The England of Queen Victoria did not generally see a hungry world as a perpetual affront to civilization. Charity was a well-developed practice in the middle echelons of society, and the passing of the poor might well have posed the problem suggested by Charlotte Stetson:

When none need broken meat,
How can our cake be sweet?
When none want flannel and coals
,
How shall we save our souls?
Oh dear! Oh dear!
The Christian virtues will disappear
.

Pretending to speak for the rich on the subject, Walter Bagehot, nineteenth-century editor of the Economist, said, “It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell.” His near-contemporary, the American Ella Wheeler Wilcox, on the other hand, was regarded as running true to platitudinous form in averring that “just the art of being kind is all this sad world needs.” A deficient theology, but the hungry would gladly settle for it.

Hunger. A degrading condition. It can even overcome fear. The hungry have no ears for ideological or evangelistic appeals (a lesson perhaps belatedly learned). “God himself,” said Gandhi, “dare not appear to a hungry man except in the form of bread.” Hunger enervates, but it does more. There is a double destitution—the violation affects the spirit as well as the body. Hunger stunts the development of full personality, and should be seen against the background of wasted human resources. For the Christian, the battle against hunger is not an end in itself, nor merely a struggle to maintain existence; it calls for implementation in some sense of Jesus’ words: “I have come that men may have life, and may have it in all its fullness” (John 10:10, NEB). All human ...

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