It appears that the Re-Imagining Accompaniment event at Notre Dame this week was a huge success. Dr. Paul Farmer and Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez shared their insights about working with the poor, global health, and the role of theology in all of this work. The video should be posted on the Kellogg Institute website shortly for those who want to check it. But I wanted to share some points that I find particularly poignant.
First, Dr. Farmer made three key points that are all closely related to the goals of our blog:
(1) Real service to the poor involved understanding global poverty, and this requires multiple disciplines as well as listening to those most affected.
(2) Understanding poverty must be linked to efforts to end it
(3) As science and technology advance, our structural sin deepens; as effectiveness of medicine and science increases, our failure to use such interventions compounds the inequality/the gap/ the problem.
Gustavo Gutierrez made some interesting points about the nature of poverty. He first explained how liberation theology was born out of a conundrum in Latin America: how to say to the poor person “God loves you” when their experience is that they are neglected, forgotten, and have no rights.
For Gustavo, then, poverty is a human issue. It’s not just about economics. Of course, the economics is important. But economists and everyone working in development must realize that poverty also means to be socially insignificant, forgotten, and to not have rights. He also stated that without compassion, one cannot really be committed to these people. This goes for theorists and practitioners working in development.
Paul Farmer concluded his remarks with a critique of only using cost-benefit analysis in economic models. For him, there is a danger in reducing every problem to a question of “cost-effectiveness,” when we don’t really understand what is “cost” nor what is “effective.” This is where interdisciplinary work is critical, so that these issues can be understood best as possible.
In conclusion, it was a very nice conversation and really a wonderful and unique event, to have a theologian and a physician finding so much common ground in their seemingly unrelated work. Unfortunately, events such as this one are incredibly rare on university campuses across the country. Hopefully, students and teachers and researchers can continue these conversations and Re-Imagine Academia as we move forward.