Posts tagged with: charity

Peter Greer has spent his life doing good, from serving refugees in the Congo to leading HOPE International, a Christian-based network of microfinance institutions operating in 16 countries around the world. Yet as Greer argues in his latest book, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, “service and charity have a dark side.”

The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, Peter Greer

Pointing to a study by Fuller Seminary’s Dr. J. Robert Clinton, Greer notes that “only one out of three biblical leaders maintained a dynamic faith that enabled them to avoid abusing their power or doing something harmful to themselves and others.” From King David’s power trip with Bathsheba and Uriah to Jonah’s end-of-life anger and selfishness, the Bible is filled with examples of self-destruction amid service.

“When I looked to Scripture for guidance, what I found troubled me,” Greer writes. “Men and women who had heard from God—who even performed amazing miracles—were just as likely to blow it as everyone else.”

And alas, in all of our discussions about how to best serve our neighbors, how often do we focus on surface-level externalities to the neglect of the human heart? How often do we narrow down our “metrics for success” to exclude any discussion or contemplation about the motivations driving our actions or the potential for pitfalls along the way? (more…)

Adam CartwrightIn this week’s Acton Commentary, I adapt a section from my latest book focusing on an instance of “cowboy compassion” we find in an episode of Bonanza. I focus on the example of Adam Cartwright, who helps out an economically-depressed family faced with the tyranny of a greedy scrooge, Jedediah Milbank.

There are many reasons to appreciate Bonanza, even if it is a product of its times, as in the stereotypical portrayal of Hop Sing, for instance. I also mention another favorite western of mine, Have Gun–Will Travel, in which Paladin functions as a kind of one-man A-Team. But this show, too, traffics a bit in the well-worn caricature of Asians, as the only other semi-regular appearing character is a Chinese bellhop known as “Hey Boy” (as in, “Hey, boy, come over here and pick up this suitcase.”).

But we have something to learn from such shows, warts and all. In the case of Bonanza, I think we have a kind of libertarian-cowboy in black, who no doubt wore “the black for the poor and the beaten down,” a man firmly committed to wedding together liberty and love.

As I conclude, “We can get our hands dirty by grubbing for money,” or as in the case of Adam Cartwright, “we can get them dirty by helping fix a broken well.”

Read more in Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) and “The ‘Cowboy Compassion’ of the Cartwrights.”

Helping Hands sculpture, Mandela Gardens, Leeds - DSC07707Earlier this week, Elise noted an essay by Rev. Schall, which asked, “Do Christians Love Poverty?”

Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter also responded to the piece, with the comment, “Almost everything about this essay is obnoxious.”

But I think Winters really misses the central insight of Schall’s piece, which really is an Augustinian point:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

Thus Augustine explores the implications of such “spiteful benevolence,” which I understand to be the basic point of Schall’s piece. Schall therefore wonders, “Do Christians love poverty as such, as a positive good? Do they want people to be poor so that they can be loveable?”

The spiritual danger of a love for others turning into a lust for dominating power is a real one, even if Winters doesn’t acknowledge it. What Augustine and Schall are really looking for is an attitude toward help that humanizes, one that doesn’t foster dependency in order to keep people in a state of misery, intentionally or not, directly or indirectly. This reality is the kind of loving help that the doctrine of subsidiarity is supposed to engender.

One of the implications of this insight that there is spiritual danger in doing good is that we should always be asking whether our helping is actually hurting.

Blog author: adeleon
Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A common lesson that many of us were taught in grammar school was what defined an ‘opposite.’ As children we learn that hot and cold are antonyms; as are bad and good, living and dead, love and hate. One statement that I recently heard challenged a childhood preconception of mine. It declared that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

If we think about what indifference is, we soon see that it is in stark opposition to love. To be neither hot nor cold toward a person in need is quite a horrific thing. It involves a lackadaisical attitude where we fail to see human beings as individual persons made in the image and likeness of God. If I have a neighbor down the street and do not care if his family is treated unjustly I am acting in an egocentric way. I am being indifferent and not – loving my neighbor as myself.

This idea troubled me and I began to wonder what ways I was acting indifferently toward others. My first thoughts were about homeless men and women whom I had ignored on the street. This notion shifted once again as I began to think not about whom I had ignored, but the reason behind why I had ignored them. I found two reasons.

The first had to do with my resources. I am a recent graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and an intern at the Acton Institute who has more debt than money to his name. Since I am not able to fully provide for myself I can only offer a bit of pocket money or volunteer from time to time. Because my resources are limited, my ability to help is limited.

The second reason, I am ashamed to say, is that I do not always take beggars at their word. I find that I am more likely to believe a man who is asking for gas money than a man who is looking to buy food. This may seem judgmental at first, however I do find that there is a logical reason behind my rationale. (more…)

I recently wrote on the implications of “pathological altruism,” a term coined by Oakland University’s Barbara Oakley to categorize altruism in which “attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.”

In a segment from the PovertyCure series, HOPE International’s Peter Greer offers a good example of how this can play out, particularly in and through various outreaches of the church:

Oakley’s paradigm depends on whether such harm can be “reasonably anticipated,” and as Greer’s story indicates, far too often the church isn’t anticipating much at all. Ship the stuff, check the box, and sing our merry songs. (more…)

Many of you know Jay Richards from his regular lecturing at Acton University. He has a newly co-authored piece in The Daily Caller, “Enterprise is the most ‘effective altruism.’” There’s more to be said on the complex issue of helping the poor than can be put in a single op-ed, of course, but there’s some great food for thought here, particularly for those who view business and markets as necessarily part of the problem. Jay and Anne Bradley use the example of Microsoft to explain the confusion:

The Gates Foundation has saved an estimated 5 million lives thus far. But we rarely hear of the countless lives saved or improved by the profit-seeking activities of Microsoft…. One effect is the Foundation itself. To be able to start such a large aid organization, Bill Gates first had to be a successful entrepreneur. As a philanthropist, Gates is not “giving back” to the world, as if he had taken from it in the first place. His philanthropic giving is possible only because he first “gave” as an entrepreneur.

… Microsoft succeeded only because they provided value for hundreds of millions of people. Gates had to meet the needs of his customers … And to stay ahead, he had to invest wisely rather than consume or give away all the profits.

"Help me help you."

“Help me help you.”

Yesterday in conjunction with this week’s Acton Commentary I looked at Tim Riggins’ gift of freedom to his brother and the corresponding sense of responsibility that resulted. When Tim takes the rap for Billy, Billy has a responsibility to make something of his life. As Tim puts it, that’s the “deal.”

When Tim feels that Billy hasn’t lived up to his end, it causes conflict. Tim’s gift has created an obligation for the recipient. This reality is on clearest display in this exchange between the two brothers:

Billy: “How long are you going to hold it over my head, man?”

Tim: “The rest of my life if I feel it needs to be.”

This hints at the shadow-side of much of our gift-giving as human beings, as this good thing can be turned into a way of manipulating, controlling, or holding “it over” someone.

Consider these words about Augustine and their implications for the kinds of gift-giving that we ought to pursue:

A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about. If such a thing as spiteful benevolence existed (which is impossible, of course, but supposing it did), a genuinely and sincerely merciful person would wish others to be miserable so that he could show them mercy!

The “spiteful benevolence” that drives much gift giving is actually intended to keep the recipient in a state of dependence, in a relationship that gives power to the giver which can be lorded over others. This, I think, is actually one of the key dynamics of much of the modern international aid movement. Aid can become a tool of a kind of neo-colonial policy.

It is this debased and corrupted form of gift-giving that has led so many to the extreme position which argues that true gifts require no response and inspire no responsibility. But as I argue this week, this abuse of the reality of gift is no argument against its proper use: “The connection between gift and gratitude invigorates a life of stewardship and responsibility.”