Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When Charity and Kindness Are Wasted

It's been a while, but I got some inspiration and churned the bulk of this before I left a family reunion (lovely things, aren't they?)

You tend to hear how good Christian people are the ones most concerned about the wellbeing of those less fortunate, sending out gift boxes and the like to people in impoverished areas of the world, such as through Samaritan’s Purse.

But, to be blunt, I feel like such acts of kindness are less than effective in the long run, same as witnessing through evangelistic methods of talking to people about God’s love and the Gospel. Part of it is because they’re so infrequent, parodied in The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror 24, specifically in “Fat in the Hat”, with a line I find quite amusing and apropos. “Once a year, we are not hungry, thanks to Christian charity,” where seemingly homeless people at a table are fed the meat of Mr. Burns in buzzard form and immediately spitting it out.

In other words, when you try to be devout, but don’t live out charity in terms of your religious beliefs except when it’s brought to your attention, you’re being an awful person, and I don’t regret saying that in spite of your good intentions, as I’ll address.

“But, Jared,” you might object, “These people are giving hope and love to those who have very little, who are suffering under oppressive regimes. It shouldn’t matter that they’re motivated by religion or not, should it?”

Well, my concern isn’t purely the religious motivation, though that’s part of it in that the consideration they have is short sighted and self aggrandizing more than anything genuinely humble and charitable in the legitimate sense the bible speaks of. A poor woman giving up all the money she has while a rich man gives a pittance is an example in the Gospel that Jesus uses to talk about how those who have much and give little aren’t really representative of God’s love.  

When you spend maybe 5-10% of your annual income, if even that, on putting together these gift boxes and the best you can say is that you put in hard work, that’s the same kind of logic that keeps people in wage slavery. The idea that you can work so hard for so little isn’t considered acceptable, is it? So why is it fine when someone wipes some sweat off their brow after putting in work for Operation Christmas Child and then doesn’t have to worry about feeding their family or having central heat or plumbing compared to those they send these paltry gifts to?

Giving someone hope is not a justification to do something in a half-hearted fashion, even if you posit that in the long term it’ll be better, because those people will know about the Gospel through those “Christian” gift boxes. But do you really think that’s what these people want? Isn’t it more virtuous to give out of the kindness of your heart rather than out of an obligation to a deity’s command to do so in order to appease it and make yourself seem more pious? And isn’t it better to change the infrastructure through advocacy rather than just trying to fit something through cracks in a vastly broken system?

Atheist charities exist, but they’re not promoted as much because of people likely not thinking they’re worth the time because they don’t get as much success in shipping out hundreds or even thousands of boxes to places like embattled third world countries in Eastern Europe or communist dictatorships in Southeast Asia. But that’s a battle of numbers, which isn’t something that should be waged in the pursuit of charity and generosity, now should it?

When my middle class family thinks more about their own bills and how to save money on getting dime store quality items for children in need, it makes me see them as hypocritical in caring more about their own standard of living and not undermining it rather than truly putting effort into being kind to children that have so little.

 But worse than that, they also seek to maintain a façade of being good Christians who are generous and care about the poor and reflect Jesus’ love by sending cheap Tupperware containers of items they get on sale from stores that sell off brand merchandise and toys that break within a few weeks because they cost less than what you paid for them in production.  How does it speak to kindness in the true sense when you just shop around for deals to buy in bulk and ship them off to people who work themselves to the bone to manage even a tiny bit of the profit you enjoy in a bloated American economy?

Does it really affect change? Perhaps in some particular manner of people being encouraged over their lifetimes, as there are stories regarding people being inspired by the gifts and becoming better people, succeeding in their present.

But the source shouldn’t matter, nor should it be about spreading a fundamentalist Christian Dominionist message of Jesus loving you and the rest of the world being two faced traitors unless they really believe in the crucified Messiah and his message or some variation thereof.

It should be about being kind to people and sharing the plenty that we in America have and arguably are obliged to an extent to share with those less fortunate. You earned your money, sure, but to say you aren’t remotely privileged in American society to have the money you do with your hard work is hopelessly naïve and even insulting to those you supposedly care about to say that they don’t deserve your money, because that’d just be a handout.

This comes out of the same Republican mindset that says welfare in America is just a nanny state that creates codependency. They don’t see a conflict in saying that and then giving what are basically handouts anyway to internationally impoverished citizens under some rationale of America as a superpower.

A similar sort of attitude manifests in speaking such anguish about how children suffer in gangs or how other problems in society are so terrible and yet seem to do little action in regards to actually working towards change, just talking about how bad they are and leaving it at that.

If all you have is empty platitudes, then it’s the same kind of sanctimonious drivel that makes people regard religion as little more than lip service to appear socially acceptable to an in-group that you want to ingratiate yourself to.

When all you can manage is showing some iota of sentimentality about the plights of those who don’t have the opportunities you do or didn’t work hard enough or just didn’t have your upbringing, then the change you affect is hollow, if at all. Saying that you want to help kids should start after you have the sadness at them suffering, moving to action for education reform or genuine charity and not just the general appearance of putting in work but not making the sacrifice. Same logic applies to sending out boxes of low cost items to people who aren’t so stupid as to not realize the low quality of what they get, but take it because they don’t have any other choice.

All you manage to do is put a shiny new coat of paint on the peeling infrastructure of something you do nothing about 90% of the year.

It sounds terrible coming from me, a black sheep atheist in my family, who’s seemingly regarded as someone that can be tolerated until they start expressing controversial opinions to their homeschooled children, because that might corrupt them into thinking for themselves (what a terrible thing to use free will that your god gave you…).

But I don’t make some sappy saccharine maudlin act that I care about people to get people to approve of me or see me as some bastion of morality. I do it because I care and want to try to help in some way, even if it’s just through dialogue and discussion, but still getting across that all talk and no action is the worst kind of apathy, even if you sound like you care. I’m not great at making a significant change in the world yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t communicate things to those who can.

Until next time, Namaste and aloha