Love Never Ends, So How Could A Just Society Bring An End To Charity?

I have heard it said by many people that if the government provides for the needs of society through its social services, there will no longer be any need for charity. Yet, we are called to charity, and therefore, we must not allow governments to interfere in our acts of charity. There is something very mixed up with this notion. It is perverting the very nature of charity, twisting it in a way to make sure there will be people who are suffering, so that they can be the objects of our good will. We are being told we cannot wish for a more just society because if such a society exists, charity will vanish.

But this cannot be the case, can it?

What exactly is the aim of charity but love? Love can be manifest in many ways; when someone is in dire straights, love seeks to help them out of it. But that is not all love seeks for them. Indeed, does a husband or wife love their family less after they have provided for their family’s needs? Certainly not! If we would not look at our family relationship in this way, why do we look at the world in this fashion?

We have been trained to see charity in an economic fashion. And, sad to say, many people have picked up on this and use it to their own benefit. In this way, charity has become subverted, so it is no longer about love; it has rather become one of many consumer goods, able to be bought and sold like any other. And like many consumer goods, it is becomes a mixed product, where one buys some charity will buying something for oneself. There are so many goods in which the price is higher in order to provide for some charity. But does that not make a joke out of charity? It turns charity into a side product of fulfilling one’s selfish desires.

Slavoj Žižek examines this notion well in many of his works; one recent example he likes to mention is with Starbucks coffee. They have turned charity into big business. They know people seek to satisfy their ethical urges as much as their thirst. So they bring the two together, suggesting that by buying a cup of their coffee, you are doing more than buying a cup of coffee for yourself, but you are helping everyone who has been involved in the process of bringing that coffee to you. “The ‘cultural’ surplus here is spelled out: the price is higher than elsewhere since what you are really buying is the ‘coffee ethic’ which includes care for the environment, social responsibility toward the producers, plus a place where you yourself can participate in communal life (from the very beginning Starbucks presented its coffee shops as an ersatz community).”[1] What we are being told is that our ethical desires are also goods to be bought and sold, and indeed, goods which can be mixed with other goods, so that we can feel smug in our consumption.[2]

While there might be some help being done in this system (and any such help is good, even if done badly), we must ponder what exactly is going on here. It seems a good (charity) is being perverted to help keep an abusive system in place. Is this not exactly how evil works? It uses a good for a perverted end, thus living on the good itself as a parasite (because evil cannot have any existence in itself but only on the corruption of a good).

In this way, the question asked, “If we change the system, whence charity?” seems to be a temptation being used to keep the system in place by perverting what charity is about and what it seeks for others. In the present system, this means charity has become a reified consumer good. The people who profit are not the ones who need help, but the ones who make sure they need the help. Businesses use this ideology to keep everything as it is, to keep everything in place, while creating an illusion that people are doing something substantial for others. Charity has been reduced to an economic tool. Love has been reduced to money. Economic materialism is not just a problem for communism, but for capitalism as well.

Christians should know better. It is a Satanic temptation to turn charity from an act of love with no end to an act which has a real final end.[3] But this is not what charity will ever be. Charity is caritas, love; to act in charity is to follow the dictates of love. Charity seeks for the betterment of others; in doing so, it recognizes that the most immediate need should be taken care of first (food, shelter, clothing, health, quality of life, etc). If these are taken care of, this does not diminish the need for charity: it provides room for greater forms of charity, for greater forms of love.

Footnotes


[1] Slavoj Žižek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (London: Verso, 2009), 53-4.

[2] Jesus however suggests a different attitude towards charity. “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you”(Matthew  6:2-4).

[3] “Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1Corinthians 13:8-13).

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