Friday, July 30, 2004

charity II

This is a continuation of my post on charity and begging.

Something I passed over fairly briefly is what I view as the immorality of giving money to these people. Giving money to drug addicts is not only not charity, it is actually immoral. This is probably controversial, so I want to explain why I feel this way.

First of all, let's dispense with the idea that we do this for noble reasons. If you think that beggars take your money and use it to buy food or get a hotel room or use a laundry mat, then this doesn't apply to you. If you see a person who is down on his luck and you give him ten dollars to help him out, that's actual charity. That's love. Ten dollars is an actual sacrifice, and your motive is good. You are thinking of how your gift will effect the other person rather than how it will effect you. If you think that way, then don't read any more of this article because God has blessed you with a wonderful innocence and I don't want to take that away.

For the rest of us, we know better, don't we? We know that this money isn't going to do anything to actually help the person. When we give a dollar to a beggar, we aren't thinking of the beggar's needs, we are thinking of our own. No one likes a dirty, smelly, drunk stranger coming up to them on the street and talking to them (Most of us aren't thrilled about clean, perfumed, sober strangers talking to us on the street). When a beggar assails you in this way, the quickest way to get rid of him is to give him a dollar. This is the real reason for handing over the money. It's a purely selfish act. We do it for our own comfort.

Now, we can give ourselves a break and admit that there is a little more to it than this. We do feel sorry for the guy. We would like to help him out in an abstract sort of way. Not enough to actually sacrifice to do it, but we'd vaguely like to see him doing better. So that dollar isn't only a bribe to make him go away, it's also a token of our good will. A wish that he weren't so pathetic.

In this way, giving a dollar to a beggar is similar to sending condolences to someone who has lost a friend. It's a nice thought, but it's practically free. It's a social event. It helps to build and maintain community. It's a good thing. But it's not really an act of love. Love requires effort and sacrifice.

Given in this spirit, that dollar may actually benefit the beggar. You can make him feel like he is worthwhile. Give him a moment of self-respect. Let the dollar represent your concern for him as a fellow human being. But if this is your motive, you can't just hand it over without making eye contact and hurry off. You have to stop. You have to talk to him. Ask him how he's doing. Put your hand on his filthy shoulder and tell him you hope he spends the money wisely because you care what happens to him. That would be love.

I'm rather surprised at that last paragraph. I isn't what I intended to write. I'm going to have to think about this some more before I go on writing on the subject.

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