Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Two Kinds of Poverty

It happened again. A horrendous crime committed by mere children. On January 29, Torontonians woke up to the news that three children, estimated to be 13 to 15 years of age, had robbed a taxi driver and almost killed him with a gunshot to the stomach. Even many people hardened to the cruelties of modern life, accentuated over and over again on television, are shocked about such a horrendous deed. Who are these child criminals? What kind of families did they grow up in?

We are now suffering the consequences of the idea that we exist simply to maximize our own pleasure. It's a belief that has a devastating effect on marriage and family-and especially on children. Statistically, when children grow up without a loving and supporting family-normally and ideally provided by two parents-the incidents of problem behaviour rise dramatically.

So why do we not have more emphasis on instilling the kind of character traits that strengthen the family, such as loyalty, duty, faithfulness toward others, especially towards one's own spouse and offspring? We don't because there is now a deeply ingrained assumption that crime is caused by poverty. All the talk in polite circles is about how governments must spend buckets of money to alleviate child poverty. But those who focus on material poverty while ignoring the moral poverty are like the occupants of a sinking boat. One bails for all he's worth while the other hacks a hole in the bottom.

It may be good policy to spend more money for those who truly need help. But we're dead wrong if we think that poverty is to blame for the increasing number of child criminals. Poverty has always existed-and so has crime. But there was far less crime in the depression years, a time of widespread poverty, than there is today. And today there is far more help and social support for the poor than in previous times.

Nurturing Character

The truth is that crime is not a function of material poverty. It is first of all caused by a poverty of character. The burning question is not where and how to spend more money to alleviate material poverty, but how do we nur­ture people with character to eliminate moral poverty.

The child criminals who almost killed a Toronto cab driver are respon­sible for their actions. But their evil deed, which is part of a truly disturbing trend towards the "juvenilization" of crime, should cause their elders much pain of conscience. And that goes especially for all those who want to rid us of the old "taboos" about God who holds us accountable. Perhaps the awfulness of children who kill and show no remorse will drive those who want a "Godless" society to reconsider the consequences of their position.

Clifford Longley wrote in the Daily Telegraph of November 9, 1996 about a well-known British atheist who had decided to send his son to a Catholic school because he would receive a moral education there.

Although this atheist knew that his son's education would be taught from a perspective opposite to his own, he had come to the conviction that atheism is unable to teach morality.

He obviously overlooked the fact that faith in God is much more than a way to develop and transmit a moral code. Still, he must have had some intuition and was courageous enough to admit that goodness and morality­ without which no decent and safe society can exist-needs to be based on the recognition that there is a Law that transcends all man-made law.

Life is of one piece. What holds for society in general also applies in the workplace. The CLAC arose out of the conviction that in labour union affairs, too, we are answerable to a higher authority than ourselves. If we can decide what is right or wrong without any regard to an absolute standard, all boundaries are gone. As one of the characters in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov said: "If there is no God, everything is permis­sible."

Those who preach the modern gospel of self-fulfillment without moral absolutes should not be sur­prised when labour relations degener­ate into a ruthless power struggle. They should also look more carefully at exactly what lies behind the phe­nomenon of the tragically impoverished-the children who steal and kill and have no sense of doing anything wrong.

March 1997