Charity is a Sin

charity

Few acts in our society are sheltered from critical thought more than the modern charity. Every grocery store, coffee shop, and corporate environment attempts to blend charitable giving into its sales pitch to levels more perverse than we’ve ever seen; to consume is to be moral. To work long hours under this company is moral because the company gives to charity. It is OKAY to buy more, because with every purchase you are buying yourself a small piece of a Papal Indulgence of the modern era, a free pass to the gates of cognitive dissonance.

Nothing epitomizes this outrageous hypocrisy more than Starbucks. I cannot buy a cup of coffee without it being slathered in reassurances that everything from the cup to the coffee was procured in “100% ethically sourced” farms or driven by “fair trade.” Lest we forget that “every $0.05 made goes to charity,” as if I needed a reminder that I was buying overpriced goods. The cost of feeling morally superior is now $0.05 per cup.

Given that charity is so complex I want to make it clear which portions of the charity scheme I disagree with. Here are the main types, in my view

  1. International Systemic Sustenance Charity (give food to the poor in Africa)
  2. International Temporary Charity (give food to those afflicted by natural disaster in foreign nations, immunization efforts in foreign countries, etc)
  3. Domestic Systemic Sustenance Charity (give food to the poor in America)
  4. Domestic Systemic MISC charity (NPR, PBS, donating to an orchestra, etc.)
  5. Domestic Temporary Charity (give domestic aid to those afflicted by domestic natural disasters)

This post is primarily about the evils of systemic sustenance charity, that is, 1 & 3. I do not care about #4, and I agree with the necessity of #2 and #5. Back to #1 and #3, charity to sustain the life of another has extreme ideological ramifications for those who give it. And that’s what I would like to talk about here.

Charity Hides Evil

I challenge my readers to find significant examples of corporations who do not attempt to pressure its managers and employees into ‘giving’ to charity under their vanguard; so that the Walmart’s and Starbucks’ of the world can take credit for acts they so desperately need validation for. Starbucks cannot change the political environment of 3rd world nations, but they can justify their participation in this broken, exploitative, one sided political world by claiming it is ‘ethical’. A disturbing omission because if their behaviors were ethical, why would they feel compelled to give to charity in the first place? If we go back only 20-30 years ago, companies who didn’t give to charity wouldn’t be given a second glance. Nothing serious has changed since then, capitalism is still the same (profit margins are still high), but socially it is clear that to not give charity is extremely negative.

gratificationI’d feel better if a child’s life didn’t need ‘saving.’

But charity is not a shield. Giving to charity does not make you (or your company) morally superior, it does not make capitalism more or less ‘ethical’ and it does not afford you the justification to continue nonsensical consumption. Charity is something you buy to feel better about a world you must agree is broken. It’s as if, while you are incapable of impacting the political system of your nation, at least you can justify your way of life by sending 10 cents on every dollar you make to Africa. A form of reparations for your supposed continuous harm to the oppressed. It’s as if the slave masters wielding the whip give the slave $0.05 for every lash they deliver. Charity is therefore an admission of sin.

Charity is an excuse to perpetuate a system which you must wholly agree is unjust via the charitable act. And it is through this guise that I must argue, giving to charity and doing nothing else is a sign of a serious underlying ideological problem; clinging to two diametrically opposed thoughts which are reconciled by ‘doing your part’. They are

  1. I agree there exists an issue within society so broken and desperate that I need to expend my productive labor on temporarily alleviating the suffering caused by it.
  2. I seek to continue my way of life, within the framework of the society I exist. My way of live within this society may not be entirely moral, but it is superior to alternatives.

If you truly agree with #1, then you would not seek to continue your way of life the way it is currently. You would be driven to serious political change. That is, you would be incapable of accepting #2.

If you agree with #2 then you indeed believe there is nothing that can be done. Therefore it would be impossible to accept #1, for then you would be admitting that your world is broken and there are alternatives (give to charity!). But if it is broken and you have no willpower to change it, then is it truly broken? If you engage in #1 then clearly you believe that there are alternatives (throw money at the poor)!

imagesAnd by saving a dictator’s citizens lives by feeding them, I’m taking a huge problem off his hands. He can go back to screwing the country without fear of the starving masses.

And yet, most who give to charity agree with #1 and #2 simultaneously because charity has become the new orthodoxy of our era, it is an act immune from critical examination. It is an act that both affords a potential solution to underlying societal problems, and simultaneously blocks any effort to fix it because these issues are artificially hidden from public view by your donations. These donations satiate the poor and keep them quiet for another few years. But even worse than that, it makes them dependent on the giver for substance, rather than having them rise up from this oppression and take what is theirs.

Therefore I must say, those who give to charity, from a moral perspective, must be political activists. And there are some who are, that’s true, but given that around 75% of Americans claim to give to a secular charitable cause, then color me surprised when I don’t see riots in the streets of New York over America’s “fair trade” practices. Where is the political activism that charity so demands? It certainly isn’t seen in voter participation, or campaigning, or any serious local political behaviors; wake me up with local election participation is >20%.

Charity is Admission of Sin

If charity isn’t temporary solution to a serious, systemic problem as I argue it should be, then it must have some deeper meaning. I argue that charity is an ideological solution to the nearly conscious acknowledgement that your way of life is broken and all you can do, at most, is temporarily alleviate systemic suffering. To put it bluntly, to give to charity is to admit that your life causes permanent, serious damage to those living around you. It is an admission that your way of life is sinful.

We want to feel the satisfaction of knowing that every $0.05 of my $3.00 coffee goes to helping the ‘poor in Africa’ regardless of which countries that actually entails (a VERY important caveat). Because that charity action means you are doing something, it means you are ‘fighting against’ the evils of your materialistic culture. It means you are paying penance for your sins. Charity is like white guilt, a shroud that gets pulled over prior and current actions against the oppressed. This must go hand in hand with the nearly racist connotation that only white North Americans/Europeans are capable of ‘fixing’ Africa or South East Asia. To be blunt, unless you are a radical ideologue, the world is not yours to ‘fix’.

46f798f2ae434cc82d741618defb63f9To give to charity is to say, there is a problem in our society and our fellow citizens do not agree. By sending money to help fund efforts to save stray animals in shelters, I am admitting fully that stray animals demand ethical treatment, and I am incapable of convincing others to agree. Because otherwise, where are all these stray animals coming from? The answer is obvious, my unethical, morally bankrupt, selfish countrymen. But if I say these people are unethical and evil, where is my action? I should be a PETA member, throwing blood on the disgusting attitudes of my neighbors.

By paying money to help the homeless (many of whom suffer from psychological trauma demanding treatment) outside of the vanguard of the state, I am admitting openly that this issue is so terrible and unacceptable that we simply cannot wait for a political solution to this life threatening problem. We need action TODAY! And yet, private charity for the homeless has existed since the Bronze Age. There are so few revolutions in human history hoisting the flag of the exploited poor, only the Communist and Anarchist revolutions of the 1800s took that step which so few do; putting their lives where their mouths were.

NoI want to see a lot more of this. People demanding basic rights from their government, not depending on the ‘good will’ of others for what they are entitled to.

So I ask where is this uprising of action to save the urban poor we so verbally care about? Where are the riots in our streets to help the exploited, abused children? We live in a world which simultaneously claims to detest the horrors of poor children and yet still cling to the belief that their governance is acceptable.

By giving to charity you must admit that welfare (redistribution of wealth) is indeed the solution to our woes. And yet, where is the activism calling for more welfare? Welfare has existed since the beginning of civilization and there is still no consensus as to this being the solution to our woes? Giving to charity should be a radical solution to a horrible, temporary problem. Instead it has become a continuous effort to ‘stem the tide’ of a seemingly broken society (in the charity giver’s eyes). Because if society was not broken, what is the point in giving to charity?

Conclusion

Our ideology is a self-perpetuating world view, in the face of all its own inherent contradictions, that we desperately cling to. When we see tragedy and terror spring forth by direct relation to our own way of life, we are driven to find an explanation. Under Classical Liberalism we have a large spectrum of explanations for why the poor should remain ignored, as outrageous as Social Darwinism (the weak must suffer so the strong can be identified) to a lazy “well this is the best we’ve got.”

c1_2Because while I may never give to any charity, I will still be judged as ‘careless’ and ‘evil’ by refusing to participate in the self-atoning ritual of admitting to this natural sin. If I participated in charity, in good faith, I must become a radical, and I think this is the most perverse revelation of all. People would rather chain the poor to the floor, to be forever on their knees, rather than accept a politically active society. It is a charming image that those with faith so desperately cling to the holiness of charity, then bend the knee willingly to god. And how they pay back society with their charity is to force the poor to bend the knee to their ‘selflessness’, the poor must be appreciative of food and water they so desperately require but are incapable of earning. All so that in this pure act of ‘selfless’ anonymity, our charitable holy men/women can get closer to god by inflicting upon their gracious recipients the same chains by which they believe themselves to be bound, eternal servitude.

bow-to-jesusI find it both sickening and intriguing that perpetual submission required by god, is then forwarded to the disavowed poor, forever to submit to the religious acolytes themselves; those who seek to play god with the lives of others.

So I must conclude, if charity is done for purely selfish reasons (to make myself feel good/holy/whatever), it is evil due to ignored consequences of charitable servitude. If charity is done for purely humanitarian reasons (to save the poor) without drawing the willpower to force others to do the same, it is evil due to inaction and an admission of your own immoral lifestyle which causes this suffering.

Charity is a sin.

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24 comments

    1. How do you define meaning of greed? Is wanting to earn (more) to have more things in life “Greed”? How about demanding “rights”… to have others pay for “nice things”? Aren’t they the epitome of greed veiled in “social justice”.

  1. Before I respond to this I want to preface that I don’t give any of my income to charity. Not a dime. I believe that most charitable organizations are corrupt and will filter a portion of your charity towards its self-benefit, and I refuse to engage in that charade.

    With that said, I think you are confusing charity and morality. They are entirely different things. Morality comes from within-a feeling- an emotional drive towards doing something purely for the good of the common man. It’s recognizing right and wrong, and deliberately choosing the path of decency. Charity is an action, an action that may or may not be performed for the right reasons. It can definitely be used to mask innate apathy, there’s no doubt. Nobody knows the motivations of the giver but the giver himself. Indeed, it should be perceived with caution.

    As far as I’m concerned, when someone says he gives to charity, or a company trumps that it does this for charity or does that for charity (which, by the way, the company that I work for does), it is completely meaningless to me. I don’t see that as any more virtuous than any other company.

    The lesson to learn here? Don’t let a company’s charity influence your decisions, because it’s no indication of the decency of the people in charge. If you like Starbucks, then buy it. You pay the cost and get a cup of coffee that you find pleasurable and it lifts your mood for a time because of the experience of drinking the coffee. Personally? I like coffee right out of the coffee pot, and I refuse to pay $5 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks or anywhere else. Whether they give to charity or slip that net income right into their own pockets.

    1. Hi Carla,

      I appreciate your comments. I’ll defend my stance a little here.

      Let me just say that my argument here is that society views charity as a morality decision. I try to defend this stance through the post by issuing a few questions, one of which is; would people donate to charity if they believed the world they lived within is ethical/moral? The implied answer is no, if people think their tribe/village/city/society is moral, what would the purpose of charity be? What would charity possibly ‘fix’ or ‘do’? I argue that people give to charity to fix unethical outcomes in society (someone is poor now due to unforeseen circumstance and isn’t being taken care of otherwise).

      To make it more clear, would people want to give charity to an able bodied, non-drug addicted, unabused, reasonably intelligent 18 year old who simply decided they didn’t want to graduate highschool or get a job (even when those jobs are available)? I would think not.

  2. Brilliantly written and impeccably logical dissection of the issue of charity today. I bridle when I’m assaulted by the advertising of a particular corporations “charitable works”, because it represents merely self-serving advertisement, conveying the false impression that this firm is acting in the best interests of people. That is nonsense. Corporations exist to maximize their profits, nothing else.

    As for individual charity I believe your point is that for the most part it is done to assuage guilt. I acknowledge how right that feels, yet I do think that many who make donations do so with good intentions. However, since the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, the real question might be: Is the individuals acknowledgement via charitable giving, that there are problems not being solved also a reflection of that persons commitment to effecting real change in the world, or is the charity being given as an attempt at absolution without change.

    The last six years of my long career were spent working for non-profit organizations dedicated towards working with people with severe psychiatric disorders, coexisting with addiction. The work I did was quite rewarding, yet as a member of upper management of these agencies, I was depressed by their lack of commitment to those we served and total commitment to their personal careers..

    1. Hi Mike,

      I appreciate you taking the time to respond and sharing your personal story. Let me say, there are certain forms of charity I find neutral/agreeable. What I want more than anything, and this is a running theme throughout this blog, is I want people to voice their opinion. I want less people hiding their thoughts, and more people voicing them.

      How can we have a ‘democratic’ society when we cower from opinions. I think all opinions are important, no matter how bigoted, racist, sexist, and evil. Opinions means data, opinions means that I know where my countrymen stand with regard to myself, and if it is worth my time to convince them otherwise. I want a society of activism.

      I see certain forms of charity as a passive act, and a form of hedonism in some ways (charity gives me religious absolution). But I think most importantly, I am tired of charity being given a free pass as a ‘morally righteous’ act. It is not, and I hope my arguments put a small pin-prick in this complex via the 20 or so people who read my arguments in its entirety. I hope that spawns conversation among friends/family/neighbors, disagree or agree, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want the conversation to be had.

      That is not to say I think all people who give money to the poor are evil, I just think they are in some ways lazy because if they do this action there are a whole host of options before them to justify it.

      I hope I have not offended your career in charity work, as I think a large amount of non-profit activities have a fine place in society, there are just certain pieces I have an issue with.

    2. I pondered this topic for several days after commenting on this post, and have some additional thoughts that you may appreciate.

      Firstly, for-profit corporations give to charity to improve public relations, and to benefit from the tax write-off. I was surprised I didn’t consider the tax benefit of charitable contributions, considering I read financial statements all day, every day. This tax benefit adds up, and when answering to stockholders, a public company wouldn’t want to pass up on any available refinement to the bottom line number. So, I don’t want to ignore the obvious, business-related benefits to charity.

      Lastly, “charity” can be defined in a number of ways. Rhetorically, it’s defined as giving to one’s fellow man. I think there are plenty of non-monetary ways to accomplish this. Charity, absent of any self-serving by-product, in my opinion, is true charity.

      1. Hi Carla,

        Sorry for the late response, looks like your comment slipped through my not so careful watch. I don’t know if I completely buy the ‘tax benefits’ of charitable giving. My reasoning is this, say the tax rate is 10% and I have $100 of income

        I can give $100 to charity OR
        I pocket $90

        Giving to charity doesn’t mean I get to keep money, it just means that if I so choose, I can give more to a charity (in this case, roughly 11.11% more) than I could give to myself*. So I don’t really see that as something healthy for a business UNLESS, as you say in your 2nd paragraph, its strictly for PR. This is why I didn’t address the ‘tax benefits’ of charitable giving, because in my view there is none. I either receive $90 or I lose $100 by giving it away. If I give to charity I lose $90, there really is no way around that unless the government decides to reimburse me my $90; which to my knowledge doesn’t happen.

        *Note on the math, I can be ‘given’ $90 or I can give someone else $100, so 100/90 = 1.11, thus, I can give away 11% more than I can receive.

  3. While I disagree with your assessment of charity, I do appreciate your well-written and thought-provoking arguments. I’m curious, however, about your concluding comment:

    “If charity is done for purely humanitarian reasons (to save the poor) without drawing the willpower to force others to do the same, it is evil due to inaction and an admission of your own immoral lifestyle which causes this suffering.”

    How, exactly, do you propose that an ordinary individual “force” others to save the poor for humanitarian reasons? The last example I can recall was the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which was a noble gesture, but in the end really didn’t accomplish anything. Also, isn’t there a danger that when people feel “forced” into anything that there will be backlash later on? I think we saw this with things like the Civil Rights Act, The Voting Rights Act, and Affirmative Action initiatives. I think much of the current animosity between African-Americans and whites is the result of resentful whites feeling “forced” into things that they didn’t believe in.

    So, I don’t think it is a matter of coercing others to do the right thing, whether through actual laws or shame and guilt. I think we really need to work harder to change people’s hearts by showing them that the suffering of any group really does have a negative impact on all of us. I think the real problem is that society operates under this idea that there is only so much “good” to go around and that someone else has to “lose” in order for me to “win”. If we started looking at life through the lens of cooperation instead of competition, the need for charity could naturally be eliminated in very short order.

    1. Hello Quietlyradical,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. I’ll answer your question in a round-about way, hopefully it is satisfactory.

      Begin with a clear cut case. Say someone murders another person, it is okay to use collective violence and force to ensure this person stands trial for his/her crime. Certainly we would all agree that even if a majority of the population does not agree that this force is justified, our own ideological compass (uniform application of law among all citizens) gives us the moral shield in which to use collective force.

      And if killings were okay, say in the guise of an honor killing (slaying a daughter for sleeping outside of an arranged marriage or engaging in other ‘immoral’ activities), you would be okay in rallying your countrymen to have the violence and force of the state hold these murder’s to justice.

      Now we can take a less extreme case, a man breaks a business contract with another man, forcing the man to live in poverty. Certainly contracts are binding and the government must apply force to ensure their application, otherwise, what is a contract? I argue charity implies a serious, societal issue that you cannot simply ignore, you are propelled to action.

      My argument is thus, by giving to charity you agree that the problems plaguing society are horrendous, and require serious action today to fix them. By giving to charity you must agree that either
      1. There is a solution to this problem and it is giving money to the poor (redistribution)
      or
      2. You know the answer but want to temporarily solve the suffering with lump sum charity.

      In either case. you have a moral obligation to make that solution heard among your friends/family/neighbors, otherwise you are allowing suffering that you KNOW can be stopped simply because you cannot muster the courage for those being crushed under the boots of oppression.

      You either allow the oppressed to remain oppressed, or you fight to stop it. If you give to charity without knowledge/desire to fix it, then what is the purpose of this charity? I would argue that your charity is damaging because you hide the issue from others who may secretly have knowledge of a solution, or at least, the willpower to fight for this change via the vanguard of the government (i.e. society).

      If the suffering is serious enough to propel you to give to charity, then you must consider it a serious, life threatening problem. If that is true, then it is in the guise of murder or great injustice. Your anger toward the action means nothing, it is action and a desire to solve our problems that absolves you of the sin of charitable giving.

      I hope you find this response… at least entertaining.

  4. Interesting observations here. There are some places I am 100% on board. And some places I am not. On a general level, if a person goes to Starbucks, for example, exclusively for the (sl)activism aspect of it, I agree it is a ridiculous act. However, If I am looking at Starbucks, and say Dunkin Donuts (I live in the North Eastern corner of America; Dunkin’s are ubiquitous) and am mostly neutral about where to go, I think that the places my money goes might be a reasonable part of the calculation.
    Similarly, if I feel that I have personally done a wrong and I have deluded myself into thinking that purchasing Starbucks is going to balance some sort-of cosmic scales, this would be pretty ridiculous, and if there are long-term problems that people are only employing short term solutions to, this is not the best way to go about things.
    However, I think a good case can be made for an ethical scheme which considers the idea that I might want to help someone who I don’t owe something to. Even if I don’t have any hand whatsoever in someone’s circumstances, I believe it is moral for me to choose to help them. I don’t see how this act of help suggests some sort of guilt on my part.
    You kind of flesh this out in a comment to “quietly radical” “If the suffering is serious enough to propel you to give to charity, then you must consider it a serious, life threatening problem. If that is true, then it is in the guise of murder or great injustice.” I guess it seems like you are unnecessarily inflating the problem, the fallacy I see is beginning with “serious” and then “going to a life-threatening problem” I agree that there are many life-threatening problems that demand a dynamic, immediate, and thorough response; but there are other issues which might speak to me less urgently, that I might respond to less urgently. And in the end, it really is (I think) a question of which issues speak to us, because we can’t possibly devote the entirety of our lives to every single life-threatening issue.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to respond.

      The type of charity i’m talking about here would be something along the lines of,
      Digging wells in africa
      Donating to the destitute poor
      Donating to sick children
      Donating to help premature births (poor parents)
      etc.

      If there are issues which are less urgent say, donate to the opera, then I truthfully don’t care if someone decides to throw money at the opera or the church or whatever other ‘less urgent’ issue they are troubled with. So long as that issue doesn’t impact the very political nature of our society. So NPR, big bird, the local opera, boyscouts, are all out of this definition. I argue that by donating to the poor and not being an activist, you are satiating the poor and hiding their plight from others who would otherwise give society a possible solution.

      The primary question with regard to your criticisms, I think (correct me if i’m wrong), is that my posts argues you cannot have ‘weak’ charity. That is, you cannot have charity wherein you weakly agree with the cause and allow it to convince you of an action. I argue if you give to charity at all, it has to conjure strong emotions and action.

      In your example weak charity is (in my mind) the kind which says $3 from Dunken Donughts vs $3 starbucks. Who do I pick? Well starbucks gives $.05 to charity, and DD doesn’t. So i pick SB. I claim that this decision is not one which is defensible. If this charity is for a ‘less urgent’ issue in my mind, which is objectively serious (such as poverty in urban America) then the sin you commit is just as atrocious as someone who takes it very seriously but equally does nothing.

      The level of ‘objective’ severity of the charity itself is the crux of my posts argument. Which could probably be torn apart by someone with a lot of time on their hands. I think it would help me understand your criticism if you gave an example of a ‘less urgent’ charity which would propel you to less urgent action (animal shelter perhaps?).

  5. Interesting. I agree at least in part with your arguments. I would add that I feel political activism is similar in some ways. It is an acknowledgement that the system is broken and isn’t working as it should, and as with charity, the effect of activism tends to be limited. I guess the question is…do we have the power to completely change the broken world we live in…or do we realize that we don’t have that power, which is why we do the little things we can?

    1. Hi Eurobrat,

      On an individual level, of course we are all powerless (unless you give me a machine gun and a one way ticket to the 12th century, I’d conquer Europe in no time). Power has always risen through collections of individuals who choose to take action, this is activism.

      If we fall to this temptation to say that we have no power at all so its okay that we try to individually make a small contribution to the world world via the charity funnel, I would be really disappointed. That’s because it’s a false choice, charity is dealing with the existing framework of your society. it offers no solution, only alleviation from a sickness you agree is terrible enough to warrant your time and energy. My stance here follows from the above post.

      Our power lies only in convincing others to change their way of life, to sacrifice comfort and complicity for hardship. If our way of life is comfortable, our laws just, our society reasonable then why give lip-service to how sorry you are for the downtrodden and the cast-aways? Oppression is apart of the package for any system of social organization, you either accept that or start giving us alternatives

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