If you see a man approaching you with the obvious intention of doing you good, you should run for your life. – Henry David Thoreau

     Those who would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. – Andrew Carnegie

     A case could be made that, except for war, nominally charitable activity has inflicted more misery on suffering Mankind than any other isolatable cause. In this era, when so much supposed charity is inflicted by and through governments, the irony reaches an astounding height.

     But of course the bien pensants would shriek in fury at the idea that organized charity is a bad thing. Isabel Paterson told us why:

     The philanthropist, the politician, and the pimp are inevitably found in alliance because they have the same motives, they seek the same ends, to exist for, through, and by others. And the good people cannot be exonerated for supporting them. Neither can it be believed that the good people are wholly unaware of what actually happens. But when the good people do know, as they certainly do, that three million persons (at the least estimate) were starved to death in one year by the methods they approve, why do they still fraternize with the murderers and support their measures? Because they have been told that the lingering death of the three millions might ultimately benefit a greater number. The argument applies equally well to cannibalism.

     Paterson might have been overly cruel in the above. Surely many decent persons sincerely believe that organized charities do “net good” in the world. The United Way and the March of Dimes don’t send forth sadists to flog the underprivileged, do they? As far as I’m aware, no captured assassin has claimed afterward that “I’m with the Red Cross.” But large, organized – shall we say corporate? Oh, why not – charities are what they are: giant targets for predators. Indeed, the only targets larger than the big charitable institutions are governments themselves, and we know what they do.

     Let’s enumerate the effects – intended or otherwise – of organized charities:

  1. They support the idea that we can buy our way out of our personal responsibilities toward our neighbors.
  2. They promote dependency by doing for others what those others should (and usually can) do for themselves.
  3. They take funds out of the hands of genuinely well-meaning individuals and put them into the hands of persons who will employ those funds impersonally, without responsibility or regard for their actual effects.
  4. They create career paths for persons who, in Paterson’s words, seek to live for, through, and by others, thus diverting them from genuinely productive activity.
  5. They attract the insincere and the outright evil, who drool at the possibility of enriching themselves by “doing good.”
  6. Last but not least, they attract regulation, supervision, and ultimately absorption by governments, which are guaranteed to use them for purposes infinitely distant from the intentions of their donors.

     If you doubt any of the above, ponder this: Why are so many illegal aliens flooding into our country? Is it really plausible that any great percentage of them come here for jobs?

     It is not necessary that, to be net harmful, an organized charity must be large. I wrote the piece below in June, 2017. Ponder it, and its implications for your charitable action.

     The charitable impulse can easily be transformed into a fury that sets heads to rolling.

     My parish – St. Louis de Montfort in Sound Beach, NY – maintains, as so many Catholic parishes do, an Outreach pantry, intended to assist the needy with free food and other consumables while (hopefully) they struggle back to a condition of self-sustenance. My fellow parishioners are generous souls; the pantry shelves are virtually always kept full, even though an average of 150 families partake of the bounty each week.

     Sounds good, right? Christian charity in action, just as the Redeemer prescribed. Well, once in a great while things are not so good.

     Four weeks ago, the parish bulletin listed one of the pantry’s needs as “pork & beans.” Actually, the listing was PORK & BEANS, that we parishioners might grasp the intensity of the need. Accordingly, the next time I was near a supermarket I purchased half a dozen 1 lb. cans of pork & beans, a few other items listed as Outreach needs, brought them to the pantry, and thought no more about it.

     The next Sunday, PORK & BEANS appeared once more as the pantry’s principal need. So the next time I went grocery shopping, I purchased a dozen 1 lb. cans of pork & beans, a couple of other items on the bulletin’s Outreach list, brought them to the pantry, and thought no more about it.

     Sunday June the 18th: the Outreach pantry still listed PORK & BEANS as its principal need. I was beginning to grow a bit concerned. So I made a special trip to the supermarket and bought 24 1 lb. cans of pork & beans. (I’m sure you can see the pattern developing.) I brought them to the pantry and told the supervisor that “if I see pork & beans in next Sunday’s bulletin, I’m going to be very cross. Tell whoever’s eating all the pork & beans to eat a vegetable now and then.” She assured me that it would not appear in the June 25th bulletin.

     That assurance was false.

     This morning at 9:30 AM EDT, I brought 48 1 lb. cans of pork & beans to the Outreach pantry. The expressions that greeted me ranged from poker-faced to stunned. I dropped the case – approximately 70 lb, gross – on the sorting table, fixed the Outreach supervisor with my best gimlet eye, and said, “Where’s all the pork & beans going?”

     The supervisor said, “There was a big barbecue.”

     It took me about a nanosecond to go from relative calm to incipient stroke.

     “The food donated to this pantry is supposed to be for the local needy,” I said. I put more effort into controlling my demeanor than I’ve ever put into anything except concealing my glee at having just been dealt a straight flush. It proved insufficient. “It is not supposed to be used to supply institutional functions!”

     The supervisor smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “Well, you know.”

     I departed swiftly, before I could burst a blood vessel.

     That supervisor doesn’t know what kind of agony she’s in for. I intend to spread the news of this all over the parish – with her name attached.

     Fellow Christians, are you sure your charitable donations are actually doing charity? Really sure? If you were to discover otherwise, how would you react?

     Beware the charitably inclined Christian who discovers that he’s been duped. Few creatures are more dangerous. St. Louis de Montfort is about to experience a demonstration.

     And finally, a reprise from the old Palace of Reason:

The Circle Of Care

     I came of age in the Sixties, a time when America was gradually being turned upside down. And that having been said, I’ll spare you any soliloquy about the Sixties. It’s the upside-down part that matters.

     I don’t recall exactly when I learned about the duty of charity toward the less fortunate, but it was probably in my Catholic grammar school. The nuns were quite insistent about the obligation to help one’s fellow man, when he was in genuine need. Every classroom had a “poor box,” filled by contributions from the students. Its contents were periodically totaled and used for some charitable undertaking — and I don’t mean buying a color television for a family that didn’t yet have one, or dragging a “homeless” man into a government-run shelter; I mean providing food or clothing for a struggling family that hadn’t quite managed to make ends meet that month. Blauvelt parish, a blue-collar sector of Rockland County, New York, always had a few such.

     A lot of things come to mind about that poor box and its uses, but none so strongly as this: no one ever suggested that the money be sent far away, to people none of us knew personally. It was to be employed right there, in Blauvelt parish, among the people we knew. This was so obvious, so fundamental to the concept of charity, that the contrary idea was never considered.

     “Charity” derives from the Latin word “caritas,” the concern for others that springs from personal connection. A related word of Greek derivation is “sympathy,” the ability to “feel with” another person. These are not relations one can truly have with faceless and nameless strangers at a distance.

     True charity requires proximity, for at least two reasons. First, the necessary personal connection, the sense that one is helping one’s own, fails at any great remove. Second, human fallibility and weakness guarantee that, just as some will fail to prosper on their own, others will fail to employ charity properly; indeed, to receive money from others sometimes makes one’s troubles worse. When this occurs, the giver must give no further, for other measures — criticism, instruction, discipline — are clearly indicated. With any separation between the benefactor and his beneficiary, it becomes impossible to know whether help helps in fact, or only in theory and intention.

     Compare this ancient, common-sense approach to charity, preserved and perpetuated by all the great religious institutions of Man, to the modern concept. Today, our media would have us believe that charity is about voting for tax-funded, government-administered programs to redistribute our income to others we don’t know. Some of the supposed beneficiaries are in far places where America and Americans are routinely vilified for their prosperity and derided for their generosity. Whatever rules modern charity observes are determined and enforced by salaried bureaucrats who pay no costs for any mistake. Volunteers and private institutions that attempt to take a role are tolerated, but distrusted. The apostles of modern charity would prefer that all of it be under the watchful eye of government monitors, to insure that no misleading messages about the importance of sobriety, continence, or self-reliance are packaged with the gifts.

     Obviously, there’s been some change to the concept. I’d like to leave aside the political implications of this change for a moment and concentrate on the inversion of the circle of care.
If proximity was regarded as the most important of the requirements of the old concept, it is considered no better than optional under the new one, and quite possibly a detriment. If personal concern, for both the bodies and the souls of others of one’s direct acquaintance, was the fuel for the charity of old, the motive power of the new charity is rules: rules that direct the bureaucrat to shower largesse without regard for its actual effects, and rules that punish the citizen brutally if he attempts to avoid “contributing.”

     The new concept of charity first rose over the old one in the late Sixties, when the American welfare state began its explosive growth. In the years since then, we’ve seen many other things explode as well: crime, vice, filth in the streets, and social pathologies such as fatherlessness and illegitimacy whose effects have eclipsed even the darkest predictions.

     Meanwhile, law-abiding, self-supporting Americans of the cities, they who are mulcted for the funds that support the new charity, have been drawing in upon themselves, isolating themselves as best they can from the madness that surges around them. Their circles of care have contracted to hold only themselves and their immediate families.

     Count Leo Tolstoy once spent a night wandering the streets of St. Petersburg, giving to the poor whom he encountered until his pockets were empty and his energy was spent. At the end of his sojourn, those to whom he’d given were a little better off for a short time, but he knew and admitted that he’d made no lasting difference in their lives, that as soon as they’d exhausted the night’s benison, the darkness would return. He concluded that one should act with love toward those whom God has placed in his path, rather than to ride forth and scatter his substance widely and without regard for efficacy.

     Who are the needy whom God has placed in our path? Are they not our family members, neighbors and friends? Is it not these whom our circle of care should encompass?

1 comment

    • Tim Turner on April 23, 2024 at 9:15 AM

    Well said in all three cases, Fran.

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