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 As Cold as Charity?

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Temperance
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PostSubject: As Cold as Charity?   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 09:42

Over on the Historical Trials thread the fate of the "marginalized" in society was touched on.

Caro mentioned Reginald Scot's 1584 Discoverie of Witchcraft. Scot was clear-eyed in his opinion that "decent" folk always need someone to demonize when things go wrong in their communities. We much prefer to blame others - ironically usually the helpless, the tiresome, the marginalized -  rather than examine ourselves or our society. That's certainly not changed. Here's Scot:

"The fables of witchcraft have taken so fast hold and deep root in the heart of man that few or none can nowadays with patience endure the hand and correction of God...One sort of such as are said to be witches are women which commonly be old, lame, blear-eyed, pale, foul and full of wrinkles; poor, sullen, superstitious and papists...lean and deformed...doting (ie. senile) scolds..."

I've been mulling this over since yesterday, and various themes for a new topic have been buzzing around in my head: do we need a thread on witches, the poor (both the "sturdy beggar" and the "deserving" or "impotent" sort), Christian charity, Parish Relief in England 1572 to 1948 or what? Can we sort of combine all these and just look at how various societies at various times have tried to deal with those whom we can lump together as "the marginalized"?

The poor certainly are always with us; they just won't go away. Here are some comments dating from the around 1400BC to a recent Guardian article.

"For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thy hand unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in thy land." (Deuteronomy c. 1400BC attributed Moses - or possibly God. I'm not sure if Moses was quoting God here.)

"He who does not work, neither shall he eat." (St. Paul c. 52-54AD)

"...was there ever, in any age, the like number of poor people as there are at the present, begging in the streets of the City (London) and wandering in the fields so idly, being ready to attempt any mischief upon any light occasion?" (John Howe 1582)

"...the poor lie in the streets upon pallets of straw...or else in the mire or dirt." (Philip Stubbes 1583)

"Homeless people present the thoughtful Guardian reader with a dilemma. It's hard to walk past the hollow-eyed guy who looks like he hasn't eaten for a week without putting anything in his paper cup. On the other hand, your money could be spent on the drink or drugs that fuel his self-destruction.

One woman, who feared that by giving money to a homeless man she was banging another nail in his coffin, recently told me that she had instead given him an apple. I replied that he didn't need an apple; he almost certainly needed drink or drugs to blot out the reality of living on the streets – which is unhealthy, dangerous and frightening – as well as to help him forget the reasons he's there. No one is homeless by choice."
(Mark Johnson writing in the Guardian 2012 see http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/mar/20/ok-to-give-to-homeless-drug-addicts )

"Why would you give money to an addict when it is likely to be spent on filling the hole that cannot be filled? They get enough from DSS and food handouts not to starve. It is too easy for them to get hold of drinks and drugs already, why would you be helping drug dealers make even more money? That someone pulls out of addiction just because they decide to do so, seems very unlikely. Much more likely it seems that the addicts would remain in such conditions if people are actively supporting them.

On the other hand, because of the reasons suggested in this article, I never give to the charity street collectors either. Not enough money goes towards those on whose behalf it has been collected.There has to be a way to make people take responsibility for their lives, and not reward the most needy ones by helping them remain needy."
(A post after the Mark Johnson article.)

Summary of the attempts (from medieval times to 1948) to provide for the poor here:


http://www2.rgu.ac.uk/publicpolicy/introduction/historyf.htm

 

Rather a muddled starter post this, but perhaps one that will get a discussion going.


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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 12:23

I've just found this. It makes for uncomfortable reading, but Nicholas Kristof undoubtedly does have a point.


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/opinion/23kristof.html?_r=0

A friend of mine, a decent and caring woman who is deeply and sincerely religious, had an unsettling encounter recently with a young man who was begging near Exeter Cathedral. She would not give him money, but offered him a cheese and onion pasty instead. She very unwisely then started quoting St. Peter at him ("Gold and silver have I none...")

"Ah, f*ck off," he told her.

Fair enough. Reminds me of the Billy Connolly joke about the Cardinal who, having been exhorted to do the same (f*ck off) by some n'er-do-well (lovely expression, that), replied: "No, you f*ck off."

Should she have given the man money? Or a bottle of whisky, perhaps? Taken the pasty back? Laughed at the absurdity of his situation and her well-meaning attempts to "help"? I'm afraid I have no answers, although I once thought I did.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 13:23

Thomas Aquinas codified (as was his inclination in all things) charity. To him it could be split up into seven "good works", none of which involved giving money. These were vestio (to clothe), poto (to give water), cibo (to feed), redimo (to redeem from prison), tego (to shelter), colligo (to nurse) and condo (to bury). Doing any of these was an act of friendship towards God rather than the actual recipient - in this way Tommy, who had actually nicked the whole codification thing from Arsitotle anyway, could deftly avoid the other Aristotlean belief that to extend charity at all was in fact an act of sheer cupidity, one was really making oneself feel good and this was not what Jesus would want.

Warped logic and all as this may have been therefore it still underlay for centuries the standard notion of what constitutes charity in so-called "christian" societies. Christianity has always had a tortuous approach to money - its pursuit often being deemed anti-Jesusian and publicly criticised, but just as often by the very people whose own organisation, the church, has proven itself so adept at amassing the stuff. However when it comes to dispensing it as a charitable act Christian organisations generally are of like mind - it can be collected and then used for the relief of others' misery but preferably not through simply handing it out. It is normally deemed best that the religiously motivated philantropists "manage" it on the poor's behalf. Vestiges of this reluctance to accompany philantropical largesse with actions by which the recipient might - at least temporarily - enjoy financial empowerment can be found in many modern examples of Christian attitudes towards charity today.

Other cultures however have been less philosophically hamstrung by theological interpretation when defining charity. In China as far back as the Shang dynasty which corresponded in time with Egypt's New Kingdom period and which itself had just come up with the idea of minted coinage as well as centrally administered taxation there were laws passed which obliged people who found themselves in surplus to share their bounty with the most disadvantaged members of society. Coinage facilitated this process so that it rapidly became a systemised welfare system funded through donation and dispensing money, health care and even haircuts to the poor. Periodic checks were made by inspectors to make sure no one was welching on this social contract and particularly philantropic people were applauded, though their only reward was to have a state subsidy towards their own burial if they wished it.

In Roman society on the other hand largesse was very much tied up with dignitas and public perception, especially by social climbers. Its recipents however were rarely those who needed it most but often rather those who simply might remember it best and assist in elevating the status of the donor through advertising his repute. By the end of the Republic the manner of its execution had begun to be governed less by social convention and more by actual regulations and it was this very tightly controlled system which would be inherited by the Christian church, both in the Western and Eastern empires, and which would influence early church attitudes towards what constituted charity, primarily in the sense that it was the church which reckoned itself to be the most worthy recipient of same. It would be the European monasteries several centuries later, often deeply embedded within local cultures, who would eventually challenge the notion that charity was a one-way thing in which God (ie. the church) must have first pickings, and to various degrees altered the concept to one more closely resembling that which the Shang Chinese had developed 1500 years beforehand.

Is it any wonder we who are products of this culture have ourselves inherited mixed feelings regarding charity, what it is and how best it can be dispensed?

Your friend and her pasty seem emblematic of this dilemma. However if I were to criticise her - and this criticism would apply whatever her motivation to help the lad outside Exeter Cathedral might have been - it would be solely on the basis of her seeming surprise that he did not show gratitude. Charity, whether one likes it or not, is acknowledgement of the recipient's right to receive, not a contract by which he must promise to feign thankfulness for being in the position whereby he is the recipient, especially to someone quoting second hand platitudes at him just to reinforce his understandable if not totally justifiable view on the unfairness of life.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 14:54

Quote :

Your friend and her pasty seem emblematic of this dilemma. However if I were to criticise her - and this criticism would apply whatever her motivation to help the lad outside Exeter Cathedral might have been - it would be solely on the basis of her seeming surprise that he did not show gratitude. Charity, whether one likes it or not, is acknowledgement of the recipient's right to receive, not a contract by which he must promise to feign thankfulness for being in the position whereby he is the recipient, especially to someone quoting second hand platitudes at him just to reinforce his understandable if not totally justifiable view on the unfairness of life.


She was not surprised that he had not shown "gratitude". My friend was not looking for thanks; she was merely distressed by the lad's hostility - and by the thought that she had caused it. She fretted dreadfully that she had come across as a patronising do-gooder (which perhaps she had) and so (by her "thoughtlessness" as she called it) had unwittingly added to his anger and pain. "Forget it," I advised her, "just don't quote from the Bible like that unless you are being ironic. Perhaps you should have simply replied (a la Billy Connolly), 'No, you f*ck off, but get that pasty down you.' "

But she is far too nice a lady ever to use the F-word to anyone.

In the past I believe the needy were expected to say: "Alms for the love of Christ." Still a useful idea in a way, and gets round the problem of enabling and co-dependency and all the rest of the psychobabble stuff.



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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 17:33

You may recall the story of "Fred" Stawinoga I posted elsewhere - it was (to me at least) noteworthy that it was mostly the South Asian communities (notably Sikh & Hindu) that fed and clothed him (though the fact that his tent was near the Hindu & Buddhist temples, and the Sikh Gurdwara might be germane)
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Wed 23 Apr 2014, 22:21

Temp, your tale about your friend before Exeter Cathedral, plus some of Nordmann’s comments, brought to mind an experience of just a few years ago when I last visited Barcelona.

It was in front of the main cathedral – not Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – but the much older, 14th century Gothic Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St Eulalia, that's hidden away in the maze of medieval streets, alleys and courtyards in the Old City. Being a touristy site in a touristy city there were inevitably quite a few beggars in the cathedral square. The usual beggars with dread-locks or an untidy ponytail; a scrawled notice on a piece of cardboard; a plastic cup for donations; and a mongrel dog on a piece of string …. they were all there, but dispersed around the outside of the square. The "main stage" almost literally, was taken up by a range of mendicants (if I’m not using the term wrongly) who were occupying the flight of steps leading up to the massive cathedral doors.

Here was a different sort of beggar. People on knees, arms outstretched reaching towards the cathedral’s sanctum. Not classic beggars but certainly those suffering from "want" to use old expression. Old men in threadbare suits, dames in black shawls, young mothers clutching thin children at the breast … but also a surfeit of disabled, with their crutches and wheelchairs carried next to them. But all completely static and silent, but on their knees with arms outstretched towards mother church.

People walked up the cathedral steps and, almost casually, dropped a coin or two into the mendicants’ outstretched palm or lap. Whereupon they'd laboriously haul themselves, plus their crutches or wheelchair or whatever, up another step closer to the cathedral doors. And then, one step higher/closer, they'd adopt the same posture of pleading piety… until another coin was dropped their way. (And note the cathedral does have wheelchair access, a ramp bypasses the medieval steps to enter just to the left of the main doors – it’s advertised in about a dozen different languages along with a note that says if you need further assistance to navigate the cathedral you only have to ask at the door.).

But of course this is not charity per se. The coins dropped by the well-heeled passer-by are not intended to succour those in want but succour the need of the giver. It was noticeable that there was never any interaction between the donor and the beneficent other than a cursory mumbled blessing. The whole action seemed to be to pamper to the needs of the giver rather than to the given-to. I do not know what happens when the cathedral doors shut at night and all the tourists go off to the bars in safer and better lit areas close to their hotels. Perhaps the mendicants pick up their babies, crutches and wheelchairs, and stroll off to spend their gains in the local cantina. I really do not know, but I doubt the black-clad, middle-aged widows go straight round the corner to their drug dealer.

As regards your OP Temp, I’m not trying to make any statement here, expound any particular argument, nor further any particular idea. It’s just an observation. But it seems to me that there have always been different types of "poor": the "undeserving idle poor" – and the "honest deserving poor" …. Or however it is that the rest of society currently describes them.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 08:43

MM wrote:
But of course this is not charity per se. The coins dropped by the well-heeled passer-by are not intended to succour those in want but succour the need of the giver. It was noticeable that there was never any interaction between the donor and the beneficent other than a cursory mumbled blessing. The whole action seemed to be to pamper to the needs of the giver rather than to the given-to.


Is this  a peculiarly Catholic attitude to charity - the whole idea of responding "for the love of Christ" - good works for your own salvation, rather than out of real concern and duty towards those in need?

The whole idea of the efficacy of "good works" was questioned by the Protestants, of course - justification by faith alone and all that.

That said, I know Luther was all for the establishment of decent parish welfare - there's The Ordinance of a Common Chest written in 1523, but I'm not too sure of its suggested provisions.

Your comment also brings to mind more modern stuff I've read - my much loved "psychobabble" - about the dangers of what is called co-dependency: the urge to "help", to "rescue" or to "love" (in the Christian sense or not) the alcoholic, the addict or the otherwise dysfunctional, which more often than not is actually all about unhealthy psychological need in the would-be rescuer. That's what leads to the victim/rescuer/persecutor triangle I've mentioned elsewhere. Perhaps the incident at Exeter Cathedral was a nice example of that; I'm not sure. Attempts at rescue by what is perceived as a controlling rescuer can often lead one to telling the rescuer to f*ck off. Victim turns persecutor you see. I remember someone once saying to me that the late Diana, Princess of Wales, was "co-dependent on a global scale".

But psychobabble is not history, although the development of all the 12-Step programmes (about the only thing that really seems to work - addicts helping other addicts) is a 20th century improvement on earlier attempts to "reform" and "rescue" the sinner (I use "sinner" here ironically.)

Gil's mention of other religions is interesting: how do their attitudes to charity differ from the Christian/Catholic model; is charitable giving necessary for salvation for Hindus and Sikhs?

In haste.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 09:48

@Temperance wrote:



Is this  a peculiarly Catholic attitude to charity - the whole idea of responding "for the love of Christ" - good works for your own salvation, rather than out of real concern and duty towards those in need?


No.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 10:09

A cryptic answer, ID.

Like MM, "I’m not trying to make any statement here, expound any particular argument, nor further any particular idea. It’s just an observation".

I wonder if the Catholic (well, at the time of the Reformation at least, can't speak for what Catholics believe today) idea of justification by good works was actually more honest than the Protestant stance - ie. I'm actually doing this for me, not you? Protestants had a civic duty toward the poor/dysfunctional members of their society; Catholics gave because it was of benefit to their own souls?

But perhaps I've got this all wrong. Please correct me if I have.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 10:44

In Hindu theology charity is very much tied up with the concept of dãna (prema, bhakti and preeti also apply) and works a bit like merit badges in the scout movement. One is obliged to do it in order to progress one's spiritual journey which in effect means to the believer that not to do it is in fact a retrograde step, not too dissimilar therefore morally to stealing. What is nice about the Hindu take on it however is that logic need not apply, in fact it seems the more illogical the gesture the more brownie points accrue. It is also regarded as a healing process so the more grandiose and illogical the charitable action the more therapeutic it can also be for one's spirit if the spirit has been damaged in some way (you know how it is with spirits, delicate bloody things aren't they?).

Dãna however goes way beyond simply alms giving and the like. It covers any action in which one gives of oneself for someone else's benefit. There are special dána types ranging from giving away one's daughter in marriage to helping a wounded enemy in battle (I've been to certain wedding receptions which combined both of these in the past).

There is no theological difference between Protestantism and Catholicism when it comes to charity - as in fact "charity" within christian theology actually specifically excludes the giving away of material goods from within its definition (you can thank Paul for that one - the pleasant little bundle of giggles he was). In practice however it is probably true to say that Catholicism accommodates many more of the ancient and institutionalised concepts of charity dating back to Roman times purely because it is the more traditional of the faiths. That can lead to weird little traditions and stylised modes of quirky behaviour like the one MM witnessed. But then religion is all about weird little traditions and stylised modes of quirky behaviour anyway, so I suppose it's hardly surprising.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 11:55

It's often pointed out that the principal animal charity in Britain (RSPCA) has Royal patronage, while the principal children's charity (NSPCC) doesn't.

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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 13:50

@nordmann wrote:
... if the spirit has been damaged in some way (you know how it is with spirits, delicate bloody things aren't they?).


I have no idea if your spirit is a "delicate bloody thing" or not, nordmann; I have enough problems worrying about my own. Delicate or wilful? I'm honestly not sure - varies from day to day and how much Chateauneuf-du-Pape I've consumed. (MM, please see below.)

@nordmann wrote:
There is no theological difference between Protestantism and Catholicism when it comes to charity - as in fact "charity" within christian theology actually specifically excludes the giving away of material goods from within its definition (you can thank Paul for that one - the pleasant little bundle of giggles he was).


 Suspect  I'm not so sure about that - genuine confusion. What's the Paul reference? Poor chap is so often misunderstood. Is Max Weber of any relevance here - the Protestant work ethic and capitalism and all that? (Probably not.) This is only from Wiki:

What Weber argued, in simple terms:
According to the new Protestant religions, an individual was religiously compelled to follow a secular vocation (German: Beruf) with as much zeal as possible. A person living according to this world view was more likely to accumulate money.
The new religions (in particular, Calvinism and other more austere Protestant sects) effectively forbade wastefully using hard earned money and identified the purchase of luxuries as a sin. Donations to an individual's church or congregation were limited due to the rejection by certain Protestant sects of icons. Finally, donation of money to the poor or to charity was generally frowned on as it was seen as furthering beggary. This social condition was perceived as laziness, burdening their fellow man, and an affront to God; by not working, one failed to glorify God.

The manner in which this paradox was resolved, Weber argued, was the investment of this money, which gave an extreme boost to nascent capitalism.


@nordmann wrote:

In practice however it is probably true to say that Catholicism accommodates many more of the ancient and institutionalised concepts of charity dating back to Roman times purely because it is the more traditional of the faiths. That can lead to weird little traditions and stylised modes of quirky behaviour like the one MM witnessed. But then religion is all about weird little traditions and stylised modes of quirky behaviour anyway, so I suppose it's hardly surprising.


Not just religion of course. Weirdness and quirkiness is all around us - in England anyway. We quite like it, but most definitely not in religion - far too embarrassing, whether it's the "popish pageants" variety or (possibly even worse) born-again, happy-clappy Protestant stuff. Can't be doing with it.

MM, completely off topic  but I found this interesting:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/dec/07/wine-chateauneuf-du-pape-review
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 14:12

Temp wrote:
What's the Paul reference? Poor chap is so often misunderstood.

It's his own bloody fault - no sympathy for him at all.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 14:22

I have always felt that the Sikh religion has a good system i.e.

"The Sikh faith also participates in the custom of "Langar" or the community meal. All gurdwaras are open to anyone of any faith for a free meal. People can enter and eat together and are served by faithful members of the community. This is the main cost associated with gurdwaras and where monetary donations are primarily spent"

It seem that this is an excellent way of feeding the poor while not indulging in the 'Lady Bountiful' aspects of actual charity.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 14:24

@nordmann wrote:
Temp wrote:
What's the Paul reference? Poor chap is so often misunderstood.

It's his own bloody fault - no sympathy for him at all.


Don't be so uncharitable, nordmann. We all have our faults. St. Paul was all right when he wasn't in controlling parent mode. Brings out the maladapted child in us all (certainly does me, I'm afraid).

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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 14:30

Temp wrote:
St. Paul was all right when he wasn't in controlling parent mode

The patronising sod was rarely all right then. I mean, honestly. Would you buy a tent from this man?

Back in February, MadNan, it was the Sikhs also who responded ever so practically and generously too when bits of Britain were disappearing under water:

Sikh charity leads the way with sandbags
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 16:22

I'm surprised no-one has mention Islam yet where giving alms is, as one of the Five Pillars, as important as prayer, trotting off on pilgrimage and the rest. A contrast with Christianity rather nicely illustrated in the episode of 'Rev', (I'm reluctant to confess how much I love that programme in case it destroys my reputation as a godless heathen) where the imam instantly can raise finance for all but a few coppers of the cost of the playground.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 16:37

@ferval wrote:
I'm reluctant to confess how much I love that programme in case it destroys my reputation as a godless heathen..


Oh, ferval, even though you are obviously a godless heathen, I knew you were all right really. Rev is great. Any vicar who says: "Get out of here, you loathsome nob" is OK with me. I like the way they keep the Big Cross (used on Palm Sunday) in the shed.

PS Very interesting comments about Islam too.  Smile 

PPS Isn't it great when you think you've asked nordmann an intellectual question and he just ignores it? Makes one feel such a prat - possibly the Good Lord is using Our Leader to teach us (well me) humility. (I thought asking about Max Weber was rather good, but obviously not.  Smile )
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Thu 24 Apr 2014, 20:29

Hi Temp - wasn't ignoring you, just hadn't time.

For Paul "charity" is an aspect of love if not even synonymous with the concept. But to Paul "love" is an almost slavish devotion owed to the big lad in the sky, not necessarily that gooey happy warm feeling which the rest of us think of normally when confronted with the term. He bangs on about it quite a bit but the most telling remark is probably that from Corinthians 13:3 "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." The rest of us might be forgiven for thinking that handing all our worldly goods over to some bum, while pretty stupid, was at least a tad charitable on our part. But not our happy little bunny Paul - helping the poor was all very well but it meant nothing if it wasn't done for the Big Man's sake and this was the charity in it, not the act of making a bum's day.

Officially Catholic theology sticks to this principle too. However, as many many popes have found who have had to bull and encycle a lot about it in the past, church doctrine and what its members get up to are often not one and the same thing at all. It seems that even despite the best efforts of those with God's ear the rank and file are determined to do things their own way, even if it means being good but (horror of horrors) just not in the way Paul and the chief bottle washers in Rome want them to be.

The catechism goes even further than Paul in warning members not to equate charity with the bunging out of money and things when it flatly states "Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul's progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment." When you think about it this is also the Protestant view as Weber outlined above in your quote - dishing out lolly and stuff simply walks both the giver and the recipient into committing sin (venial isn't the worst kind of sin but God still doesn't like it and you clock up extra centuries in purgatory every time you commit one). Charity it certainly ain't!
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 12:50

@nordmann wrote:


For Paul "charity" is an aspect of love if not even synonymous with the concept. But to Paul "love" is an almost slavish devotion owed to the big lad in the sky, not necessarily that gooey happy warm feeling which the rest of us think of normally when confronted with the term. He bangs on about it quite a bit but the most telling remark is probably that from Corinthians 13:3 "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." The rest of us might be forgiven for thinking that handing all our worldly goods over to some bum, while pretty stupid, was at least a tad charitable on our part. But not our happy little bunny Paul - helping the poor was all very well but it meant nothing if it wasn't done for the Big Man's sake and this was the charity in it, not the act of making a bum's day.


Well, that's one way of looking at it, I suppose, but I would suggest to you that there are others.

Could it actually be that St. Paul is having one of his better moments here, and that in this, one of the most beautiful and honest pieces of prose ever written, he is experiencing a rare bit of insight about himself - pondering what a loveless prat he's been and is still often tempted to be? Isn't he warning himself - and all the would-be "godly" - not too be too smug? Without an attempt at least at real love (the difficult kind, not the warm, gooey variety - see below), all the religious stuff - however sincere and meticulous in its observation - is a total waste of time. We may as well not bother.


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,  but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


Don't Paul's words echo Christ's teaching about agape (I think I've got the right Greek word), insisting that love/charity is actually unconditional goodwill - love of God/Christ of course, but not of some mythical "big lad in the sky", but as He is found even in the little turd (or "bum", to use your word) who tells you to f*ck off with your cheese and onion pasty and your patronising Biblical quotes? I saw that goodwill in my friend when she recognised her fault; she actually wanted to go back to apologise to the boy. Stupid and soft? I don't think so.

But my problem isn't so much with the aggressive little turds - showing them goodwill (and doling out the pasties) may be exhausting, but it's relatively easy; it's showing love to the "loathsome nobs" that I struggle with (and there's always the worry of course that you are coming across as a "loathsome nob" yourself to some people). Here's a clip from Rev, the programme that ferval mentioned and that she and I both love: Nigel (the one swinging the incense burner about) is the "loathsome nob", the infuriating lay-reader about whom Alan (the vicar) often has extremely uncharitable thoughts. Loving Nigel is hard.



PS But going back to our theme of charity - giving to the needy - I read this on Wiki:

In Christian theology charity, Latin caritas, is by Thomas Aquinas understood as "the friendship of man for God", which "unites us to God". He holds it as "the most excellent of the virtues".[1] Further, Aquinas holds that "the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbour".[2]

Some delineate charity to mean only benevolent giving, while others, such as Roman Catholics, have multiple interrelated meanings (i.e. charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God: New Catholic Catechism 1822).


So, to be fair to Thomas Aquinas, he does point out that your "man in the sky" should not be the only recipient of our love. But I am unsure about "theological virtue" (and venial sin) as dictated by them what knows up at Vatican. As a good Protestant - brought up in woolly Anglican error - I prefer to struggle to work things out myself. But I like what John (or whoever wrote it) says in 1 John 3:17 - "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" Perhaps the Vatican missed that bit?

But all this is making me feel guilty - thoughts of the food banks and all. Food banks in the seventh richest country in the world - it's crazy.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 18:09

I really don't think Paul was writing to the Corinthians and just letting them know how he was feeling about himself. At least I hope not - what an egotistical little turd if he was!

No, in this one I reckon the Rome shower had it right - these are his little blueprints for the rest of us to know how to behave, at least how to behave according to a deluded tent-maker with a tendency to pratfalling from horses while hallucinating. Honest prose indeed!

Deus caritas est - one of the most dishonest things ever uttered. (I know it's from John but the mindset is the same as the other lad's)
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 18:29

@Temperance wrote:
But all this is making me feel guilty - thoughts of the food banks and all. Food banks in the seventh richest country in the world - it's crazy.
Surely the NEED for food banks is the crazy bit - given the need, it's a damn good thing they exist, surely?
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 19:00

@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
@Temperance wrote:
But all this is making me feel guilty - thoughts of the food banks and all. Food banks in the seventh richest country in the world - it's crazy.
Surely the NEED for food banks is the crazy bit - given the need, it's a damn good thing they exist, surely?


Yep, Gilgamesh of Uruk, it surely is. At our food bank (note how I subtly drop in there what a good Christian lady I am - helping at the food bank), guide lines have been offered to donors about only bringing in wholesome food: nutritious wholegrain cereals and lentils and brown rice ( Shocked ) and reduced-salt baked beans and such. I think that's a shame - there's also a need for the dreadful stuff we all love: Coco Pops, Chocolate Hobnobs, cheesecake, salt 'n' vinegar Pringles - and good wine too, of course. Not forgetting the Marks and Spencer Luxury Muesli.

Nordmann - OK, let's abandon Saint Paul, but surely even you will acknowledge that Oscar Wilde may have made a few good points about Deus caritas est? Go back to De Profundis - Oscar gets it right I think (when he's not whingeing to Bosie about what a total little bastard he is).

Renan in his VIE DE JESUS - that gracious fifth gospel, the gospel according to St. Thomas, one might call it - says somewhere that Christ's great achievement was that he made himself as much loved after his death as he had been during his lifetime. And certainly, if his place is among the poets, he is the leader of all the lovers. He saw that love was the first secret of the world for which the wise men had been looking, and that it was only through love that one could approach either the heart of the leper or the feet of God.

And above all, Christ is the most supreme of individualists. Humility, like the artistic acceptance of all experiences, is merely a mode of manifestation. It is man's soul that Christ is always looking for. He calls it 'God's Kingdom,' and finds it in every one. He compares it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a handful of leaven, to a pearl. That is because one realises one's soul only by getting rid of all alien passions, all acquired culture, and all external possessions, be they good or evil.

I bore up against everything with some stubbornness of will and much rebellion of nature, till I had absolutely nothing left in the world but one thing. I had lost my name, my position, my happiness, my freedom, my wealth. I was a prisoner and a pauper. But I still had my children left. Suddenly they were taken away from me by the law. It was a blow so appalling that I did not know what to do, so I flung myself on my knees, and bowed my head, and wept, and said, 'The body of a child is as the body of the Lord: I am not worthy of either.' That moment seemed to save me. I saw then that the only thing for me was to accept everything. Since then - curious as it will no doubt sound - I have been happier. It was of course my soul in its ultimate essence that I had reached. In many ways I had been its enemy, but I found it waiting for me as a friend. When one comes in contact with the soul it makes one simple as a child, as Christ said one should be.


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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 19:34

@Temperance wrote:


But all this is making me feel guilty - thoughts of the food banks and all. Food banks in the seventh richest country in the world - it's crazy.

Because the majority of the wealth belongs to the minority, that's not crazy it is criminal.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 21:03

Oscar came to accept himself in the end, and through this apparently learn to also accept everything else appallingly shitty that had happened to him (though I wonder just how accepting of it he really was based on later evidence). But at least he learned to actually like his own company or at least tolerate it with patience, having previously assumed he could never again. It's a pity he muddled a Christ into his description of the process as it had really no function in it except as a handy metaphor for his readers representing Wilde's own epiphany and his joy in that after such persecution and character assassination as had been inflicted on him.

I preferred Wilde when he was sparring with his "soul in its ultimate essence" however, along with everyone else's too, earlier in life. He was not only funnier but much more insightful, I've always thought. Even Edward Carson said as much too, expressing private regret later in life that he had played such a big role in quenching that beautiful spirit.

Getting back to your title and the use of Southey's term from his poem "The Soldier's Wife"; Robert was of course making a stab at political activism here and - he thought - making a scathing comment about how the establishment and society in general treated soldiers and their dependents in the war then raging against France. His target wasn't the notion of charity but the version of "charity" extended to these people, and of course its abject and obvious uselessness. The full poem (without Samuel Taylor Coleridge's totally unnecessary stanza) was a short pen-picture of such a victim:

"Weary way-wanderer languid and sick at heart
Travelling painfully over the rugged road,
Wild-visag'd Wanderer! ah for thy heavy chance!

Sorely thy little one drags by thee bare-footed,
Cold is the baby that hangs at thy bending back
Meagre and livid and screaming its wretchedness.

Thy husband will never return from the war again,
Cold is thy hopeless heart even as Charity--
Cold are thy famish'd babes--God help thee, widow'd One!"


This poem didn't go down well with his contemporaries. Besides "friends" like Coleridge hijacking his work before publication and making them only even more mawkish than Southey had already achieved, detractors like Charles Lamb were downright vitriolic in their condemnation of Southey, not for his politics but for his perceived "over cleverness" with regard to making his poems fit obscure meters (Southey's sub-title for "The Soldier's Wife" was "DACTYLICS" so Lamb might indeed have had a very good point there). In the magazine "The Anti-Jacobin" Lamb duly responded with this little gem;

" Sorely your Dactyls do drag along limp-footed.
Sad is the measure that hangs a clod round 'em so.
Meagre and languid, proclaiming its wretchedness.

Weary, unsatisfied, not a little sick of 'em.
Cold is my tired heart, I have no charity.
Painfully travelling thus over the rugged road.

O begone, measure, half Latin, half English, then.
Dismal your Dactyls are, God help ye, rhyming ones!"


If you read it out loud and in a booming hypocritical bishop's voice you'll see what he was getting at. I agree with him. Paul wouldn't have got the joke, I don't think, but Oscar would certainly have enjoyed it.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Fri 25 Apr 2014, 23:36

@Meles meles wrote:
I’m not trying to make any statement here, expound any particular argument, nor further any particular idea. It’s just an observation. But it seems to me that there have always been different types of "poor": the "undeserving idle poor" – and the "honest deserving poor" …. Or however it is that the rest of society currently describes them.

I'm less diplomatic. And just to give my own pennyworth (excuse the pun) but in the case of the UK then I'm at a loss as to why, more than 60 years since the establishment of the welfare state, there should be any abject begging at all on the streets of UK cities.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 05:34

I do sometimes wonder why, with our welfare system, there are still people who have to live on the streets.  But I think many street people have problems with addictions especially and get kicked out of their homes or flats, and then aren't welcome in emergency housing, though I do see some new initiatives for people on drugs or drink to stay in particular housing. NZ also doesn't have any tradition or rules of squatting (except that it is not allowed, whether people live in their owned houses or not) so that option is mostly out.  Our benefits, except for superannuitants, aren't very generous. Some people just seem to get into a downward spiral when they lose their jobs and everything seems to go wrong and they can't work their way back up again.  I remember the death of a woman in an Auckland domain, she was murdered when living rough there.  They said she had been middle-class and married but when the marriage broke up she just went from that home to a poorer one and then finally onto the domain.  No doubt millions were spent finding (or not - I can't recall) her killer - I remember thinking a bit more money on her when she was alive would have been more useful.

The discussion of charity has focused on religious giving, but what about ordinary gifts to charity, or giving money to street people.  I give regularly to a few charities who send me envelops or phone me.  I don't think my reasons are particularly charitable and are probably more for my benefit than anyone else's.  I don't really bother about what happens to the money once it's left my cheque book.  Even the other day, when I did specify that I wanted my Red Cross money to go to the Solomon Islands I still added that I didn't mind if it went on administrative work rather than the front line.  I got a typed letter back of thanks as usual, but it had a PS (still typed) saying all the money for the Solomon Islands would be going to help those in need.  I don't know if that was written on all the letters or was specific because of what I had said. 

I do sometimes bother about seeming to be Lady Bountiful when I pop across the road with some grapes or tomatoes to my not-very-well-off neighbours.  But I don't think they care - and people give their surplus to me too, and I give mine to people who are perfectly well-off as well.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 08:47

@Caro wrote:
I do sometimes wonder why, with our welfare system, there are still people who have to live on the streets. 


The "welfare" system in England - like so many of the excellent post-war systems (education and health, for instance) - is breaking down; or at least, if it is not breaking down exactly, it has changed dramatically since the 1950s. And we seem to have again that enormous gulf between rich and poor (Disraeli's "two nations"), certainly in London and the south-east.

Attitudes seem to have hardened too: only yesterday I heard the words "reckless" and "feckless" - two favourite Victorian adjectives for the poor - being used. Reckless and feckless - yes, there are some such no doubt (I think I could easily have been one myself, were it not for my rigorous early training in "thrift" and the Protestant work ethic), and there are undoubtedly those who do  "take advantage" of anything on offer. I think "laughing all the way to the food bank" is the latest bon mot among the flog 'em and hang 'em  brigade. But there's not a lot of laughter on the way to, or actually at, the food banks and soup kitchens. To be honest, it's staggering - and terrifying - to hear how quickly people's lives can fall apart: illness (physical and/or mental), unemployment, death, divorce, family violence and breakdown can happen to anyone and, often running through it all - alcohol. In some families alcohol washes across whole generations, like a liquid plague. But if you are sitting alone in a DHSS bedsitter or with howling kids in a DHSS B&B, alcohol and drugs - those "self-inflicted injuries" - can indeed be grinning, tempting demons - promising to make everything better - until they make everything worse.


The "impotent poor" were the ones the Elizabethans thought deserving of help, impotence here being physical; the crazy poor were something quite different. Has that attitude changed much, I wonder?


@Caro wrote:
The discussion of charity has focused on religious giving, but what about ordinary gifts to charity, or giving money to street people.  I give regularly to a few charities who send me envelops or phone me.  I don't think my reasons are particularly charitable and are probably more for my benefit than anyone else's.  I don't really bother about what happens to the money once it's left my cheque book. 


Interesting point - there must have been many charities in the past which were not organised by those of the religious persuasion. I'm trying to find out a bit more about the soup kitchens of the 1930s at the moment - I'm looking for my copy of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London which was published in 1933.  And, of course, many of those who pushed for a state welfare system were passionate and committed Socialists - and also passionate and committed atheists.

PS Re Robert Southey - he's remembered now mainly for his letter of advice to a young Charlotte Bronte (scroll down for the letter and her reply):

http://richbyrne.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/charlotte-bronte-and-robert-southey.html

PPS Just found this interesting piece on Orwell (Orwell v. God - a very Christian atheist):

http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/7009903/orwell-vs-god/

Orwell, then, presented Catholics as either stupid or blinkered, dishonest or self-deceived. Yet he was very far from denying the need for religion. In his opinion socialists were quite wrong to assume that when basic material needs had been supplied, spiritual concerns would wither away. ‘The truth,’ Orwell wrote in 1944, ‘is the opposite: when one’s belly is empty, one’s only problem is an empty belly. It is when we have got away from drudgery and exploitation that we shall really start wondering about man’s destiny and the reason for his existence. One cannot have any worthwhile picture of the future unless one realises how much we have lost by the decay of Christianity.’
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 10:08

PPPS  

In 1932, when he was teaching at Hayes in Middlesex, he fell in with the local curate, Ernest Parker, who was keenly concerned to help the unemployed. Writing to Brenda Salkeld, a clergyman’s daughter after whom he pined, Orwell described Parker as ‘a high Anglican, but not a creeping Jesus, and a very good fellow’. The letter continues: ‘I shall have to go to Holy Communion soon, hypocritical tho’ it is, because my curate friend is bound to think it funny if I always go to Church but never communicate… It seems rather mean to go to H.C. when one doesn’t believe, but I have passed myself off for pious & there is nothing for it but to keep up the deception.’

 Laughing
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 10:58

Atheists in any society where conventions and traditions are thoroughly immersed in religious mores face that dilemma all the time. It is a tad unfair to single Orwell out in that regard. We all have to choose our moments when rebellion against the standard is of negligible consequence and actually detrimental to our main argument. Likewise we have to choose when to conform for the same reason. Those of us who do not exercise this reserve risk being held by certain sanctimonious types in the same odium as you apparently reserve for Professor Richard Dawkins for example, who has apparently overstepped these bounds in your eyes and for that reason must no longer be judged on what he says but on how he says it. And none of us would want that, would we?

Orwell's view of socialism is much better represented by himself in the second half of "On The Road To Wigan Pier". If given a choice when trying to understand the man's views between reading his own well reasoned essay and the Conservative Party magazine's assessment linked to above I'd at least start with the former before I pronounced judgement.

Eric Blair's resentment of "isms" grew as he got older and his "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" mentality was grounded in the knowledge that much humanitarianism which had been falsely attributed to christian origin had at least been encouraged by certain christian organisations. He disliked the spurious ethics often traditionally employed in that exercise but did not deny the net benefit to society of it having been there. The newer "isms" of his day showed no sign of following suit in that regard and he was realistic enough to acknowledge that. However he had no love either for the flip-side of a system whereby humanitarianism went hand in hand with a requirement for sanctimoniousness and entrenched social hypocrisy, especially when christians claimed ownership of humanitarian concepts and credit for their origin and existence.

Orwell was also astute enough to know that charity (to get back to the subject) was a symptom of social ills, not a balm for them. In "Wigan Pier" he remarked; “A man receiving charity always hates his benefactor- it is a fixed characteristic of human nature” and wondered if therefore the policy of extending charity was not in fact actually an intentional ploy on the establishment's part (including the church) to preserve social inequality. In this he was intentionally echoing Thomas Hobbes' observation in "Of The Difference In Manners";  

To have received from one to whom we think ourselves equal greater benefits than there is hope to requite disposeth to counterfeit love, but really secret hatred; and puts a man into the estate of a desperate debtor that, in declining the sight of his creditor, tacitly wishes him there where he might never see him more. For benefits oblige, and obligation is thraldom, and unrequitable obligation perpetual thraldom, which is to one’s equal, hateful. But to have received benefits from one whom we acknowledge for superior inclines to love; because the obligation is no new depression: and cheerful acceptation which men call ‘gratitude,’ is such an honour done to the obliger as is taken generally for retribution. Also to receive benefits, though from an equal or inferior, as long as there is hope or requital, disposeth to love; for, in the intention of the receiver, the obligation is of aid and service mutual, from whence proceedeth an emulation of who shall exceed in benefiting, the most noble and profitable contention possible, wherein the victor is pleased with his victory, and the other revenged by confessing it.

Orwell's view was that Hobbes had in fact got it wrong. The extension of charity and the inclination to receive it encouraged and even imposed inequality. Hobbes had hoped to illustrate the subtle difference between what is one's right and what is one's privilege, both exacting a different type of cost on the individual in the pursuit of benefiting from either. Eric Blair's formative years in India however had shown him that "rights" and "privileges" meant nothing for the vast majority of people for whom simple survival was the principal preoccupation and who, in terms of cost, were the ones who ultimately paid for all in the end whether the meagre gain they received had been issued as charitable gift or systemic dole, the ultimate beneficiaries in material terms always being those at the top of the social structure regardless of which "ism" or faith that structure pretended to adopt.

To describe this cynical but realistic assessment of humanity as "christian", as the Spectator's journalist has done, is disingenuous. But then that word is one I find I often have to employ with regard to that particular organ's content.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 11:21

Oh dear, is that a (w)rap across my pious little knuckles with a ruler, Benevolent One?  Smile 

I actually like and respect Dawkins (certainly his intellect) - infuriating man - and I'm an enormous fan of George Orwell. I am clearly of the devil's party, knowing - if not always admitting - it too. My Church friends all realise my ambivalence; but in their genuine kindness they tolerate all my nonsense. My laughing emoticon put above after Orwell's admission of his pious hypocrisy was rueful -  as much for me as for him.

Any road up, to Wigan or otherwise, I'm off to my local food bank now - Sainsbury's - to stock up on expensive "Taste the Difference" victuals for the weekend.

PS I am not a fan of The Spectator either, but I did think the article on Orwell was interesting.

PPS  I have read The Road to Wigan Pier by the way.


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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 11:29

Doesn't the idea of lack of "charity" coming back to bite one in the after-life pre-date Christianity?  I'm sure I read somewhere (actually I think it was on the notes of a "Pentangle" LP; I was quite a fan back in the day) that the traditional poem The Lyke-Wake Dirge contained ideas from before Christianity.  There is something therein to the effect that if the departing soul has to pass over thorns and if the owner of the soul had given shoes to those in need there would be shoes to put on to save him/her from the thorns but (and I hope I am quoting correctly here - just going from memory) .."if hosen and shoon thou ne'er gavest nane, the withies shall prick thee to the bare bane".

"Charity" is always going to be a difficult subject matter.  People with adequate funds can give to charity as a tax "write-off" and seem generous but the donation will not have cost them so very much.  But then it would be wrong of me to say that wealthy people who give to charity do so for the wrong reasons (there are after all some who do so anonymously).  When collections are made from time to time at the church I attend, the speakers concentrate on the here and now rather than "pie in the sky". The emphasis is on trying to get funds to help people who are in need rather than telling people that if they donate it will be good for their souls. There was a collection after Hurricane Hyundai (sp??) and I do appreciate there were many collections at the time, largely by secular organisations.  The guidance - if one decides to donate - as far as I understand it is that one should donate according to one's means but strong arm tactics are not used.  There are sometimes "fund raisers" for good causes.

Having said that I feel a bit guilty because I hate "Children in Need".  It is a grey area because I realise the event does raise copious funds for good causes but I hate the circus that the event has become and have issues with the rich and famous trying to get Joe Public to donate.  The fact that I hate it (and have not watched it for years) makes me feel petty, but I can't help it, I still hate it.


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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 11:35

Well, I always wanted to shoot Bono - posing about in his cowboy boots and his sunspecs.




http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/01/19/the-hypocrisy-of-the-filthy-rich/

But then, judge not and you shall not be judged, and all that. None us here is exactly rushing out to sell all her/his goods to give to the poor: I am certainly not. But then again, where Bono is concerned we could make an exception. Bono has his own priest - Father Jack or someone: Lord knows how much a year he gets for advising Bono on his spiritual concerns.


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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 12:34

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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 14:11

None us exactly go and give all our goods to the poor.


But wasn't that more of a challenge to the young man to demonstrate his devotion and seriousness in his intention to follow JC rather than an instruction to help them?

I'm afraid that I tend to think that organised religion, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, sees the poor, along with the sick, disabled, dying and generally disadvantaged, more as fodder for the redemption of the faithful than as intrinsically deserving of help. It is the benefit to the giver rather than to the recipient that seems to matter most, perfectly exemplified by that awful old woman, Teresa, taking in the dying but not offering any medical help so she might accrue brownie points.
It's charity without empathy that chills.
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 14:45




Christopher Hitchens' programme on Mother Teresa.

To be honest, if I were I dying I wouldn't want either Mother Teresa or Christopher Hitchens hovering around me. Both chill me to the bone. Course they are both dead now.


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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 16:52

That's a bit (well more than a bit) of a sweeping generalisation against thousands of people working in the most deprived communities world wide simply because they happen to be Roman Catholic? I dare say some are in it to score' brownie points', just as much as a great many people genuinely want to help those in need.

But the same could be said of all organised charities and christian faiths for that matter.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 17:48

I wasn't referring to the individuals who do do such work for the best of motives, ID, but the religious organisations and hierarchies, the ones that mouth platitudes about how suffering enriches both the sufferer and those who minister to them. It can sometimes seem that they think that those benighted by poverty and disease are here to allow the godly to express their goodness and compassion rather than a shame on the rest of us. It's the same mindset that considers that avoiding the sin of contraception or safeguarding the immortal soul of a group of cells has precedence over the well being of an exhausted mother and her already struggling children.
I know I'm taking this to extremes but, didn't Christ say that the cost of that expensive unguent was better expended on him than the poor? After all, the poor are with us always - now if that isn't defeatist, I don't know what is.



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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 18:25

@ferval wrote:

I know I'm taking this to extremes but, didn't Christ say that the cost of that expensive unguent was better expended on him than the poor? After all, the poor are with us always - now if that isn't defeatist, I don't know what is.


Ah, but just think, ferval; if Christ hadn't said that, we wouldn't have had Caravaggio's picture of the Penitent Magdalene. You can see the flask of "expensive unguent" bottom left. Nothing like a bit of suffering to get people to see the truth (whatever that is). In AA (drunks' club, not the automobile group) they call it "the gift of desperation".

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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 19:21

Oh Temp, now you've discovered the flaw in all my anti-religious rantings (sorry about how bitter I sound, I have no direct personal experience to blame, the reverse really). Where would we be without the cultural artefacts spawned by all the world's belief systems? The temples of consumerism don't measure up nor do advertising jingles, and poster hoardings just ain't up to Cara-bloody-vagio.
And we wouldn't have had Rev although in compensation we wouldn't have had Dibley inflicted on us either.

I shall now shut up, any room under your stone?
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 19:34

Quote :

I'm afraid that I tend to think that organised religion, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular, sees the poor, along with the sick, disabled, dying and generally disadvantaged, more as fodder for the redemption of the faithful than as intrinsically deserving of help.  [[system is playing up - ferval's quote ends here]]

I (LiR) have the problem that I can't separate my words from ferval's quote above.  What I wanted to say was I hope I'm not like that, ferval, though of course it is not for me to tell you what to think; the freedoms we now enjoy were hard won by the common man and woman (and I'm not thinking of religious freedom there but of the freedom to express oneself).  It may be different in countries where Catholicism is a majority religion but the Catholic Church in England is going through somewhat straitened circumstances at present, I suppose because so many people who once belonged to it have left.  I know many people became disenchanted when the sexual misdemeanors towards children by some priests came out into the open.  But then not every Catholic priest was a pervert though there is no convincing some folk.  In my hometown there used to be three Catholic parishes between three priests - there still are three parishes but one priest has to be responsible for two of the parishes and some of the Sunday masses have had to be cut out.  They are talking about closing the convent in my hometown also.  I'm not saying there have not been some ghastly Catholics in the past (and there probably still are some, just that I don't know them); I got the ruler when I was at primary school for dropping my mass card on the floor (accidentally).  The teacher in question tried to get me to say I had done it on purpose and I wouldn't which made her more vindictive.  But things have changed and (in my opinion at least) there are good and bad in all groups, people of all religions and of none.  Oh dear, ferval, I hope I don't sound like I'm "having a go" - that isn't my intention, just to state how I perceive things though you obviously see them differently, so I guess we have to agree to disagree.
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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 20:55

@Temperance wrote:
To be honest, it's staggering - and terrifying - to hear how quickly people's lives can fall apart

While it may be terrifying - it is not staggering. Quite the reverse. It should be patently obvious how all of us (no matter how well off) are only a second away from an unforeseen crisis. This is precisely why qualities such as personal responsibility, restraint and reserve are so valued. The accumulative effect of a large number of people practicing such qualities is immeasurable for any society. It is the best possible insurance policy against adversity.

No community or society will be able to look after those who have fallen on bad times if the community itself is poor. A weak society is no good to anyone.

Just as the poor will always be us then so too will the rich. And just as it is absurd to blame all poverty on the moral failure of the poor then so too is it absurd to blame all poverty on the moral failure of the rich. There are degrees of poverty just are there are degrees of responsibility.

In a welfare state such as the UK there is no need for anyone to be begging abjectly on the streets. There are of course cases when the state can not provide. For example I used to have a work colleague whose child had a rare form of brain cancer. There was treatment available for that condition but needless to say it was cutting edge research medicine and was thus extremely expensive. The UK health service was unable to medically sanction the treatment or afford the expense. The centre of excellence in this field of research was in Pennsylvania. My colleague, therefore, regularly organised quizzes, raffles and other sponsored events to raise money so as to be able to afford the trip to America and the cost of the treatment. And although what they were doing was technically ‘begging’ we didn’t see it that way. And it certainly wasn’t abject begging. It was charitable fundraising and that is how it is rightly described.

When one considers how my colleague held down a full time job, earned a salary, paid their taxes and also found time to raise funds for a very sick child then it really does cause pause for thought. This is particularly so when one then considers another sort. That is the sort of 3rd generation unemployed person who, nevertheless, chooses not to exercise personal responsibility or self-restraint by having 1 or 2 children but instead thinks nothing of having 3, 4, 5 or even more offspring and all at the cost of the public purse. Considering this then one can well understand why after 60 years of mismanagement of the welfare state that public attitudes towards the UK’s reckless poor and public attitudes towards the UK’s feckless political class are indeed hardening.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sat 26 Apr 2014, 22:02

Your colleague behaved commendably, Vizzer, and I really mean that. Yet what if your colleague was a product of this class you call "third generation unemployed" and had suffered the same misfortune regarding their child's health? How realistic would it be to expect them, however many good intentions they might have in that regard, to so successfully contribute through their own efforts to the cost of the child's medical needs? Your point about the "reckless poor" is well made and difficult to gainsay in the face of so much evidence that such a person indeed exists in society today, but I think one must be very careful before one either generalises or condemns attitudes cast in the furnace of socially imposed lack of opportunity, especially over generations.

I am not an apologist for freeloaders, coming as I am from just such a disadvantaged class and knowing the real harm such people end up inflicting not just on society in general but mostly in fact on those immediately around them. I do however stop short of outright condemnation of their attitude, having seen at first hand growing up just where its true nascency lies.

This is a thread ostensibly about attitudes towards the notion and function of charity historically. Like Orwell I too see it as a self-perpetuating necessity in a badly managed society in which the distribution of assets and resources does not match the actual pattern of merit and ability evident in that society's membership and how they deport themselves in the face of life's challenges. But the realist in me inclines me to be charitable to those who participate in this perpetuation, be they donor or recipient at any given time. Like you I reserve my condemnation for the exploitative people who reap inordinate benefit from abusing this system, but unlike you I extend that definition well beyond those who fail to put brakes on their fecundity or who otherwise place demands on the "public purse" due to misadventure, bad education or even sheer "fecklessness". In my experience it is those who control that other purse, the one which far exceeds the public one and which is anything but public itself, who deserve as much if not more the finger pointed at them and yet are rarely even mentioned when the subject of real "fecklessness" arises.

On the subject of religiously motivated charity I will only say that I think everyone seems to agree that charity extended with absolutely no strings attached and no obligation expected on the part of the beneficiary would appear to be what we all would call charity in its purest form. After that then the devaluation and baseness of the act increases with every imposed condition until in the end it isn't even charity at all, simply a purchase on the part of the "donor". In that spectrum ranging from ultra-altruism to infra-dig religions occupy a rather broader swathe than they really should, especially those professing altruism as a virtue worth doing for its own sake. I am inclined to agree with ferval when it appears that the true motivation of many religious people in this regard has seemingly less to do with enabling or empowering the disadvantaged in society and more to do with their own notions of godliness and salvation. And as long as the spectrum's huge middle ground is so vastly populated by people with this mentality then it is actually in their interest to ensure such levels of disadvantage are perpetuated. In that light "the poor will always be with us" beloved of Christian theologians is not so much simply a crass observation of society designed to buttress a spurious philosophical platitude but a social directive veering dangerously close to an absolute order.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 02:22

Many thanks to all who have contributed to this thread. It's certainly given me much to think about.

I'm sorry if it's become all about religion rather than about history - inevitable, I suppose.

Ralph McTell released this in 1969 - a whole generation then was determined to change the world. Seems we failed.

PS Vizzer - I can only agree with most of what nordmann has written above: as ever, he has expressed it more eloquently than I could have done.



Last edited by Temperance on Sun 27 Apr 2014, 06:58; edited 1 time in total
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 05:07

@nordmann wrote:
This is a thread ostensibly about attitudes towards the notion and function of charity historically. Like Orwell I too see it as a self-perpetuating necessity in a badly managed society in which the distribution of assets and resources does not match the actual pattern of merit and ability evident in that society's membership and how they deport themselves in the face of life's challenges. But the realist in me inclines me to be charitable to those who participate in this perpetuation, be they donor or recipient at any given time. Like you I reserve my condemnation for the exploitative people who reap inordinate benefit from abusing this system, but unlike you I extend that definition well beyond those who fail to put brakes on their fecundity or who otherwise place demands on the "public purse" due to misadventure, bad education or even sheer "fecklessness". In my experience it is those who control that other purse, the one which far exceeds the public one and which is anything but public itself, who deserve as much if not more the finger pointed at them and yet are rarely even mentioned when the subject of real "fecklessness" arises.


Can't help but agree with this, but the victims (as ever) cop the blame possibly because they are the visible ones? Or is it just easier than bothering to look for the real reasons? Or is it fear that it could very well be them one day, because Viz said one thing I can agree with and that is that we're all living on the knife edge and in many cases that buffer zone between comfort and destitution that we can smugly pride ourselves in having, is just an illusion.

Anyway, I swore I wasn't going to get involved in this thread. Living in a country where wages have been reduced by 40% whilst expenses have tripled within the last 4 years, unemployment has tripled combined with the fact that there are no unemployment benefits or medical care for the unemployed, nor are there charity shops or the various groups like meals on wheels et al. I find it hard to feel a lot of compassion for the UK brand of 'deprivation', nor the thought of donating a couple of quid to a large charity organisation and feeling (where it usually won't even reach those to which it is intended) as if you've done your bit.

The church in Greece is feeding 250,000 people a day in one state alone, all families who only a few years ago were like you and me, working and middle class who had jobs, a roof over their heads, a car in the garage, food on the table and some savings in the bank. And quite frankly I couldn't give two figs if the church handing out that charity is Orthodox or Catholic or Anglican or Hare bloody Krishna nor can I see how it matters what their true motives are for doing it. At the very least they are doing something.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 10:24

Spoken like a true Orwellian, ID. Wigan in the 1930s shared much with the circumstances pertaining in Greece at the present time and he concluded the same.

On the subject of "deprivation" in contemporary British society however it is worth noting that there is at present a suspiciously coordinated attempt being conducted through the popular media to characterise this chiefly as a systematic abuse of the welfare state by a sort of "underclass" whose principles are non-existent and capacity to injure society as yet unchecked - a "threat" in other words to the well-being and stability of the majority. However it does not take much research beyond the superficial to see that the disintegration of this stability and the evaporation of state-assisted well-being is being driven by factors and groups of people who have nothing whatsoever to do with this so-called underclass at all. It would be tempting to call it ironical that those currently worst affected by this disintegration of social guarantees are being enthusiastically encouraged to blame this nebulous class of freeloaders until, that is, one remembers that old historical phrase beloved of those in power intent on daylight robbery; "divide and conquer".
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 10:39

@nordmann wrote:
 In that spectrum ranging from ultra-altruism to infra-dig religions occupy a rather broader swathe than they really should, especially those professing altruism as a virtue worth doing for its own sake. I am inclined to agree with ferval when it appears that the true motivation of many religious people in this regard has seemingly less to do with enabling or empowering the disadvantaged in society and more to do with their own notions of godliness and salvation. And as long as the spectrum's huge middle ground is so vastly populated by people with this mentality then it is actually in their interest to ensure such levels of disadvantage are perpetuated. In that light "the poor will always be with us" beloved of Christian theologians is not so much simply a crass observation of society designed to buttress a spurious philosophical platitude but a social directive veering dangerously close to an absolute order.


Could I just point out that the word "enabling" - which nordmann has used above as synonymous with "empowering" -  has been used in a quite different sense by me. In psychobabblespeak, "enabling" is a negative thing. "Enabling" an alcoholic, an addict, or any other such reckless 'n' feckless useless loser (being ironic), means allowing them - giving them the means - to carry on exactly as before, usually out of what the helper, the "rescuer", or partner in a codependent relationship likes to call "love". It isn't love at all, but is all about what the giver is trying to get - unhealthy indeed for all concerned.

I don't think Christ was a mixed-up codependant: the love He offers causes change for the better, not stagnation and further misery and wallowing. Yes, Christians muck it up all the time - who doesn't? But Christ's love is a tough love and is not to be sneered at. Get busy living or get busy dying, as they put it in Shawshank Redemption. And His teaching was not a load of crass, spurious platitudes.

Ferval - Tom Hollander was on the Andrew Marr Show earlier this morning. When asked about all this he said we have to believe in the idea of love (of the vaguely Christian sort) because the alternative "is despair". I go along with that wholeheartedly.

I'm shutting up now and going back under my stone - it is a nice, roomy stone, so feel free to visit any time you want. I won't preach, honest, and will share all my victuals.

Here endeth this morning's lesson.


Last edited by Temperance on Sun 27 Apr 2014, 12:01; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Missed a capital H off "love He offers".)
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 11:04

Temp wrote:
And His teaching was not a load of crass, spurious platitudes.

They are if they are presented as uncredited and out of context elements of Platonic and other borrowed philosophical concepts.

However that is beside the point. Just as the different interpretations of "enabling" as might exist are also beside the point. Within the context of my point I meant "infer or impart an ability otherwise not present" and that, I would have thought, was obvious.

To be honest whether "He" (why the capital?) meant what he said or even didn't say it at all is immaterial in this discussion. So too is whether Christians "muck it up" or not. The issue is one that is way bigger than any of that. Poverty and the need for charity transcends such considerations and it is far more than "Christians" who "muck it up" in this regard. Orwell, ID and myself all seem to concur in this matter (not a frequent alignment, I don't think) - when it comes down to a real threat to one's survival then such considerations are less than meaningless, to be considered and argued mainly by people who can enjoy the luxury of doing so. However charity in the sense of altruistic gestures designed to forestall calamity for others will continue and continue to be absolutely vital long after such quibbling has accompanied the quibblers to their own ultimate private calamities. Its roots, and the roots of its necessity, predate such esoteric considerations, have patently not been resolved by them, and we can assume will outlive them - unless of course they are addressed and resolved at the level at which they actually exist; that which makes us human, not religious.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 12:26

I mentioned the meaning of the word "enabling" as it is used in counselling books simply because I thought people might be confused by the way I have used it on this thread and elsewhere. That's all.

I very much regret that so much of what I try to say here is so obviously "beside the point". I'm tempted to add "perhaps we should submits drafts to you for approval before we post"? Such a comment, however, would be ungracious and indicative of the sad fact that I am losing my temper here - usually a sure sign that I am also losing an argument.

I need to relax, take my high blood pressure medication and then have a some refreshing 1706 tea from my "Keep Calm and Quibble On" mug.

I shall then read Bishop John Spong's advice on how to deal charitably with those you would like to hit over the head with a (heavy) Bible - or even a copy of My Big Book of Bloody Plato.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: As Cold as Charity?   Sun 27 Apr 2014, 12:41

For Plato charity was one expression of a person's innate sense of justice, a sense that the individual was obliged to educate and encourage - a much more laudable motive I would suggest than personal salvation in a supposed afterlife or pursuit of a "feel good factor" in this one. Plato also maintained that there would always be people less fortunate or in worse straits than yourself - the bit that found its way into christianity as "the poor will always be with us" - but for him the seeking of justice was not confined to mere believers in any faith or contingent on any belief in any particular deity, it was a universal truth that applied to all individuals and placed the same responsibilities on all of them too, regardless of where in the pecking order of social status they found themselves.

Look it up in your "Big Book of Bloody Plato" - it sits in the same paragraphs as Wisdom, Courage and (irony of ironies) Temperance. Harmony of the soul depended on these elements finding expression internally and externally. Charity falls in the latter category. In Plato's perfect world where everyone faces up to their personal and social responsibilities charity can ultimately be confined to simple acceptance of others since the harmony is universal. In the meantime in our imperfect world it requires more fundamentally practical expression. This is essentially a humanist standpoint, not a religious one.
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