Friday, February 03, 2012

Charity and Greed (2)

I feel that "charity" is one of those great virtues that had been stripped of its power once the Christian Church came into power.

Consider that King James reading of I Corinthians 13:13:
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Could the apostles have truly meant that the greatest, most lasting principle in the entire universe would be to give spare change out of our excess to ease the suffering of the very poorest?

Or was it something more, something much deeper?

Perhaps we should view charity as the outpouring of those who've witnessed and become something different, who've moved aside from the debilitating numbness of empire-building of the dominant culture long enough to recognize the needs and assets not only of themselves and their shared community but extend it outside of themselves. These relationships organically work to inject selfless justice to the oppressed and then back to the self.

charity: water display

When such a transformation happens, those who have been touched are no longer concerned with frivolous arguments about "forcing" people to be charitable. Because true charity understands that all of our actions and inactions are interconnected, it understands the violence of poverty first-hand, and it understands that wealth accumulation is theft.

Charity understands the deep, intricate indebtedness we have to each other. Charity rejects the libertarian argument that taxation that lessens income inequality is not theft, but that income inequality itself is greed and therefore theft. And therefore murder.

Charity looks around and sees millions of homeless families, men, women, children. She sees all of the discarded veterans, the abused workers, hungry children, shamed school teachers, overburdened social workers, the rejected differently-abled, the untouchables, not as what society sees them as - the names and titles listed above - but as human beings worthy of human dignity, love, respect, and full access to quality food, healthcare, housing, protection, and clothing.

This form of charity runs in stark contrast to greed. Where greed feels entitled to possess property at others' expense, charity seeks to share, to make sure none is discarded. With true charity, there is no room for greed.

Current practices of "charity" however, are actually falsified extensions of greed. Charitable foundations are really nice-looking tax shelters, allowing estates to save millions upon millions of dollars each year while only spending a portion of that in order to game the non-profit world while earning respectability in their corporate endeavors (read: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded). However, if a service provider for the poor needs money to help the very ones discarded by the corporate-produced economic system, it will most likely need to go through these corporate-prduced foundations.

The virtue of charity needs to be reevaluated, not for what it supposedly means, but for what it is opposed to and dreams of.


  1. Beautifully written, Jason. The modern conception of "Charity", in its most benign sense, has a relationship to "pity," which has come to imply that one looks down upon the suffering of others from a position of non-suffering, or at least less-suffering; in other words, a form of condescension. Charity, too, has come to connote a type of condescension; but even worse, there's an added value judgement implied. Charity is acceptable in today's America as long as those receiving it are deserving of it, and then it shouldn't necessarily make one comfortable, only alleviate the worst of one's suffering. (How many times have I heard someone rant about people on food stamps buying steak?)

    The thing that has always struck me is that "Charity," like it's Latin antecedent, "Caritas," originally meant "love," or even "love founded on esteem" (I'm quoting the OED here). This comes directly from Christ's words that we should love one-another as He loved us, which of course is also the second commandment Christ refers to in the gospels: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If we love our neighbor who is suffering, we want to alleviate ALL of that person's suffering, not just make a part of it a little less painful. We do so without judgement, without thought of recompense, and without any form of disrespect or other actions that might shame our neighbor. This, I feel, is true Christian charity.

    And sometimes our love for our neighbors is such that we choose to share their suffering, as Christ shared ours.

    My, but we've come a long way.

    1. Andy, that was also awesome.

    2. Interesting post Andy, you bring up so good points. I do have a question on something I would like some clarification on something you say. You said, if "we love our neighbor who is suffering, we want to alleviate ALL of that person's suffering, not just make a part of it a little less painful." I could be wrong. I dont think that you meant to use the word alleviate- maybe eliminate- because alleviate does mean to make something less severe. But I am going to read this as if you meant eliminate. And I believe that you base you statement on Jesus wanting us to love our neighbor as ourselves, right? What I am gong to say next I am not saying because I believe that suffering is good but because there are times that suffering is necessary. As much as I would love to take away someone elses' pain, it isn't something I would want someone else to do for me. Sometimes you learn great lessons from suffering.

  2. Jasdye- I think you are right. Charity is more than just giving spare change to people who are on the street. I think part of the problem is that some many people just want easy answers and just don't want to have to think to hard. I also agree in a broad way that charity is about seeing how we are all interconnected and need to work together to get by. But I don't think it is frivoulus to talk about focing people to be charitable. If we are saying that charity is about the interconnectedness between us all, then how do you get people who don't believe that to see that. You can't make them open their eyes and make them see. Some things people have to learn for themselves. I'll be honest, in my honest opinion, true charity is something we can't legislate. If we raise taxes on the rich and use that money as country to help our own- the people who disagreed before most likely will not look and say I never noticed the "deep, intricate indebtedness we have towards one another." It also won't make people see that all people are "worthy of human dignity, love, respect, and full access to quality food, healthcare, housing, protection, and clothing." I'm not saying that we shouldn't raise taxes. I do believe that everyone should pay there fair share. All I am saying is that the argument that raising taxes and taking care of those who need the help the most might not fulfill the role God wants us to fill. People who didn't care about others before probably still wouldn't care, people who were oblivious would probably still oblivious, and those who do care probably will feel justified. (Of course, I could be wrong. It would only have taken ten people to save Sodom right). I won't agree that all charitable organizations are just extensions of greed. Some people are probably setting up those organizations for the tax shelter and some are probably setting up those organizations for good reasons. I'll agree that the money or resources aren't always going to those who need them. At one time, I had thoughts of setting up an organization of some type, collecting money, and (if there was enough) either donating to the state I live in for the general fund so people would get paid or using it to help the general public (grants for students, paying off homes...) While reading this blog, I had a couple of thoughts. One is that whether conservative or liberal- we all return to the a strong community were we do care for another. One's view of community is more narrow while the other group is more broad. I also began thinking of a radio show I was listening to last night- C2C. On the show was a Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist. He said that one of the biggest regrets that most older people had was family rifts. And he also spoke about how some the older people survived the Depression era by banding together. And that led to thinking of the quote "charity begins at home." I know the quote isn't from the bible but it may have some biblical basis. check this webiste out That also made me think of other truly biblical quotes like Matthew 22:39 and Matthew 5:44. And that led to this final idea. If we a global community were we practice loving our neighbors and our enemeies we first need to start with ourselves and our homes. How can we love our global neighbors as ourselves when we can't love our biological neighbors as ourselves? Sorry- rambling. I know what I wrote was probably confusing as heck but there you are.

    1. So I think this is the longest comment I've had on this site in the last five, six years. Congratulations on that, first off.
      I won't, however, be able to hit all the issues you raise here right now but I kind of wanted to clarify. When I say that charitable orgs are an extension of the systems of greed, I don't mean to judge motives, or even the work so much of charities. They're limited BECAUSE of the systems of oppression (spec capitalist in the first and emerging worlds), and - because the way the capitalist system is set up, charitable foundations and, to a lesser extent, ngo's etc, aid capitalism.

      They improve upon it and alleviate some of its worst parts, but I think we need to evaluate them as we consider the greater evils done by the corporate systems.


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