Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The poor need help all year long (And helping isn't something only Christians do!)

On Monday, a letter to the editor was printed in The Observer regarding a church helping a particular woman. Below is the letter (with a few comments from me inserted):

Church comes to aid of woman (link)

Sir: This time of year, the media reports the generous acts of so many inspired by the spirit of Christmas. Invariably, we lament this spirit does not last all year long. It does.

The Christians of Bluewater Baptist Church quietly (so quietly that she's bragging about it in the newspaper - luckily Jesus didn't say anything about being humble) and diligently watch over and provide for so many of the small needs of a close friend who lives in a dilapidated old house with her cat. Her small disability check barely covers her needs.

She is so poor that even a box of Kleenex, toilet paper, fresh fruit, bread and milk are a luxury she cannot afford in the middle of the month after all her bills have been paid. Every bout of cold or flu is an emergency for her since she rarely has any of these little comforts on hand. Moreover, her immune system has been compromised by the chemo pills prescribed for her arthritis and she gets sick a lot.

Her hands are so crippled that she cannot shovel her own sidewalk and keep her porch steps snow and ice free. She depends on the kindness of neighbours and friends.

God bless the Christians (and none of the others? Oh, right, my bad - god doesn't exist) who make a point of providing for her small needs, who rake the snow off her roof in the winter, who clean her eaves troughs in the fall, who paint the peeling house and mow her lawn in the summer and who recently added a handle to her door-frame so that she could pull herself through the doorway -a thousand small acts of kindness each year.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us (as long as people adhere to illogical ideas and dogma, for sure). At any time, if we truly want to be doers of The Word and not merely hearers of The Word, we can put our faith into action.

We can extend small acts of kindness any day of the year. We can welcome the poor and the lonely into our homes to share a meal and enjoy our company. These small works are opportunities for us to grow as human beings in charity for it is when we are giving that we are most fully human. (Especially if the giving is to support a million dollar church.)

Let us recall frequently the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, "Love gives until it hurts." (Now, Mother Teresa probably isn't someone I'd refer to - and I suspect Linda wouldn't either if she didn't just blindly accept what her pastor tells her from the pulpit.)

Linda Kennedy
Aside from the suggestion that it is only Christians who help others (which doesn't explain why the greatest philanthropists are non-believers), and the blatant bragging, Linda's letter is a good reminder to everyone (especially Christians) that help is needed all year long.

It bothers me that Christians, like Linda, can't see the sad truth that the millions (tens of millions) of dollars spent on churches (in our own community alone) and their upkeep/staffing could be used to address the problems of people like the woman referenced in this letter. She must ignore the fact that the vast majority of money given to churches does not go to help others - it stays in the church to pay salaries, upgrade churches, buy vehicles, install bigger parking lots, purchase nicer digital signs, etc.

Mother Teresa, as I mention above, is not someone to be idolized - she was a friend of poverty but not a friend of the poor. Mother Teresa was against birth control - she equated it with abortion and murder. We know that one proven method for elevating a society out of poverty is the empowerment of women. Giving women control over their reproductive cycle and providing them an education does wonders. (Which reminds me - Bluewater Baptist Church is intimately involved in the horrendous Pregnancy Centre.)

And, finally, if Christians do good because of the reward in the afterlife, they're simply doing good things for bad reasons. Doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do is a more honourable reason.


NathanColquhoun said...

Skeptic, while I'd agree with most of your post, I want to point out a few things.

1. You're onslaught against a moral choice of Mother Theresa to be opposed to birth control is a bit much. I think you need to flesh out your argument better about why you think that anyone that has made different moral choices than you is all of sudden "not a friend of the poor." Especially since your morals have landed you on the idea that money is somehow going to solve the problem. I'd argue that philanthropists who donate all their money to "the poor" are less of a friend to the poor than the catholic church who is morally opposed to birth control. So, as a skeptic, I think you have a duty to logically explain your position a bit better, and be careful about taking sides, you should probably be skeptical about your own assumptions you are making.

2. Why do you get to determine what the more honourable reason of doing something right it?

There is more, but we've talked about it before, we can continue this later.

Still waiting to grab a coffee soon :)

sarniaskeptic said...

I link to "Missionary Position" - a book that fully covers who Mother Teresa is (and isn't). She didn't use the money to help the poor - she built countless convents (in her name! Nice and humble!).

If Mother Teresa cared about the poor, she'd be helping reduce those conditions and would not be encouraging activities that would worsen them (or discouraging those that could improve them).

I could do multiple blog entries on her alone. She's not, obviously, what you think she is.

The original point of writing the blog was to point out that it isn’t only Christians that help others and that I agreed with the author about needing to continue the help/generosity throughout the year and not only during the time when Christians celebrate the birth of someone who probably didn’t exist but, if he did, wasn’t born in December. There need not be a distinction when writing a letter of "thanks" to people who help others. Adding the Christian description/reference is suggesting that it is somewhat a wholly owned activity of the sheep - errr Christians. My reference to philanthropy was to show just that.

You have failed to offer any reason why philanthropy is worse than opposing birth control (or even the idea that philanthropy isn’t helpful). You should consider what the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has done and compare it to what the Catholic church has provided. At the very least, it is a 0 overhead charitable foundation - no money goes to supporting proselytizing, buildings, unnecessary salaries, etc.

Let me break it down this way so you can catch my arguments/points.
1.) When talking about helping the poor, presenting Mother Teresa as an example = Bad bad idea
2.) Not only Christians help others (Non-believers are the greatest philanthropists) so writing a letter the way Linda did was to give a false impression.
3.) The poor/destitute/helpless need help year round
4.) Poverty is reduced by empowering women. That involves educating them, giving them equal rights and allowing them control over their reproduction. (If that involves money, than maybe money is the answer – however, if it involves the destruction of dogmatic beliefs, than questioning the unquestionable is the answer) In this instance, Mother Teresa is not a friend of the poor.
5.) Churches are a big waste of money – sucking much of the value out of a donation / Christians ignore their extravagance and then argue as if there money is well spent (that their donations actually go to charitable causes that make a positive difference).
6.) My suggestion that doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing is more moral than someone doing something for a potential reward is sound. Selflessness > Selfishness

sarniaskeptic said...

Odd. The "title" for this blog entry wouldn't save. That might explain why some of it wasn't clear. (Copying and pasting the subject must have included a character that blogger didn't like - I've re-typed it and it is now appearing)

NathanColquhoun said...

Hey Skeptic, like I said, I agree with most of your post and now your comments. Just watched this clip by Colbert along these lines a bit, it was awesome.

I'll read the missionary position book before I comment much more on that issue.

I don't think I need to list off all the good Mother Theresa, or the Catholic Church, or anyone basically that subscribes to a specific religion does in the world. I stumbled across this article earlier this week, that I found to be well written (by an atheist)

I agree with you on all five points, but at some point, even a skeptic has to acknowledge the good. Does anyone, anywhere really do that much good for unselfish reasons?

My point about philanthropy/charity needs to be fleshed out a bit more, its a thought i'm playing with right now, but as a dummies guide, let me try and explain.

The issue of our world and all the poverty and everything else that has gone wrong is not an issue of there not being enough money or resources available. The issue is distribution of the resources that already exist and the bigger issue is those that have a lot of wealth end up preying on those that have none. It's the problem we are seeing in the States right now, the rich get rich and the poor get poorer. This is a major issue.

So charity and philanthropy where it is not financially promising for the people involved IN ANY WAY is the kind of charity that I see as being morally upright. SO when I look at Mother Theresa, I don't see her making any financial gains whatsoever (maybe the book will tell me different?) and Bill Gates the same way, he's giving away all his money, not making more through these types of gifts.

However, there is no one anywhere that gives completely selflessly like you are suggesting. The very fact that Bill Gates Foundation is named after him is enough to tell me that there is some selfish motive involved, even if it's just fame or pride.

But, in referencing back to your title, I agree more than you'd think, in fact I probably agree that there is more good help being offered around the world under no such religious guise than that of a Christian. I am just trying to offer a bit of balance in your statements.

Just because there is bad money being spent, and just because people squander their resources, and just because there might be an underlying agenda that you don't agree with doesn't all off sudden discredit all and everything they did.

Anonymous said...

Before you suggest not discounting the good - watch
is religion a force for good?

NathanColquhoun said...

Ya, I've seen it, thanks for the link though. Though Blair is hardly the person I would put in a debate about this topic, I find he is more of just a popular face, however, it is still a good debate to watch.

Anonymous said...

Blair could not respond to hitchens' criticisms because they have no response. The bad of religion (the bad of the idea of a religion) removes value of religion. Skeptic is right and that is hard for us Christians to accept. I follow Christ not the church. Thinking shouldn't only be done by nonbelievers.

sarniaskeptic said...

Nathan and Anonymous,
First of all, are you responding to something different? (I'm not sure what link you are referring to when you said you've seen it but I gather it is something related to the Tony Blair/Christopher Hitchens debate.)

With that debate in my head… if you can watch the debate, I think it talks about much of your (Nathan's) argument. Tony Blair basically says "okay, religion isn't good but it could be" and then tries to point out some good things that people do "because of" their religion. Christopher Hitchens has often asked people to name something good that a believer does that a non-believer couldn't/wouldn't do. I don't think he has ever received an answer. (Hitchens also clearly asserts that people doing ‘bad’ “in the name of religion” are doing it because their revealed book clearly tells them to. It is not those who take it out of context that worry me.)

Wealth distribution is a problem - Sam Harris (non-believer) speaks about it. Having said that, however, consider that the Giving Pledge was started by (and almost exclusively taken up by) atheists - non-believers - people who are free of any reason to do it but because it is the right thing to do.

Bill and Melinda Gates foundation - right - naming something after yourself is just as selfish as building a massive extravagant f#$king home (that is also a city) for you and your other child molesters (and cover-up architects) to live in. I guess that argument alone destroys the selflessness that you'd argue for Mother Teresa (who built convents in her name and had pictures of herself up in her 'homes'). If her homes were operated in the name of anything other than "religion", they would be dismantled, the staff would be charged and the victims would be freed.

To answer your final paragraph - just because some good is being done, means we shouldn’t strive for better? That's f#$king absurd. Dogma is dangerous. Churches are a wasteful use of money. Unquestioned power/belief leads to corruption - question everything, strive to do better and don't accept all the horrible things because "some good" is being done.

I suspect that we will never agree on this point - and I'm glad. I could never apologize for the bullshit that you are trying to apologize for. You can't put up a facade to cover the truth. Religion is a force for evil in this world and the "good" that is being done isn't being done for honourable reasons (to further acceptance of the church, to build a false look of morality and supremacy and to win yourself a spot in a non-existent Disneyland in the sky are all bad reasons for doing good things.) Sadly, too, the good is often only done publicly to put out the impression of doing or being good. (As your fellow believer, Linda, made clear – we do this selflessly without anyone knowing we’re doing it and that’s why I’ve written a letter to the editor – to completely defeat my point.)

NathanColquhoun said...

Hey Skeptic, Someone else posted a link to the Blair Hitchens debate, they must have deleted it soon after, that's where my comment came from. However, I'll state again, I wouldn't pick Blair to defend "religion" for everyone. My argument would not be "but it could be." My arguement would be more that some religions, sometimes are good, some religions sometimes are bad, but we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I do not think that religion of any sort makes someone a better person, in fact, I think religion can be more damaging to a person than no religion.

For the record, I don't really consider my beliefs religious. You might, but I think if you were to really dig into my belief system you would see that it's quite similiar to yours. So when I talk about religion, I don't feel as if I'm talking about myself. I view life much more logically than your assuming I do just because of my beliefs about who Jesus is.

Wealth Distribution - It is I would say a symptom of a greater problem. Greed. When people are greedy, they will stop at nothing to have more for them, no matter who goes without. The world is greedy, and that has caused a great divide (and always has) between the wealthy and the poor. Wealthy people simply giving away their wealth to poor people does nothing to bring justice to the situation, it's just a merciful temporary bandaid. The proper solution is to seek justice to the corrupt system. Billions of dollars a year goes to aid, and the problem has only gotten worse, in North America and around the world. So in a lot of ways, giving money only perpetuates the greedy system. I'm not necessarily arguing for a socialist state, however, the current captialist one certainly doesn't work at bringing any eqaulity. So guys like Bill Gates, while on paper looks wonderful, they really are a big part of the problem (this is no personal attack on Gates, but rather this idea of philanthropy that he participates in). If the moral right thnig to do for a wealthy person is to simply give to charitble causes then it has been reduced to nothing more than a business transacation in treating poverty yet another product to consume that only served to alleviate moral guilt.

NathanColquhoun said...

You mis-understood me in my last paragraph. I never said that we shouldn't strive for better, nor do I think that. I agree that is absurd. I am trying to help you from discredting the good because of the bad. All the progams/people/causes you support have tons of negative ramifications as well. While of course I want to expose the negative, I don't think throwing out the positive is a valid way in doing that.

Trust me, I'm far from "accepting" horrible things. I'm also not apologizing for them. I'm not trying to put up any facade, in fact I'm trying to take down the ones that are there. All the symptoms of selfishness that you hate, I hate as well.

I'll be reading the missionary position book soon, I'll give you my thoughts then.