Saturday, September 10, 2016

The problem with charity

On my usual social media sites, I said not long ago,
The purpose of charity is to make the privileged feel good by addressing poverty in ways that do not weaken their privilege or end poverty.
Social media groups people who think similarly, so it was liked—by more people than I expected, in fact. But it was questioned in ways I expected when I tried to make a terse statement about the problem with charity.

The first problem with charity is the word itself makes it hard to know exactly what we're discussing.

• Charity can refer to a philanthropist buying goodwill with a well-publicized payment to an institution like the opera that primarily benefits other rich people.

• Charity can refer to the charity industry. which includes these 10 Highly-Rated Charities with Low Paid CEOs and 11 charity CEOs who were paid over a million dollars in 2013 (Here Are the Most Overpaid Charity CEOs in America).

• Charity can refer to a homeless person sharing the results of the day's begging with another homeless person.

• Charity can refer to a kid giving a toy to poorer kid.

Criticize charity, and people who have not thought about it will ask if you don't believe in helping people. What they miss is that we criticize charity because we care about helping people. If we didn't, we wouldn't mind when hypocrites seek profit or praise in the name of charity or when well-meaning people do inefficient things in the belief they're helping.

If I was writing a proper essay, I would divide charity into these groups:

1. Conspicuous and anonymous charity.
2. Charity intended for emergencies and charity intended for long-term problems.

We have one useful distinction in English; conspicuous charity falls under philanthropy. I'm a bit amused when Christians practice it because Jesus taught,
When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.
Martin Luther King said, "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." King was a democratic socialist in a time when socialism was demonized, so he had to speak gently, but he knew the implications of his words: in any system that does not share the wealth, philanthropy is only a benevolent manifestation of injustice.

Since I'm citing Jesus, here's a Jesus quote that capitalists misunderstand in order to feel good about themselves:
For you always have the poor with you...
Jesus was citing Deuteronomy 15:11:
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Jesus was pointing out that when long-term solutions have been solved, there will still be emergencies. How do we know this? By looking at Deuteronomy 15:4-5:
However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.
So, no, rich people, neither the Old nor the New Testament says we must consign ourselves to a world divided between the rich and the poor.

But that is the world we'll have so long as people think all we need is charity.

Possibly of interest: Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity - Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7–14 - Chassidic Thought

Ignorant Christians need to STFU about ‘the poor you will always have with you’ until they can be bothered to understand what Jesus actually said

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity - The Atlantic.

One of my favorite Jesus stories:
As Jesus was sitting opposite the treasury, he watched the crowd placing money into it. And many rich people put in large amounts. Then one poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amounted to a small fraction of a denarius. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more than all the others into the treasury."