Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Faith and...uh...charity?

On last Sunday's show, Matt and I got into it with one caller where we ended up pointing out, repeatedly, that religion is no less selfish than any other human activity. Certainly there is altruism in the things many people do. But altruism is usually understood as doing good for others without expectation of reward or personal benefit. And you don't find this activity in religious environments, with few exceptions. People pretty much practice whatever religion they subscribe to because they want something. You hear this admitted plainly by Christians who try to argue that God is necessary for morality. "If there were no God," they say, "I'd just go out and do whatever, kill people, who cares?" In other words, if there's no reward awaiting them for good behavior, why be good? Selfishness in its most childish form.

In the case of religion as an institution, it always wants something. And that something is more converts.

We see this no more plainly than in the case of religious charities. These little exercises are certainly undertaken due to the self-interest of the sponsors, regardless of what they may say. They're eager to be picking up brownie points with God, racking up a good Heavenly credit rating. And they get to show off how pious they are for the public, which, hopefully, will be good for business. I suppose that's a small kind of selfishness, and not in and of itself worthy of criticism.

Thing is, some churches take it a little too far. Case in point: the First Reformed Church of Hackensack, NJ. I'm not sure what they're claiming to be "reformed" from, but after this little embarrassment, some reform will surely be necessary.

Seems this church was litting a charity not directly affiliated with them, the FAITH Foundation, use their facilities for a Christmas dinner for about 100 homeless people. The church laid down a rule that homeless attendees first had to be subjected to prayers and a sermon — in short, a full scale church service — prior to being fed. In short: sales pitch first, then food.

The shelter's own director, Robin Reilly, realizing most of the attendees hadn't eaten a thing in more than 24 hours, went ahead and served dinner without the required god-bothering. Result: the church kicked her out. No Jesus, no food, is the rule at the First Reformed Church, evidently. Perhaps what they've been "reformed" from is basic human decency.

Robin Reilly did the right thing, and she's clearly one of the rare exceptions in an entire religious "charity" industry that's really all about targeting the most vulnerable people in our culture as easy converts. She's apparently had trouble before, failing to get the right permits and that sort of thing. But overall she's clearly a person who wants to help those who need help. Apparently the True Christians at the First Reformed Church have a difference of opinion concerning the idea that the Christmas season is all about the spirit of giving, the milk of human kindness, and all that hippie crap. Nope, Jesus is the reason for the season, and you better drop to your miserable knees now and realize that fact, you homeless piece of shit. Hell, you're practically falling down from starvation already, so it ought to be easy for you, right? And if not, well, hell, why don't you just get a job?


  1. Ouch! Harsh, but true. At one point I benefited from a soup kitchen run in a church basement that eventually was asked to move its operation, apparently the homeless were getting in the way of what they REALLY wanted to do with the place and were giving the church a bad image.

    Crazy, I know.

    Best part is that it was a private citizen group that got together. Even though I'm sure members of the group were religious it was nice to see a non-religious secular group made up of all members of society step up to the plate when the church flat out dropped the ball.

  2. Well I can just imagine the Church's dilemma.

    What do we do? Do we save the peoples' souls just in case they die of starvation (after all we don't want the poor people to go off to their final reward unprepared)?

    Or, do we give them a nice dinner so they're more likely to not die of starvation? Decisions decisions.

  3. Religious people claim that religion is what makes people do good things. What I think is that people are naturally wired to do good. Religion hijacks that urge, twists and corrupts it, and then takes credit for it.

    Giving people food out of the kindness of your heart is a good thing. Using someone's need in order to commit some sort of "spiritual exploitation" is evil. When you attach strings to a thing that is given, it is no longer a gift at all.

  4. I agree with Improbable Joe's sentiment about charity being corrupted by having "strings attached". It isn't even that I personally have a problem with the proselytizing, but there have to be nicer ways to do it. Invite people in to eat, and lead them in a prayer before the meal, then let them enjoy the meal. Sure it's still a little bit of a "strings attached" type thing, but at least the people receiving the food would get what they need as soon as possible, and wouldn't be being treated like prospective timeshare customers.

  5. I would guess that from a Christian's perspective, if one legitimately believes that adopting his or her belief system is necessary for properly reordering the charity seeker's priorities, then it is justified to have such strings attached.

  6. Nothing in this life is free huh

  7. I also agree with what Improbable Joe was saying, although semantically I think the term should be something other than "spiritual exploitation", as this implies it is something spiritual that is being exploited. Although, I will admit there is something about the two words spiritual and exploitation together that somehow has a beautiful poetic ring. In fact though what you want to be saying is that people in a weakened state are being exploited.

    What this really shows is that missioning can and is often done for a selfish reason alone, that selfish reason being taking advantage of the weak and poor to increase the population of the flock. Its one thing if the mission is just to help people survive, but wholly another when the true mission in indoctrination. I also have to wonder how many of these missionary indoctrinators return home and cry about the American Culture War, while ignoring the cultures they are themselves intentionally changing abroad. And I don't think calling such people selfish does complete justice in attacking their ways, as selfishness isn't necessarily a bad thing in all cases. Rather, its that they are completely ethnocentric. They can't seem to see beyond themselves. Well, I can't broadly say this is the case with all missionaries, but on the other hand, you know what they say about one bad apple.

  8. ...and the minister was heard, muttering "Let the eat cake...." as he jackbooted the last dirty starving child out the chapel doors...


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