Once upon a time, a man stood watching as his house burned down. When a woman who lived nearby came rushing to his aid, she saw that he was surrounded by buckets of some liquid or other. She said, “Why are you letting your house burn down?”
“I’m not LETTING my house burn down,” the man said. “I’m standing by HELPLESSLY as it burns down.”
“But why don’t you throw this liquid on the fire?” his neighbor wanted to know.
“Because this liquid is gasoline, not water.”
“That doesn’t matter,” the neighbor said. “You’ve got to do SOMETHING. Throw the gasoline on the flames and see what happens!”
I’m not “letting” the people of Africa starve. I’m standing by helplessly while they starve. To send food into a famine is precisely like throwing gasoline on a burning house—far from helping, it makes matters worse.
To try to put down a famine with food is exactly like trying to put down a fire with gasoline—it just adds fuel to the fire. For me to say that I’m “letting” the people of Africa starve would imply that I’m God, which I’m not. “Letting” is not a passive standing-by. (Remember that in our creation story God says, “Let there be light.”)
The people of Africa do not live in my hands, and I neither let them live nor let them die. Ishmael’s whole point is that the people of our culture, the Takers, have taken the life of the world out of the hands of the gods and put it into our own hands. It is an expression of the Taker mentality to speak of “letting” famines occur.
Note, however, that this isn’t the same thing as letting the people in the house next door starve. They’re not in the midst of a famine (a famine is a regional ecological crisis—beyond human control), they’re just in the midst of a family crisis, and to give them aid is not adding fuel to the fire.