Toxic Charity

Jesus Christ teaches to love one another as He has loved us.  Love comes in a variety of forms but the most common regarding a church community is charitable social services and generous donations.  Before the offering is made, the church shows an emotional video of a struggling group of people weather it be unwed pregnant teenagers, orphaned children, or even poor communities.  This effective method manipulates the congregation to give more money because they feel for the unfortunate souls.  It is in human nature to lend a hand when we see someone is down and this idea is especially relevant to the Christian way of life.  Hundreds of people write checks and give countless amounts of money to the church trusting they will put the money to good use.  This happens less than one would like to think.  Living in an affluent area, most of the congregation is well educated and more than likely are successful in their line of business, so it would be safe to say, they understand the basic economic principles such as incentives drive all human nature.  The ironic part about this is these successful business men and women do not think of the harm they are committing by eliminating the incentive for the struggling group of people.  I admit that I occasionally feel the notion to generously give because it is not only to alleviate someone else’s pain but also, in reality, to shed some of the guilt that I feel for comparing my “blessed” standard of living and someone tragic situation.

We can easily apply the incentive principle to our own economy.  Part of the reason for the economic success the U.S has is because of the well defined laws to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.  Patents and monopolies create the incentives for people to continuously push for progress and our competitive markets allow for an efficient economy.  With more government intervention and regulation such as long-term unemployment welfare we water down the incentives to work.  I am not arguing the importance of unemployment compensation because I believe it is necessary to an extent but if we look beyond our borders to other countries, like in Europe, we can see excessive welfare for the unemployed that give people reason not to work.  Not only does this excessive welfare create government dependency, but it also hurts the worker in the long run because if they take advantage of this free money they will be less inclined to search for a job right away allowing their skills to become outdated. Lupton comments on the overall dependency when he “observe[s] . . . how quickly recipients‘ response to charity devolved from gratitude to expectation to entitlement” (Toxic Charity 34).  He argues the same concept in a different way regarding the giving of toys to needy children at the time of Christmas being poisonous.  Like I said previously their is an importance of unemployment compensation but with any government regulation it is a tricky concept to reach the point of equilibrium.  The individual human is just as complex having to deal with “facades” and the complexities of emotions from all effecting parties.  Lupton does a great job to discern each perspective with regards of charity.  The true nature of Christmas is pure and perfectly understandable, however; like with anything, humans tend to complicate it with a bombardment of business advertisements and our constant consumer inheritance.  I would argue that giving toys to needy children at Christmas isn’t toxic but is like taking medication where the initial dose will help but too much will kill someone.  Another current issue example of the incentives principle is to look at the bailout of General Motor in America.  The government argues that some of these “american” companies were to big to fail. Instead of letting them face bankruptcy and allowing smaller more efficient companies to take their place, the big brother bailed them out because a variety of political reasons one being possible loss of american jobs.  Now GM is outsourcing their employment to China (love the irony and the election is over). Incentives are everything!

So where can we find the balance into charity and giving?  Jacques Ellul states that almsgiving is corrupt because of the sinful perspectives gained from the giver about the receiver.  He says it “reduces him to a lower state than he had before” (Toxic Charity 34).  I disagree with this belief because he is making assumptions and judgement before the deed is done.  It is kind of redundant to say that we need to perceive the distinction between “truly free” giving and almsgiving.  To prove my point, I could safely make a persuasive argument about religion as a whole saying it is a corrupt institution that creates sinful habits and an illusion of comfort.  This argument is also not fair to make because although religion and christianity is “manmade” it does not mean that it is all bad.  If almsgiving and, in my case, religion is done correctly than the practice can be very helpful and life saving.  The problem with these two things and many more is that as humans we are not perfect, and most times, our sinful ways poison the creations that were once created by an innocent idealist with pure intentions.  The bible commands followers of Christ to give to the poor, not just to help the needy but also to humble the giver by giving his most precious worldly possessions.  Matthew chapter six devotes itself in proper almsgiving and if done in this way is in essence “truly free” giving.  Now this almsgiving may not be in the best benefit to the recipient like we have previously discussed, however; I think someone should give in this way to keep perspective of worldly possessions and on the other side still work to empower less fortunate people with opportunities.  As Lupton points out we live in a complicating world where people can take advantage of someone’s generosity.  Lupton says to practice due diligence meaning to follow up or keep tabs on the people you assist to confirm your help is properly applied.  He also says if you don’t have time to follow up on certain individuals than you should give to a organization that has time to “forge trusting relationships.”

Looking deeper into this blind charity, we see that most of us have no problem donating money to these struggling people but we often do not want to give our time to these same people.  It is funny to think about the concept of money and how we blindly give it away.  Using the basic economic tools, I will present the paradoxes that humans tend to create when donating to charities, using myself as an example.  For me to make money, I have to apply my all important time to some kind of job.  So one could argue, the amount of money I earn is, to an extent, how much time I spend on the job.  In my case we will say, money is a reflection of the amount of time I allocate to my work.  Therefore, if I give money to a charity, I am in essence still giving time to these people but in reality deterring the incentive for them to work.  If I give my time to them through work via mission trips, I can still eliminate incentives for these people because I am applying my education and labor to alleviate their problems but still not preparing these people for the future (Toxic Charity i.e. the well building).  However, if I apply my time correctly as Toxic Charity argues, I can make an everlasting difference.  This proper application of time takes the shape of micro-loans and certain degrees of education that will allow the afflicted group of people to take pride in their work while presenting many incentives and also eliminate the entitlement notion that humans so often subscribe to.  The problem with this way of “giving” is that it is a long-term process and the majority of us do not want to be pestered with these people’s problems over a period of time.  It is much easier for us to give money or take part in mission trip that lasts for a month or two than to invest our time in long durations.  Essentially, charities are short-term cures for a long-term problem.  Once we start approaching these problems like we normally would in the business world and not think of these problems as an “exception”, than we will start making progress and solving the problems of others.  It’s ironic to think that followers of Christ unintentionally remove incentives for people to work when the bible clearly supports honest labor:

Proverbs 12:11

“He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.”

Proverbs 12:14
From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.

Proverbs 14:23
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

After reading this book it has inspired me to look deeper into people’s personal problems.  I believe that offering opportunities that empower people solve more problems than just giving money.  If we apply more stories like Lupton’s examples of “holistic compassion” such as: thrift stores that thrive on their customer’s business while hiring people so they can afford the goods will provoke good change. Also utilizing transformative charity to make responsible decisions in which how rapid their response is to a given situation.  Groups need to assess their communities needs and start programs that, according to Lupton, will create “betterment” in the community.  Once they decide the timing is right both from their standpoint or the neighborhoods standpoint, the group can switch emphasis on the short term goals to the developmental side where long-term solutions will be offered such as jobs and low priced goods.  I believe to start a responsible community development project one must assert themselves to these given guidelines.  It is exciting to think, if global and national organizations could follow these same guidelines and partner up with the local charities, our civilization as a whole would experience a rapid advancement in our standard of life and lives would be changed around the globe.

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