Science in Christian Perspective
A Six-Letter Obscenity
Food for the Hungry, Inc.
From: JASA 26 (March 1974): 1-3.
"He who shuts his ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in his own time of need" (Proverbs 21:13).
It's an ugly, six-letter word.
It is, in fact, a six-letter obscenity.
Let me give you the background of that statement. Lenny Bruce, the "sick" comedian, once ventured this acid indictment: "I know in my heart, by pure logic, that any man who claims to be a leader of the Church is a hustler if he has two suits in a world in which most people have none."
In his very remarkable hook, Include Me Out, Cohn Morris reacts to Bruce's statement with these words: "Anyone in the house care to argue? We can comfort ourselves, if we will, with the knowledge that Bruce was banned from every public place of entertainment in the United States for obscenity and died virtually penniless. Does that reinforce our sense of virtue," asks Morris, "or can we see that what he was describing is a far greater obscenity than all the filth that poured from his mouth?"
And British missionary Morris, whose book grew out of one single transforming experience when a Zambian dropped dead of hunger just outside his front door-adds these words:
Obscenity is a strong word, but I know no other so apt. Obscenity is the jewelled ring on a bishop's finger. It is the flash of my gold wristwatch from under the sleeve of my cassock as I throw dirt on the coffin of a man who died from starvation, murmuring, the while, the most asinine words in the English language -'Since it has pleased almighty God to take to himself our brother.'
We'll take a long look at that book by Cohn Morris a little later. For the moment let's just examine the kind of obscenity he is talking about.
We have already noted this one tremendous basic: that whereas it has taken all the years of time past to bring us to our present world population total-all the centuries which have rolled by-in a few short years this world will double.
Somewhere around 2004, this already hungry planet of ours will have twice as many people on it as we have right now.
Dr. Albert Sabin, developer of the polio vaccine which hears his name, made this statement as quoted in the Toronto Star-News:
If changes are not made now, by the year 2,000 there is doubt as to whether we will survive. By that time there will be 700,000 million peoples in the world and 500,000 of them will be starving, uneducated and totally desperate.
What Dr. Sabin is remembering is that most of the population increase in this burgeoning world of ours is going to come in the underdeveloped (or as we are supposed to put it somewhat more euphemistically, the "developing") areas of our world, where hunger is already a present-tense reality. As Cohn Morris puts it, again in Include Me Out; "In the next twenty-five years, the population of the world will double, and for every bonny, healthy child born on our side of the barricade, ninety-nine skinny ones will pop up on the other side."
True, there are indications that the United States is approaching a birthrate which would eventually sustain ZPG (zero population growth). The 1972 birth totals were the lowest since 1945. But the U.S. Census Bureau reminds that this rate would have to he sustained well into the next century before ZPG would be sustained.
And this again is not the problem. The tragic fact is that the parts of the world which can least afford it-the already underfed and malnourished developing nations-are the ones which continue to show meteoric rise in population.
It is against this background that the brothers Paddock insist: "There is neither a new agricultural method nor is there a birth-control technique on the horizon which can avert the inevitable famines."
Rear Admiral Lewis L. Strauss, former advisor to five American presidents and previously the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, has stated that his greatest concern for the future is that worldwide population growth will be so steep that the number of mouths to feed will outstrip the food production.
"Then you have starvation," Admiral Straus told the Associated Press service. "This is what is staring us in the face."
Quotes like these can be multiplied, of course, and they will be found in abundance as we hurtle through history to that showdown moment when the world goes to its cupboard and finds it bare.
But what about the present? Admittedly, the quotations above have to do with a period of destiny still ahead of us in point of time. That crisis period grows closer every moment, but perhaps you still find some measure of comfort in the fact that it is still future?
Friend, I have news for you. Startling news. Bad news. The times of the famines are here. Now.
I doubt that this will surprise you too much. Take a look at our daily paper. (I stopped to do that just now, as I write these words, and one of the first items I saw reported was "one of the worst droughts since biblical times," and affecting more than 30 million people in French-speaking West Africa. The item reports that a million people are short of food and "starvation deaths are being reported.")
For years I have read and clipped reports of the increasing pockets of need around the world, and in recent months my concern has deepened as I have seen how those reports have multiplied.
Here are just a few headlines from newspaper reports I have clipped around the world, all recent as these words are written:
"Afghanistan Uses Camels to Save People from Starvation."
"Crisis Threat in Indonesia Rice Shortage" (AP dispatch from Djakarta).
"Food Output to Fall in Developing Nations" (from Rome, quoting a release from the UN's Food and
Agricultural Organization, FAO).
"Starving Brazilians Loot Shops for Fond" (A Reuters report from Brasilia, which I happened to clip a half world away in Bangkok, Thailand).
But all those are just words. Translate them into people-flesh and blood people like that woman I saw in the streets of Managua. It was only a few days after the dreadful earthquake had leveled that once great city. The food lines had been set up; supplies were being distributed. But there were just too many people, too many outstretched eager hands.
This woman had come expectantly, holding in her hands a big tin basin she had salvaged from the wreckage of her home. She had stood for a long time in the hot sun, but now the trucks had come and gone and perhaps two-thirds of those in line-she was left to stand there with her still empty basin.
She didn't know who I was, but she saw me watching her, and perhaps my face reflected the deep hurt I felt as I shared her despair. "Please, sir," she cried out in a rapid torrent of Spanish, "tell me what shall I say to my children? They wait for me at home. They are so hungry. They pray that their mother will come home with food for their empty stomachs. Please-What shall I tell them?"
A moment later another man confronted me. lie was one of the fortunate ones who had received some food, but he held it in his hand and waved it for me to see: a can of beans, a can of corn, a tiny portion of rice. And he held out something else: a snapshot of his thirteen children. "Senor, I am grateful for this food, but what can I do? There is not enough for all. How can I decide who can eat and who cannot?"
And five minutes later, on that same hot morning in Managua, my associates and I bent anxiously over the prostrate form of a young mother. I tried to question her distraught husband, but he just pointed at his mouth and shook his head negatively. Someone else translated it for me: "His wife has fainted. She is just hungry, so hungry."
A man said, "I have a dream."
1 see in it the people I have described above, and I also see that little boy in Haiti, lIe rubs his distended stomach, and he says it over and over, "Please, Papa. I am so hungry."
I see that woman on an unnamed battlefield in Laos. Over the next hill is the famed "Plain of the jars," and in the distance the big guns boom. Laos, next door neighbor to Vietnam, has it own "forgotten war"; I am there because I have heard that there are people in the area who have been trapped for long months in the fighting and who have no food. We have just landed in a helicopter, and are wondering what to do. Now over the little hill stumbles the reeling figure of a Laotian woman. She is moaning and crying as she staggers along and then falls to her knees before us.
I cannot understand her, so I turn to the interpreter beside me. "She is-demented. She is not right in the head," he says.
"But what is she saying?"
"Oh, she is saying that she is hungry. She has no food, she has been a long time without food,"
Somewhere on a tape cassette I have the moaning cry of that woman. But I don't need the tape to remember it. It is recorded forever on the ears of my heart.
That's what it is all about.
And like that little boy in Cambodia. He has been brought to the refugee camp from an area where there has been heavy fighting. For many weeks his area has had no real food. His little arms and legs are pathetically thin. You may not believe this. I do not blame you if you don't. Your world and mine are very different. But I take thumb and forefinger and gently circle that pencil-thin ankle. I move my hand up that skin-and-bones little leg and-still circling it just with thumb and forefinger-I can move my hand freely over his little knee and far up his thigh.
"Doctor," I say to the Cambodian official with me (and I know my voice shakes as I ask the question), "how old is this boy?"
"He is nine. Nine years old."
So I circle a little boy's leg which is really a little baby's leg in my trembling hand-and I ask God to please, please, please somehow let me help.
That's what it is all about.
I can't remember who said or wrote the words.
But I agree with them; "Hunger-anywhere-is a disgrace to humanity."
Hunger. It's a six-letter word. An ugly, six-letter obscenity.