over the next few years?
Katherine: Well, we now have the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, which have 17 goals and 169 targets, which, I think, illustrates the enormous complexity of the problems that face the world.
Katherine: The first one, I think, is the challenge of failing states. As some people say, there are about 75 countries that are probably headed in a positive direction, but there’s somewhere between 30 and 50 – and I think, perhaps, the number may even be growing – that are facing very serious problems that come under the broad heading of governance, which is conflict, corruption, lack of control over space, failure of law and order, etc. And it is those countries that I think pose the largest problems in the world.
Katherine: Secondly, I don’t think you can get away with a discussion like this without coming to climate change and global warming, because that’s a huge problem. But also, so many unknowns as to exactly what effect that’s gonna have, for example, on Africa, on the Sahel. But also on Florida, on huge parts of East Asia. The potential for – if, for example, if Bangladesh faces serious effects of climate change, what’s gonna happen to 170 million people? Where are they gonna go? Same with other parts of the world. So climate change is my #2.
Katherine: And my #3 is the problem of inequality and the perception and understanding of inequality. That we have a world where there is a small portion of people who are doing extremely well, from a financial point of view, but a very large number who are not doing well at all. And the understanding, the realization of what can only be seen as unfair inequalities and inequities in opportunity, but also in outcomes, I think is staring us in the face. And I think it’s a problem that we have no solution for. There’s an awful lot of discussion, lots of books, etc. But we’re very far from having any kind of plausible approach to a solution.
Darrell: Well it appears that there is a real serious relationship between inequality and conflict. And you mentioned the Sahel region in particular, where over the last – I would probably say – 5 years, there’s been an increase in terrorist activity. And one would argue in the West that, if there are jobs and there’re resources, you wouldn’t necessarily see these type of conflicts. But the inequality is deep-seated and deeply rooted. Could you speak about that, just for a second?
Katherine: Well, the inequality is both between nations and within nations, and I’m not sure which one you’re focusing on right now.
Darrell: Well, in particular to intrastate conflict.
Katherine: Intrastate conflict. Well, clearly, as you are suggesting, inequality is not a new problem. The fact that the rich were very rich, and a very large of number of people, a high proportion of populations were basically in conditions of slavery for much of human history is true. But what’s completely different today is the visibility, the fact that people can see and are aware and, of course, their understanding of it.
Katherine: I think we’ve come to have new understandings of the justice or the injustice that is involved in these enormous disparities in wealth. What this leads to, among other things – and this does bring us to the topic of ethics and of religion – is the understanding of people all over the world that corruption is a big part of why there are these huge disparities. I was reading something that suggests that when you ask people all over the world, what’s the #1 problem that’s really affecting your lives, corruption comes out as #1 in a lot of cases. So it’s a chicken-egg situation and you can make a lot of arguments that corruption itself is not really the problem.
Katherine: But the point is that people perceive it and they perceive it as an injustice. They don’t think that there is any plausible ethical reason, anything grounded in their faith or in their understanding of the world that means that it’s right that some people have enormous wealth and others are trying to figure out how to get the next meal.
Darrell: Yeah, I’m thinking back to the Millennium Development Goals a little while back, and many of the scholars that worked on that project, Sachs and others, and how poverty just trumps – I mean, it ranks as not only a major issue here in the United States of America still, but most importantly, around the world, and the major divide that’s present and how conflict emerges out of that.
Darrell: One thing that I’m hopeful for, especially as it relates to interfaith relations, is the fact that we’re beginning to see a new set of interfaith actors that are cropping up – not only in the US, but around the world. If you could, just speak a little bit about the role of interfaith in promoting some type of conflict resolution and conflict transformation today in many of these hotspots where we’re seeing these troubles.
Katherine: Well, let’s back up a little bit, because we haven’t really talked about the question of why religion, anyway, why faith or any particular faith is important in all this. And just to make very clear, the essence of my starting point of my work is that you will have a religious dimension to any issue. So you’re talking about the Sustainable Development Goals, out of 169, I would be very happy to try to identify religious dimensions to each one of them.
Katherine: I also think that the religious dimensions are especially important in these failing states and in the poorest communities, both because poor people tend to look to their religious faith, but also because there are fewer competitors in a sense. In other words, the religious institutions are omnipresent. They’re visible. They’re part of the landscape. So it’s an absolutely critical part of life in any one of the, what, 30 to 50, 60 countries that you might call fragile or conflict states.
Katherine: Now, clearly, there’s an enormously complex religious landscape across the world. With, what, we have an estimate now that something on the order of 85% of the world’s population has some kind of a religious affiliation. And there are so many denominations that no one is able to count, and different traditions – particularly in areas where conflicts and tensions, whether it’s around land, whether it’s around cattle versus agriculture. All of these different areas. When it has a religious manifestation, clearly the tensions among different – Muslim, Christian, etc. – can spark these conflicts.
Katherine: So in those situations, having the religious leaders and the religious communities come together in some fashion as an interfaith body of some kind can have enormous importance and help to defuse tensions, in the same way that when religious leaders pour oil onto the flames, it can make them much worse.
Katherine: I think we also need to highlight that quite often it is intra, as opposed to inter-religious tensions that need to be addressed. And the classic example there is Shia-Sunni, but also look at the wars over many years among Catholics and Protestants, the tensions around some of the Evangelical Protestant groups in Central America and in various other parts of the world.
Katherine: So it’s the idea that leaders – but also even now at the grassroots level – that people try to come together to have a better understanding among different communities, which often have a religious focus in trying to work out the problems and move towards a solution. That said, the inter-religious affairs – as you know better than I – are an enormously complex area. There’re all kinds of organizations, hundreds of thousands of different efforts that might come under a heading of inter-religious.
Katherine: But they do fall on a very wide spectrum that, in some senses, starts with theologians arguing over their truth claims and arguing over the practice, the ways in which practice reflects faith. So you have an ancient history of these scholars and theologians debating these matters.
Katherine: But one thing that we often hear is that it’s very rare that people are actually fighting over those matters. They’re usually not fighting either a practice of whether you fast on a certain time or how you see the Trinity … they’re almost always fighting over much more practical matters than over memories of what people did to each other in the past.
Katherine: And I think that that leads on this spectrum that I’m trying to define between sort of theory, what some people cynically call “angels dancing on a pin,” all the way to very pragmatic efforts. And one of my favorites there is an interfaith initiative that I worked with at one point in Ghana on garbage and sanitation. And you had a whole group of religious leaders, and they called it – including the Muslims – “The Crusade Against Filth.” And they came together in the hopes that they would be able to clean up the city before a big sporting event. And they worked together to have radio broadcasts and congregations and mosque communities come together to clean up the city.vAnd that was a wonderful example of a very practical – how can you get more practical than garbage and sanitation – effort to try to come together.
Katherine: And the sequel to the story is, frankly, this group had hopes – I was with the World Bank at the time – that they were gonna get money out of the World Bank. But the World Bank is not completely up in the clouds, and it didn’t really think that religious leaders were cut out to be garbage collectors. And so the money, which everyone was sort of hoping for and never materialized. But when there was an election and there were tensions around the election, this group of religious leaders knew each other. So they got on the phone and they talked to each other. And they found ways – together – to head off some of these tensions.
Katherine: So sometimes you have a direct benefit, and sometimes you have an indirect benefit from that kind of inter-religious engagement.
Darrell: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that you’re onto something here with regards to religious leaders focusing more so on social issues, per se, than on theological issues. Again, the fight is not necessarily with the Trinity, the fight is not necessarily around doctoring all the time. It’s usually along the lines of what I argue is secular issues. I mean, you have economics, politics, water, the lack of water, the lack of resources. And the tension, sometimes, with political actors who use religion as a scapegoat to drive a wedge between certain groups.
Darrell: With that said, international religious … or better yet, international interfaith dialog is prominent today and is actually working, whether in Latin America, parts of the Muslim world, the Arab world, and also here in the United States. What are you seeing with regards to inter-religious actors coming together? If you could kind of unpack a little bit some of those examples, whether in Ghana, whether in parts of West or East Africa, that you’re seeing, that’s encouraging, that could also benefit a number of actors here in the US that are listening in.
Katherine: Again, I’m gonna back up a little bit, with a story because I think it leads into some of the answers to your question. I’ve been on a number of panels and discussions recently, where you’ll have on the same platform one person who will say that the tensions in the Central African Republic are primarily about religious difference, Muslim-Christian divides, and who will argue pretty strenuously for that.
Katherine: And then you’ll have somebody on the same platform, same day, who will say, “This has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It has either to do with ethnic tensions, it has to do with economic issues, it has to do with unhealed memories of past injustice.” So you have this sort of tensions as to – and you really need, in trying to think about what works and what doesn’t work – to have a focus on what it is that’s the problem. In other words, how far is it about religion?
Katherine: But even if you conclude that it’s not really about religion, that it’s about other issues, then there still are enormous communities and religious can do to try to help it. I mean, today – I realize that this will be in a month that you’ll be listening to this – but as of today, there are very large unanswered questions about what’s happening in Kenya around the elections there. And one question is, what can the religious leaders do? Have they done what they should be doing, together, as well as individually, to try to make sure that tensions don’t erupt in Kenya following what has been a very contentious election.
Katherine: So you have, clearly, efforts that are focused at the national and that can be very directly involved in conflict resolution. For example, having inter-religious groups go to a church or mosque when it’s threatened by angry mobs, so that they stand together in protection. We have wonderful images from all over the world about that happening – Egypt, other parts of the world. You also have groups that come together to try to address some of the root causes, whether it is inequities in the education system or health system – the social issues that you were describing. Or to be directly involved in conflict resolution, whether it’s sitting at the table actually negotiating or whether it is through different channels.
Katherine: And sometimes that is groups of different religious communities, and sometimes it’s a single one. And there, a prominent example is the community of Santa Judio, which is involved in negotiations all over the world – whether it’s Mozambique, they’re best known for, Algeria, Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, Cozumel and Senegal, many, many other places – that community is invited to try to help to address the problems.
Katherine: One issue is that some of the global interfaith organizations are in many ways facing some complex problems. They face the one that so many of us are all too familiar with, which is funding. Do they have enough support? Who’s supposed to support them? An imbalance within the actual organization. How do you deal with some democratic principles when many religious traditions are not really democratic, in the sense of who they represent. What is their authority? Why should people be listening to them?
Katherine: So you have a whole host of issues that face Religions for Peace, United Religions Initiative, the Parliament of Religions, [inaudible 00:19:37], any number of other very ambitious inter-religious groups whose mission is to make the world a better place.
Darrell: Thank you for joining us today on Navigating a World in Transition, a podcast brought to you by the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University. This podcast focuses on current social issues impacting our global landscape.
Darrell: Be sure to subscribe to this podcast. And to learn more about the Center, please visit www.claremontlincolnuniversity.edu.
Commentary on the Interview
Donald Robinson: Thank you for joining us. My name is Donald Guy Robinson, and I’m your host for this episode. In this episode, we’re going to unpack the powerful interview that Dr. Ezel conducted with Dr. Katherine Marshall regarding global issues affecting our lives today. I’m joined by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Director of Cross-cultural and Interfaith Programs here at Claremont Lincoln University. We’re going to help you rethink, reframe and respond to social issues impacting our world today. So please enjoy as we continue to navigate a world in transition.
Dr. Katherine Marshall: Well we now have the framework of the sustainable development goals which have 17 goals and 169 targets, which I think illustrates the enormous complexity of the problems that face the world. The first one I think is the challenge of failing states. Some people say there are about 75 countries that are probably headed in a positive direction, but there are somewhere between 30 and 50 and I think perhaps the number may even being growing that are facing very serious problems that come under the broad heading of governance which is conflict, corruption, lack of control over space, failure of law and order, et cetera. It is those countries that I think pose the largest problems in the world.
Donald Robinson: So, as we discuss some of these sustainable development goals, Stephanie, you were talking about, I know we were talking a little offline about a couple of things as far as the perspective, that we should have as a country on these goals. Share a little bit about that because that was really good.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right. I think it’s important to keep in mind, situate ourselves. So we are educated people in the United States in 2018, and it’s important not to just think about these countries, right?
Donald Robinson: Right.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: These failing states, where the UN is situated, in the US, and we’re going to say these are the goals that you should meet. These are the benchmarks that you should be meeting. You need to work on water. You need to work on social justice. You need to work on gender based violence, because our work and our issues and our futures are tied up with these other countries. We have participated in land expansion and colonization and weapons increasing and wars and famines and water building and coalition building. Our work and our education and our technologies and our development is bound up int he work and flourishing or not flourishing of these other countries.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: These are not problems that exist outside of our borders, that we’re looking at and pointing at and highlighting. These are problems and challenges for the whole global community. So my question is, to look at Professor Marshall’s analysis of these key issues and to think about how do my actions and reactions, how do the things that I purchase and the things that I invest in, how do the securities that I am interested in our government pursuing, how are these related to these goals in communities that really are my neighbors?
Donald Robinson: Right. I definitely agree with those. I kind of look at these sustainable development goals and I think about, okay the United States is one of the 75 countries that are actually thriving, but just because we’re thriving in a sense, how can we even look at some of these goals within our own backyard? I know that these sustainable goals are for those failing states, but then how does a country that’s borderline sustain or continue their sustainability, and so I even look at these goals as worth not only for those countries that really need it, but how do we even do it within our own neighborhoods?
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: That’s right. Absolutely. Honestly, I think many people would raise their eyebrows when they hear you say the US is flourishing.
Donald Robinson: Right.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right, we have the life expectancy for black men living in Harlem is lower than men living in many countries in India. It’s lower.
Donald Robinson: Right, yes.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Our literacy rate, our childbirth rate, our rate of death and flourishing for pregnant and post-natal women is lower than many other countries and places around the world. I think when we look at what it means for humans and human communities to flourish, we learn from looking right next store, at the state next door, at the county next door, and those learnings can be applied small scale and large scale.
Donald Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. There’s people everywhere, inside, outside the US that are going to bed hungry, you know. There’s people that we can actually make a positive social change because some people listening are thinking, I don’t, I just don’t have the time to travel to these other countries and do missionary work or to do work and to help, but there’s work that can even be done within your own community. Because because sometimes pride or things are in the way, you know, we don’t know unless we ask the right questions.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right.
Donald Robinson: You, I mean you were a sixth grade teacher, correct?
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: That’s right.
Donald Robinson: I mean, were there ever, was there ever a situation where you know coming in, or you see a kid and you’re thinking, they don’t have lunch, or they probably didn’t eat going to bed last night?
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely.
Donald Robinson: Or this may be their only meal.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: That’s right.
Donald Robinson: That they may receive.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: That’s right. Many of our public school students in every community, in every county in the United States, the only two meals they get a day are breakfast and lunch at public schools. My students, my students in St. Louis and in the Bronx were fascinated to know that privileged communities in St. Louis, their young people went on mission trips to Haiti, to take shoes. That was a fascinating concept to them. Like, wow. Wow. Because they also need shoes, and so the idea, not to say that they didn’t also give to charity.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: A lot of poor people go to churches and they are aware of the needs of their community and they also give, and so, just to take a single issue like hunger and think about Katherine Marshall’s conversation and critique of hunger, the United Nations analysis and critique of an issue like hunger. The schoolchildren in San Bernardino County and an issue like hunger. The question is not where do we go to address this. The question is how do we apply the knowledge and resources we have at this very moment? How do we apply them to answer that need?
Donald Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. These are definitely goals that need to be met, even in our own backyard. Maybe not all 17, but even areas of life and land, protecting the environment. How does that affect us, because we are dealing with, and especially if you think about all of the highways that we’ve built over the years.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right, and we’re in southern California right now, so lots of highways.
Donald Robinson: I mean these highways literally run through the urban community for … They were really established back then for people who lived in the suburbs to be able to have a quick and efficient way to get to their jobs in the cities, but a lot of these, you look at what, when these highways were first built. Even some of the communities had to be torn down.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely.
Donald Robinson: Housing that had to be torn down.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: So what we said as a state and as a county was some people have a right to have easy access to their job, and other people aren’t as valuable. Their neighborhoods, their front porches, their backyards, their playgrounds aren’t as valuable, so we can do away with that. As soon as you say traffic or highways or transportation, as soon as you start to unbundle those layers, then we also get to race and ethnicity and housing laws and integration and segregation. It’s all bound up in a simple decision like where do we build the highway.
Donald Robinson: Right. Right. Yeah, yeah. How can we, and I love what Katherine Marshall said in regards to, how can we make a positive change on these other countries? I think one thing that I’ve seen and one thing that has really been taking place is just universal internet access by 2020 into these countries. Giving them access to education, giving them access to knowledge and knowledge is key, right?
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right.
Donald Robinson: Knowledge is, gives you the ability to be able to manage your day, to understand what needs to be done as far as educating yourselves about some of just the simplest things when it comes to healthcare. Some of the simplest things when it comes to just empowering yourself and improving your life. Some many things that even, you think about the things that we learn. Like, we’re all online educated.
Donald Robinson: I know this sounds crazy, but when I wanted to learn how to make sushi, I went online to make sushi. I didn’t need to actually be inside of the four walls of a classroom. I have someone teaching me face to face, but I was able to find an asynchronism type learning online and these other countries, the convenience of having the internet to utilize that, to be educated, to educate themselves just day to day.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right.
Donald Robinson: Not even …
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely.
Donald Robinson: Not even from, I’m sorry. Not even from the standpoint of education, getting their bachelor’s degree. That’s great and that’s the goal, but just something as simple as what do I do with the common flu, with influenza. How can I get the knowledge to understand, okay this is what I need. Vitamin C. I need to make sure that I’m hydrated. Just how do I create … Eventually that will build into how do I create an infrastructure where I can help support my small village to getting cleaner water and things like that, but this knowledge is power.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely. When I first saw that the UN was calling access to internet a human right, I was surprised. I was like, really? Access to internet? I grew up in the country. I didn’t have the internet or cable TV, but we see with the so-called Arab Spring uprising, Twitter as a source for news, camera phones as a source for people all over the civic space to document what’s happening in their voting booths, to document what’s happening with their government, to document what’s happening when militia come in, and to share it with the world.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: For people to find access to birth control, people to find what it means to menstruate, people to find what it means to boil clean water and to do hand washing. All of these things that we take for granted in the West, oftentimes, are transformative. So we’re talking about a radical accessibility of knowledge and a flattening of power. It’s dangerous when only a few people have access to knowledge, and when the more people have access to accurate, robust, timely knowledge, which the internet provides, that’s when people can take knowledge and apply it to their own lives.
Donald Robinson: Definitely. Yeah, the UN news center said that the world’s least developed countries are narrowing this digital divide, and with millions of people now taking advantage of the smart phones, the digital age, this digital devices that we have, keeping up this momentum could put their society on a faster track to sustainable development, going back to the goals that they were talking about, but just as sustainability, making it universal and affordable.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely.
Donald Robinson: And so that’s something that we definitely need. We look at the anticipation, what we’re anticipating in 2020 is for 97% of these countries that have broadband coverage making the internet accessible and affordable, that’s something that, I even deal with today, going back and forth with Time Warner, just trying to get internet access that’s affordable. With our cell phone coverages, trying to get internet access that’s affordable. This should be something, access to internet especially in these countries, should be something that they have access to, day to day. I mean, just for, just …
Donald Robinson: We put so much emphasis on dialogue, having dialogue between, or that interpersonal communication between us and the people that we love, whether it’s our families, whether it’s our friends, whether it’s just the people that we interact with every day, and it’s almost like they just don’t have this mobile connectivity to really interact from a global perspective. Access to just us dialoguing right now, giving them access to that, where they could go onto a site and hear about what’s going on, and just access to the news, that accessibility opens up so much for them from not only just a, not only an educational standpoint, but even from an economical perspective and a social perspective.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right, and then we also, right … Think about the voices that aren’t included yet. The people who yet haven’t had access to our educational offerings, to these community spaces, to critique the government, to critique our government. When they are online and they can respond and they can participate, we also are better. We are all brought up when access is increased.
Donald Robinson: Right. Right. All right, so now let’s get into the second issue that Katherine Marshall brought up. Here’s Katherine Marshall from the Berkeley Center of Religion.
Dr. Katherine Marshall: Secondly, I don’t think you can get away with a discussion like this without coming to climate change and global warming, because that’s a huge problem, but also so many unknowns as to exactly what effect that’s going to have. For example, on Africa, on the Sahel, but also on Florida, on huge parts of East Asia. The potential for, for example if Bangladesh faces serious effects of climate change, what’s going to happen to 107 million people? Where are they going to go? Same with other parts of the world, so climate change is my number two.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: This surprised me initially, as someone who doesn’t participate in security analysis and global affairs at this level. The issue of water rights connected to issues of terrorism and national security, but she’s right. Wow. If people don’t have clean water, if private corporations take over water, and the poor people don’t have it, that’s a huge security issue.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: We’ve even seen here in the drought recently here in southern California, I know that out in the desert, municipalities were providing water, but there were people who were undocumented and they were afraid, if I go get water for my family because the water’s coming from the government I might lose my children or I might risk deportation. Just something as simple as water and water related to climate change and flooding and land areas changing because of climate change, really puts individual communities at risk and individuals at risk, and then the issue of security and threats and people feeling threatened and criminality coming in. Just looking after something like stewardship of our land and water is a national security issue and an international security issue.
Donald Robinson: Yeah. I mean it’s very important. The important part about this is, for us even here … I don’t know where you may be listening, but for us here in America to realize that this could be an issue, versus a lot of times there’s these foreign issues and we just don’t get involved enough. We just don’t have enough knowledge. It’s either out of fear of not having enough knowledge about it, not knowing how to help.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right, we turn on our faucet and the water’s there.
Donald Robinson: Yes. Exactly.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: It’s hard to think about what happens if that isn’t there. What would we do?
Donald Robinson: Yeah. Especially in countries in Sudan. There was a local relief effort that I was able to contribute to, that’s trying to help just run clean, fresh water. If you think about, just the thought of climate change or other things that could happen, could really put them back, even some of the relief efforts that we’ve already put in, could set them back because of this, because of a global climate change that we’ve been facing.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Devastation.
Donald Robinson: Yeah.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: So how does the world change when all humans have access to land and climate that is sustaining and allows our communities to flourish?
Donald Robinson: Right. Right. That’s something that, it’s a great point that Katherine brings up and this topic is something that definitely needs to be addressed and it’s something that we all need to be aware of. Let’s go into her third issue here, that Katherine brings up in regards to some of the issues that are facing the world today.
Dr. Katherine Marshall: My number three is the problem of inequality, and the perception and understanding of inequality. That we have a world where there is a small portion of people who are doing extremely well from a financial point of view, but a very large number who are not doing well at all, and the understanding, the realization of what can only be seen as unfair inequalities and inequities in opportunity, but also in outcomes, I think is staring us in the face. I think it’s, it’s a problem that we have no solution for. There’s an awful lot of discussion, lots of books, but we’re very far from having any kind of plausible approach to a solution.
Donald Robinson: This is a great point that she’s bringing up. Here are statistics that I got from inequality.org, that more than 70% of the world’s adults own under $10,000 in wealth, okay. That’s 70% of the world that holds that $10,000 or less than $10,000 in wealth is only 3% of the global wealth. You know, the world’s wealthiest individuals, those owning over $100,000 in assets total 8.6% of the global population but owns 85% of the global wealth. There’s definitely an imbalance there.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: And it’s not just a slight imbalance, like oh middle class, working class.
Donald Robinson: Right.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Very few people, a few people, a handful of people hold most of the wealth.
Donald Robinson: Yeah. Yeah. I was looking at a stack the other day, that if you look at the top three richest Americans, like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos, you just, if you just look at the top three, the top three and add up their value, it is still more money than the 90% of the rest of the United States combined.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Wow.
Donald Robinson: Even within the US, there’s a wealth inequality.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right, and we know this and Marshall said we don’t have a solution for this, and she’s correct. At the government and non-governmental level, the level of making policy, it’s hard to get a solution. If we’re talking about religious and ethical leaders though, many of us, from a religious or ethical tradition, our traditions tell us that keeping wealth from, keeping access to things that make our lives better is wrong. It’s immoral, it’s unethical, it’s sinful.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: I as a religious leader, as a theologian, would say to my brothers and sisters who are religious and ethical leaders, what are we preaching? What are we practicing? How do we tell one another to talk about wealth? Do we think it’s okay that the people who are wealthy in our communities have more, a lot more, more than they might ever need? When we talk to Congress-people, we talk to policy makers, when we talk about taxes that go to public schools, how many of us, sitting in a gorgeous religious community on Sunday, send our children to gorgeous public schools that are zoned for only some of the tax money? Is that a religious issue? Is that a political issue? Is that a secular issue? Are we keeping our voices silent about this?
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: I think that, you know Marshall’s correct. It’s difficult to our government to make policies that do away with inequity, but those of us who are leaders in the civic space and religious and in a religious space, we do have things that we could be saying and doing and implementing.
Donald Robinson: Yeah. This wealth inequality then bleeds over to a health inequality.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Absolutely.
Donald Robinson: Yeah. Not having the access to the type of healthcare, or just because of the restraints on what you can afford when you become sick, not having enough money to supply with just over the counter medicines that could help someone who has a common cold. This problem was, has really been made known in countries like Venezuela, where there was a former baseball player who recently died because of the lack of access to simple medications that could cure influenza or cure the common cold before it gets worse. This inequality in health and access to health, really, really, it’s really difficult in some of these poorer countries that we’re talking about, these 47 countries who just … The economic wealth separation is so much, it’s so much far and between. I know you and I were talking the other day about how if, even if some of these billionaires would just pour into some of these communities, they could just really make an impact on just an entire country.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: Right. Even in the US, the number one cause of bankruptcy is a health emergency.
Donald Robinson: Right.
Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes: How many people who are working every day, people who are working, paying taxes, contributing to our communities, they are one health emergency away from bankruptcy? What does it say about our economic system, and how can we enact environmental policies, educational policies, financial policies and healthcare, I mean one of those. Healthcare is not just healthcare. Healthcare is a financial policy that governments and communities set. So if we’re looking at inequality, where are the pieces that we could create safety nets, so that people can get ill, can get better and then continue on their economic journey?
Donald Robinson: Yeah. Definitely.
Dr. Darrell Ezell: Thank you for joining us today on Navigating a World in Transition, a podcast brought to you by the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs, at Claremont Lincoln University. This podcast focuses on current social issues impacting our global landscape. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast, and to learn more about the center, please visit www.claremontlincolnuniversity.edu.
Ways to listen to this episode:
In this episode, we discuss:
- The framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.
- How 30-50 States are facing serious governance challenges and how these countries pose the largest problems in the world.
- The problem of conflict, corruption, lack of control over space, and failure of Law and Order.
- How climate change could affect 170 million people in Bangladesh.
- The perception and understanding of inequality.
- The connection between inequality and conflict.
- Poverty and the role of interfaith as a solution.
Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:
1. “Inequality, the perception and understanding”
Inequality is not a new problem, historically a few very rich presided over a majority population that existed in slave-like conditions. The difference today is the visibility, people can see and understand the injustice of this issue.
2. “Poverty and the role of interfaith as a solution”
There will be religious dimensions to any issue but how do we combat problems as it relates to poverty. Poor people tend to look to their religious faith for guidance and leadership. 85% of the world’s population have a religious affiliation (immensely complex landscape). Having interfaith coalitions can diffuse these tensions and provide hope to the hopeless.
3. “The connection between inequality and conflict”
There are small groups who are doing very well and a large group of people who aren’t doing well at all. It is imperative to understand that corruption is a predominant cause of this inequality. We can make a lot of arguments that corruption itself is not really the problem, the root problem is the inequality we face as a world. No one thinks it’s right that some people have enormous wealth while others are trying to figure out how to get the next meal.
Mentioned on the episode:
- Sustainable Development Goals
- United Nations
- Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs
- Climate Change
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About the Navigating a World in Transition Podcast
Many of our long-held worldviews and maps of how to see and make sense of the world no longer work with the increasing rate of cultural, political and social change in the past several decades. This podcast series explores how culture and religion can be a major step in creating new maps of how the world really is and how to navigate its complexity and interconnectedness and for the important field of foreign affairs.