The Sin of Poverty

Heather Nowlin
4 min readFeb 24, 2020

We will never overcome poverty in our nation until we stop equating it with sin

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

The recent trend of fiscal conservatism melding blindly into evangelical philosophy has led us to a startling place in our cultural existence: we all too easily conflate poverty with sin.

I live in a city with a large homeless population. The thing is, so do most of us. Homelessness is a simple fact of urban human existence, and has been since the industrial revolution. Ever since there have been people working in large urban areas, there has been a portion of those people who, due to varying circumstances, struggle to keep themselves (and sometimes also their families) fed and sheltered.

But most of our knee-jerk reactions upon seeing a homeless person involve disgust, pity, aversion, and, mostly, judgment. We are approached by humans who are often dirty from having to live outside, they ask for help in the form of some spare change, and we throw up defensive barriers built out of assumptions about how they got to be that way in the first place. How they came to need spare change, how they came to live in a makeshift structure out of tarp and plastic bags, built by the side of a freeway. We assume that they committed some crime — they must have. That they’ve lost their self-sufficiency to drugs, or spent all the money they had on alcohol. Or that they have committed the deadly sin of sloth: that they are lazy and therefore just don’t bother finding work.

In other words, we assume that they are being punished for their sins.

Secondly, we push the thought of helping them away from our minds by making assumptions about what these people will do with our spare change if we shared it with them. Will they feed themselves, or will they head to the liquor store? Will they buy some clothes fit for a job interview, or will they seek out their dealer and shoot that spare change straight into their arm? Will they open a savings account, or will they just buy a pack of smokes?

The homeless are used to being ignored their requests for spare change, food, or work. They are used to being categorized as sinners. But you don’t even have to go to the extreme of homelessness to find the same mentality about poor people being deserving of their situations.

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Heather Nowlin

Favorite topics: politics, mental health, travel, business/the office, humans, dogs, empathy, pop culture, movies, books, TV, plays, theatre.